Creative power, and other stuff

First, a bit of linguistic fun courtesy of Åsk at Adland. Note in particular “Buzzard” and “Fart Director.”


In more important news, just when you might be thinking creativity isn’t worth as much as you think it is, two news bits (re)confirm your suspicions–it’s worth loads.

This article from Business Week notes how more and more creatives are becoming significant executives in major companies–something almost unheard of not too very long ago. They do suffer from one common problem, though: a lack of business knowledge.

Sound familiar? 🙂

And, even more encouraging, there is this piece of news about the creators of South Park… Love it or loathe it, South Park is clearly original and its creators have constantly followed their own creative voices, rather than conforming to what others told them they should (or, more likely, should not) do. And now, by making a unique product and holding on to their creative rights while working out a very interesting licensing deal, those two guys are expected to make $75 million in the next three years.


The Modern Postcard Debacle

MP screwed up and screwed up big. Every photographer in the US is probably aware by now of MP’s stupid business move in striking a deal with iStockphoto. Every photographer should be aware that MP has not only apologized for that and the incredibly crappy email they sent promoting it, they have, in fact severed the relationship.

In other words, they made a bad business decision and they have fixed it as much as humanly possible. I think that deserves a second chance.

Years ago, when I first got into this business, the studio I worked for sent film to a lab. They screwed it up–we didn’t find this out until we picked up the film. Rather than admitting it, they said “you must have fogged it” and would not do anything to fix the situation. The same thing happened (different processing error, but you know what I mean) at a different lab later, and they called us before we picked up the film and said “one roll fell off in the processor–we’re sorry, what can we do to make this right?”

We never used the first lab again, but we were loyal to the second lab–because they copped to it and tried to make it right.

If this incident had been a regular pattern of MP’s, I would have been the first one calling for heads to roll. But it wasn’t. Someone, a human being or a couple, made a bad choice and then executed the bad choice poorly.

Besides all of the above, which one of us has never made a bad business decision, deliberately or not, that we wish we could take back?

Someone on one of the forums wrote that MP should “live by the sword/die by the sword.” How many of us can honestly say “I make my living based on copyright but I have never, ever used software I didn’t buy legally or copied/downloaded a song without paying or watched a video someone (illegally) emailed me, etc.”

How about having one too many and driving–any of us ever wake up in the morning knowing we shouldn’t have been behind the wheel the night before?

And how many of us have made a mistake/bad choice based on ignorance that, when pointed out, we tried to fix? I think that’s what happened here. I do not believe MP meant any harm–they just (admittedly stupidly) didn’t see the consequences of their actions. When it was pointed out to them, they woke up and are trying their level-best to fix it. And I bet it’s costing them plenty to do so–canceling a deal like that is not usually possible without some sort of financial hit. They are not “getting away easy” by any means.

On top of that, some photographers will never go back. That is their choice. But if we, as a group, continue to punish MP for screwing up EVEN AFTER THEY HAVE TAKEN THE BEST STEPS TO FIX IT POSSIBLE, then we, as a group, lose credibility. What company in the future is going to try and make it better when they screw up with us, if we can’t forgive and move on now? None. They will say “Why should we do anything? So we can get treated like MP did after they did all they could to make good? Hell no.”

APA and ASMP are trying to work with MP to find ways to make sure something like this never happens again. I think we should back them in that and show our humanity by giving MP another chance. MP has a long history of supporting photographers and I don’t think that history should be thrown out for one (albeit big) error.

Also, forgiveness is a choice, and one I encourage. It is good for the forgiver. You only need to Google “quotes forgiveness” to see that it is a virtue worth pursuing. For me, I’d rather trust and forgive and run the risk of occasionally getting burned than live in fear and paranoia.


