Reps and Creatives on the Importance of Treatments to Winning Commercial Jobs

November 23, 2016

By Maren Levinson

Creating treatments during the bidding process for still shoots has become common in the last five years. This is due to the fact that print and motion productions are frequently combined, and treatments have long been a part of planning motion shoots. “Once the print world and the motion world merged, treatments have become the standard on larger projects,” states rep Kelly Montez of Apostrophe. Art buyer and content producer Jason Lau of 180LA agrees. “Four to five years ago treatments started to become more important over time. The need came from agency creatives, because they were done for TV and motion.”

Seven years ago, art buyers and print producers first warned me that print was becoming the neglected stepchild of motion and that the priority for most agencies and clients was their broadcast content. This gobbling up of print by broadcast makes a good deal of sense: If you are paying for an expensive production with talent, grooming, wardrobe, locations, etc., you do not want to double up on those same costs and efforts for print, so agencies got in the habit of “tacking on print” to motion productions.

It stands to reason, then, that if you are bidding on a print job and the agency producer or creatives have backgrounds in broadcast as opposed to print, then they are going to want to vet their potential collaborators the way they evaluate directors: through treatments. “Art producers and print producers are now content producers,” Eye Forward agency head Carol LeFlufy notes.

Montez says that customized PDFs of applicable work were the precursors to treatments. Her agency sent branded PDFs to clients when they were bidding on jobs, she says. I can recall when, at Redeye, we started to submit PDFs of applicable work to agencies. We noticed that well-designed PDFs gave us a competitive advantage over other artists. Treatments do the same. We now create treatments even if we are not asked for them.

What are treatments exactly? Most of the time they are a 5-10 page PDF. Lau says they generally should have:
1.) Intro/Statement
2.) Approach/Lighting Technique/Team (Production, Styling, Sets)
3.) Casting
4-5.) Reference/Mood Boards/Inspiration. Artists often include their own applicable work as well, marked as such.

What makes the best treatments? LeFlufy says, “Design and image pulls make a big difference,” as does “listening to what happened on the call. I’ve heard of people who tape conference calls so that their treatment carefully addresses everything said on the call.” I focus a lot on impact when working with my artists’ treatments. They can pull all the right images, but the ones they start and end with, and the ones that take up the most space make a giant difference in terms of overall impression. Are we leading with the type of imagery specifically mentioned on the call? Is it clear right off the bat that this project is in the artist’s wheelhouse?

Treatments take a long time to create. Even if they have an agent, the artists are responsible for pulling their applicable imagery and inspiration images, gathering links to the websites of team members available for the shoot dates, and, of course, writing a statement in which they clearly communicate why they think they could execute a job smoothly and with great creative. Agents oversee this process, and review and help shape the treatment. It can take days to create a treatment, if you want to do it well. Editing treatments is akin to editing books and websites: Another fun creative endeavor when granted enough time. Three days is a lot of time to deliver a treatment—half the time, we are asked for same-day delivery of treatments.

Some of my artists are very independent with their treatments and some require a lot more input in terms of structure and suggestions for which images to pull and what to write in the statement. Many photographers are more comfortable as visual storytellers than they are with the written word. They can find writing and editing to be a challenge. LeFlufy says that some of her artists take on the expense of paying a copywriter or a broadcast production company to produce treatments for them. This can set the artist back as much as $1,000–$1,500, and there is still no guarantee that they will get the job. The good news is that once they have a well-designed template, artists can tweak their treatments for future jobs and customize them according to each bid—be it a motion bid, a stills bid, or a combo of both.

LeFlufy posits that people who have the upper edge in winning a job have to nail the bidding process in three ways. They have to be competitive with money. They have to make great treatments and solve the agency’s problems. And they have to do well on conference calls. None of these categories can lag in order to land a job.

Treatments are yet one more opportunity to show what you are about and the rigor of your creative and production package. Traditionally, my thought has always been that, as good as websites are, printed portfolios are another way for agencies and clients to see exactly what you are made of—what your level of visual sophistication is, how consistently strong all your images are, and how elegantly you present yourself. A lot of people can skate by with pretty well-put-together websites, but printed portfolios do not lie. Similarly, well-constructed treatments are another chance to convince your possible collaborators you are the right person for the job. Designers and art directors and creative directors are the audience viewing your treatments, so you have to speak their language and make the design tight and consistent, and downright outstanding. It’s a chance to really think the job through, share the artist’s point of view, or even solve a quandary the agency creatives have in terms of shoot approach. In rare cases, impressive treatments can even garner more of a budget for the job, if the client is truly wowed by what is proposed.

Jason Lau says that “calls can go either way, they can be awkward, but a treatment is a third chance for photographers to redeem themselves and show how much they want the job.” Sometimes creatives prefer treatments in lieu of calls, Lau adds, emphasizing their importance. “We’re all stretched so thin that getting everyone on a phone call is hard.” This way, the creatives can look at shoot approach and applicable imagery on their own time.

Lau mentioned one treatment that knocked his socks off, by photographer Carlos Serrao. There was a motion aspect to the job and he handed in a 30-second video treatment, as opposed to a standard PDF treatment. It was an innovative approach that landed him the job.

Maren Levinson is the founder of Redeye, an agency that represents photographers, illustrators and set designers.