Photo Rep Interview - Lesley Zahara
Hi, how are you? Interesting, interesting it's. A lot to learn, right? So leslie is harrah's my rep. She has had zahara reps for a little whiles at a little well, you'd never tell a lady's age, so we won't say how long you been in the business, but you've been in the business for a while tell us a little bit about kind of how you got started and how it has changed over the years because we have seen a huge change in the business. Um, I think along a long time ago, it's a lot easier. It was a very simple concept. You had a good product, you sold it in a certain way and you've got work back doesn't work like that anymore. It's really, really competitive, highly competitive, and in the old days you had remember when there was black book over books were how you advertised you what you're working there. People saw it, they came and requested an estimate, and you, if you're a good, and if you weren't over in the price, you pretty much knew you were going to get that job does not work like th...
at anymore. It's really competitive? They have a lot of involvement now with cost consultants in the agency's, which means it's not even always about the photographer that the agents he wants to choose for the job it comes down to the dollar value of that job so you're competing with things that we didn't have to compete with back then it cost consultants are kind of a tough and thankfully that that's somewhere we're less we can often shield me from even knowing about that one of the great things about a rap is that they're able to take on a lot of the business side there's some photographers that really shouldn't be in business but a rap can save them right? I mean well sometimes innocent in the sense that you guys really are a buffer between the artsy fartsy type the really creative type that can often have a hard time getting the brain wrapped around the numbers in dealing with the cost consultants the art buyers yeah so it's a long involved process and quite often you don't want your creative person involved in the process because you're supposed to be there to create that's why people hire you because you have a or in your case you're a good business person but most people in the business that air really good creatives or not so you want to shield them from that hole can we do this? Can we take that out? Can we you know uh I've been in car shoot estimates where they've come back and said can you take out that eighty dollars back roll it's like on a one hundred thousand dollars estimate somebody went in there and line item an eighty dollar role of white seamless I mean that's yeah that's what you want the photographer going you know that was just annoying me and put me in a bad mood I don't need that so yeah again it's good to have a rap who can do that? Yeah it's it's a process it's really impresses relationships from my point of view this is just a relationship based business I've gotta build I've got to let people trust me same goes for you how do you go about kind of building those relationships it's a time intensive thing it's time intensive and it's also a moving target because people don't stay in agencies the ways they used to a long time ago but that could work to our advantage right? So if we build a relationship with somebody at an agency and then they go to another agency, hopefully they have a bigger client take us with us with them you always want to build a client base relationships you cannot live in this business without that you have to have it part of it's trust part of its they know they can call me it four o'clock on a friday night and say I need this estimate by eight o'clock monday morning and they're going to get it and if they come back and say we'd like to use rob, but you have x amount of in your budget we needed to be why I'm not gonna give them a hard time and say, but, you know, that's, that's, the usage that you're asking for, we have to do it for this price, you have to be really understanding of the flexibility factor, and that doesn't mean you drop your price to get the job. That means sometimes they don't have a choice. There are director really once robbed to that job, but if you're busy that's seventy thousand, they have sixty two it's going to go to somebody else. So if you get teo a relationship point with an art buyer, where they'll come back and say we want, we want your team or your photographer to do that job, but they just don't have the budget, then as a rep, you have to make the choice of that point where you're falling in with that, and I don't like to go really low on prices because once you once you train them to do that, but it will become a repeating thing if you train them that if they come back and go, but can you just get it down ten thousand times, training the client? Yeah, you have to train them, and I saw a huge change. In this business, when it went through the nine eleven, when everything just stopped, it was like somebody dropped a bomb on the business and everybody rolled up the carpets and they just stop spending money. They don't know if there's gonna be a war than what was gonna happen. And during that period of time, the agencies were all trying to keep going. So, you know, they were they would be scrambling, and everybody wanted to do a job. So everyone got into bidding wars on our end on photographers in they had ten thousand. You wanted thatjob well did roll up the carpet. I just signed with sammo town. She was my wrap, and we signed the month before nine eleven. So everybody roll up the carpets. We couldn't get a job together two years, it's just nobody can work. I mean, really, nobody could. It was a really frightening time. But I think the biggest negative that came out of that time is that it trained the clients that people were hungry and they would negotiate, and that became the pattern of things for a long time. It was like, yeah, I know, I know they really this job's worth fifty thousand, but throw twenty five thousand there and see what happens and that's where a rep like leslie really comes in handy she's the negotiating power, she's the one who has the ability to sit and talk with him and kind of go back and forth and she can do it in a much more non threatening way and not to be defensive because at the end of the day, you know, photographers, I think that there is a certain amount of you go that goes with us, and when somebody doesn't want to work with us were beating