@ Al Jazeera America/Photo by Martin Schoeller
Amy Salzman is a veteran senior integrated art producer with over 20 years of art production experience. She began her career as an art buyer at Saatchi & Saatchi advertising, and then moved on to McCann Worldgroup. She is currently freelancing at both major ad agencies and boutique ad agencies. She talks to PDN about finding and selecting photographers, what the bidding process is all about and how shooting the right tests can help photographers compete for global ad assignments.
PDN: When you’re looking to hire photographers for campaigns, what do you consider?
Amy Salzman: It’s based on their style, and how much their work matches the comp and the idea that’s been tested. If it’s a car campaign showing a car on a highway with glamorous people, it has to be a photographer who can shoot cars with a sense of glamour and a sense of fashion.
In the pharmaceutical world, pharma [companies] test their ads with focus groups and the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] has to approve the ads, so you have to find someone whose style is very, very close to the ad that’s been tested. And they have to be on budget.
If someone is really being considered for a job, I ask their availability first. Lessons learned: If my shoot is in New York and they’re shooting in Japan the day before, they might think they’re available for my shoot but I’d question that.
If they’re available and they’re right for the job, then it’s time for the creative call with the creative team. Those calls are very important.
PDN: What do you think photographers should ask or say during creative calls?
AS: I am looking for them to add some vision. We’re presenting you with creative and we know what we need to accomplish; the photographers should be adding what their vision is for accomplishing it.
Some photographers don’t say anything; you tend to wonder why not. Are they not prepared? Do they not have any ideas? Did their rep not give them a layout? Did they shoot somewhere the night before and they just woke up? Are they in the car and they can’t converse? It’s often not a good thing.
PDN: After a creative call, it’s time for a triple bid?
AS: First there’s an internal conversation among the creatives: Whose opinion did you like? Who didn’t have an opinion? Then it’s time for a bid, which is a good process.
AS:You may think you can pre-judge a budget, but when you get three bids and they’re all around, say, $150,000 to $160,000, then you can more easily say to the client: This is what this production demands.
If you get one bid that’s low ball, you wonder: Are they cheapening certain things to get the job? If two bids come in at $150,000 and one comes in at $250,000, you wonder if they’re overdoing it.PDN: So it’s not always the lowest bid that gets the job?
AS: That’s true.
PDN: Why not? It seems that photographers and reps don’t believe that’s true.
AS: It depends on what the difference is between the high, middle and low bids. It also depends on which photographer you think is best for the job. Do low bids tend to look better? Absolutely. But do they always get the job? Not necessarily. On a recent pro bono job, for example, all three photographers came in within $7,000 of each other. Then it was just a matter of client choice about the photographer they wanted to work with.
PDN: Do you ever go back to a low bidder and say: Look, there’s no way this can work?
AS: I’m not going to tell a photographer how to produce the job but if there’s someone we really want to work with, but they’re way out of the range, I’ll say, “We really want to work with you, but you’re way out of the range,” and let them re-try.
PDN: How do you typically find photographers?
AS: When I first started, [it was] promo pieces. We had offices with doors. I used to put promos on the wall with the photographers’ and reps’ phone numbers on them. Art directors could come in and look at all kinds of photography, and pull cards off my wall. Now direct mail is expensive, and everyone works in open spaces with no walls. I can’t emphasize enough the importance of a good, simple website.
PDN: How do you know which photographers’ websites you want to look at?
AS: I try to go to portfolio reviews. I also go on-set and find out who the first assistant is. Some assistants are photographers trying to make extra money assisting, some are learning by assisting and some of them are ready to make the leap to doing a production of their own. It’s the art buyer’s responsibility to learn those things.
PDN: Can you share an experience of matching a photographer to a campaign?
AS: When I worked at Draftfcb, I helped choose the photographer to shoot the campaign for Oreo’s one-hundredth anniversary. I wasn’t really looking for a food photographer, because it was just cookies and milk, but it was iconic, so I needed someone who creates iconic still lifes and is here in New York City. Someone I’d worked with before was Richard Pierce. He can shoot still lifes, he can shoot props and he can shoot liquids. Also he works fast, and we had 17 print ads to shoot. We looked at food photographers and tabletop photographers, but he was the right photographer for the campaign. Just as Martin Schoeller was the right photographer for the Al Jazeera America campaign [produced by the ad agency Maude].
PDN: So you require triple bids, but it sounds like sometimes you have a favorite in mind for the job.
AS: Sometimes. But just because a photographer might be my favorite, after the art buyer starts the process of sending links, the [selection] then goes to an associate creative director or a senior art director, who has to present it to a creative director, who then has to present it to an executive creative director and then it has to go to the client. There are a lot of things along the way that can change. So though you have to depend on your art buyer to be out there and bring in [photographers], there are a lot of levels to get through before someone is awarded a job. But when you have three photographers bid, you have to be prepared to go with any one of the three.
PDN: What are the advantages and disadvantages of working as a freelancer?
AS: The advantages are you can pick and choose where you want to work and the kind of projects you want to work on, and usually you don’t get involved in office politics. A disadvantage is that you always feel like a freelancer, you don’t feel like a member of staff.
PDN: When you’re brought in to work on a job, how do you learn about the client, their brand and what they need?
AS: I try to get involved from the beginning. That’s harder when you’re freelance. You’re usually brought in at the last minute. But the more you know about the brand, and the more the account team shares with you, the more easily you can pick the right photographer.
PDN: Do photographers need to educate themselves about brands in the same way?
AS: I think for photographers it’s about delivering the assets. A photographer who shoots cars because he loves cars doesn’t need to know all about the different car companies. What matters is that he delivers great car photography that’s on message.
PDN: What do you wish photographers understood better about advertising?
AS: The people I’ve worked with understand the job. They understand that if you want to shoot advertising, you have to be able to take direction. I do look at tearsheets for that reason. I like to know which photographers have done work for clients.
PDN: Is it difficult for photographers to break into advertising if they’ve only shot editorial work?
AS: I don’t think so. Editorial allows photographers to build their books and their imagery. Photographers also shouldn’t be afraid to test. And to test with diverse talent. This is a diverse world we live in. We need to see books with diverse talent in them. Everyone should be shooting for global clients and photographers are not putting diverse people in their books, including age-diverse talent. Baby boomers are the biggest generation and they have the money, but not enough photographers want to shoot older people.
PDN: Do you have any other advice for photographers?
AS: Keep shooting. Read magazines. Look at other images, look at other websites and look at who your competition is. And if you don’t know who your competition is, research that. If you want to shoot the next Kraft macaroni and cheese ad you should know who’s shooting it now. Do your research.
Subscribers: Find out the names of the photographers and creatives who worked on different ad campaigns in Who's Shooting What at www.pdnonline.com/wsw.