Ask Anything With Amanda And Suzanne – How Not To Blow The Face To Face Meeting

- - Ask Anything

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 explore more of the commercial side of photography (not my area of expertise) and to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

Our Second Question:

I sent out mailers and emailers to agencies recently and received asurprising amount of positive replies.

I recently drove for 9 hours after an Art Buyer seemed really enthusiastic about my work on the website and replied to my mail saying sure make the trip, I’d love to see your book. We sat down with two of his colleagues and things were going well.

About a third of the way in to the book he started to lose interest and then wandered off like a grazing dairy cow, I was bewildered but continued with his colleagues. He reappeared when the we’d already finished the book. Shook hands, said thanks for coming in and left. I exchanged a few more pleasantries with his colleagues and was left to pack up and let myself out on my own. Humiliated. Ok so this is the industry, not for wimps, fine. Maybe if the book and all the answers were perfect you might still get a jerk or get the right person on the wrong day. But how do you avoided blowing that valuable opportunity?

Our Response combined with the help of a very sought after rep and art buyer:

Just from reading this question – we see many red flags.

Our first thought  when he said – “We were a third into the book and lost interest” and then follows up by saying “We had finished the book” – lets us know he was controlling the book viewing process and dialoging it the whole way through.

We think the first thing to remember is that every one can have a bad day and that may have been the cause.  You never know what someone is dealing with on a personal level.  Maybe the AB had bad news that morning, thought he could handle the meeting but just couldn’t.  Since you don’t know, the best thing to do immediately is to send an e-mail thanking him for his time as you could see how busy he was and that you truly appreciate the time given.  That you will send new work as you shoot it and would love to hopefully work together in the future.  Okay, that being said after the fact what should you do in the future?

  1. Make sure your website and portfolio compliment each other- the best of your work in the beginning of your website while the portfolio has to be consistent throughout.  Sometimes it is best to work with a neutral person like a consultant or a client you have a close relationship with for a non-emotional attachment to the images.  Rob has a huge list (here)- interview the ones you are interested in working with.
  2. Make sure your portfolio is professional and what the industry is expecting to see.  If you portfolio looked thrown together, then you have cheapened the images.  The presentation talks about your attention to details as you would on a shoot- the production value of the book transfers to the production value of a shoot.
  3. Let the viewer look at the images at their pace- don’t comment on every image- wait till they ask a question.  If they don’t ask anything then you need to ask them questions from your research (i.e. about an ad you loved that they did)
  4. Research- who you are talking to and the agency.  This is why a database is so crucial to your marketing.  A database is not only for sending out e-promos and mailers but used more efficiently for research.  We like Agency Access for several reasons- it’s clean, folders tally up total contacts, accounts and titles plus it has map quest to get you to your meeting.
  5. Research the agency by going to their website to see their accounts.  Then research the person you are meeting with.  Also, go to these websites to find award winning work:

Kat Dalager of Campbell Mithun  in Minneapolis has been especially kind to show you how to do this.  The first thing I do is go to my Agency Access account and look her up.  She is listed as the Print Production Manager, but over sees art buying and buys herself.  So when making your list make sure you include art buyer, creative buyer , print producer and print production manager since Agency Access uses their titles but makes sure they purchase photography.



From this page, you have a live link to the agency as well as the map:


And you can see samples of their work:




You can also look at their work at This is a free service but used for new business and marketing managers so it will not give you the creative personnel, hence the reason for a database.



After you have researched the company, research the person:


And you can find a video with her talking about the business:


When we went through more Google pages , we find this:


She is adorable and friendly. You can see that in the video as well. And this from Plaxo:


Read this and find common ground to create a non-invasive conversation- you don’t want to get too personal. But it is good to see who you are talking to. Suzanne found this info on her own and found a lot. You may not find this much information on one person but you can find plenty about the company where they work. Kat reviewed this and she said:

“One thing to mention is cross-checking sources because they are only as current as the information provided to them. For example, we no longer have H&R Block.

