The State of the Industry: Marni Beardsley, W+K

The State of the Industry, is a new column where Suzanne Sease speaks with advertising industry professionals and influencers to discuss what’s happening and where we’re headed.

The State of the Industry with Marni Beardsley of W+K

Marni Beardsley is a highly respected art producers who has spearheaded the art production department of Wieden + Kennedy in Portland, OR for decades. Marni and I were both art buyers in the 90’s when we got to push the envelope for campaigns like Wrangler, Vanity Fair (late 90’s work), Seiko Watches and Saab and Nike. We bonded while working with Jayanta Jenkins an amazing creative person, now at TBWA Chiat Day.  Marni is a very busy Art Producer and was extremely kind to answer these “state of the industry” questions.

What other mediums do you see print images being used in advertising?

Digital, digital, digital and digital. Say that 5 times really fast. photography isn’t something that should be strictly synonymous with print. We look to partner with photographers/artists to create the best ‘still assets,’ regardless of the medium it will be featured in. Print, in-store, pop, and the various out-of-home mediums also remain effective ways to share the message. Most photo productions continue to be executed to cover a combination all mediums, with digital often at the top. And there’s a growing amount of photo shoots we produce with digital solely in mind as the only and final intended use. The enormous volume of still assets often needed for each digital photo shoot can make your head spin. Digital shoots require a photographer who is equally quick and nimble as he or she is talented… they are going to be working their ass off. After the digital shoot has wrapped, we do our best to comfort the photographer by offering to read them a bedtime story or feeding them stiff drinks… whatever they may need for a quick and speedy recovery.

What are your thoughts on Ambient media and do you see this taking off in the States as it has in other countries?

With a greater demand for point of sale communications and the ability to provide precise audience targeting, ambient media is another smart way to connect with your consumer. Is it considered sexy? If you think snooki is sexy, then sure, the same can be said for ambient media (snooki finds the strangest ways to brand herself and constantly keep herself in the media). I’ve never seen one episode of the jersey shore, yet somehow I’ve become aware of her every move. She’s obviously bat-shit crazy, but you can’t argue that she’s also pretty damn savvy.

Ambient media also provides versatility, and while often bizarre, it can provide effective ways to push brand messages. For example, when you’re waiting in the security line at the airport, schlepping your shoes, computer and crap into the bins, I’d argue it’s smart business when there’s a message at the bottom of these bins we’re forced to deal with. I only wish the ads I’ve seen were better executed, interesting or clever.

Who knows, maybe someday i’ll see some twisted yet artfully executed photograph of snooki staring up at me and it’ll make me less annoyed with having to take my stinky shoes off in the first place.

When I go to www.adsoftheworld.com most of the print mediums that are featured are from outside the United States? Are we being too safe? Are clients pulling us back?

Aahhh, to be able to create work outside of the U.S. Many of my esteemed colleagues across the W+kK network have this opportunity and I’m often jealous. Ads are reflective of cultural identities and last I checked, France’s culture is pretty hip, so is their advertising. It’s well known the U.S. has the most restrictions, other markets can say and do far more than we can. This seems to extend into the client arena in many respects, U.S. based clients are naturally more conservative which again is a reflection of our culture. However, that shouldn’t deter us from collaborating with our clients in trying to achieve the best work that stands out above the rest. And when most companies out there are playing it safe, it’s refreshing to work with clients willing to take more risks — if done well, it will generally result in iconic work people will remember and talk about. We shouldn’t approach it as what we can’t do, it’s a matter of what can we do.

Are clients requiring more and more rights and optional images from still photo shoots?

Hell yes. The expectation is to have use for all outtakes from a shoot, the era of confining the number of images per day or basing fees per image is long over and there is definitely a push for extending usage. Clients want flexibility in all the mediums, increasing the time period or in some cases, asking for in perpetuity along with your first born. But, if you put yourself in our client’s shoes, they need efficiencies and flexibilities more than ever in an effort to manage their P + L, particularly in these last few years. The challenge is to manage clients expectations — and the request for multiple years or an unlimited time period naturally equates to an increase in fees. It’s always a fine balance in trying to make sure you’re being mindful of the client’s budget while making sure the artist is receiving fair compensation. The goal is to always make sure both parties walk away feeling happy. With tighter budgets across the board, it’s definitely become more challenging over time, that’s for damn sure. Having open and honest conversations to address certain realities is the best way to get through it together.

