Expert Advice: The Creative Call

- - Expert Advice

Craig Oppenheimer, Wonderful Machine

Just as often as I consult with photographers when they need pricing and negotiation support, I work closely with agencies to oversee projects from initial photographer recommendations through production and retouching. This experience on both sides of productions has allowed me to thoroughly understand what clients are looking for, and many times it’s the photographer’s personality and ability to be a problem solver that lands them the gig. While a photographer’s portfolio and body of work will get them to the point of consideration by a client for a given project, they can articulate their experience and ability to add value to the production that will help them cross the finish line. So, how do clients find out if a photographer will be a sure bet when everything is on the line? Enter the creative call.

Creative calls can take many forms. Sometimes a client (typically an art buyer at an ad agency or a photo editor at a magazine) will send a photographer some notes in an email and will want to hop on a quick call to gauge interest and availability for a small project. Other times (and this is typically the case for larger assignments), these phone calls will be scheduled in advance and involve not only the art buyer or agency producer, but also their creative director, art director, and/or account executives that are involved with the project. These phone calls can make or break a photographer’s chance of being awarded a project, no matter how on-point their numbers are or how great their portfolios look.

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It’s important to understand a few things about these phone calls. First, you should always assume that the agency/client is considering other photographers, and when they finish a conversation with you, they are likely jumping on a call to talk through the same details with another photographer…or maybe two or three more photographers. For that reason, it’s important to express enthusiasm for a project, be energetic, have questions prepared and generally put your best foot forward. I’ve been on many creative calls where photographers have responded to questions in one-word answers, or don’t have any questions about the project, and this is a sure-fire way for the agency/client to lose interest in you. Clients don’t just want a great photographer; they want a great collaborator as well. They want to work with someone who they’ll enjoy traveling with and be spending a lot of time with in high-pressure situations, and they want to make sure you are like-minded and easy to work with. Above all, they want to make sure that you understand the overall goals from a creative standpoint and a marketing strategy perspective. During the call, it’s therefore important for a photographer to prove that they have fully internalized the project, and explain how they can add value to the production and therefore the entire campaign. First impressions are crucial, and when you are meeting over the phone, it’s your voice and energy that matter, so make it count.

The second important thing to understand about these calls is that clients are trying to figure out if they can trust you. They want to hear how your experience can translate into success, whether that means being a problem solver in tough situations, or being a specialist in a certain genre. Creative calls are the perfect time to brag about recent accomplishments and tell clients about other projects you’ve worked on. Don’t be afraid to drop some names of other clients you’ve worked with, and take the opportunity to relay anecdotes about other shoots. Clients want to know that you are confident in your abilities and that you can handle the pressure of a big assignment. Sometimes clients are looking for you to come up with a plan and drive a given project with confidence from start to finish. That means they might be relying on you to tell them the best way to accomplish a difficult task or suggest production approaches that they may not have thought of.  However, it’s also important to realize when the client will want to be heavily involved in each step, and when they are just relying on you to be a technician to accomplish their fully thought out concept. So, showcase your confidence in a way that lets them know they can trust you, but also expresses enthusiasm for collaboration.

Third, it’s important to know that creative calls are not usually the time to talk about numbers. Save that conversation for a separate call between you and the art buyer or agency producer. The point of the creative call is to talk about…well, the creative! What are you photographing? Where will it take place? What do they want the final images to look like? What’s the story they are trying to tell? How are you going to accomplish it? These are the types of topics to focus on, and this is why the creative directors, art directors, and account executives are also joining the call. So, as much as you are dying to know how much money a client might have to spend, save that question for another conversation.

Fourth, this might seem like common sense, but be sure to take the call in a quiet place where you can focus on the conversation. Don’t jump on the call while you are driving in the car. Don’t be in the middle of the woods with poor reception. Don’t be somewhere noisy. Clients want to know that they have your undivided attention and that you can focus on the project. It’s ok to tell a client that you need to schedule a call when you will be in an appropriate location to talk (your house, a hotel room, a quiet studio), and although your schedule might be busy with other productions, it’s important to show a client that their project is equally (if not more) important as any other production you might be working on.

Lastly, it doesn’t hurt to have a producer on the line with you when you jump on a creative call. They can help you show confidence in your ability to execute a concept by drawing on their experience, and they can ensure that you’ve received all the information you might need to develop a cost estimate when the time comes. It also shows your ability to pull a team together quickly, and lets the agency/client know that you have a team to rely on to execute the project seamlessly.

So, let’s review. Here are the top tips for a successful creative call:

  1. Assume you are one of many options for them. Make them like you more than other contenders.
  2. Exude confidence, but just the right amount. Show them that you have ideas and will be a team player.
  3. Don’t talk about the budget. Save that conversation for another time.
  4. Take the call in a quiet place where you can focus on the conversation.
  5. Invite a producer to join the call. It will help to showcase your capabilities.

If you need help preparing for a creative call, or if you are interested in pricing/negotiation support, don’t hesitate to call 610.260.0200 or reach out. Our consulting services are available to everyone, and we’re always happy to help.

There Are 2 Comments On This Article.

  1. Hi Craig, thank you for this advice and guidance regarding taking/making the creative call. It all seems sensible and vital at the very least. However, my understanding of the role of a producer on a project seems to be a morphing one and so my question is: How does the producer (if it is not you) add to the creative conversation with the clients and what should my most basic reliance on the producer be during the execution of the project? Looking forward to your feedback.

    • Hi Wil,

      Thanks for your comment. During a creative call, the role of the producer would be to increase the client’s confidence in the photographer by speaking towards any logistical/production topics that might arise. Oftentimes production approaches are discussed on such calls, so a producer can provide guidance on the different ways a project can be executed in terms of crew, timing and production elements that may be needed.

      During a shoot (from pre-pro through wrap), a producer is there to coordinate all of the details so the photographer can focus on actually taking the pictures. This can include schedule development, hiring of crew, and coordination of items like catering and transportation to name a few, but the role expands and contracts based on the scope of the production and the elements that need to be arranged. The producer can also act as a point of contact for the client/agency to primary correspond with to make sure everything goes smoothly, and to help ensure that the photographer can focus on the creative elements.