Also, since they can see we don’t have any car accounts, it would not be the best use of my time or theirs to send me a car book.

1 technicality: I go by “art producer” rather than “art buyer”

To summarize, some meetings go bad and that’s just part of the process.  When I (Amanda) repped for a short period of time I experienced the same thing, so you are not alone.  I flew to NYC to meet someone and at the receptionist desk I was told she was too busy to meet with me.  I also had an AB look at the portfolio in the lobby.  So there are no prejudices against particular people for meetings – everyone will experience a bad meeting in their lifetime.  We say – good!  That means one important thing – you are doing meetings.  With every 5 bad meetings comes a great meeting.  A client once had a meeting and was told “Great work, but we have no clients that need your style to ever hire you”.  A week later – that same agency called to book him for a job with a new client.  Go figure.  Keep your chin up and just battle through it…it’s part of the game

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

There Are 55 Comments On This Article.

  1. I flew to NYC to show my new kids photography book to the editor of a very popular kids lifestyle mag. The editor was friendly and interested, went through my book pretty quickly and didn’t have too much to say. It was the first time showing this book, I had hired a consultant for the first time to put the edit together. I took a chance, pressed further and asked him for some feedback. The editor informed me that normally they don’t hire “kids” photographers , instead they seek a particular style, feel or look.
    This was one of my favorite magazines and the irony of it all was overwhelming.
    The editor spoke with me for a half hour and gave me further insight into the industry. I gained valuable ideas from this experience.

  2. Sure we all want to be loved, but it doesn’t happen all the time. There’s a great deal of photography that has great artistry that just doesn’t appeal to me. That is true of my work as well.

    For a time I had a B&W and a color section in my portfolio. Some viewers would say they loved the color and other appreciated the B&W. Inside I was crying “You only loved the B&W? What about the color?” But, I learned to smile and accept the compliment and move on.

    Some people flip through the pages quickly and others move slow. I let them go at their own pace. My friend Jeff Corwin believes in not letting go of his book and gives his viewer a presentation at his own pace. (Take a look at his work. He just recommend me for a project and may be one of the best photographers you never heard of. ).

    Do your research to find the right fit for your work and be a pro and put your work out there to be judged. If all you viewers drift after 1/3 of the book – you may need to edit the portfolio or become a better photographer.

  3. “I sent out mailers and emailers to agencies recently and received asurprising amount of positive replies.”
    I always see and hear this. What specifically are “positive replies”? Did someone get your mailer, call you, and say “good work”? Are you seeing high click-through numbers? Higher web traffic following a marketing campaign? OR are these positive replies coming from YOUR phone calls to check in after the mailer went out?

    • @jmags, FOR US – This comment is something that is a bit misleading. Thank you for asking this. We consider promotions as a form of EDUCATION. 1% return on the number of people you emailed or mailed to (meaning if you sent 1k people your email and got 10 people to your site – that is success). No one likes those figures but it’s the truth. If you get more than that – then break out the bubbly! Also 10% opens is the standard amount of opens. 17% is awesome and 20% is even better! Education is KEY to getting these people to know your name…don’t expect work immediately from education…but do expect higher returns on making these calls. And our rule of thumb – NEVER ask anyone if they remember getting your promo. Thanks for posting…

  4. Amanda and Suzanne are very typical of the industry today. Their type of advice is regurgitated over and over again, on many “helpful” blogs, in PDN, and in any Art school seminars or classes, everyday. After awhile, a goat could figure out there’s more to it than this.

    The “additional” reality is… art buyers aren’t going to change. The business of buying art isn’t going to anytime soon either. If they are having a bad day, they aren’t going to change for a photographer. It’s your job to grovel or… remain calm and “professional”. If they don’t recall your meeting or your portfolio, 24 hours after you’ve met with them and they just toss your mailers and emails in the trash without having viewed them, that’s their option and right. There are many reasons for this(some were mentioned). It could mean that they don’t like your work. It may also mean you “need to become a better photographer.” It may also mean that photography is not for you altogether. It may also mean that you don’t have enough cash invested in your work, to make it “glossy” and as “technically sound”, as these AB’s have all been accustomed to seeing(like sheep).

