Describing the Roles of Photography Agents & Reps and When to Get One
So we're back. And right now we are going to dive into this concept of what does an agent or a rep do for you? And when is the right time to consider this for your career? Probably one of the most commonly asked questions that I get is, first of all, when do I need an agent? And second of all, what do they do? Because I think that's one of the more challenging concepts is that people often think that this role of the modern day agent is to basically get you all this new work and elevate your role as a photographer or director. And although, yes, they can do that in many ways, the way that the world works now in photography is, it's so much still up to you to bring in that work. What I want to help you guys understand really is, what the role is traditionally of an agent. Do you need one? And how could you get around the concept of having to sign a deal with somebody that is going to be representing you for a long period of time? Because there are some ways in which you can still have a...
nd facilitate the benefits of what an agent does without having to fully enter into that agreement. And really this is something where this should relate to you, whether you are that again, shooting weddings and you just have a very, very small crew or small footprint when you're out on shoots, or if you're doing large, massive commercial shoots. This concept of their role and what they do is honestly critical to any type of business. And in many ways, I think you'll understand when we really break down in theory what the point is here. Now, traditionally, what would happen is, you would be, again, bursting at the seams, you have a lot of work, and you really need somebody who can help you navigate, negotiate, and manage that workload for you. I think for me as a photographer, I met my agent when I was about eight, nine years ago. I was shooting a job for TransWorld Surf at the US Open. And I had quite a bit of interest for commercial photography assignments. There were a lot of assignments that I honestly was lost in the weeds in terms of negotiating. So this negotiating scenario is where I really suffered. And I knew in that moment, that's really why I, first and foremost, needed someone to represent me. I needed someone to speak on my behalf and not get me into hot water and really low-ball myself. And I think that was the key component. Now, a couple things here. The main thing to understand as well is that if you are out there searching for an agent or looking for someone to represent you, make sure it's somebody who understands what you want to do, what you want to shoot. One of the most complicated things is that as a photographer that loves shooting action sports and loves shooting travel and assignment work, it didn't seem like in the beginning there were a lot of reps or agents who understood that type of work. It was more for celebrity portraiture and things of that nature. And so it's important to find that key person if you're looking that does understand your workflow, that does understand your goals and needs. Now, in the traditional sense, you will work with an agent, again, for a couple things. They're gonna negotiate on your behalf, right? They're gonna get you the proper rates and fees for a job because they know that industry. And I'm gonna share a quick story about that a little bit later here. They are also going to insulate you from the client. Now, I talk about this all the time, and I've said this over and over and over, but the reality is, I just can't say it enough, right? This is one of the most important things. And I'm gonna come back to this and I'm gonna talk about how the producer does this and really everybody. But the main thing that an agent can do for you besides hopefully making you some more money, yes, and negotiating on your behalf is to insulate you from the client. And what does that mean? Why is that important? Well, let's talk about this theoretically and realistically here. Your job is to be creative. Your job is not to be a businessman or a CEO or anything. Your job is to be behind the camera and to be creative and hopefully to bring that creativity to the set so when a client emails you or a new job opportunity comes to you, what you wanna do is you wanna jump on that email and you wanna be like, "Yes, this sounds great. I'm so excited. Let's talk creative. Let's talk about all the exciting things that I can shoot and I can fulfill for you guys." And then when it comes time to talk about the money, the payment, when it comes time to follow up six months down the road and get paid, you don't wanna do that. You don't want to be that person. Because no matter what it is going to put your... It is going to be at odds with your creative pursuit of trying to build a relationship that's built upon that. The next conversation you're gonna have after you talk about maybe the creative or the concept is the fee, the cost. And the truth of the matter is that I never want to be so bold. And maybe I just don't believe in myself enough to be the person to jump on the phone and say, "No, this is what I'm worth. This is what my day rate is. This is what it costs to hire Chris," right? This is why you have somebody else to do that for you. Why? Because it allows, in some capacity, a little bit of good cop, bad cop, but it also allows you to stay in this creative space. It allows you to stay in this one sphere of operation. What I would normally do is when that job comes, I talk through my thoughts, my ideas, my excitement. And then I turn over the conversation to my agent or