Do’s And Don’ts For Finding A Commercial Photography Agent

This guest re-post comes from Mark Winer at The Gren Group. The original post appeared here.

We’ve added some new talent to our roster recently, and with that often comes questions from photographers about how to find representation. So this is for you, the aspiring photographer searching for that perfect relationship with an agency representative. There is (as of this writing) no match.com for the photography industry – so we are are going to summon up 18 years of experience and give you the tools for your big search.

Rather than writing a long dissertation on the process of finding a rep, we’ve decided to give you a Cliffs Notes version – a handy, tried and true list to follow throughout your search. Please keep in mind this is aimed at photographers who are interested in working with agents who have mostly commercial clients. The TOP TEN Do’s and Don’ts below will vary based on your objective.

Here goes:

DO’S!

DO know that we get between 15 and 20 unique photographer requests each month. We may add just one new photographer a year, so you really need to stand out.
DO your research. Personalize your message to the rep you’re reaching out to and reference something worthwhile and specific. Find some common ground.
DO prove your business model. Show us that your own photography skills and marketing efforts have gotten you enough work where you need a business partner to help manage your growing business.
DO know thyself. What kind of photographer are you? Fashion? Lifestyle? Conceptual? Still Life? You should come to us already with a strong brand and self identity. We should be able to ‘know’ you in 90 seconds or less.
DO support the US Postal Service (before they close your branch)! Mail us samples of the great promos you’ve been sending to clients.
DO share your most recent commercial success stories – recognizable brands really get our attention. This is kind of a ‘what have you done lately’ business.
DO tell us about the industry trade shows you’ve attended and the Art Producers or Creative Directors you’ve met with recently. Feel free to name drop – we may have connections in common!
DO be respectful, appreciative and humble. A good personality goes a long way.
DO be patient and realistic. This is a relationship business. It can take years for the rep to build relationships with both clients and photographers.
DO have a reasonable advertising & promotion budget. Attracting the attention of ad agency clients, and building relationships with them, can require an extensive financial commitment.

DON’TS

DON’T email us generic comments like “new website!” or “just want to take my photography to the next level”. Be creative – include the whats, whens and whys. First impressions are important!
DON’T worry if we don’t get back to you right away. We make every effort to respond to all requests – which can sometimes take several days or weeks, depending on our workload.
DON’T be a beauty, fashion, conceptual or product photographer if you’re reaching out to us. Nothing personal, just not our area of expertise. Do your research first, and know the agent – there are plenty of great reps who market celebrity & automotive work.
DON’T be lazy. Success in this business requires a ton of ambition, passion, and a positive outlook. Enthusiasm is contagious – clients and reps can feed off your energy.
DON’T worry if most of the projects come from your leads in the first year or two. That’s to be expected. After all, you’ve been promoting your own commercial work for the last 5-10 years, and we’ve just gotten started.
DON’T send us a personal Facebook request after just one email. We’re big fans of social media, so show us you know the difference between networks like LinkedIn, Twitter, etc …
DON’T be a photographer with only personal, fine art or wedding work. It may be beautiful, but we are advertising assignment reps – the work must be commercially viable and contain high production value.
DON’T be a prima donna. Character is very important – we prefer humble, appreciative, collaborative and genuine.
DON’T get bogged down into thinking that you must have a rep to build your business! Plenty of great photographers have achieved commercial success without representation.
DON’T get frustrated if you have no luck getting a rep in the first few months (or years) of trying. Take that as a sign that you have to continue working harder and smarter to appeal to an agent.

Hope this helps a little. The right photographer/agent partnership can be a great thing – creative, challenging, lucrative, rewarding and fun. It’s also a lot like a marriage, whose success relies on mutual understanding, respect and communication. And like a marriage, know your partner well – maybe even consider living together for awhile first – the goal is to be together for a long time.

Good luck in your search!

There Are 7 Comments On This Article.

  1. They obviously got some very talented photographers on their roster but almost all of them shoot kind of the same stuff with almost similar styles. My question is, why do most agencies represent photographers that shoot so alike? Wouldn’t having a more diverse range of photographers be better?

    • Diversity is a double edge sword. It means more possibility of work for the roster and less conflicts within the agency. It doesn’t, however, streamline the marketing of the agency. Think of it like this. Imagine running 10 very different ad campaigns four or more times a year. That’s a ton of work and a ton of money.

    • Rep firms build their rosters with talent they feel apply to their clients’/market needs. Since they are usually focused on specific areas of the business, there is the potential for the work to overlap. Additionally, photography is now mostly about capturing data and manipulating it in post. Since everyone is working with the same digital toolbox, it’s much more difficult to have a signature look than it was when shooting was analog. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely feel that a few reps have a lot of overt redundancy in their rosters and always wondered how they could
      make that work, but most of us try hard to avoid that.

    • Hi Danny,

      I always thought … if you’re a Fashion Photographer, wouldn’t you want to be represented by a Fashion Agent? If you’re an Automotive Photographer, wouldn’t you want to be repped by an Automotive Agent? Additionally, if you’re an Art Producer or Art Director looking for a Lifestyle Photographer, you’d probably start your search with a Lifestyle focused website or rep.

      For sure, there is a calculated risk in typecasting yourself, either as a Photographer or Agent (it took us nearly 7 years to effectively do this). There are many great and successful Everything Photographers and Everything Agents out there. For The Gren Group, however, focusing on a target market has helped build a recognizable identity that makes it easier for clients to understand who we are and what we do (and don’t do).

      Thanks for your comment.

      Mark Winer