    The bottom line is photography is an art. Many worlds ago, art found it’s place in the world of advertising, editorial and commercial markets. Great art doesn’t just “happen” anymore. In these over saturated times, it’s 1/4 work & effort, 1/4 talent, 1/4 wasted time, and 1/4 chance. If you like those odds, then keep plugging away. If not, find another career and continue creating art on your own time and show it when you feel like it, without any expectations. You don’t have to be a goat to understand what your up against.

    • @Dean, those odds sound about right.

      I usually just hand my book over with a quick little front-end summary of what the work is about (but not an artist statement), then let the PE/AB flip through at their own pace. If they have questions about a certain shot, I’ll talk about it a little bit, but I usually prefer to leave the PE/AB’s mind as uncluttered as possible.

      This tactic also lets me see which images/spreads are successful and if the pace feels good overall. Last time I was in NYC, I noticed nearly everybody flipping past a certain spread, so I switched some images around halfway through the day, problem solved.

      • @Jake Stangel, By “problem solved”, you mean you got a job the next time out?

        And after posting that little ditty, I realized I should have mentioned that even though 1/4 of the process to getting one job is work & effort, I didn’t emphasize how unbelievably hard you are going to have to work to get in the door. You now have to be an excellent writer(photo blog), a great rep(self promotion), an expert in photoshop & printing and a smooth dresser(unfortunately, appearance says a lot). Do you feel that way?

        • @Dean,

          I always know who the boss in the room is by who’s wearing the nicest shoes. Seriously – Next time a creative director shows up at your shoot, check out his shoes.

          All this advice of “do this/don’t do that” are usually the result of individual peeves. Well, people are fickle and often have contradictory likes and dislikes. Trying to engineer your work and book to maximize its appeal will always result in it being a. Boring and b. Phony (and obviously so)

          That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay attention to your client (don’t send food beauty shots to Rolling Stone…), but your work needs to be who you are. If they like it, great. If not, no sweat. Move on.

          And repeat this process for every year of your career. You can only engineer yourself for so long. You just gotta be you. And if you can’t seem to get any positive feedback no matter what… maybe it’s just not a good career for you.

            • @craig, I don’t think our advice is a “do this/don’t do that” but what we goats and sheep think will help! (sorry I couldn’t resist) I agree you have to believe in yourself and your work but also know if it is right for the person you are getting the opportunity of meeting. In all the face to face meetings I had when I was a buyer, the people I remember most were the kind ones who believed in their work. But unfortunately I do believe that these days it does matter what you wear and your attitude, as well as the work.
              Amanda and I are here to help reaching out to our contacts who are successful in their careers to help you all. It is your decision whether or not you want our advice.

              • @Suzanne Sease, As a former photo editor I understand what your saying Suzanne. I’m just interpreting it differently and offering my own cynical(?), yet every bit as truthful and helpful version to those who need it.

                For those who need a different version of what Suzanne is trying to say….

                “the people I remember most were the kind ones”. – She means, those who kiss her ass, will be added to her long list of photogs she would love to work with someday.

                “I do believe that these days it does matter what you wear and your attitude, as well as the work.” – She means, it does matter to her, what you wear. If you have a cool blog with a large following, invite her to a fabulous studio or gallery party, and bring her a bottle of wine for her birthday… you’ll maximize your chances of getting on her long list of photogs she would love to work with someday.

                • @Dean, You clearly don’t know the first thing about respecting other professionals and you certainly don’t know the first thing about Suzanne. It is an honor to have Suzanne and Amanda share so much with the photography community.

                  • @Casey Templeton,

                    Respect for professionals? In this industry and in this day and age? I’ve been put through the ringer in this industry over the years and watched as the production, talent and overall “professional” levels have gone from “Wizard of OZ” to “Jersey Shore” in the blink of an eye. I may have unwittingly helped in that regard but, it wasn’t intentional. My jabs at Suzanne may have hit close to home… or not, but they were meant to highlight a BIG problem in this industry. Not a personal attack.