my office manager, Mike, or a producer. And I say, "Absolutely, yeah, I'm so excited. Love to see what you guys come up with. Love to have you guys discuss rates and fees and all that. Wonderful." And then I remove myself from that conversation. And although, yes, I'm still very much involved and I'm still very much behind the scenes, it's not forcing me to basically be in there trying to sell myself. And I think that there is something so, so important by that. Again, the key here is for you to stay in the creative realm, right? And not get bogged down by negotiations because it will always make your relationship with that person slightly awkward. The moment that you go from talking about something fun and passionate to talking about money and income and how much need to get paid. And when they come in and they low ball a little bit, and you're up here and you're having to go back and forth, that will wear you down. And I just cannot stress this enough, which is why I'm repeating it is that it is a absolutely brutal process that in many ways it's good to remove yourself from. Now, the agent's job or a rep's job is really to insulate you from that experience. Come back to you non-emotionally and say, "Hey, this is what they have. It's not because they don't value you, but it's because this is what their budget is. And this is what I got you. Do you want to do the job?" And then you can agree or disagree. Now, if there was a section in this workshop that was the worst advice you could ever get from Chris Burkard, this would probably be it. So I want you to take this next thing with a grain of salt, okay? One of the components that people lose sight of is that, although yes, at a certain point in your career, it's important to have somebody who absolutely knows the industry, can bid on jobs in that industry and can get you the money that you need, if you're starting out and you really need that level of insulation, and you just want to create a little separation, you can also reach out to maybe somebody else within your team who you feel can negotiate on your behalf. Heck, if you wanted to, you could even have another email address that may even be you, that just allows you to separate yourself and insulate yourself from that conversation. The appearance of not having it be you, I think is many times just as strong as it not being you in reality. So I want you to take that with a grain of salt. I want you to consider the value and the relationship there. Now, one of the greatest things is that an agent's job much like a producer that we're gonna talk about in a second is to help educate the client, right? Now, we're gonna get into, I guess, generating your own value and how that number increases. Now, we're gonna get on this topic of how you generate that value over time and how you build out a price sheet for yourself or whatnot. But the one key component from a traditional sense, again, we're moving back and forth from a traditional representation to maybe a more modern day representation where you don't want the overhead. You don't wanna have to pay somebody 25% because that is what an agent typically takes. The other skill set really is for them to know that industry. Now, what I would say is that oftentimes if you're working with an agent or a rep again, and you really do want to be all in, you have a legit person who's really knows this industry, you guys can take the time to chat about what clients you wanna work with, what jobs you want to get, what work do you want to progress into. And that agent should be able to help you. And I'm saying this very slowly because I want you to understand that you can do this on your own. You do not need this person to do it, but it usually becomes easier with a third-party. That agent can help you take agency meetings. Meaning you're gonna go to an agency and you are going to show their art buyers, their producers, their team your portfolio. Why would you do this? Well, in terms of trying to spur new work, one of the best things you can do is to make this list of clients you wanna work for. Maybe it's the Abercrombies, the Levis, what have you. And then look at the agencies that represent them. And then go to those agencies and take a meeting. Why? Well, we're not gonna get too far into the weeds here of how all this works because that's not really the business of photography, but all these agencies typically, or all these companies rather are represented by a large ad agency. No, the smaller brands usually still have their own internal marketing department and they work all internally. But if you get into the larger companies, again, like the Levis and the Abercrombies and whatnot, they're gonna be represented by an agency. And the best way to get on their radar is not to email the company. It's not to send them a direct message on Instagram. It's to actually go in and sit with them. Now, the agent can facilitate that because that's a common practice. That is something that is part of their job. Whether they're doing that for you, they're taking your book, so to say, your portfolio, and they're showing it to these agencies or they're going with you, and you are doing a presentation for them. The goal there is to spur and create new work. Now, the beauty of working with an agent that really understands these industries as I'm about to explain a little bit later, is that they have an understanding that although I might come personally from the surf world or surf lifestyle and working with those brands where there is a cap or a blanket on how much you can charge and what the value is, they know that each industry, whether