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Pricing & Negotiating: Publicity Pricing and the Value of Subject Follow-Up

Monday June 21st, 2010

by Jess Dudley

A typical magazine assignment generates a modest fee, a couple of portfolio pictures, a little notoriety – and if you’re lucky, it can also provide an opportunity to make valuable connections with people who can give you work. Follow-up is key to capitalizing on those connections.

Though your subject or the contact person on the shoot might not be the ones who hire photographers for their organization, they probably know who does, and they will often have an influence on that process. When you’ve completed your shoot, find out from them who would be most appropriate for you to reach out to.

After a magazine has published the story, it’s normally okay to let the subject and their handlers see the outtakes from the shoot (certainly not before). Sending a print of your favorite picture from the shoot or a link to a web gallery is a great way build on the rapport that you developed during that assignment.

Explain that if they like them, they can license the images from you when the magazine’s embargo period is up. And that they can hire you for assignments as well. All things being equal, people are inclined to work with photographers they’ve met, like, and even better – ones they’ve seen in action. Don’t assume that a subject will know that you’re interested and available to work for them. Tell them so.

This strategy paid off for one of our photographers recently after he photographed a hotel executive for a business magazine. After the article came out, our photographer sent the subject and their corporate communications director a link to the pictures. They responded that they might want to use some of them in their press kits. We sent them a quote, then heard nothing for months. Eventually, they called to say that they needed pictures at a different location instead. So they asked us to work up a price for a new shoot.

Whenever I quote an assignment, I think (broadly speaking) in terms of time, materials, and licensing. I’ll want to understand what the final picture(s) need to look like, what we have to do to create them (factoring in all the production elements), and how the images will be used.

Here’s how the client described the pictures they needed:

Two different group portraits of eight people from their branding team, shot at one of their hotel properties

Here’s the licensing they needed:

Publicity and Internal Collateral Use forever

Here are the questions I had for them, and their answers:

Q. What are the locations that you’d like to consider using?
A. Both were local to the photographer.
(We’ll need one scouting day, paying attention to the time of day in anticipation of any outdoor pictures we might do.)

Q. Would you like to have professional hair/make-up?
A. Yes. (With eight subjects [more than half of them women], we’ll need two people doing hair and make-up. We’ll stagger the subjects’ arrival times somewhat to minimize the wait time for everyone.)

Q. Would you like to have a wardrobe stylist, and pull wardrobe?
A. No. The subjects would each bring two sets of clothes.
(Our regular hair/make-up stylists also have wardrobe styling experience. I’ll have them bring a steamer and they can tweak the wardrobe in a pinch.)

Q. Would you like us to arrange for catering?
A. No. The hotel will provide food and drinks for the cast and crew.

If this had been an advertising job, I wouldn’t have asked any of these questions. We would naturally plan on all of that stuff. But a publicity project like this is naturally going to be more modest in scale. Getting a sense of proportion from the client ahead of time will put our initial estimate pretty close to the mark. And when the client or subject is providing catering, wardrobe, or other production elements, it’s important to specify that in the estimate to avoid any confusion later.

I didn’t need to ask any more questions to decide on the other expense items. I knew it would be overkill to have a separate digital tech on site (in addition to me producing), so I decided to handle both myself. (Turns out we ended up moving around so much, and so quickly, that a digital tech was impractical anyway (and I’m a pretty good assistant when I need to be!) The client was happy to look at the LCD on the camera, using a loupe.) Photographing eight people in a big space would require a moderate amount of lighting equipment and two assistants. That was the extent of the production elements we needed to include in the quote.

In terms of licensing fees, Publicity Use and Internal Collateral Use have moderate value. Publicity Use is when a company gives away photos to publications to encourage them to produce stories about them. It’s impossible to predict how much mileage a company is going to get from those pictures, but it’s somewhat proportional to the size of the company.

Internal Collateral Use has a relatively small audience, generally limited to publications aimed at the company’s employees (usually in the form of a newsletter or intranet use.) So that value is also somewhat proportional to the size of the company.

Then there’s judging the value of “forever”. With some exceptions, publicity images showing staff people are going lose value at a pretty steady rate over the first few years, and be nearly worthless after five years. Clothes, haircuts and trends go out of style, and the subjects will age and change jobs. So licensing the photos forever in this case isn’t as valuable as when the picture is of something that won’t change as much over time. In this case the photographer was shooting group shots of trendy employees of a trendy hotel. So as a practical matter, the shelf life of the photos is just a few years.

I like to build estimates using a per image licensing model. It’s the best way to create a win-win for the client and the photographer. The client doesn’t have to commit to a ton of money for the pictures upfront, and the photographer is incentivized to be really productive.

I decided to quote the pictures at 1500.00 each plus expenses. Here’s how the estimate and terms & conditions looked:

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The client signed off on the estimate.

After a quick scout of the two locations, the photographer determined that one of them clearly had more and better options to offer than the other. So that choice was easy. To make the shoot day more productive, the photographer went back to the chosen location and shot about a dozen quick test pictures and printed them out. The morning of the shoot, the photographer and client reviewed prints of the different situations and picked five to concentrate on.

The shoot went well. We ended up squeezing in six situations. The client loved having all the choices, along with the option to license more images in the future. And it was all due to some good-old-fashioned publicity of our own.

If you have any questions or if you need help pricing and negotiating, or producing one of your projects, you can reach me at jess@wonderfulmachine.com.

- Jess Dudley

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