us up, we can take it personally when we shouldn't, because it's not really us that's really nice tohave lesley handle that, and as you said, if somebody calls at four o'clock on a friday and says, ok, we need we need numbers we need award this thing, we need to fast and I'm on set if I'm on set, I can't do an estimate, you know, I could be on saturday four o'clock on a friday, so this is a total team approach where leslie is able to come in and work with me, but more importantly, work with client to negotiate the deal. He had a question I did, I wanted to know if you were just starting out as a commercial photographer, how do you get into a relationship? Was someone like leslie like, how how do you build this relationship with the to be really honest, you don't at that point you're just starting out its and I can't tell you how many e mails I get probably that's an average twenty to thirty requests a week for people wanting representation, a lot of people don't realize that the background that goes into it reps typically need to protect their own reputation, so I'm not going to sign somebody that hasn't got an experienced background because if I go into my agency and I get awarded that budweiser job and I've got an inexperienced photographer and something goes wrong, it's my whole reputation with that agency that khun suffer, so when people come to me with great work, I'd always take the time every single email to answer them back either do a little critique or you have a great work, you know, keep going or going this direction. Robbie brought up a point earlier that's really important not to scatter yourself don't try to do everything and be everything to everyone you can't do it, and if you don't have a focus, you will be lost in that enemy in trouble, you know, one way to answer that question and one thing that I did when I was looking for a wrap a number of years ago more than a decade ago, I knew I wasn't ready for a rep I just might work was not there, but I called a few wraps and I said to them, hey, I'm not there yet, but I would love to know if you'd be willing to spend some time with me, take a look at my book and tell me what you see in it that's positive and tell me what you see in it that needs re shaping, because I'd liketo work on that, and I'd someday like to be at that level. That is, without question a great thing to do when you ask people for help there pretty willing tto help when you go to somebody and say, hey, I won't rip your representation because you're going to get me more work that's off putting for a wrap. Leslie spent decades building her reputation, and she has the ability as a rep to win a project and assign the right photographer to it's kind of interesting and that you've built a stable of photographers. Yeah, and that stable has to be built on trust between myself and whoever I'm representing and that's it's just I know a lot of people think that you go through stages, you get first, you go to brooks or you do whatever you're doing or you assist or you bring yourself to the point where you feel your work is viable to be out there. But there's a long process between your work being viable, to be out there and getting an agent to handle it, and part of that is something you have to go through it's the learning process, you have to go through that school to come out the other end is a strong shader if you just took yourself and handed yourself over to somebody else to run your business, you're not going to learn, and the learning is part of the process. Yeah, and it also get kind of gets to be a big issue in that we have to marry our reputations. I've got a reputation as a photographer, and leslie has a reputation as a rep as an agent, so we decide to work together. Now we have really got to commit to each other because we could drag each other down. It's funny, it's like a merger, really at issue here, including something up. I have black idea and you don't want that, you know, so we lesbian, I spent a lot of time working very closely. We talk about our marketing plan, which is multi pronged, like how many different things do we do? What we do? You have to come that's, another thing it's changed, you have to be out there in many different venues because you're dealing with many different approaches that people look at there are young art directors and art buyers that are in their twenties and they only want to do online they're going to go in there and they're going to look on online workbook they're gonna look at edge they're gonna look at something online that's there that's where they shot there's other people that have been in the business longer and they're used to books they'll go to a book, they'll do the physical at loco or workbook or something like that and people have become so inundated with promotion I don't think that there's one place you can say if you do this you'll get work because there's a there's a company we deal with called ad base or added agency just access now at base was bought out you used to be able to buy a list of every single viable person in the industry and it was about twenty thousand names and as people got access to this information they started inundating them, bombarding them with emails and you know, campaigns and hits and can you see me? You know? Can I set up a portfolio of ewing and it got it's to the point now it's down to about nine thousand because people have opted out but they just can't do it so many photographers had bombarded all the you know art directors and creative directors and art buyers with all this junk that a lot of people opted out so it's kind of created a problem for the rest of us, they're still producing good work and want to get in touch with them. So, you know, leslie and I had to sit down and say, ok, what are the things that that can work? What has worked? We know workbook works, so we continue to advertise knight you have put me in communication arts, which I've never advertised in before we do email campaigns very targeted, this newsletter's newsletter, linds, lots of portfolios, showings when we can, but again, that's like an annual maybe semi annual thing. Yeah, and even that's getting hard now, um, the problem for the agency's is their creatives air over work. At this point, a lot of people are just not they can't take that half hour to come out of their desk and come look at books they want to, they just can't. So you you've got to cover every base, you're gonna be