Veteran photo rep Maria Piscopo talks about what reps do, where to find one, and how to know whether you're ready to work with a rep in this excerpt from her Allworth Press book The Photographer's Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion.
Text © Maria Piscopo, 2010.
What are photo representatives and what do they do? Art/photo representatives own their own businesses. They usually represent a group of non-competing illustrators and photographers (also known as the talent) who own their own businesses. The relationship is that of an independent contractor and not an employee and employer. Agents usually work on a commission that is a percentage of the fee and seek to find work within a geographic territory. The photographer and the rep will work together to promote the photographer to potential new clients and the photographer pays 25 percent to 35 percent commission on the fees of jobs in the rep’s territory. You do not pay commissions up front but you will spend money on other marketing materials the rep will need to get work.
Photographers often maintain their own clients as house accounts not subject to the rep’s commission. Many photographers, however, want the rep to work with all of their clients and will give all or part of their house accounts with commissions to the rep.
The photographer’s general business and office management are not usually part of a photo rep’s job responsibilities. Reps work in three important ways to build your business. They find new clients for the kind of assignments you want to do and they negotiate the best pricing and terms with these clients. They keep these clients coming back again and again.
For each talent they represent, reps usually work a geographic territory looking for a specific kind of photography assignment. Geographic territory can be limited to a city, a region, a country, or regions of the world (North America, Europe, and Pacific Rim). Many photographers have different reps in each of the major advertising markets around the world divided into these geographic territories. Though most photographers can do any kind of assignment, to avoid conflict with their other talents, a rep will sell each one as a specialist. For example, a rep might have a people photographer, a food photographer, a product photographer, and so on.
An art/photo rep works most successfully and profitably when he or she works in one of the commercial photography markets that hire many different types of photographers and illustrators—clients such as an ad agency or design firm. In other words, to bring in one hundred photo assignments from ten to twenty clients makes a rep more profitable than when he or she has to bring in work from one hundred different clients! Time is money. Because of this, you’ll find most reps in major metropolitan areas where they have a large pool of advertising agency and design clients. Because they have many different kinds of clients and creative needs, these clients will work with a rep who has a variety of photographers and other talent to match those needs.
Other Types of Reps
In addition to the art/photo rep bringing in assignment clients, there are other types of agents for photographers who do not compete with the art/photo rep because they look for different types of clients.
Here’s a quick glossary of other agent types:
- A gallery can become the rep for the photographer. Instead of an individual rep, it is the entire gallery or gallery owners who rep you. Instead of carrying around a portfolio for you, they show your work at the gallery or on their Web sites.
- An art consultant is somebody who goes through your work, selects the best images, edits the work, and plans the promotion—what to show and who to show to. Art consultants usually function more like brokers.
- A fine art corporate rep finds artwork for corporate clients for public and private spaces and they act like art dealers for corporations.
- Art dealers take on the pool of fine art talent or fine art work from estates and deal mostly with private collectors or interior designers. They act like a gallery without the building. They have a talent pool of images and a large clientele and seek work for their talent pool.
Author’s note: These terms are not universal in meaning or understanding but hopefully will provide some clarification to the reader.
How Do You Know if You Are Ready for a Rep?
Here are some clues to determine if you are ready to look for any kind of rep. You’re probably ready for a rep if you are too busy with photography assignments and self-assignments to make the personal contacts to find new clients and work to keep the ones you have. You’re ready for a rep if you have enough repeat business from a stable client base of house accounts. You are ready for a rep if you have a strong style or specialty that a rep can sell to advertising agency or design clients. You are ready if you consider yourself first as a business then as a photographer. Reps like to work with photographers who appreciate the business aspects of their work. You are, after all, in business to make money! You are ready for a successful rep/photographer relationship if you are open to new ways and new ideas to promote your business and need a rep’s time and expertise to help you. You are ready if you have a portfolio ready to go out the door and it represents the kind of work that you want to do more of. Working on commission, reps can’t stand by without work to go and show.
You’re ready if you have the budget for the promotion pieces and marketing plan to support the rep. You will not spend less money on marketing when you have a rep. An average budget for self-promotion is 10 percent of your projected gross sales. You are ready if you are willing to spend the time to assist the rep in selling your work. You will not spend less time on your marketing by having a rep. You just won’t do the same things, for example, instead of calling the clients; you will be creating new portfolio pieces for the rep to show new clients.
How Do You Find a Rep?
Finding a rep is very similar to the search for clients. You must research the reps, present your portfolio, and do the regular follow-up required to build a relationship. Reps are a lot like clients in that they may already have someone who does the kind of photography you want to do, and good research and consistent follow-up is the only way to break through this barrier to working together.
Knowing with whom the rep already works allows you to approach the rep in a way that will make the very best impression. Perhaps you find out the rep does not have a people photographer and may need one. Your approach will be to help the rep by being his people photographer so that he can offer their clients a better, more complete service. Perhaps the rep already has a people photographer; then you could offer to be available as a back-up and will work on a job-by-job basis. There are many possibilities.
Where Do You Find Information About Reps?
First, most of the creative source books list the names and addresses of photography reps. For example, The Workbook lists the talents reps represent and their specialties. You can buy a mailing list or directory of reps who belong to the professional association, Society of Photographers and Artists Reps (SPAR). In addition, Writer’s Digest Books publishes a book that lists the reps, how they work, and what type of photographers they are looking for. This book, The Photographer’s Market, is updated each year, so be sure to get the most current year when you buy the book!
Resources: Partial List of Resources for Finding Reps