                    I’m sure that the Heidi Montags, Snookis, and Jonas Brothers of this industry all feel they’re being very professional but, c’mon! It’s hardly based on talent and hard work anymore and you all know it.

                • @Dean,
                  I was enjoying your take on it and you got your shot in on the “helpful advice” that is peddled in the industry but this is a little too personal. Don’t be such an ass.

                  • @A Photo Editor,

                    It wasn’t meant to be personal and my apologies for getting into “ass” territory. I could have bit my tongue a little bit more, but I assume there’s a great deal of young eyes on this blog and I don’t see the harm in giving it to them straight. Especially considering all the “professional” advice that’s being spread so thick, so often.

    • @Michael, She loves wall clocks! And I told her if I mentioned would she mind getting some in the mail- her response was “I could receive worse things!” Be creative with this advice!

      • Kat Dalager

        @Suzanne Sease,
        But by no means am I suggesting that people have to send me anything!!

        Michael, I don’t know if it’s possible for my email box to blow up any more than it does every day. I typically receive 300 emails daily, of which about 40 or so are promotions. That’s my job, though! BTW, please use the subject line wisely: avoid clever phrases that falsely lure me to open your email (“Urgent! Please open!”) Instead, say something like: “Michael Jones / Fashion Meets Florida” That way I can prioritize which emails to open first, and file them appropriately for easy retrieval later.

        • @Kat Dalager, Thanks for the helpful info on this. I want photographers to be creative and put them to the challenge of incorporating their work in a clock. But you are right I was not telling people to send you anything just thought I would get them thinking!!

  5. Another things I would note here are my personal thoughts on the role of the Art Buyer themselves. For example, I know your example AB in this case very well, – Kat is really great and has helped my out personally a lot. She is well known in the MSP advertising community as well as nationally… but the buying decisions she makes are only partially hers to make. In the agency world the structure is set-up so the the art directors and above them the creative directors really get to decide who is going to be hired for a given project… art buyers are often just working out the details of the shoots – like the final terms of the agreement, budget details, etc. – they aren’t really the ones getting to choose the shooters.

    But, when you set-up a meeting at an agency they are often the only ones that will meet with you… because they are also like the first line of defense… the head creative director doesn’t really have time to meet with a bunch of shooters and still do his job of creating content for major brands… there just isn’t enough time for that. But, he or she is often the one who gets to decided who they hire… so the question becomes how can you get face time with the people who more often than not are the ones who actually decided to hire you or not?

    Again, for me personally, I’ve found there are really only 3 ways that work.
    1.) Shot something that is really surprising – an attention getter… something that doesn’t look like advertising at all – purely creative.. that could get a ‘creative’ CD’s attention, remember these people are ‘creatives’ first… business people second.
    2.) Try to work with them on personal projects – again, ‘creative’ CD’s are always doing something outside of ‘work’ that is more creative than what they are allowed to do with/for their clients. If you work with a creative on a personal project with someone – they will get to know you and they will hire you… at some point.
    3.) Booze. Seriously… happy hour everyday of the week you get a creative to the bar with you… Ad people generally spend a lot of time out and like to have fun. Leave the book at home, don’t talk about photos, just hangout and make new friends… maybe a CD doesn’t have the clients you could shoot for… but his girlfriend who works at another agency you never knew of likely does…

    My thoughts anyway…

    • @Clark Patrick,
      Hey there! yes Kat is wonderful and that is why we chose her. Having been in the trenches with the creative personnel and Kat (the art buyer) and when I was a buyer, at that level the buyer brings in the portfolios to be reviewed by the creative person and yes, they make the final choice. BUT if we didn’t bring the work in, the creatives would have never seen the portfolio. A creative director friend of mine who used to be at Saatchi & Saatchi told me he trusted his art buyer to bring in the work to review and from that he would make a decision. So, when there is a buyer at an agency, most likely they are important to have them see your work.