out there seeing people, you've got to be emailing, you've gotta be in some kind of printed format, direct mail. A lot of people don't believe in direct mail any more, but it's still something you kind of have to do? I think it's really good for people starting out, but, you know, going in tow workbook is really expensive it's you talking, you know, many thousands of dollars for a couple of pages and that's not something that you're going to want to do starting out, but if you're starting out, you want to identify who your your potential clients are and start getting emails in front of them and getting direct mail in front of them because you're gonna be starting with smaller agencies, those air those are much better to send direct mail to than a big agency that's got several hundred people and they get tons of stuff because everybody's gone inform er so it's a matter of no, you know, knowing your target and doing a multifaceted approach website without question, your website has got it great. It is the single fastest, most proficient way for anybody to look at your images is to go to your website and they do it all the time. We've seen the traffic on our website just constantly push up in the last year and a half since I've been together with leslie just keep saying it push up, push up, push up a lot of that is to do with the advertising and communication arts magazin or any of you familiar with that the reason I choose communication arts is because it's the one place where you're not trying to get in front of somebody's face with your stuff they're already in that magazine because they are in there looking for themselves they're looking to see which other agencies did the right campaign or what what won the award or what was in the design annual they want to be in that magazine so if you happened to be in there with a two page spread no matter what happens they're going to see it so although it's not really a direct you know I'm not a it's not a workbook thing where somebody's going to go in there looking for okay I need to find a car shooter it's subliminal they may not even stop at the page but they're going to see that name and they're going to see it over and over and over again until it becomes more of a household word when I I can't tell you how many times people say to me oh yeah you know I know I know your company or I know yeah I know leslie's a hair it she's got a good reputation I've never worked with the company never even estimated with the company but if you keep your name going out there all the time eventually they think they know you because name association wins out so it's really really important to keep your name out time right? That's just repetition it's time it's being patient unless I was built that overtime so other than handsome and charming what is that you look for in your photography is there anything else you should be looking for from you well know yeah there's a lot of stuff I built a pretty good stable of us on and I'm so pleased to be a part of it there are some really talented photographers in your stable there are there really are and it's it's a hard choice because I think as a rep you can't help falling into the place where you choose people because you like their work personally but we all as reps or agents of any kind of don't care for your music agent or a television actors agent you're going to be drawn towards what you resonate with. So for me I have a certain style in my mind that reads for me and that's the kind of people I gravitate to like like classic like clean I like I mean there there are people in my group that are but that's the kind of I think I think I'm drawn to more than anything people were so you've really got to see something in terms of stylistically that you connect with because you've got to sell it again it's your reputation so you've got to be able to feel that you can write believing that person and I have taken on people that I knew I wouldn't be able to sell them, but I loved their work and I figured, you know what? You don't know, I could say I can't sell you, but what if I put you on the website and somebody else does see it? What if I've got a music photographer on there that only shoots musicians, but milk comes up with a campaign where they're shooting musicians when you don't really know there's not a a formula, so you try it, you know, I give it three years before I decide if it's not gonna work three years is about a good think so think about that, you know, I mean, and when leslie and I signed together, we knew that we had to commit to each other for quite some time. We may see returns, we may not we got a couple good hits really quickly and moving into chicago has been great, we've been getting great response and we're very optimistic of where it's going go, but at the same time we said, okay, we have to, you know, basically get ready, get married here for a couple of years without seeing any returns, we might not see anything for quite some time, uh, it's, the way it's actually gone really quickly for you, but I think that's also because you're really established but it's, once in a while, I take somebody that's not established because I just love what they do, and I know they're they're going to do well with it, and it works out, but a lot of times, if I do that, I'm really taking a crapshoot because I can put three years into it and they might never take off. And then you've invested three years of time and money, and one thing people forget about wraps, we don't get paid unless we sell something so I can go out there and sell somebody for three years and not get a job. You just have to that's part of the job, not only do you not get paid, you don't get paid until I get paid and I pay you so you know, big food chain so she could spend a lot of time and money there costs for leslie to fly around the country and buy bye goodies and go into ad agencies and put together direct mail and put together, uh, email. There are a lot of cost that she has a lot of cost that I have in promoting, so we're going in this together, uh, but it takes a long time for her sometimes to get that reward, and once we do get a job we've got it, we've got to go through production, we've got to shoot it, I've got to get paid and then I've gotta pay her so it's a long time all goes back to that same thing about being patient I mean, it's amazing how in an industry that seems to move so fast, where you click the shutter, you've