Maurice Li & Rishad Daroo
I'm just heading into an interview with Maurice Lee and Rishad Daroowala, partners at Stay And Wonder which is a digital advertising agency that specializes in, let's call it influencer marketing which is what has really put them on the map. Full disclosure, I co-founded Stay And Wonder in with Maurice and have since been a partner of the agency, although, been really mostly in a behind the scenes role and not really part of the day to day. So they are in touch with the agency clients. So I wanna take this time to talk to them about what they've been hearing from clients and what do they personally think photographers should be doing. Because they represent a healthy group of photographers across the world. So they have a lot of good insights. I love these guys and they're also photographers themselves. So they understand what we're going through and they bring the client relationships to the table. Let's do this. (air spray effect) (air whooshing) (Skype call ringtone playing) All ri...
ght. Maurice Lee, Rishad Daroowala, my good friends and partners at Stay And Wonder, the agency that we created in 2012 in Vancouver. So although I'm involved with Stay And Wonder, Rishad and Maurice have been running the day to day for it for the last years. And you guys have a good pulse on what's going on just because of your interaction with a lot of photographers and clients. So I think your perspective will be hugely valuable to all the photographers in helping them guide their decisions and be better prepared to weather the storm and on the other end, because there is hope, thrive. So thanks guys for being here.
Thanks for having us.
So let's start with the high level stuff. What have you guys been hearing from clients in the past two months that this thing's been, sort of unraveling?
I think that it's taken us by surprise, not just most others in our industry but people at large. I think the initial reaction very quickly for us was that most of our projects, upcoming projects and sort of current projects were all immediately canceled or postponed indefinitely. So that was a bit of a shock. Not entirely unexpected, just because we started out as a very, very travel focused agency. That is no longer sort of the focus of our business in terms of our clientele. But still, a lot of things that we do involve travel. We perform commercial shoots at a variety of sites and locations around the world. We have clientele that sort of spans the globe. So anything that required sort of hopping on a plane or moving a bunch of different pieces and creators to different places around the world, all of that stopped immediately. Fast forward a little bit through, past that obvious, needing to get places sort of problem. It's become, lately, a lot clearer how marketing budgets have been severely affected. Just with the amount of uncertainty, be it an agency, an ad agency or a brand client. I think the feedback is consistent and we're getting the same type of responses week in, week out, which is, "Whatever money I had has either been slashed or completely been put on hold." "We are looking forward to working with you guys again in the future. But as of right now, we have no visibility on when that might be. Things haven't ceased completely at our companies but that money is being not just completely... Not just been reduced in terms of budgets but what is remaining has been reallocated to focus on different initiatives based on what's going on around the world." I dunno if you wanted to add anything to that Rishad.
Yeah you're summing it up well. I think a lot of our clients have placed us in a hold phase. They're in a hold phase themselves. As much uncertainty as there is with us and as individuals or even as the photographers have or creators have, uncertainty is still with clients. There's a lot of... They're not exactly sure what's taking place right now. I think there's, like any person would think about their bank balance and, "Maybe I need to save a little bit because I'm unsure." I think the clients are in a similar boat themselves.
Yeah, same behavior. Is there somebody trying to get in Rishad or we can...
Probably an Amazon, but I'll leave it outside, it's fine.
Okay, cool. Just making sure. Yeah. That's pretty laid back. Don't have to worry about stuff like that. Cool. It sums up what I've been hearing. So far, it's consistent. What can photographers do in these times to be... What should they be doing? I don't wanna steer you in any sort of direction but what should photographers be doing? Photographers, filmmakers be doing right now about their careers?
Rishad, you wanna start?
Sure. Yeah. I think... In our current state of business right now, a lot of the things that were a part of our routine have changed. They've changed or they're on hold or there's not a lot of certainty to it. I know a few of the things that, Maurice and I have been doing are working on the things that are, as we would probably refer to it as housekeeping. So whether that means updating our contracts to working on our website, to stock imaging, indexing. All the things that we all want to do that we had a chance to do. I think, sometimes, when you're in the... And I think that goes for photographers too, sometimes you're kinda in the weeds or you have a bit of a tunnel vision because you have work on your plate, you have editing to do, you're working on trips and travel and now all that's pausing. So it's almost like... It's like climbing up a mountain, sometimes you just look at the rock in front of you and you don't really look at the entire mountain itself. So I think right now, Maurice and I are working on business development for the company. I don't feel like it's a... There's a waste of time right now. Here, a lot of people say that they're (indistinct) for example. And I just think that that's... There is some truth to that, but I think using that time, there is still a lot that can be done if you think about it from the business perspective when working on your business.