How many of your current clients require the estimates to process through cost consultants? Do you see more clients using them or are they realizing they don’t know what they are talking about?

Most of our clients require working in tandem with an independent cost consultant and/or internal creative buyer but we are fortunate to be working alongside many respected cost consultants who have prior art production experience. The shared goal is to provide a realistic, fair, well thought out, cost efficient estimate that allows for the best photography to be executed.

Do you think our buying society is educated and the “you tube” and reality shows mentality verses the appreciation of quality creative advertising?

Quality creative + quality art will always stand out above the rest. It starts with a great idea coupled with the best execution. Sorry snooki.

What are your thoughts on trying to make a product become a viral sensation? Do you think this is the future or will it phase out?

In the end it is all still a popularity contest. Everyone wants their brand to be a viral sensation and they want other people to talk about their brand without having to pay other people to talk about their brand. A true viral campaign gains social momentum based on its inherent social value (If I think it’s pretty funny, I’ll send it to my friend).

I feel that brands are walking a bit of a fine line as they try to make viral sensations. We can’t lose sight of the original goal: If it’s good, then it’s good. The ability with which people can share content and distribute across the world instantaneously makes it easier for good work to reach more people. If it’s whack, it dies faster. So, virals with relevant, interesting content will distribute faster and have a longer shelf life.

When you maintain the relentless goal of doing great work, the rest follows. Our connections with each other is becoming quite valuable to brands and products. Who the hell knows how long the quest for the viral gold will last, but it’s very clear that products and brands will continue to try to produce things with more social currency. Pictures, videos, content, and ideas that will be less about what the product says, but more about what you or I will hopefully say about the product.

What percentage of print work is your company doing today compared to 5 years ago? Or even a year ago?

It seems to vary. It’s increased for some of our clients, decreased for others and for some stayed about the same. Strictly case by case depending on the brand and the varying approaches they want to share their message. It’s interesting to see the growth of some magazines soar this past year. Fashion publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, W and Marie Clare. Entertainment and music pubs such as People, TV Guide, Entertainment Weekly and Rolling Stone. Teen mags such as Seventeen and Teen Vogue. Dude publications such as GQ, Esquire and Men’s Health. And lifestyle and travel publications such as The New Yorker, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and Vanity Fair are all faring pretty damn well. Their revenue and ad spending have all increased just this past quarter even.

The power of print is still very much a viable media. In a time full of chaos, i feel we should take this opportunity to hail those who are doing it correctly in the print space.

Should photographers and illustrators learn the motion medium?

There are so many growing opportunities in motion. This industry is a constantly changing organism. And with so many advances in technology, the need for more motion and stills in digital, there’s no doubt it’s smart for artists to embrace movement. On top of the expanding commercial and editorial opportunities out there, it’s another creative outlet and experimentation for extending their look and style found in their photography or art. It’s exciting to watch, particularly when you see their motion and immediately recognize it as an amplification of their stills. And should it inspire illustrators and photographers to explore motion, even better. Nothing like curiosity mixed with a little fear to light a fire up your ass and really get your creative juices flowing.

What advice would you give someone who only does print (still) work?

I also strongly feel photographers and illustrators should stay true to their work. and create their art in the best medium(s) that truly speak to them. In other words, simply pursuing motion solely because they feel they have to, will naturally reflect in the work they create. Not to mention have an effect on their creative spirit and psyche. Bottom line, each artist/photographer should trust their own intuition. It’s what it’s here for. Intuition helps harness creative energy in producing art that means something to them and then good work comes of it. Then people like myself will come a knockin’.

APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.

There Are 8 Comments On This Article.