it's food and beverage, whether it's automotive, whether it's... They know what the budgets are. They do the research. They look into how much they've spent in the past on shoots. They talk to maybe other agents or producers or reps or photographers to get a feel for what they might have charged. Their goal, if they're worth their salt and if they're good is going to be to get an accurate number of what they can ask for on your behalf. Now, that is truly the traditional role of an agent. I would also say on top of that, that sometimes their role spills into this idea of PR, where they would also be helping you navigate challenging situations in your career or complex relationships or giving you basically sage wisdom for what else is happening. Nowadays we operate in a world where a lot of the jobs that we do, if there're these big, large commercial jobs, they have a tendency to also spill into this other realm of social media influencer work where you're being asked to shoot something. And you're being asked to promote something. For me, it's a bit of a complicated mixture because there are jobs... I did a job for Honda a couple years ago where I directed it. I started in it and I had to promote it socially. And it was a huge workload, but my agent negotiated each one of those fees separately, right? And why am I telling you that? Because I want you to understand that it is so important, again, to reiterate this role of the agent and the producer to help educate the client. Okay, so what does that mean? Right? So I would say that if there's two terms that I want you to leave this section knowing, it's insulate and educate. Insulate being the protection they provide, the level of separation. So you stay in your vertical of creativity and them staying in their vertical of getting you the best fees possible. And the other one is educate. And what does that mean? Well, let's look at it like this. When a client comes to you, and I use this word client a lot. I'm sure you love it at this point, but I want you to realize that a client can be anybody from a bride who wants you to shoot their wedding to the marketing director at Coca-Cola or whatever who wants you to direct a huge campaign for them. Anytime the client comes to you and they ask you to do X job, right? The first thing that you need to do is you need to snuff out and evaluate what is that budget. And you need to start crunching numbers, right? And this is really where I wanna start to talk about the role of a producer. And in the second here, I'm also gonna be sharing a video of a conversation that I had with one of my long time good friends and producer that really took me from being a fledgling greenhorn to I think being a lot more experienced. And prior to getting into that video, I just want to take a minute here and I want to explain the role of a producer. Now, let's just curb this concept that an agent is there to educate, and let's bring in the role of a producer. What is a producer? It is what it sounds like. It's somebody who produces something. Now, let's just really quickly, there's a lot of Intel here that's being spilled over. So I want to break all this down. It's just little, oh, you you're by yourself. You're like, "I don't need an agent. I don't need a producer. What does all this stuff mean? This is ridiculous. This is overkill." It might be during the first couple years of your career. Absolutely. But at a certain point, you're gonna realize that when you are getting into a situation where that client or that person who's hiring you has no clue what these requests of theirs are going to cost, what these asks are going to cost, this is why it's so nice to bring in somebody else to help you, somebody else to negotiate. So again, you can stay in the vertical. And I guarantee you the moment that you're wearing all these different hats and you are the bookkeeper and you are the manager and you are the agent for your small business, you're gonna be burnt out. And this is where you might want to call up that friend you trust and negotiate for you, or look for representation. This is where you might want to call up that really talented producer friend of yours who really knows nothing about film and TV or video, but can just orchestrate and organize expenses really, really well. Again, that's the world according to Chris, and maybe the worst piece of advice when it comes to really planning a proper shoot. But in the beginning, you're gonna have to make do, you're gonna have to be scrappy. You're gonna have to just get blood on your knuckles. You're gonna have to make it work. And I can't urge you enough that the moment you start looking for these outside roles to help you, the more success you're gonna find. So what is a producer? Right? A producer is somebody who comes in to help produce everything on the shoot so that you can focus on your one role, which is taking pictures, right? Or directing. So the producer comes in and it's their job to basically, first off, they're creating another bid, right? So there's the bid that the agent creates. This is your fees. This is what you are worth. And there is nothing else on there except for your fees and whatever licensing agreement there might be. Licensing agreement, again, nuances not gonna get deep into that, but if somebody's asking you for, they're gonna do a shoot and your day rate is going to be $1,000 a day. And then they're gonna license these images for two years, all that Intel, all that verbiage is gonna be written into that bid from your agent, okay? We're gonna talk about that more shortly. And then over here, you're gonna have