And I think that it applies more to individuals. One of the reasons why we came into existence in the first place is recognizing that long held truth that people want to deny, especially photographers, which is that what we do is more business than actually taking a camera out and making photos. And so I think that it's important for a lot of photographers and other types of creatives out there, right now to take time out, to be, to keep being creative, to keep those, creative juices flowing in some way but then also to turn around and focus a little bit on how they conduct their business. We've had quality chats with a lot of the people that we've worked with in the past or people that, either we hope to work with or hope to work with us. None of that is time wasted. It's figuring out what the strategies are for when things inevitably come back. We all know that they're not gonna come back in quite the same way. So it's being prepared. But yeah, it's probably a good time for a lot of photographers who, let's face it, are always on the go and really don't have much time for some of these, as Rishad said, housekeeping or personal business development type things. Now is a a good time as ever to focus on those and to work on those things.
So on the reaching out front, I've been asking everybody this very similar question, which is, what do you think is the best way to reach out to prospective clients, partners in these times? And by that, by the right way, you can't be tone deaf to what's happening but at the same time, you can still be a positive voice in a way of, "I'm still here. Happy to help." So how do you think is the best way to approach somebody, first you've never talked to before and then your usual clients?
I think that the sort of the harsh reality right now is that there's gonna be a lot of people that are looking for work or looking to establish or maintain those relationships. And based on the clientele that we've heard, their hands are just tied. So it becomes, what sort of relationship are you looking to develop? If you are now sending out pitches, saying, "I want to do this, I wanna do that, I wanna travel." People can't really give you an answer. And so it may be that those types of communications are falling on deaf ears a little bit. It may also, depending on who it is that you're reaching out to, seem a little bit tone deaf in light of what's going on. They as employees of the agencies that they're working with or the brands that they represent, they themselves aren't really sure what's gonna happen in two weeks or a month. And so, that's a tough one because you want to remind people that you're there but you want to be careful, if you will, and respectful of what the conditions are, not just for the people that might see your content eventually, but the people who have to very carefully consider their brands as we move into this sort of new reality. So, I guess what I'm saying is bottom line, is that it doesn't hurt to maintain communications, to keep doing creative things. But it's, potentially, gonna fall on deaf ears if you're starting, if you're doing too much in terms of hard pitching for business.
Agree there, yeah.
Well, if you had to pitch something, what would be the way you think, Rishad? I'm not saying a trip across the world, right? I'm saying, you're adapting to the landscape. Let's say you wanna shoot, I don't know, a pair boots, right? And you were gonna do some project in Indonesia and that's obviously been canceled. What's the best way to rekindle that fire with the client without sounding like an annoying person?
Right. I think if you're looking for business today and you're thinking a little more short term, we may have a problem because these clients are in a way, handcuffed. I think the better approach would probably be developing a relationship, thinking more long term, thinking about, "Okay, when the lights go back on, you have a friend who's been, or you have someone who's been following along with you, someone who's starting a dialogue." So you're kind of hitting the ground running. If you're just gonna, say you wanna do a boot campaign and never shot boots and this is the first time you're gonna have a client like that. Maybe... Personally I'll probably use my time... I think my time would be better suited working on that type of portfolio work and...
So shooting spec?
Yeah, and making sure everything's button tight. I think being a strong creator is not just picking... Or a photographer, filmmaker is not just picking up a camera when a client says, "Go." Or when there's...
Agree. Yeah, for sure.
There's a payment involved or something. So I tend to notice the artists that get the most work are constantly shooting. And they're almost not thinking about just their next job. They're thinking one year ahead, two years ahead, "What are the kind of shoots I wanna do five years down the road?"
They're just doing it.
Yeah, so every time you are shooting in your backyard, per se, it's almost like you're getting closer to that goal. In terms of an answer for how to reach a client and get a job the next day, I can't, I don't have that answer. Every person's different, everyone's situation is different, their quality of work but working on your skills and making sure your work is really strong. I find those types of creators tend to almost always get work and always get attention.