      Your 3 ways to get work are great- and great ideas especially #3- so true!!!!

      • @Suzanne Sease,

        Haha, thanks Kat. Suzanne, I totally agree… but find it’s def. a case by case basis. (like everything in life!) Some CD’s totally trust and respect their AB’s choices for shooters and some don’t (lots of egos in the ad biz…) plus if a CD has a solid relationship with a shooter already that will often trump an AB’s new favorite choice. Such is life. One thing I try to keep in mind with face to face meetings above all else is that whoever I’m meeting with likely only has a couple opportunities in an given year (if even that…) that they could hire me. So although I HATE it… I try to think of them in the long term. There really isn’t a short sell in this business anymore (if there ever was). You’ve got to win one heart at a time… the old fashion way. Yes?

        Thanks for your posts!

  6. It’s not a photographer’s job to convince an art buyer.
    It’s not a photographer’s job to research an AB’s habits and likes.

    It’s an AB’s job to research photographers and find the right one. Otherwise a 5 years old could do the job.

  7. The advice was great, right up to where Kat was mentioned. By the way, I know Kat, and she is great to deal with. I didn’t understand,however, what was going on after the first mention of her name.

    She would help with what?

    Add checked what to what list?

    Contact Kat about what?

    Sorry to be obtuse, but I didn’t get it.

    • @Michael, She was an example of researching who you are meeting, what accounts they have and their thoughts on the business.
      While some may say they shouldn’t research who they are meeting I can’t tell you how many times I would get the question “so, what accounts do you all have” It is not the person who has given you the time to do your research for you.

  8. baaaaaa baaaaa
    There are people who tend to be sheep and goats (by the way goats are smarter). I found just from a person having to sell themself to get work, you can’t be too confident yet you can’t walk in like a sheep either. Know yourself and your weeknesses (everyone has them) so they won’t be a hinderance. All in all be true to yourself.

  9. I remember my first portfolio showing. I was very excited. The AD came out out and met me in the lobby, opened up my book right there and proceeded to flip through it without stopping once. The entire showing took 30 seconds. I was surprised and worried. Since then I’ve done quite a few and I’ve found that each person has their own style and just because someone goes through your book quickly, it doesn’t mean they hated it. But it is much nicer when you get a chance to spend some time with the person looking at your book.

    So, one thing that was mentioned in the post was the actual portfolio:
    “Make sure your portfolio is professional and what the industry is expecting to see”

    As with most things in the world, one person likes one thing and another likes something else. I’ve heard some AB/PE say they like a simple portfolio and don’t pay too much attention to the design. Obviously you don’t want to walk in with something that looks cheap… but I got to thinking last night, with the announcement of the iPad, how would that go over as a portfolio (or any similar tablet type device). Because it’s definitely not like bringing a laptop in as your portfolio. I just posted an entry on my blog about it and would love to hear some feedback on the idea:

    • @Jeff Singer, Very interesting that you bring this up because I was thinking the same thing about the iPad but then I think like the acetate sleeves, does it show your work in the best way?- I just love images printed on a matte paper where the colors can really be seen. As technology evolves it is going to interesting what we will see in our lifetime. I mean when I was growing up we thought transistor radios and eight track were the bomb!!!

      • @Suzanne Sease, @Jeff Singer, I agree with Suzanne,nothing beats prints.

        I would also like to add that there is an opportunity with the ipad to show recent work that you couldn’t get to print as long as they can be viewed in a well designed and presented way or if you have video work that would complement your print material or some tear-sheets from recent work published. I would show this digital work as an optional extra in the viewing if the AD or AB want and have time to see more. Use it as an extra talking point.

        It would be a great way to get feedback for newly created work you are working on and it also shows that you are producing new material – I would only do this with trusted clients you already have a relationship with though.

