Interview with Patti Schumann of Schumann & Company
Monday December 12th, 2011
I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Patti Schumann, founding agent of Schumann & Company. Schumann & Company represents a talented roster of commercial photographers, including Wonderful Machine members Terry Vine, Saverio Truglia and Joe Wigdahl. Patti was kind enough to answer all the questions I put forth about the world of photographer representation. Enjoy!
- Maria Luci
How did you become a rep? What lead you to this path?
Actually, I really stumbled upon this career. Had I known it existed as a career path, I would have certainly directed myself down the path! My degrees are in Journalism and Art History and in so many ways, being a Photographer’s Agent is the perfect combination of all of my passions. My first job out of college was with the Chicago Tribune where I learned every facet of marketing/branding and running a business. As an alternative to the MBA path, my mentor connected me with the owner and publisher of the Chicago Sourcebook—an amazing and innovative regional resource for creatives in the advertising industry. I sold ad space to photographers, illustrators, and their agents in the Midwest. Eventually, our company was bought in conjunction with the Creative Black Book and a new division was formed creating the first national network of sourcebooks. I moved to SF managing Northern California. and the Pacific Northwest for all publications and then moved to Dallas to open up their office in that market. Eventually, I left to found my own business—Schumann & Company—hard to believe, but I am celebrating my 21st year in business this January!
In your own words, what is the role of a photo agent?
That feels like a loaded question! I’m guessing that each agent would likely provide you with a different answer. I feel that the role of the photo agent is to serve as a critical collaborative partner in the branding and marketing of the clients I represent. I take great pains in the selection process of who I sign as I hope to only develop long term mutually rewarding relationships.
Typically, my initial strategy is to define and refine the creative brand of my photographers so that we have something to refer to as we create our marketing message and plan. It is my photographer and their vision that really is the starting point. I really try to hone in on what makes them unique and distinct within the industry categories that they serve. After that, it’s editing what exists and working to determine where images need to be enhanced. From there it is a well thought out targeted approach researching where best this vision will be received. We develop an annual plan that includes advertising, promotions, portfolio development, etc. I reach people through electronic, voice and personal communication. I relentlessly reach out to potential clients. I travel. I host events. I support the communities through participation in professional associations of both photographers and clients. I network. I feel that there should be mutual accountability when it comes to the agent/photographer relationship. When expectations and strategies are created, it offers both sides a source of measurement.
What do you enjoy about your job?
Everything! But mostly, it is the ability to actualize the dreams of true artists into viable and vital businesses. I love finding solutions that are win wins. I love immersing myself in fantastic imagery. I love working with TRUE professionals. I love representing a group of the most extraordinary HUMANS that I know. I am inspired every day.
How often do you get inquiries from photographers looking for representation?
I have a submissions email that is through the contact section of my website and I likely have 1-3 photographers contact me for representation per week.
How do you respond to these inquiries?
I sincerely look at everyone who reaches out to me and respond personally to each photographer. In most cases, I am contacted when I am not looking for a photographer. I keep my group small intentionally. If someone’s work touches me, I let them know to stay in touch and keep me on their mailing list. I actually do look at everything I receive.
What’s the best way to get your attention?
Respectfully send me GREAT images!
How often do you add photographers to your roster? How do you typically find these new photographers?
Honestly, it’s very organic. I keep my group relatively small. Usually, I add someone to the group when I feel I can handle the addition and I am looking for a new strategic challenge. I find my photographers through serious research. I utilize award annuals like CA, Archive and AtEdge. I research through websites and resources like Wonderful Machine and Workbook. I talk to art producers at agencies, producers with whom I collaborate, and reps for the publications where I advertise. Usually one or two folks keep coming back to me. I go to their websites. I have to LOVE their work first. Additionally, I do not approach photographers that are currently represented by other agents.
What do you look for in a photographer to rep?
Extraordinary vision and a distinctive visual point of view. Conceptual depth. Professionalism. Exceptional values. Their work is my first point of reference. Their demeanor and ability to articulate their vision next. The way they interact with crew and clients is, in the end, actually more important to a long term successful relationship.
In your opinion, what does it take to be ready for representation?
The ability to produce work and create images consistently. The ability to equally invest in the partnership. A general level of understanding about how the industry works…
What’s a normal work day like for you?
Wow. No such thing. The one constant is that there is no constant. Generally it is a mix of ongoing communication whether it be via email or on the phone. It’s a mix of working directly with my photographers, following up with clients, estimating, working with producers, doing portfolio shows, scheduling shows or travel, meeting with key potential clients one on one……..and then there is the follow up……..to bids, to shoots, to potential opportunities. It can also be intense editing, working with designers on my own branding and marketing, working on the blog…..there is also the invoicing, following up on the invoices and all the other paperwork that must be kept in order. I could not do this without the incredible assistance of my associate Renee who has been with me for almost eight years.
Do you expect your photographers to market themselves on their own as well?
ABSOLUTELY, and usually with my input. This is part of the mutually accountable strategy.
To learn more about Patti and Schumann & Company, visit schumannco.com.