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A Brief Guide to Photographic Markets 3: Advertising, Design and PR Agencies.

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A rough guide to advertising, design and PR agencies, from a snappers point of view.


Ah, the biggie, and the one that almost everyone seems to want to get into at some point in their career or other! The world of advertising offers potentially very high fees indeed, along with nationwide and possibly even world wide exposure of one's work in huge sites like 48 sheet billboard posters, as well as the (often begrudging) admiration of one's peers. The industry itself is largely centred on London, though there are smaller offshoots in Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol. The most typical way an advert gets from someone's brain to a billboard site is for the client (the people who want to sell more of whatever product it is they sell - chips, hairnets, dog food, insurance, or hairnet insurance) to contact an advertising agency. The agency will then put together a team to work on that account, and in their turn they will source specific people such as photographers, illustrators and so on to produce work for specific campaigns. Most campaigns run for a period of time, rather than reappearing in a different form within a short time period, indeed, some even run for years with very few changes. The long term sporadic nature of the industry means that it's quite rare to get commissions from the same agency over and over again in a short space of time. Each account team may only work on a few campaigns each year. Advertising broadly falls into 2 main types - Above the Line (ATL) and Below the Line (BTL). These are definitions of the media used to display the advert itself. Mainstream things such as TV, Posters, Press ads and such are Above the Line, and Direct Mail, Trade Press adverts and Viral are Below the Line. The definitions are getting steadily blurred as new forms of media become viable ground for advertising.

It should be obvious to anyone with their eyes open that advertising photography covers pretty much any and every subject matter and approach, and because of this it's common for photographers to be picked for specific jobs, and then not used again for 18 months or so, as their style of work doesn't suit the other campaigns that the agency are working on. This is common to much of the higher end work in photography, along with editorial and design work, although it's all the more marked in advertising, as what suits a campaign for Pedigree Chum may be a million miles away from what's required for British Airways, and the gap between major campaigns will be measured in months if not years.

Fees in advertising are hugely variable, although one thing they tend to have in common is a basic rate, which is what's paid for the shoot and the agreed basic usage of the images, and then a re-usage fee when the images are used outside that context. Day rates for photographers shooting advertising are rarely less than the high hundreds, and can often reach comfortably into 5 figures. There will also often be a significant production budget (think location fees, personnel costs, transport, equipment hire, retouching and so on) which will bump the whole bill up by a large amount. Some photographers handle all such things themselves, whilst other have agents who will deal with much of the production side. Despite the appeal of higher fees it's worth remembering that even a busy advertising photographer will spend a significant chunk of his or her time not shooting, as there is a great deal that has to be agreed upon before a shoot takes place, and often nearly as much work afterwards to ensure it comes out exactly as envisaged. The supposedly high day rates need to be balanced against the fact that that 1 day of shooting may well represent 10 or more of meeting in pre-production, and nearly as many after the event in post!

Advertising is one industry where licensing really becomes important. As a reflection of the value that a client derives from the advertising image, re-usage fees for advertising work are fairly high. There's lots more detail about this here, but in a nutshell, once the initial usage has been used up, any extension to it - an extra territory, time period, or media, will result in a nice, healthy extra fee. Photographers and their agents make a very lucrative income from this source, and it's vital to ensure that you've got things like rights and usages agreed before the shoot starts.

Design Agencies

Much of what's been said about advertising agencies goes for design agencies too - they tend to work on projects for external clients, and commission photographers on a bespoke basis. The big difference is in the end product. Design agencies are much more likely to work on things like brochures and annual reports, packaging, or brand identity work than a large nationwide advertising campaign. Having said that, many design agencies often do smaller scale ad work as well, as there are many similarities between the 2 markets as far as commissioning and producing work goes.

The rates a photographer can charge a design agency are fairly healthy, being in the several hundred and upwards mark, although there's rarely quite the same potential for more earnings from extended usage as there is with advertising work. By the same rationale licensing and rights follow a similar pattern, any usage above the basic agreed one incurs an extra fee.

Design agencies, along with advertising and most editorial work, tend to commission photographers for specific jobs, selected on the strength of their portfolio. They may well have a small roster of regular people, and in the case of long term contracts with their own clients they may use the same photographer repeatedly to retain consistency.

PR/Marketing Agencies.

This sector covers a lot of ground, as the boundaries between what would be seen as advertising, design, PR and Marketing work are often very hazy indeed. Some larger PR firms are nothing less than advertising agencies, and handle a great deal of work for their clients, whilst some only handle occasional events and photo calls. The type of work they commission matches this, with the smaller agencies more likely to be on the lookout for someone of a decent local press standard, who can take a good "grip and grin" shot, and have it ready for release within minutes, and at the higher end a much more creative approach with lots of consultation throughout the job, and a very polished final result from a photographer who's been picked from a short list of several other candidates. At the lower end of the PR market it's quite common to receive regular work from an agency, although the work tends towards the mundane, and the fees don't tend to be too huge either. Mind you, speaking from personal experience, they still tend to be very healthy amounts when weighed against the amount of time required - most jobs don't entail more than a few hours work from start to finish, so there's a decent overall wage to be had if you can get hold of lots of regular work.

Rights are fairly straightforward in PR, certainly at the lower end. The use the images are to be put to tends to be fairly immediate, so a simple first usage exclusivity is usually enough. Such shots generally tend to have limited resale value unless they depict things like celebrities, so there tends to be less pressure to sign away more rights to the agency. At the higher end of the market you can expect there to be much closer policing of rights and licensing, as the work commissioned will usually be for a wider market, and there will be more emphasis placed on exclusivity.

As far as a photographer is concerned, PR work can range from shots of a few local dignitaries presenting a giant cheque, all the way through to small scale advertising campaigns. As a result of this, the type of shots required will also vary immensely, so there's no such thing as a typical "PR" photographer, although this term generally defines someone who works towards the lower end of the market if you ever hear it used.

Other Markets: Editorial, Books and Stock Libraries, Social, Commercial, Event and In-House.


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