        • @Daniel O’Gorman, The iPad will be a novelty for a while – and for all my clients who are excited about taking their $500 portfolio budget and putting it towards the iPad – I told them – they will want to still invest in that traditional portfolio eventually (FOR MEETINGS).

          • @Amanda, that’s good advice,a printed portfolio is irreplaceable, I see
            these electronic displays as an extra tool that will evolve for viewing video work,current projects and tear-sheets.

    • @ina, I am sorry, I have been writing for both of us as she is dealing with our joint clients, her clients, a very young baby and a family issue that needs any free time she can give right now. We talk on the phone and knows what I am writing from both of us. If you have worked with Amanda, yes, you know she is amazing!

      • @Suzanne Sease, Thanks Suzanne. I know I can speak for most when I say I’ve appreciated the time you’ve taken to interject on this forum.

    • @ina, Thanks Ina! Like Suzanne said – we are a team and if we aren’t on the phone causing trouble (our joke) we are emailing about these answers. So everyone knows – our answers our team generated.

  10. These are great research tips. Thanks. Another thing I would do is actually ask a human being about the person I’m meeting … like a colleagues of theirs, etc. This isn’t always possible, but in many ways can be more useful than searching online.

  11. These comments are as illuminating as the original post. My impression is…. that individual subjectivity and the personal connection are still a determinant in who will be hired.

    Photographers have come under the spell that has affected the film business: the dictatorship of technology and business skills that sometimes degrades and dehumanizes creative people and their work. We are told that how we “package”ourselves is critical. It’s as if we can delude ourselves and fool others into falling in love with our work…. even if there is no there there.

    Even with the huge increase in the amount of photography on the web, there is almost an anti-digital revival , a respect for film, for the simple accidents of time that once produced real photography with grit, content, soul and style.

    I hope there are art buyers and art directors who will emulate the best of the past and look deeper into the individual merit of a photographer, rather than the hype of the new and the slick, the over-packaged and the over-promoted.

  12. Anyone have an opinion on what client lists service is better: i.e. Agency Access vs. Adbase?

  13. I am a little late to the party on this topic but wanted to add my 2c worth. @reinfred – I think it is not in your best interest to think that way. People are people the world over and will work with who they like on a personal level. Of course the work has to be exemplary, no amount of human kindness is going to persuade an Art Producer or Editor to give you a job if you don’t have the goods. Doing your due diligence and knowing some background on who you are talking to has never been easier and what’s more – it’s fun. I always google people that I am meeting, bidding with, negotiating with, collaborating with, and so forth. It doesn’t take long, it is a fantastic ice-breaker as long as you don’t come off like a stalker!

    I was raised in a sales environment – think Willy Loman meets Glen Garry Glen Ross – well maybe not that bad but I was taught how to take a telephone message at age 4 or 5 and to always answer the phone with a smile on my face.

    This is just good business and whether you are a photographer or freelancing with Roto – Rooter it is good advice.

    It is the Art Buyer’s job to do their homework and research and keep their eyes open to all that is out there in the marketplace but it is yours to engage them on a personal level and make a lasting impression not only with your work but with your self. Like my Dad always said -sales is selling yourself no matter what the product is. Like it or not your work is your product and when meeting face to face or communicating any other way you are a sales-person.

  14. great tips thanks so much. I am having a hard time right now with every person i am calling saying they don’t hiring photographers right now and they are only using stock images. also saying we have our photographers already but thanks

    It seems i am doing everything, emails, direct mail at least 1200 a month, facebook, twitter, altpick, blogging, phone calls (which is the hardest)

    all these tips helps thaks

  15. yeah definitly we are only humans who can have a bad day, its important to stress this especially in our industry! Especially in the meadia business! Sure this is very understandable behaviour. Maybe this is even a sign of professionalism with these hard times everybody is going through?

    Its all fair and good . if my cat has diarrhea I usually dont care about the shot anymore even if its a well paid campaign. Honestly my creativity sucks then and you knwo what: I dont care! We are all humans and usually the client can’t tell anyway that I just shot crap for him.

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