art buyers roundtable

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Creativity How has art buying evolved over the years?

Cindy Art buying 20 years ago was not what it is today. Back then it was a tear sheet department, and not all the art directors used our services. Art buying was done as a pilot program and only a couple of creative groups worked with us. Before, everything was done on a handshake and the art directors just called up their friends who were photographers-"Can you shoot this can of coffee?" They went ahead and did it and just billed the agency. No rights, no usage, there were very few lawsuits in those days.

Jean Art buying came out of the revision of the copyright laws in 1978. It was always assumed that whoever had the idea owned the copyright. Artists would give up the picture, we'd own it, and then it would go to the client. The other issue was the client could then do anything with it, technically they could resell it. Then it changed so the artist automatically owned the copyright.

Creativity So the profession developed out of legal necessity?

Jean I think that's why there's always been a misconception, at least in the early days, that this was a paper pushing position. Because that's what it was.

Cindy It was that, definitely in the beginning. But now a lot of art directors rely on art buying. We don't have layouts. We have briefs, we have words, phrases, concepts. That's why it's a whole lot more research than it used to be.

Shawn Our jobs have evolved over the last 10 years and the best way to tell people what we do is to talk about it in terms of broadcast, that we're like the producer from the agency. There used to be studios and studio managers did production. It was smaller, in house, but now there's so much more at stake, so much more money, that this job has grown.

Creativity So what other changes have you observed?

Josette We're doing a lot of weird hybrid photography and illustration now, but it's hard to even find people who have experience in it, and so we're asking people who've never done these kinds of things.

Jean That reminds me of how we started. You find somebody who has the capability and you'd just have to art direct. You'd look at somebody's book and say, "Oh, they can do this." Whereas now well, a glass of wine isn't in their book so we can't shoot this glass of wine.

Ann I don't think the art directors are used to doing that kind of art direction anymore. Now, I think they're dependent on the photographers, and everybody's so specialized now, that you would only hire someone who shoots wine for wine. You would never just hire a still life photographer. You want someone who's a specialist. Maybe it's also because the economy is tight, they don't want to take the chance of shooting an expensive campaign with someone they don't know will deliver.

Josette For me, it's creating more problems when you're shooting. We can say "Okay, this person doesn't shoot wine glasses but we're going to ask them to. " But the creative director wants to see it right away because we've told them we can do this. We can't spend the money on retouching right away so it's then done half-assed in the studio. It's so frustrating, just to sell the idea internally to the art director and the creative director. When we're done shooting, we have to go through so many steps and then when it's signed off on, you do it all over again and waste so much time and money. I think BBH is special in a way because it keeps pushing the limits on doing stranger and stranger projects, which is more interesting for me, but it's also challenging on the other side, getting it approved.

Creativity How often do you find yourself trying to introduce new talent into your pool? When do you make that decision to work with someone new versus a tried and true photographer?

Ann For me, it's never our decision. Maybe some of you guys have more power but it's never our decision.

Kari At BBDO we do have a lot of influence and we can kind of encourage the art directors, but ultimately it's their final decision and they have to have a comfort level. We're incredibly persuasive, but I tell my whole department, "Guys, listen, even if you think they're on board but you get any inkling that they're not comfortable, back off because you don't want it coming back and biting you in the end." And then we have others who are so receptive to our influences, going for it, and pushing that creativity.

Sarah We have a lot of influence and are very involved in the creative process from the brief, all the way through. Depending on the art director we kind of already know their personality, what they're going to need, who they've worked with before. So we'll put in front of them three to five people, and kind of push, but it's really their say.

Creativity How much of it is being able to know the personality of the creatives?

Shawn We're just always very collaborative. We're not just working for the art directors. We're managing the account team, the client has a say in it. We're sort of selling all sides of it. We have a lot of new art directors come in, or different accounts, but they really trust us. I think that's what changed. The creatives do a little research but they don't keep any promos. They want us to do all that.

Cindy Any time we have a new job come in we always work with the creative director, the art director, go over the brief, the assignment. But also, it's like, "OK where's your traffic, where's the print production, where's the account team, how's my budget? What's my schedule?" I'm sure you guys are all the same, there's no time to do any jobs. So that's why we have come to the forefront, I hope anyway, in the creative print process. Art buying is a lot more process-driven than it ever was before, a lot more layered internally with cost consultants, print production meetings, shoots and everything else.

Shawn In my first three years we would always have these battles about who's managing the shoots and who's going on the shoots. Now it's a no brainer. We're the producers, we handle the projects, we go on the shoots to L.A. or wherever. But when I first started, for three years, it was always, "Why do you have to go?" Now, clients don't go on print shoots so why should the account person go?

Kari We've changed our titles at BBDO to producers to elevate our perception along with our counterparts, the broadcast producers. BBDO has been so heavy broadcast, we're not known for print. But just in the last year and a half our print has gone through the roof and is continuing to grow.

Cindy Is anybody else a "producer"?

Shawn We talked about it. But we have an art production department which is basically the studio. It was kind of a big deal a couple years ago and now we don't really care. I didn't really find that it really changed what we do. It doesn't change what we do, or what people think we do. Because everybody's a producer these days.

Sarah Art buyer is no better but there's still no better word for it.

Jean Nobody knows what an art buyer is anyway.