got an image put it up on the web, you're often run it's, not the business side, the business side in some ways moves at a snail's pace while the image side doing in a lightning pace, so the business is almost in, you know, complete opposition and that that goes back to something. We're again it's so nice to have rap who can kind of help you manage all that and be contained and not worry about that. Leslie is really fantastic about pulling a lot of those financial things off, so let's get you a couple questions that we need to wrap up. Tony, they rob, you mentioned that you had a rep and then you transitioned into a relationship with leslie. How did that happen? Who approach to and what was the reason for the change? What drew you to leslie and, well, I had had a rep I've had probably I think four wraps over my my career and I hadn't had a rep for a while and I got in touch with virginia plas, who works for leslie, who is the chicago midwest minneapolis rap for hera wraps uhm I got in touch with her she had been an art buyer and one of my clients on jack daniel's and I got in touch with her to say I really am at the point where I need a wrap so I want to talk with you about it about helping me figure that out the consulting end of it and she and I started she gave me some stuff to work on I kind of went away and I honestly I completely ripped my portfolio apart when we go through it tomorrow you'll see what I did with it. I spent months going through my portfolio and I completely rebuilt it and then I went back to virginia and I said, okay, let me show you what I've done and I want to get your input and she's like she was really impressed with what I had done and the position I put myself in. So we started talking about it and where I could go on reps that I could look at it and it just so happened uh that there was a slot opening up with leslie's group and they were transitioning from they were not going to be working anymore with photographer in chicago that they had and I was the perfect fit so it worked again that's a relationship that's that's relationship I had ten years ago working on jack daniel's with an art buyer she moved to boston with the ad agency that got laid off when they had had a recession switched careers she became a rap and now she's my wrap so it's relationships you don't know where they're going to go but at the end of the day building building building and don't burn a single one is going to say that burn a bridge be careful gets people do come back around it's a very sick little industry so it's it's that's a good point whenever you get an opportunity to meet with anyone try to leave your best impression with him because he just don't know where they'll come back out I try not to try not to burn any bridges I mean once in a while you just you can't help what so while you screw up faces they screw screw you came all the way from santa barbara so thank you so much for coming up here to talk with everybody I know we're running out of time are there any other questions we need a head or do we need to wrap it I'd like to know just ask leslie a final question closing so if you could give photographers single kind of golden closing piece of advice the photographer's washington as far as breaking into the commercial industry what would you say well, that's a tough one because it's a tough market now, I mean, you're you're looking at it, I'm working that saturated with really good people, and unfortunately digital has taken a role that is unfair in the business because you can produce a shot that's not great, and you can fix it when I started in photography, if you didn't have it on film at the end of the day, you were in serious trouble, you couldn't go and fix it, it had you had to have the knowledge to get it. So in a whale that's a godsend digital, I mean, he can literally be shooting and the art directors making changes on the computer while you're shooting. You know you have the shop before you move on that's one big advantage, but the disadvantage is that it's hard for people to know what you really do or what you fixed later or what you composited or what you had to retouch or do. So I think in closing as faras that one final piece of advice, you just have to be really diligent because it's harder to get into it. You've got to be on target, you've got don't try to mass market yourself, go for what rob said earlier find smaller agencies that are willing to take a chance on a new shooter they often don't have the budgets that a big agency has, but the big agencies, they're not looking to spend their budgets on new people, so if you confine, also have good work. Teo teo say some of some of the best project I ever worked on came out of little two man shops, and the thing is, if if you build a relationship with those little shops as they grow, they will take you with them and that's, how you move that you move up, don't start knocking on the doors of the richards groups, and they could be silver suit because they're not going to see, you know, you know, it's it's a hard thing t know where to start, but if I was giving you one piece of advice, good, all the small shops, the direct designers, the people that get out there and they get a fabulous project and might just be one guy sitting in his office. But if you get an opportunity to work on that, you get that piece in your book, you get paid something for it at least, and it's a it's a step. So start small, be patient, grow, grow, grow on dh just, you know, manage your expectations because there is a lot of money in this business. There's a lot of money in the business, but it takes a while to get there. You know you can't just expect to also near photographer. You want to be pulling down this much money a year it's going to take a while and all steps or small. It doesn't matter if you're doing portrait ce if you're doing whatever you're doing that's a photo project, if you're getting paid for it, and it's growing your business and your money, your time, your winning you keep, you know, just don't try to make some. I can't tell you how many times people send me it. I would like to be represented thing, and you go on their side and they're like portrait ce with the pricing schedule and, you know, wedding photography, and you can't do that. You can't cross over if you do decide to do portrait's and weddings, but you're aiming for a commercial, keep those venues separate it's really important to do that.