6 Tips On How to Approach a Photo Representative

Over the last 20 years of shooting professionally, I have had about 10 agents. Some were outstanding. Some weren’t great at all. The reason I have had so many agents is that I traveled a lot in my twenties and thirties, so I would get a new agent where I ended up basing myself. My first few agents were what we refer to as C list. Or B list. In other words, they weren’t A list. And that makes sense. When you’re starting out, you’re not going to land a really great agent. You don’t have enough experience under your belt for the most part and the really good agents won’t waste their time representing someone who can’t book good editorials and ad campaigns. Your book has to be strong and your “resume”, so to speak, has to have a couple of big clients on it before you can even approach these top agents. Of course, it’s a catch 22, isn’t it? You can’t really get the big ad campaigns without a good agent, but you can’t get a good agent until you’ve shot a few of them. So you start out with a smaller agent and work your way up.

When you look for an agent, there are a couple of things to keep in mind. First of all, you need to find an agent that has strength in the type of photography that you want to do. You don’t go with an agent that has a bunch of car shooters and is really IN good with GMC if you’re a fashion shooter. If you’re a fashion photographer, you want to go with an agent who has a big network of fashion clients and has other fashion photographers in the agency. Once you’ve found a couple of agents that you want to target here’s a list of what to do:

1. Send the agent you’re interested in a short email. Keep it short. They are busy and don’t want to read your whole life history. Just introduce yourself, send them a link to your work and end the email by saying you’d be willing to meet them and show them your portfolio if they want to see more or meet you. That’s it. They know you’re writing them because you need an agent. You don’t have to over-explain it.

2. If you’re lucky and they write back telling you they are interested, write them back and make some suggestions on when you can meet. Again, keep it short. They haven’t signed you on immediately. It’s still a matter of meeting up and seeing if the two of you are a “good fit”.

3. If you don’t hear back from them right away (usually the case, especially when you’re starting out) either follow up with another short email or a phone call. Ask them if they have had a chance to look at your website and would they be interested in meeting. If you don’t hear back from them on the second email or they don’t return your phone call, move on. They’re not interested. And 9 times out of 10 they’re not going to tell you that. Just move on to the next rep that you’re interested in.

4. Okay, so you get in the door and you’re meeting your prospective agent. This meeting is as much of you interviewing them as they are interviewing you. It’s not a one way street. Do you like them? Do you like their presence? Do you get a good overall feeling of them? Do they dress well, were they on time, did they cancel last minute? Do they seem distracted? Did they take their time looking through your book or were they on their cell phone the whole time while flipping through your book?

5. It’s important that you like your agent as much as they like you. The photographer/rep relationship is truly like a marriage. You are trusting this person to represent you and your work, which if you’re like me, is my life and my livelihood. They bid on your jobs, they handle getting your money from the client into your hands, they handle damage control when shit goes down ( and it will, trust me). They are supposed to have your back at all times. You have to trust these people. Just as they have to trust you. If your agent gets you a big gig and you don’t show up or you blow the shoot somehow, it’s their reputation on the line as well. You can blow a client relationship that your rep may have nurtured for years over one bad shoot.

6. It’s great if you can have your first meeting in their office. A lot of times, though, they meet somewhere neutral. They don’t want you to feel “at home” just yet because they haven’t decided if they want to take you on or not. After they’ve signed you, then you get to go to their office and feel like part of the family. (sounds like the mob, huh?)

A good agent is hard to find, and harder to sign with. But the higher up you move in your career, the more likely you’ll land one. Someone wrote me recently and asked me if it is better to contact a potential agent or if they should contact you first. Of course, it’s always better when they contact you first. But that doesn’t mean not to go out and try to contact the good ones yourself. A lot of times they don’t know you exist. You have to put the word out there.

I will end by saying this: Because your agent is such an important part of your business, you must keep the two, business and personal, separated. I have made the mistake in the past of getting too personal with my agent and they quickly became a “buddy”. It’s good to like your agent, but don’t get too personal. By this I mean don’t do much “hanging out” and party-hopping with them. Don’t divulge too much personal crap on them. Don’t use them like a doormat. I have friends I can go to and confide in them my petty little day to day bullshit. I don’t go to my agent and complain about how my water bill was ridiculously high or how my gardener doesn’t do a great job unless I’m standing over him. She doesn’t want to hear it, she doesn’t care, it’s not about our business relationship and it wastes her time. Plus it just crosses over into the “buddy” category and it confuses things.

Melissa Rodwell