Shawn I feel like that's going away. I hope it is. There was a time when I think an agency in San Francisco got rid of their art buying department and were having someone else, maybe the project managers, do the job. But some big project comes along, it becomes a mess and all of a sudden they're rehiring.

Cindy All it takes is one big project and all of a sudden you realize the need for it, I think.

Josette In our London office, they don't have art buying, they have project management. A lot of the companies based in Europe that are coming over here are keeping with that model of working. When I first got to BBH I was hired as head of creative services, not really knowing what that meant. I was doing everything, but then they changed the rules. A lot of the European agencies are trying to adopt having project management, art buying and traffic together. I don't know how they do it, it's so challenging. In a way it also gives them a better understanding of everything that's going on in the business. Whereas I work on everything, they'll work on one client, know everything about that one client. It seems to work well there but I don't think they should do it here.

Jean The difference is that it's a staffing issue. You have to have an army of project managers versus having art buyers that work on multiple projects.

Shawn Our traffic department became project managers, more in terms of creating a 360 around an account team, including broadcast. But it didn't get into doing print production and art buying, because I just don't know that you can take a project manager as they exist now, with no arts experience, photography experience.

Creativity What percentage of your time is actually devoted to seeking new talent versus running the production?

Ann Not as much as we'd like.

Kari The timetables have gotten so short. It's almost impossible. You just kind of hope and pray that the new talent seeks you out. The upside is that the internet has been very helpful. There are so many services too that photographers can get listings with that are far less expensive than getting into the books, so their exposure has increased.

Sarah Photo assistants are really great. I've hired a lot of really great young photographers that way. I've worked with them on set, I know how technically adept they are, they just really want to work and have really great rates. But it's also about the art director, hooking that photographer up with somebody seasoned enough.

Kari It is always a risk, when you meet someone new and young. They may not have the connections with producers and other staff that they need to really pull off the job.

Jean Half of the time when you do work with young photographers, they don't even know how to put a team together. That's frustrating.

Shawn Have you all noticed this? There doesn't seem to be as much work out there and we're getting great (photographers') fees. I think on BMW we've cut our fees down by 50%. The economy seems to have created a hunger and we've been able to shoot with German photographers, photographers we've always wanted to work with. The range of people we've been using has really opened up-high end Europeans who are very hot right now to a fun project with a mom-and-pop studio in northeast Minneapolis for the New York office. Also reps used to do things like double the price because it was BMW but now it's more like they're asking, "What's going on?"

Creativity What are your turn-ons and turn-offs about reps?

Josette One big turn-off is when they call you incessantly and act like you have to have an appointment with them. Or they try to get in through the back door with the creatives who then start complaining to you. And when you tell them, "Please funnel it through me because so and so is really busy," the reps get all indignant.

Creativity Could a bad rep ruin a photographer for you?

Sarah There are some photographers that we won't call because we don't want to deal with their reps.

Kari We have that too, a handful that we will not call, one in particular, but I shouldn't say. . .

Shawn We had a funny one recently. It was a rep we hadn't worked with before, we were bidding the job, and they just came in with an astronomical fee for a campaign. It was really strange and we had to bring them way back to reality. It's the ones that don't get it and are so far out of the realm you you don't feel totally confident that you're in the best hands.

Cindy But do you want to work with them?

Shawn The photographer was worth it, and they worked with us once we got them down. I would try to work with anybody if we really want the photographer. I've definitely had experiences where I've thought, I wish that person was with someone else, because I know it's just going to be a battle every step of the way.

Kari I think on the flip side, just because the way the economy has been especially in the last three or four years, a lot of the really difficult reps, that were more difficult in the '80s and '90s, really mellowed. But there are still a few out there who will fight tooth and nail and a couple that will in fact even walk away from jobs.

Cindy For the most part, photographers that have agents are so much easier to work with. Going to a photographer directly, sometimes they don't know the business or what they're selling. Do we like working with agents? I think yes, overall. The bad word always travels before the good and once I hear about it, I gotta think twice. But it makes agents have better business practices. And when I get their estimates in, I take those and pull those apart. You really have to take responsibility because otherwise, you've got to go fight and get the money.

Creativity What kind of trends have you seen in terms of what creatives are demanding from you?

Sarah We're actually commissioning a lot of fine artists, which is exciting. But it's a lot of thumbing your way through. They're not used to commercial deadlines, especially when it's a virgin experience for them. I was just working with a couple from Montreal. They needed to do a whole campaign but didn't understand they had to do it in three days. A lot of it is just managing expectations of the artists, the art director, the client.

Josette When we work with them we try to tell them beforehand but sometimes they don't realize really how many people are involved. It's like, "What are all these bozos doing in my studio?" But after they see the process they understand.

Creativity Isn't it like that working with the best photographers anyway?

Ann What we were talking about earlier, how the reps are getting nicer because the economy is bad, the photographers are too. There's less attitude because they realize they're depending a lot on the clients.

Cindy You find different situations-there are difficult art buyers too. With agents, I couldn't do my business without them. For the most part, they really have helped me in crunches, helped me do my job better. A lot of it depends on you, how you approach the job. You really have to be concise and very detail oriented. It's a very professional job. I think all of us here are very credible professionals in the business. It's the same as doing any other job at an agency ,as an art director, producer, account person. It's very much a collaboration and very much a part of the whole creative process.

Jean And I think everyone of us is valued in our positions within the organization of the company we worked for.

Cindy When I started, there were two people, now there are 13. The increasing number of art buyers says it all.

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