Whether you’re pitching work to an advertising client or a non-governmental organization (NGO), you have to demonstrate the value of your work, and then negotiate a fee that’s fair. Photographers stress the importance of researching their clients’ budgets and the prevailing market value of their work. In these excerpts from PDN articles, photographers share their most effective strategies for negotiating with clients. PDN subscribers can access the complete articles on PDNOnline, and also find more stories about researching clients, pitching for work, estimating assignment costs, and budgeting wisely at pdnonline.com/business-marketing.
Brooklyn-based photographer James Farrell learned valuable negotiating strategies from photographers he assisted. He shares his methods for negotiating fees and expenses required to meet his clients’ expectations. While he uses bidding software to find a fee range, he also turns to the photo community. “We call each other and ask. We’re honest with each other about what fees we charge and what the going rates are. It’s not a conversation about any particular client, but: What do you think of this number as an advertising rate?” He notes, “You owe it to yourself—and your peers—to know what those rates are, and estimate accordingly.” If a client tells him his bid is too high, he doesn’t cut his fee. “You have to stand strong on that,” Farrell advises. “You’ll be pigeonholed into that fee, and it will be hard to raise it” on future estimates. Instead, he suggests ways to cut expenses to make the bid more competitive. Clients often ask for extra shots or services not covered in the estimate; Farrell describes his strategies for explaining the extra costs to clients, so he does not get stuck paying overtime to his assistants or extra studio fees. And he explains how he goes after clients who are late on their payments.
When an NGO calls with a job, treat them as you would any paying client and ask about all the parameters of the job, advises Washington, D.C.-based photographer Jamie Rose. A senior partner at the Momenta Workshops, Rose has taught practical business skills to photographers dedicated to working for social change. When talking to NGO clients, Rose notes, “You need to know what the deliverables are, and how they’re going to use your images. A lot will say, ‘We want unlimited rights’ [because] that’s what their lawyer told them. It’s the photographer’s job to say, ‘Are you sure you really want that?’ and explain what it will cost.” NGOs use photography to raise money and, like for-profit clients, have marketing budgets, despite their pleas of poverty or appeals to your sense of charity. It’s easy to investigate an NGO’s finances, because not-for-profit organizations operating in the U.S. are required to make their finances and 990 tax forms public. When Rose encountered a client that was in the habit of paying stock agency licensing fees, but didn’t want to pay her, she asked about the NGO’s intended use, which turned out to be the cover of a report they intended to sell online. And she found out that the client’s annual budget of $2 million included $350,000 for marketing. She says offering clients services and creative ideas that are of direct and obvious value to an NGO makes the reasons for paying you more evident.
Standards for how to charge for the use of photography in social media advertising have yet to emerge, perpetuating a “Wild West” pricing situation that harkens back to the early days of digital advertising. Part of the problem is lack of clarity about terms. “A lot of times we’ll have clients call us and say, ‘We want digital use, Web use,’” says Beth Johnson of Friend & Johnson. “We’re having to really drill down on what that means.” Jennifer Haysler, managing director at Sarah Laird & Good Company, says they’ve used the same criteria they use to price traditional advertising—such as audience size, territory and term—as starting points. “It’s something that’s known and existing, and it’s something that all the art buyers and [we] reps have our heads wrapped around already.” Brian DiFeo, who founded The Mobile Media Lab, a company that creates Instagram influencer campaigns for clients, says that reach, engagement and client demands all factor into how his company determines pricing. They’ll increase the fee, he says, “if the client has an ask, like the product’s got to be front and center [in the image] or the photographer has to feature a URL in the caption.” The targeting of the campaign and the time period of the license are also important factors. Johnson says, “We don’t sell the copyright,” adding that it’s important to educate new photographers about the value of their copyright. “And if you’re asked to sell it, you should make the price so incredibly high that they don’t want it.”
Before joining the Washington Post, video journalist Brad Horn produced multimedia on a freelance basis for NPR, AARP, the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development, Bread for Life, and other commercial, editorial and multimedia clients. He talked to PDN about what freelancers need to consider when calculating fees for NGO work. One of the biggest challenges, he says, was getting philanthropies to understand how much time each project takes. NGOs also plead poverty, but he notes, “They pay top employees hundreds of thousands of dollars. If they have an office that takes up a floor or two in a building in downtown [Washington,] DC, with great views, I would tend to think they have more money than they let on.” He does his research on their finances, and charges for his time. He also suggests multimedia producers figure out the fee they want, then double it. Clients will ask for less than his asking price but, he notes, “The time I was most successful with that tactic, not only did the client end up paying me more, but they seemed to respect me more because I was charging a lot of money.”
The triple bidding process inevitably ends with one photographer landing the assignment—and two also-rans. The difference between them comes down to a number of factors, including not only submitting an estimate that meets budget constraints, but convincing the creatives that you can deliver an ad that meets the client’s needs. Two of the most important ways photographers can win creatives’ trust is by making a good impression during the creative call, and by developing a treatment afterwards that presents—in words and pictures—an appealing way to produce and execute the assignment. Understanding the demographic the client wants to reach and the message the ad has to send are essential to preparing a successful treatment. Advertising photographers PDN interviewed recommended a number of ways to learn the clients’ goals through a combination of listening and asking the right questions about direction and strategy. Questions about budget are separate—but also important. Photographer John Keatley notes that there are ways to glean how the creatives perceive the scale of the production. He notes, “One question we ask is: ‘Is this your first time working with this client and are you interested in impressing them, or is everyone being budget conscious?’ That’s a clue.”
Advertising photographer John Keatley started out shooting corporate and editorial jobs. When he was hired to shoot the cover portrait for former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin’s memoir, he submitted an estimate for some forseeable expenses and a creative fee that was fine for editorial work, but low for creating an image to be used in national advertising. Then plans for the shoot and image usage “just kept growing,” he says, and he knew “I was leaving money on the table.” When the art director suggested he increase his estimate, Keatley called on advertising photographer Chris Buck for help. Buck walked Keatley through every line item, including travel days, taxis and the cost of getting equipment to Palin’s home in Alaska. By the end of the call, Keatley says, his original estimate of $25,000 had grown to $95,000, “and I said, ‘Chris, I’m not going to get this job.’” Buck recalls, “My answer to that would be, ‘You don’t want to do this job for less than that, because you’ll lose money.’”