another estimate. This is the production estimate. This is everything you need to do the job. What's in this production estimate, right? And you can find these documents easily online. If you look up production estimate, there are plenty. Oftentimes there's about a billion columns for all of these things that hopefully you'll never need, but sometimes you do. And so it's important to have an awesome regimented production estimate that helps, again, show the client exactly what it's going to cost to do the job they wanna do. Now, a production estimate can times be slightly padded, right? Some of these numbers are a little inflated because you don't know what you're gonna get into. And there can even be a slight slush fund. And without getting too much into the weeds, there is a bunch of different types of jobs that require different types of estimates. There's cost-plus, there's all-in. There's a lot of stuff I don't really want to dive into too much there because the goal is that you hire a producer and they deal with that for you. Now, what the producer does in tandem, they're giving the client a production estimate. They're working with you to say, "Chris, we need to go to Iceland. We're shooting a catalog for Pirana, okay? And we need to travel with eight people. We need to travel with a bunch of clothing. We're gonna be going... They're gonna be asking me, where are we gonna be shooting? And I'm gonna be saying, we're gonna be shooting here, here, here, and here. Great, I need permits for those locations. I'm gonna need housing for those locations. I'm gonna need travel for those locations. Now, the producer's job is really to get all of that Intel to the client without ever having been on the ground. Now, they oftentimes will reach out to a local person or a scout or whatever, what have you to basically get accurate real life numbers. But as you can imagine, their job is stressful. And one of the big differences of a producer is that from day one before the job even starts till day when the job wraps and all the images are being submitted, they're still working, okay? Your role might only last two to three to four days or a week out there shooting, but they have to see it through from the beginning to the end, okay? And just like your agent, just like you, just like them, they are not gonna get paid for this initial phase. This is why they call it a bid because you put in your bid for the job. Production fees, your fees, and you submit that. And a lot of times when a client comes to you for a job, they're asking two to three other photographers for their bid. And the goal here is that you are trying to be competitive. Sometimes that means lowering your rates. Sometimes that means lowering your production estimate. Oftentimes, there are even jobs where your production estimate is a little low. It's a little scrappy. Maybe the hotels aren't that great. And the rental car is really cheap or you're using your own car, or the food is gonna be whatever because you wanna make higher fees or vice versa, right? So this is a weighted scale. And why I'm telling you that it's crucial for you to understand that education is really at the root of all this, oftentimes a client will request from you a job or a assignment, and they have zero clue what it will cost. "Hey Chris, we wanna do a night photography shoot at some wave pool somewhere. And you know what? We only have $25,000." And you're like, "Well, it's gonna cost $50, just to rent that place for the day. Let alone what they might want for a commercial permit or whatever." So, so much of this process is educating. Now, again, let's take that step back. You are fledgling in your career. You're just starting out. Why would this be important? Well, I think it's even more important when you're starting out. I think it's even more critical when you're working with smaller brands. Why? Because these larger Fortune 500s, these big brands, they understand the process, they get it. Throwing at them a number that is astronomical because of flights and cost and food, that's not gonna be hard for them to swallow at all. But some of these smaller brands, it is really crucial to hit them with potentially two documents. One of them being, "Hey, just so you know, this is what I'm making. And just so you know, this is what it's gonna cost to do the job." Why wouldn't you want to do it the way you've always done it? Why wouldn't you just want to give them one big round number? Well, because they probably look at that and they think, "Oh, well, that's what he's charging. That's what they're making to get the job done." When the truth is, no, if you're doing this small personal project or the small commercial personal project for somebody, and you ask for 10,000 bucks and they're like, "Sorry, we only have 5,000 bucks. And you're like, "Well, it's gonna cost me eight just to do it. I'm actually only making two." That's where providing two estimates is critical. And you can call 'em whatever you want, production, expenses and your fees, right? That's why showing them both and writing it down and laying it out helps to educate the client as to what it will cost for you to do the job. Now, I wanna jump in quickly to this conversation that I had with Michelle because I think it's really enlightening for you to understand from her perspective, what it's like to work with a photographer, what her role is, and really how she helps to manage this client and photographer relationship while on set. Because that is one of the beauties of a producer, is that they're usually traveling with you or going with you to manage the job while you're there.