So just to recap, your advising, chill out on the immediate pitches, instead, decide what you wanna be doing. Build some spec shoots around that. And when the time is arrived, boom, and at the same time, develop a relationship with X, Y, or Z that you never talked to before?
Yeah, exactly. Developing relationships with clients is, I would say, no easy task on an average day, whereas right now, budgets are slashed. Even employees are like, they're worried about their own jobs, just to give you a perspective on things. So, you pushing now is... Maurice said it in a way, it's a bit tone deaf. I believe they would probably have all their A-listers at their fingertips who are not getting work. So I think, just have to prioritize goals right now. And I'm not saying that to sound pessimistic, but depending who you're reaching out to, be mindful that they may be in a difficult position.
So as long as you can afford it, you're saying, scrap the pipeline and go shoot some fun stuff to build that nice portfolio for like, when things get back.
Not necessarily fun stuff.
Just something that you're excited to do or...
Yeah, but you wanna be strategic as well. The fact of the matter is we all have things that we love to shoot and in some cases, those things align very well with the things that are fun for us to shoot. Once you move, sort of, up into the commercial world, people are coming to look for the vision that you have and the way that you do things with the things you love and, potentially, apply those to things that you don't love as much. So, I think the magic is really more in how you look at those things that you may not love, current day and figure out cool and creative ways to apply your unique, creative perspective to those things. I think, based on your question though, you're saying, yeah, there's people that have the luxury of waiting and not going after business. If you do have to go for business, we just gonna have to reiterate again that you want to be aware that it's not just about you and that you're trying to get a job, you wanna be aware of what's going on. You also want to be aware of... Despite what the company is selling, they need to refocus as well. I know a lot of photographers love to pitch travel gigs. People are just gonna shake their heads when they read those emails from you. So it's about how you look at a brand and potentially, creatively spin a new focus and still make that product or service appealing for the time being. And if you can adequately do that, then I think that's something different, right? Some person working there might be like, "Hey, this is something I haven't thought of. This is an idea that I can take to my boss or take to my team and say, "Hey, let's try this. This person has a creative way, potentially, to shoot our products or to tell our brand story that we haven't perhaps thought of yet."" So, I think we're not saying to shut it down, we're just saying to... Now is the time to be much more mindful of what you're doing, lay off on the really... Alex, you are familiar with the way that we pitch. Sometimes these pitches are in development for months and they're massive documents that have tons of moving parts. That's not going anywhere right now, I can tell you that for sure. And so, it's about sort of refocusing, making a call case by case. Some, you are gonna look at it and think, "You know what, there's just kind of no way that this is gonna go anywhere the way that I want right now, but I wanna make sure that to remind them that we're here and that I'm here, that I can do this for them and that I'm gonna be ready to go with strategy when that new reality comes around." Others, there may be an easy way that you develop, an easy strategy that you develop that is surprising to them, in which case, for sure, you should sort of pitch it to them and say that, "This is what I wanna do for you." So it's just about thinking about what's going on, not just with yourself but around the world.
Love that. In terms of industries, what do you think are the industries who are gonna be the most in demand for photographers and filmmakers in the future?
Well, related to the situation we're going through currently and of course, I think during these, when these times that are so unique, there tends to be change and innovation. I think online retail is gonna be way more powerful than it ever was before. Industries are gonna change from people working at home to how our, in our business, how our commercial shoots run. I talked to one client who said... Who's put one of our jobs in a old phase, previously wanted clients on set and they wanted to have catering and anyone who wants to show up can just show up. Maybe that is gonna change some degree. Maybe they're looking for artists who are capable of creating on their own. Can they handle a brief? Do they understand the messaging of a client? Are these people... I think relationships and trust, I think may be paramount when we come out of a situation like this.
To build some karma with your existing clients.
Maybe, but I think, clients wanna know they can... Can they trust their artists to create or do they have to be there on site? Some of our clients previously wanted to be there all the time. Maybe that needs to change right now. Can they handle shooting in their backyard? Can they do things locally? Sorry to getting off topic a bit but we were on a call just on Friday, last Friday and a national level clothing brand, deals with travel, baggage, things of that nature. And they said, "Usually, we would do international travel, right now, we're focusing on local, on backyard style road trips. Can you guys do something of that nature, modify the way you normally work?"