In the movie Moonstruck there is a scene where the main character’s father is telling how he got some yuppies to buy new copper pipes for their new (older) home. He gives the yuppies their options, telling them that this pipe or that pipe are possibilities, but that he doesn’t even use any of them because of their negatives in the long run and he explains those negatives. Finally he comes to copper. Almost sighing he says, “It costs more…it costs more, because it’s worth more” and explains how it will last “forever.” The yuppies look at each other, nod, and he gets the sale.

While I am loathe to make plumber/artist comparisons, there is a lesson to be learned here. Just as in our industry, there are always cheaper options. But if you can articulate the value of your (more expensive) offerings, the right clients will not only understand, they will respect and be eager to buy.

Think about luxury items–real luxury items, not the ones you can get at any fine mall anymore, but things like Maybachs. They make two models–that’s it–and the low-end starts over US$335K. Buyers get put on waiting lists for these (and similar) cars. This holds true for many luxury items. Luxury item companies are making more and more money–profit–than their cheaper counterparts who sell many times more vehicles. Think about all the trouble GM and Ford have been in though they have sold a gazillion vehicles, while companies like Lamborghini QUADRUPLED profits in 2006–selling less than 3000 cars total (please note differences between revenues and profits in those stories, btw).

This is about mindset as much as it is about product. Yes, to be in the upper tier of creatives you need to have strong work, but you also need the mindset that your work is of high value to your clients. Then, your marketing needs to articulate that value.


There’s been more talk lately, both on this blog and on some of the photographer forums, about the media buy percentage system. As we all know, I advocate using it whenever possible to price your licenses. Others say it is untenable and that the license should be priced based on “value” and “creativity” and other nebulous terms.

Hey, I wish there was a better way, I really do, to determine an image’s value to a client, but the price of the media has been setting the value for advertising since advertising has been around. And, until we can find a better system (heavy on the word “system” there), this is the best I can figure.

How many of you know that the creative used to be free in advertising? Yup, early agencies made all of their money on their media commissions. They threw in the creative as a value-added service. Then they started marking up their outside costs and getting commissions. Then, one sad day, the media buying part of agencies started leaving the agencies.

Today, most agencies without media buying are still struggling to find the best way to price and bill their services. But the media companies still make lots of money selling media space. In fact, media companies are now giving away free creative for their clients as a value-added service (or doing it for cheap)–cutting the agencies out entirely.

So, it’s come full-circle; creative is being given away again but this time by the media companies.

The only constant? The selling of the media space.

So, that’s why I look to those numbers (which have generally remained constant or gone up over time, taking inflation into account–several economists see ad spending at or higher than GDP growth) as an effective constant upon which to base a pricing system. As I have said repeatedly, it isn’t a perfect system, but at least there is math and logic involved.


In yesterday’s post I should have made it clear that Jeff Sedlik does not endorse using a media buy percentage system to determine fees. I added the link to his APAnet post (and the thread in general) to emphasize the concept of understanding value, but the way I worded the post, it certainly appears that I am including Mr. Sedlik in those who specifically use and encourage a media buy percentage system. I was wrong to give that impression.

I am sorry for the confusion and my sloppy writing which caused it.

I do want to say that though Jeff and I differ on using a media buy percentage system, he is someone who has consistently stood for photographers understanding the value of their work and pricing appropriately with that understanding. I encourage people to read his posts on various forums (and in all media) with respect and an open mind.

More thoughts on pricing

I was going through some files earlier today when I ran across a post from APAnet that I had printed out. I rarely print posts out, so I decided to take a look at it as I must have had some reason for saving this post in tangible form. It was by Tim Olive and dated to early 2004, and it contains some great information about pricing and media buys and negotiating. It’s worth reading again, so here is the link to it on APAnet.

Mr. Olive refers to an earlier post by Jeff Sedlik, but unfortunately does not provide a link to it and it was not of the same thread (I searched). However, I did find this earlier post on a related topic by Mr. Sedlik and think it also is worth a look.