  1. Good post!

    Why are budgets tighter? Are these end clients earning less profit?
    Has media space gone up or down in price? Has total purchase of media space increased or decreased for clients? What patterns are presented?

    Are the top tier of photographers (Stockland, A&C, Bernstein, Ash, etc.) giving away more (rights, usage, less compensation) on commissioned projects, or is this more applicable to the MOR image makers?

    • Suzanne Sease

      Hey there,
      Please understand that I am not policing these past post trying to work on my clients work and future posts. And actually was hoping someone else would respond but I think folks don’t want to put themselves out there. Which I understand and can appreciate.

      Budgets- clients are asking for more and using the economy as their excuses- saw this in the early 90’s having to use employees as talent, pull rabbits out of hat. Clients are in control, account executives are in the middle between the agency and clients- very difficult place to be. It is a balance between pissing off your client and losing your job.

      I ran into a former media buyer who I worked with at Martin. She said she was so thrilled that she made the decision to move more towards placement on the internet vs. print. Print is very expensive. I remember years ago trying to steal money from the media buy to get my photographer more money and one page in Ladies Home Journal was over $40,000.00- that was over 12 years ago!!

      In a panel discussion with Gregg Lhotsky from B&A, he said he in competition with budgets with images from Flickr. So it is hard on everyone!!!

      I mean that estimate that Jess showed the final numbers compared to the number of shots equaled approximately $2,950.00 per image for two years sports pubs, OOH and Collateral. And TV stills. But Jess was able to get the photographer $20,000.00 for a day of work. At the end of the day, it is up to you as the talent whether it is worth it or not. I have seen more folks say one thing when they are on these forums as anonymous but in reality their actions in business are different!!

      The idea of this is to get information from these great folks NOT challenge them.

      • Suzanne – Thank you for taking the time to respond!

        12 years ago 1 page, 1 week , (1 issue/run) NA media space in Time magazine was around $160K. I don’t know what it is today – same, less, (consider inflation/cost of living increases in 12 years), or more.

        “in competition with budgets with images from Flickr”
        LOL :(…
        How do we compete with free?
        (Answer: We don’t. Death by a thousand cuts.)
        I just wonder what motivates an art buyer to go to Flickr. It’s a race to the bottom.

        I understand the excuses and the squeeze. These are the same clients that pay a worker in China $7./day (with poor labor standards) and sell the computer the worker built for $2500.00. They will use whatever leverage possible to pay the least $ for the most bang – while possibly still earning record profits. Supply and demand is the biggest leverage used against imaging professionals today. The market is saturated, and too often the client wants a Mercedes for the price of a Hyundai.

        The photography imaging industry has been a fractured market for some now.
        I appreciate the info provided. I don’t look at facts as being a challenge. Yes, they may be ‘inconvenient’ – but it is what it is. When we don’t have enough information to understand how things are working, we can’t make the best choices. The client, agency, rep, consultant, or photographer might have a big piece of spinach stuck on their front teeth after lunch – not telling them doesn’t change that :)

        Thank you, again!

  2. Great read and info, positive versus naysayer. I have seen a lot of changes but have to say, this industry is like investing in the stock market, you often buy for the long haul and photography is a long haul business in it’s middle twenties if technology allows it to grow. Thanks Rob for the dedication.

  3. Fantastic Post! Marni always has great insight and can put it in terms everyone can understand. The world is constantly evolving and advertising and the photo business are no exception. Rob, thanks for posting relevant content. Suzanne, thanks for asking questions photographers actually want answers to. Marni, thanks for being exactly who you are.

  4. I like it that the foundation never changes: passion and dedication to what most interests and challenges you.

    Burning desire creates the best work.

    Everything else, even with all the technical change, seems like a slight accentuation over time in comparison to that.

  5. In an industry and medium that is ever changing it feels good to know that quality creative and quality art will always rise above the rest. As a photo rep, I talk to clients and photographers about this every day.. the need for quality work that through the clutter of everything else we look at all day. Thank you for such an insightful post.