It makes perfect sense. Yeah, local travel should be big. Any other industries that we're seeing? You guys have heard from, you think that might be more in need than others? That it's worth building a pipeline or building a portfolio that can respond to that better?
I think that the important thing to keep in mind is that, just because this pandemic happened, it doesn't really change the need for photos or visual imagery or even videos for most industries. If you're talking about travel, there's gonna be a very big short term impact just because people can't get places. So if you're in travel marketing, you can build up the demand but let's say that doesn't actually come back online for six to nine months. So they're not gonna have the same budgets to work with for now. But if you look at it, I guess, big picture, every car brand or fashion brand, or even event that needed a photo is still gonna need a photo. And so, I think that's kind of one thing to keep in mind, is that, it's by no means, just because there's a pandemic is it sort of the death of visual arts or photography, right? So when things open up a little more, it's just that the way that you do business will change and perhaps, some of the focuses for what you're taking pictures of will change according to product strategy or whatever your client's strategy is in terms of their marketing. But that's always been the case. Things change with trends, things change with what's hot, what people are looking to do. So, as usual, we just have to roll with it.
Yeah. Adapt. In terms of clients, is there any other insights that you've heard I say as a whole, that are they going, like Rishad was mentioning, they're gonna go more local. Is there other insights you might be able to share?
Insights on specifically regarding what?
On brands, plans. Their plans have obviously changed, right? So is there other data that you've gathered as a whole, like, "Yep, they're gonna be more local." Is there anything else that could be of use for these guys?
I think it's kind of a bit of a tough time in terms of when we're doing this little chat. Because, I think in most places they've just sort of either just started reopening or have just announced that in the coming two, three, four weeks that they will reopen. And I think that once that happens, we're gonna sort of see a more... A bigger influx of, "Wait a minute, I think this is what we need." Because what we're experiencing a lot of is, "Guys, we wanna work with you. We know that we're gonna need to, to do something, even with our reduced budgets. We just don't really know what it is." And that, again, referencing some other things that we've been talking about a lot on this call is that you gotta think on some of these creative teams or marketing teams, they haven't been together for six weeks now. And some of them are... Don't exactly have their head in the game. So, while the ideas may be thrown about, they're not getting the approvals because somebody either doesn't wanna give the approvals because they're not sure what their money situation is. So, I think if you're asking about big picture, I would say we haven't really seen any definite trends other than people's first thought, which logically is, "Well, if nobody can get on a plane, we kind of have to get it to keep things a bit local for the time being." But I think that if we were to do an update to this or if you were to post a kind of update... Yeah, I think that we're gonna get a clearer picture in the coming weeks because things will come back online. People will start saying, "Okay I've got a budget again and I think that this is what we want to do as a brand. Can you help or do you have ideas that can help augment that strategy?" Yeah, it's a timing thing.
Yeah, exactly. I think there's obvious trepidation, right? The million dollar question is how long is this gonna last? When is this gonna... And then next is when are things gonna return to normal? And, or how are things gonna return to normal? So I think as people are kind of just watching, it's like, "What is gonna happen here?" And until that picture becomes clear, I think there's almost a... In some ways from clients, there's a bit of a lack of confidence that, "Hey, this is where we wanna put our eggs. This is how we wanna approach." It's like at the end of the year, you see your year, you look at your sales then you come up with a strategy in December, January and then you run with it. So right now it would be too soon to come up with those calls right now. So it's just a reality of the situation.
And in the meantime, what creators can do is just work on their skills, their portfolios, their ideas. What have you guys been doing to stay creative personally? Because you obviously both are photographers and creative people.
Personally, I've been picking up the film camera, something that doesn't get along for me. And doing... Personally, when I shoot, I'm trying to create and try to create an impact with my shots and try and do something that I think is big and amazing. And that's kind of the natural thing you tend to do, especially when you share stuff online. A lot of the shooting I've been doing is being more local. It's not designed for sharing. Even picking up a little bit on educating myself on new tricks and new cameras and new editing tools and stuff like that. I think that's, for me, it's one of those things that when you're feeling creative, sometimes the education part gets a back seat and you're like, "Okay, I know what to do, and now I'm gonna go do that." But I think right now with the time that I simply didn't have, I'm using that to kind of brush up so to speak, yeah.