So, the next time someone tells you that pricing your usage licenses using a system related to the media buy or budget is an “antiquated idea that dates back to the pre-usage days” you can say, with confidence, “Bull.” In fact, it is a logical and helpful way to increase your license prices while clarifying their legitimacy to your clients, thus bringing in more money per project and improving your bottom line.

Mark your calendars!

It’s official–with dates and locations and everything–and now I can share it with you:

ASMP presents Strictly Business 2:

Los Angeles – Doubletree Torrance, January 25-27, 2008
Atlanta – Atlanta Marriott Century Center, February 22-24, 2008
Philadelphia – Crowne Plaza Philadelphia, March 7-9, 2008
Chicago – Renaissance Chicago North Shore, April 11-13, 2008

Information and registration will be available on ASMPs site by September 1. In the meantime, here are some basic facts you should know:

  • There will only be these 4 events. Yes, the original Strictly Business added event after event after the originally planned ones, but that will not be happening this time. If you don’t go to one of these events, you will not get another chance to attend one later for years. This is to ensure quality over quantity as these events are expensive and complex to produce.
  • The featured speakers will be John Harrington, Judy Hermann, Blake Discher, and me. We will cover the business side of your business, including issues of marketing, paperwork, legal issues, copyright, pricing, negotiating, and much more.
  • The keynote speaker will be, depending on location, either Sean Kernan or Joyce Tenneson. Either will be a great addition to the events and give us all a needed creative injection.
  • The outstanding sponsors are making it possible for ASMP to offer the events at very low prices and to include 2 meals each day of the two-day events–to help you afford the travel needed to reach these events.
  • You’ll get the chance to book 30-minute individual consultations on different business aspects with the features speakers (including me), at very discounted rates (I will also offer longer-form consultations the day after in each city but those will be booked directly through me instead).
  • There will be both lectures and smaller group work, plus plenty of opportunities for talking with the speakers, asking questions, and learning more (not to mention the book with additional materials you’ll receive).

Those of us involved (including the ASMP folk, especially Susan Carr) have been working very hard to put together fantastic events which will help photographers understand and manage their businesses the best they can. We’ve all dedicated lots of time and effort to Strictly Business 2 and we’re positively excited about how things are coming together. This is a great opportunity for all photographers and I can’t encourage you enough to attend.

Bits and pieces

I’ve posted the most recent Manual on the Manuals page of the BAP site. This is the very same Manual you could have received a month ago in the privacy of your email in-box, if you had signed up for Free Manuals in Your Email. Next emailed Manual will go out in early September.


I will be one of the judges for the APA National Photo Competition again this year. Get your images in soon so your work can be seen by some amazing and influential people–people who, unlike me, buy photography. Hint hint.


Stay tuned for a detailed announcement about the upcoming ASMP Strictly Business 2 events. Things are being finalized and there will be lots of information available by September 1st.

As one of the speakers and therefore someone who has been involved in the curriculum planning, I can tell you this is going to be an amazing series, not to be missed. Worth every penny (and a surprisingly few pennies required) and the travel required to get to one of the 4 (only 4!!!) events.

Plan on attending one of the weekends. It’ll be a great investment in your business and you’ll have some fun to boot.


Finally, tomorrow is my birthday, so I think I’ll play hooky for the rest of the day and go hang out by the pool. Everyone should give themselves something on their birthdays–it doesn’t have to be something big, just something they want. And I want to go swimming… if I could only figure out a way to waterproof my Mac, I’d be a pruny consultant more days than not. 🙂

Note number 4

Here’s a link to a very interesting article (thanks Clay, who pointed me to Adland for this) instructing how to hire an ad agency. Note number 4 in the “don’t” section in particular (no spec!) and the reasons why.

The other bits are applicable to us as well. For example, the part about geography is a reflection of what I’ve been teaching in the other creative industries (like photography)–it no longer matters where you are anywhere near as much as what it is you offer. Make it special and find the right people who want that kind of creative vision.