Real World Estimates – Publicity Pricing and the Value of Subject Follow-Up

By Jess Dudley, Wonderful Machine Producer

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 estimating or producing one of your projects, you can reach me at jess@wonderfulmachine.com.

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. This post is spot on about follow ups and making connections. A few years ago I shot a portrait of a CEO for an national daily newspaper. The budget was very modest and because of certain political concerns I was not able to get the shot I wanted. The only shot the CEO and his PR guy would let me get was chosen by them…and very boring. So the shot was pretty much a bust as far as I was concerned. However, I had used the PR guy as a stand in while we waited for the CEO. Later I sent that pic to him for shits and grins. Not only did he really appreciate it, he’s hired me to shoot internal shots for 10-20x the original newspaper budget on a handful of occasions.

  2. Jess thank you for the insight into your photographers business process. It is always interesting and educational to see how others achieve their goals. I love the advice about reaching out to your client after a shoot – a great example of the value in a simple follow-up.

  3. I like your thought process it definitely lends to consistancy in what you deliver to your clients. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ambrose Pierce

    Thanks for sharing your bidding process, it’s very informative.

    I do think for the same amount you quoted that you could have eliminated the “in perpetuity” clause in the contract using the very same argument with your client that you clearly and concisely state here–the images will steadily decrease in value to them over the years due to changes in hair styles and fashion. Keep in mind, most publicity photos are created to accompany an announcement the client feels has news value. Realistically, that “news” is old and crusty six months down the road. They don’t need rights in perpetuity–rather, a year or two maximum. When the license period expires, if the client continues to see value in those images, they have the option to re-license for additional years. If they don’t see continued value in that work, it’s time for them to commission new work.

    One other thing worth mentioning. It is absolutely critical with PR folks that “Publicity” usage be very clearly defined. Because PR agencies don’t have art buyers on staff–people who regularly commission work–their understanding of rights is not as sophisticated. It’s been my experience they feel that annual reports, corporate capabilities brochures, and advertorials fall under “publicity” usage. It should be made clear to them that if they pay to place the image, it is NOT publicity.

    • @Ambrose Pierce,

      With some clients sometimes the ‘perpetuity’ line is the difference between making the sale and not making it. There’s a time and a place to fight that battle (celebrity spec shoots come to mind), but often its not really worth it.

      But yes as a matter of practicality, many images have a lifespan of 2-3 years before they are simply out of date and have no further value.

      I know some photographers who fight that fight every single time… they never seem to be working very much. I think its because they come across as inflexible and difficult.

      • Ambrose Pierce

        @craig, Point well taken. It’s good to hear feedback on how others handle these kinds of requests. I agree that you have to choose your battles. However, I do suspect if there is any truth to what you say about “photographers who fight that fight every single time…they never seem to be working very much,” it is not because they are inflexible and difficult, but because there are so many others out there willing to except less.

        • @Ambrose Pierce,

          I can think of one case where I bid on the same (relatively small) job as another, the prices were similar, difference was I listened to the client, what they needed and presented them with options and it was very clear what the cost would be if the shoot grew (or shrank). Stubborn guy threw in a 2 page terms of license and day rates with no guarantee of how much could be done in a day. Client simply wasn’t sure what they were getting. This client ended up adding on to the shoot and I made another 50% over the initial estimate. And they were happy to pay it.

          The important thing is to service your client. There’s no need to screw yourself – if its a bad deal, just refuse it. But before you throw the baby out the window because someone says they want ‘all rights’ or ‘buyout’ or whatever, actually think about it for a moment. There’s likely a practical solution where everyone’s satisfied. And if they’re a company with capital – bill ‘em.

        • @Ambrose Pierce,

          It’s also worth noting that at the very top levels of jobs, your multi-6 figures for consumer products and such, the ‘buyout’ is pretty common. But you’re making a year’s worth of income in a month – and those materials will need to replaced in 2 years time. It’s not a bad deal.

    • @Ambrose Pierce,

      I agree with Craig. You have to pick your battles. Whenever use in perpetuity is requested, I push pretty hard to limit it to 5 years. Sometimes, the client is unwilling to budge, even knowing that the alternative sufficiently covers their needs and is much less expensive.

      In cases like this you have to consider that, even though they are asking for use in perpetuity, they will not be able to use the images after 3-5 years because of changes in branding, staff and fashion. The images have a shelf life and will probably expire within 5 years.

      For this project, we decided to be a little flexible and work with the client’s request.

  5. scott Rex Ely

    So the idea is to shoot lots of situations to give them more choices, but they only pay for two and then hope/calculate that they will want to use some of the others, then charge them more for each additional usage?

    That also seems a clever way to eliminate the digital tech and tethered shooting by explaining to get that many choices we have to skip the deluxe preview and go with a loupe on the back of a camera.

    So who gets the post file management fee?

    If it’s the photographer do they pay a commission on that fee?

    • @scott Rex Ely,

      I always encourage photographers to shoot more than is asked of them given the opportunity. Producing more images to choose from is a great way to impress the client. And, of course, it creates the opportunity to license additional variations down the road.

      I wouldn’t say this eliminates the need for a digital tech, though. Often the client has a specific shot list you need to hit. Whether you are shooting extra or not, they’ll want to make sure they’re getting what they need the day of the shoot.

      The photographer gets the file prep fee. Basic file preps are generally straightforward enough for the photographer to handle without the assistance of a retoucher.

      Retouching is typically a separate line item and may or may not be marked up depending on the photographers preference.

  6. Follow ups are important, I had a similar experience when photographing a CEO for a national editorial client. After the embargo period ran out, I ended up licensing some of the images to the company for their Annual Report. Which of course, paid a lot more than the original assignment.

  7. Really opened my eyes to different way to assess the worth of licensing images. I really have had no idea how to handle myself in a commercial sense until now… Thanks!

  8. Wow! just got to your blog via a comment on a post of Chase Jarvin.
    But I really really like your indepthe article about a production.
    Especially your way of thinking to come to a quote, and even a quote per photo.

    I have a video-production company in Holland, and it is always nice to have information about making an estimate.

    thanks,
    Pepijn