Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
What’s the standard protocol for dropping a rep? I feel like I’m about to tell my spouse that I’m filing for divorce. I’m almost terrified to do it in person, and I’m not shy. I have been getting an increasingly unpleasant vibe from my agent and I’m just not comfortable with the way he represents me. I want the face of my “brand” to photo editors and art buyers to be someone I am proud of, not someone I’m embarrassed about. I am mostly paranoid that this agent will talk shit on me to his network for dropping him. I know I’m supposedly “their boss” but I also don’t want to burn any bridges either. I’d love to hear from other people on how they went about the rep switch, and about having to pay commissions to the old rep for a certain number of months (is this normal?) after they parted ways. Hearing it from the agents’ perspective would be great too…
Amanda and Suzanne:
We have consulted with photographers and reps around the world and helped them with this very dilemma. Many photographers are looking for agents, here is some insight in the world of having an agent.
I do not think the photographer is a reps “boss.” They should be working together as a team. I do not think you should get rid of a rep or a rep should not get rid of a photographer without first trying to address and work out the problem.
In my opinion, the more honest and straightforward you are in any relationship, the better. I’ve always maintained that if a relationship is not working for one of the parties, then the relationship is not working! I would question the statement of this photographer, “I’m supposedly their boss.” In 22 years, I’ve never had a relationship where the photographers considered themselves my “boss.” We are partners, and the most successful photographer / rep relationships are the ones in which there is collaboration and mutual respect.
Ahhhh…the old “to have” or “have not” an exit strategy established before ending a rep/photog relationship.
Sounds like there isn’t one in place here (that has been discussed or possibly in writing). Point that should be
noted for “next time.”
In my experience with three agencies the standard protocol has varied, but typically the artist/rep first has a
“come to Jesus” conversation to discuss “unpleasant vibe” or like topics that either will clear the air with
some ways for improvement i.e see how it goes over the next few months etc. or it’s decided that the relationship
has run it’s course.
If it’s the latter, then an exit strategy should be discussed, put in writing & signed by each of the respective parties.
This can/should vary depending on how contentious or cordial the potential split is.
This allows for clear communication with neither party getting a strong (bullying) upper hand. It’s business.
Points to be included in the exit agreement could include:
o what date the relationship will formally end.
o when & how portfolios/promo-materials etc. are retrieved by the agent & returned to the artist.
o how long the artist will remain on the website.
o outstanding monies owed i.e. artist to rep for expenses are discussed for payment.
o outstanding jobs or existing negotiations are discussed, completed & billed.
o period that after the relationship formally ends that the agent can collect commission on jobs.
(Typically this is included in all boiler plate contracts) but I have seen it range from 3 months – 1 year.
o List (or not) of clients that these monies can be collected from – including reuse scenarios (which is key).
A separate piece of the exiting strategy should involve a written & signed cease & desist about speaking
professionally i.e. not badly about either party (with ramifications) – again, depending upon the tone of the split.
With the growing use & trends of social media, this should also include emails, FB, LinkedIn, twitter, tumblr etc.
While there is always some fall out, I still believe that cream rises to the top but it pays to keep quiet and professional.
Very common practice in corporate America.
Writing an email (artist/rep) that gets circulated by the rep to the artist group, key clients, trade sources etc. briefly explaining
that x&y will no longer be working together. Wish each other well etc. It’s a good PR/political measure that again keeps both parties
accountable & professional.
Dropping an agent should be done respectfully and honestly. The photographer owes the agent time to develop a relationship with potential clients and the body of work. If the agent cannot sell the vision of the photographer it may be a mismatch worth exploring new agents who do have a shared vision of how to market and how to sell that vision. A review of progress or lack of should be discussed and openly analyzed. If it is beneficial to split, I think this should be done gracefully and respectfully. There is no reason to berate or condemn a person when ending the relationship; simply on a personal level it is not helpful or necessary. I would review the contract, agree on terms for termination and gracefully move on. If you can say it don’t write it.