Yeah, similarly for me, it's been about utilizing that sort of excess time that I have. I think as you guys know, for years, it's sort of been focusing on this business. And so, my photography, I have hard drives full of images that are not pruned so it's about...
You're hoarding them.
I dunno if hoarding is the right word but... Sadly, you're on a, sort of a whirlwind trip or a project where you have two free days on the end of a week in a high pressure situation and you shoot off a bunch of photos but you haven't looked at them since that trip. So it's kind of been an interesting sort of discovery process to not just to go through sort of memories and moments but to realize, "Hey, wait a minute." Just think about it in the best of times as photographers, we can go back on photos that we shot six months or five years or 10 years ago. And things look different. There are gems that you didn't realize you had. And there are images that you loved at the time that you just think are crap now. That's all part of the process. And so it's been interesting because for a while, I was shooting a lot of videos. I was also shooting a lot of stuff that, for me was not stuff that I chose to put on my Instagram, like more portrait or street type stuff. It's cool to have a bit of extra time to go back and look at that stuff. And then, I think it's not related to the visual arts but just like a lot of people during these times have just been doing so much more cooking, which I think is a bit of a different type of creativity. And it also makes you appreciate so much more how other people are being creative with their cooking. So many things that I didn't have time to really learn how to do. And just sort of took for granted when we went to eat at great restaurants or whatnot. And I don't know, I think that that's all part of the process. It's just seeing how things are made, cool things.
Our group chat is now a cooking chat.
What is it?
I said, our group chat is now a cooking chat.
Yeah, it's chow hound on iMessage. It's like Maurice's amazing pasta dishes. (all laughing)
Who's done what today?
Yeah. I agree. Developing new skills, yeah. I've been doing the same thing with cooking. I've just had to force myself to have a menu and at the beginning every week, the next seven days are already laid out on paper, I know what's for lunch and for dinner. It's very comforting, actually. You come out of your desk at noon and you're like, "Look at the list." You know what you're doing already. You open the fridge and start, there's no wondering. It almost feels like eating out except you have to do it, obviously.
Well, it's not like chowing down. You get to like really put the time in, learn new stuff.
Every day you wanna learn something new.
It's all about the thirst.
Do you wanna say something Lee?
No, go ahead.
Oh, cool. Well, this is wonderful. Is there... What's gonna be your biggest takeaway from all this? At this stage.
I don't know about takeaway but my view on what I think is ahead is it's obviously so uncertain to make any determinations as to what's gonna happen. But I think if you look back on history, there are times where it's almost like the world changes in some moments or some periods. I was thinking about how travel changed after 911, for example. The way the TSA was created in November of 2001 right after.
So I know that's a much different situation but it's almost like travel didn't stop. If you remember, Alex, you were pretty young, but people were scared. People were really scared. Airports were shut down, flights were grounded. People didn't know, is this just the way of the world now? So it just altered the way we do things. And I never go through TSA and think about that now or extra security, I don't think about that.
Yeah, it is what it is.
It is what it is. It's just that we've adapted, we've learned to make that a part of our lifestyle related to travel. I don't think it's the end of the world. I'm not pessimistic about things. I feel like things will return to some level of normal. Again, I don't think it's always gonna be like this but I just think that there will be some changes. It's kind of how I see things happening and we're just in the middle of it. We're in the middle of that tornado. Information is changing and I think once things settle and we really get a good look at it, there's time to analyze the data. I think we will just start building on what those changes are and return back to some sense of normal.
And I think, for me, the takeaways, the main takeaways are that, like Rishad said, I have no doubt that eventually, things like travel will come back and come back stronger than ever. It's gonna take some time, but these are things that I'm confident will happen. I think that the main takeaway for me is that it's reminded me, sometimes, that maybe we were taking a lot of the things that we were doing related to travel for granted.