I got some advice from a lawyer friend at the time I started working with my ex agent, “It’s easier to get into a business relationship than it is to get out of one.” Certainly true in my case….
From the description, I have to say though it appears some of the anxiety this person is facing is self-inflicted.
Mistake 1: Working with someone who you’re embarrassed about and feel you can’t trust.
Mistake 2: Working with someone on an extended basis without a contract and / or clear compensation and severance terms.
Mistake 3: Thinking you’re “the boss” of your agent. I think most good reps would view it as they work with you, not for you…. more of a partner in your business than an employee…
There is no standard protocol. It’s a very difficult situation and yes it’s like a break up.
From my experience, be honest, say it’s time for you to move on, and keep repeating that it’s nothing personal. It’s business. Keep in mind that any rep who talks shit about any photographer will reflect more on the rep than you. Those days are over when you can get away with stuff like that. As far as commissions are concerned, it depends on how well or badly the break up goes. If he takes it like a professional then work something out. If he acts like a child, then break it off cleanly and move on.
Remember, it’s your career and an agent represents you. You are in charge not them.
Ending a relationship with a rep is a lot like breaking up. First let’s deal with the money. It is always advised that you get in writing how the commissions will be handled in the event of a split when you first sign your agreement to work together. Splits do happen and getting it in writing makes the split cleaner.
I once had a rep who used to burst into the studio at the last minute grabbing misc samples and tearsheets on the way to an appointment she had set up for another of her photographers, saying she thought it was a good opportunity to show my work. She also tended to wear very loud color clothing and too much perfume. This was really not my style, as I am very organized, prepare my work beautifully, and tend to be understated.
This person, did not “represent” me or my work well, and I ended it after a short time of working together.
In your case, if everything has been handled professionally from the beginning, and you have legitimate reasons for moving on, and have had decent communication along the way, I don’t think an agent would talk bad about anyone who has split with them. It’s also a bad reflection on them to do so, unless everyone knows you’ve been a jerk.
I wouldn’t worry about it, just move on and set things up better next time.
Its happened to me a few times.
Best way to go about is to not get personal- it is like a divorce, but there is no need for either type of breakup to ever get ugly.
Just say you think you have different goals and it’s not working out. Don’t point fingers, or dig up anything from the past (or worse, drag other people into it) just that you think it’s time to make a change.
As far as compensation, if you don’t have a contract commission on any account you’ve worked with while with the rep seems fair. In my case I had an account that shot once a year, and the next shoot fell well outside our parting but I felt the rep was owed that, in the spirit of the agreement, and paid the commission.
Remember that it’s a small community and word gets around, so chose yours carefully and take the high road whenever possible.
If they “talk shit” that is often taking as coming from someone that is bitter, and will only make them look bad. Don’t worry about it.
It is possible the rep will take on someone that does the same thing you do, so don’t sit back and think those clients will have any loyalty. It’s a good time to send out a promo or make some calls and let people know you are rep-less, this will combat anything the old rep might say about you being out of business, and you might pick up some clients that like your work but hated your rep.
I’m still friends with all of my old reps (and ex wives and girlfriends too) and while the relationship will change they call still be a valuable part of your business. Take the high road, do the right thing, and part as friends.
Having a rep is like being married. It’s a relationship based on trust and respect, but you both have to be attracted to one another (to the same work we mean). Since one of us was a former rep – we know what’s it’s like to have those break ups. Have a GOOD contract in hand and discuss those WHAT IF’s before getting into your relationship with one another (and make sure everything discussed is in writing). Like a marriage or any relationship – they all end eventually – some on good terms (like retirement) and some not so good (death, divorce, infidelity – and yes there is many times infidelity happens in rep/photographer relationships – again “Project Infidelity” we mean). Our favorite line from this is: “If you can say it don’t write it.” If you can openly communicate – you should have a good relationship.
Call To Action:
If you are looking at getting an agent – write a list of qualities you are looking for in an agent. Then when you find that agent, discuss your needs and wants from them – listen to theirs. Then review contract and make sure those items are itemized and documented. Have both of your exit plans clearly stated. GOOD LUCK!