And I think that a lot of people are realizing that right now. It became second nature for us to hop on a plane, experience cool new things, see incredible, beautiful places and then go home and do things like edit photos or post to social media. It became a bit of a routine. And I think for a lot of us who... I always appreciated but it did, sometimes, become a bit of a routine. I think now, the takeaways are that people need to... People in general, being audiences but also as creators, we need to focus so much more on humanity, on the home, on things that are sort of closer to us, not just in physical proximity but even in terms of the way that we feel and the way that we interact and relate to other people and other things. I think these are the things that we've been forced to examine. And this whole pandemic life is very tough but I do think that in a lot of ways, this is good for us. Sort of resetting the way that we view the world. I know for sure that the next time I go somewhere, I'm certainly gonna appreciate it a lot more. But just because I'm somewhere, it doesn't mean that that's kind of the the life that I go back to where it's just travel, travel, travel. Whether it's in the narrative or the stories that I tell, it's gonna focus a lot more on how people are living and interacting with each other in those places. And also for me, closer to home.
Yeah, it's kind of... It's almost like it's pulled us out of the rat race a little bit. And maybe there's a touch of karma involved and, hopefully that even... You think about things like travel, maybe those tourism brands will take a look at what mass travel is and maybe that's gonna change. Maybe they look at the data of how much cleaner their city is or pollution levels and say, "Hey, then maybe we can learn something from this all." Hopefully in the long run, there's some key takeaways. Some good changes that will come outta this, not to downplay all the... There's some very difficult times people are going through but hopefully, in the long run, they will feel different.
Yeah. I agree.
I just wanna add one thing. I think that it's actually super cool that so many people are realizing that they can make things. Just because they never had the time or the inclination or the reason to try. That's something that I've noticed. And I think one of my takeaways, if you will, is that people are so much more creative than we knew or that they knew themselves. It's just really cool to see what people are doing with their, quote, unquote 'spare time' or 'free time.' But it's really not that. Like you said before, it's different types, it's personal development, it's professional development before just realizing that if they refocus or are forced to refocus away from some of the things that they were spending a lot of time on before that they have this kind of innate creativity or ability to make things that they didn't know they had before.
If this pandemic is showing us anything, is that humans, we're good at adapting and sort of making it work with the new... Making a new normal out of something completely new. And that's been very inspiring, yeah. Yeah, I hope we'll look back on all this and be like, "We did our best."
Thanks guys. This is great. Maurice Lee, Rishad Daroowala, Stay And Wonder crew. This was a treat. Is there anything else you guys wanna add for creators? Words of encouragement or what they should be doing? Any sort of wisdom or we've covered pretty much all of it?
For me, I would just say, keep your head up, find a way to survive. That's kind of where we're at right now. Even if it means doing something different to get you through the tough times.
Getting a side job.
Perhaps. Or doing something like doing a side job or a different type of gig that's still related in some way to what you're doing. You know how I feel about things like... I'm still gonna say just because you're struggling, don't give anything away in terms of your talent and your skills.
Yeah. I agree.
I would rather do something else than to give away what that is that defines me or plays such a big role in me away.
I don't think there's any need for that at this point. Perhaps, it's easy for me to say because I am surviving right now but I just firmly believe that if we're talking about how we can ensure professional survival and professional... Return to thriving professionally, that that's something that we need to keep in mind.
Yeah, I think health and safety first. First and foremost, making sure that's top of mind. And I know some people have the... Some people just don't have the luxury to spend time and create and do all those things. But for those that do, I think we're in a unique time where all the things, it's like all the things we've procrastinated on, we have the time to do it. So I would say take advantage of that time. Hit the ground running when things are returned to normal. I could very well see when it comes down to clients and things like that, people are gonna be itching when things turn back on. And I think a lot of brands are... It's not gonna happen overnight so there's gonna have to be an education process as to what they're doing, what they're providing specifically related to travel, educating audiences on what they're able to offer at safety and things of that nature. When things do return to normal, there could be a bit of a boom, so to speak. So I would say.
A gold rush.
Be ready for it. Yeah.
Be ready for that. Be ready for that uptake. So use your time wisely.
Agree. It's a gift in a way from the skies on our free time. If you're lucky to live in a place where you have a house and theres peace and quiet, it's all you need to create something. This is gonna be, yeah, just a passing time and I'm pretty excited for that gold rush. Thanks guys.
Thank you, Alex.
Yeah, I think that's it. If there's anything you guys wanna add or cut, let me know and I can get that cut. I think, maybe, it was pretty solid. I don't see anything else we need to cut.