One of the most common conversations we have with photographers is about finding and working with reps. Many photographers aspire to be responsible only for taking pictures and have someone else find them assignments. But what’s it really like to have a rep, and how close does that dream match up with reality?
In the first part of this series, we explained everything to know about finding a rep. In this second and final part, we’ll discuss the most important parts of a contract, how they can differ from other contracts, and how to leave a rep if you feel the need to do so. With some insider info from former rep Melissa Hennessy and Mark Winer of The Gren Group — combined with our own experiences — we’ll give you the low-down on pursuing representation.
Now that you have found a person or company you want to work with, the rep will have a contract to sign. There is no standard rep agreement: every agent will have a different way of doing business and will provide a different contract (some may even have none at all!).
As with any contract, you are free to negotiate any or all of it. If you have experience with these types of contracts, you might be able to review it yourself. Otherwise, consult a lawyer or someone with significant industry experience — like a Wonderful Machine producer!
Most importantly, do not sign anything blindly.
Here are a few major elements of a rep agreement that you should look for and understand:
Perhaps the most important element of an agreement is the rep’s commission on any given project. The contract should clearly specify what percentage both parties receive. It should specify which items are subject to that commission. Will your rep get a percentage of just your creative/licensing fees, or will they collect a percentage of some of your expense items, too? Will they get a percentage of your residual fees from subsequent licensing fees on those images (to the original client or to a new client)?
We find that reps typically get between 20 – 30% of the fees they negotiate for their photographers. Mark Winer, one of the CEOs of the photography agency The Gren Group, says his company’s commission of 25% is taken from “creative, usage, travel, prep, and tech scout fees.”
House accounts are clients that you currently work for — or have worked for — prior to entering into an agreement with a rep. Each rep will handle these differently. Some reps will take less commission on house accounts, while others may not take any commission at all.
Sometimes, reps might take less than their regular commission for the first year of your contract on house accounts and then take full commission after that year (or given time period) has ended. Most frequently, reps will want an exclusive agreement where they take a commission on any project, regardless of your previous history with a client or if they get you the job or not.
Chicago-based creative Melissa Hennessy — who has worked as both a photographer and an agent — explains that this is because, once with a rep, the social media and constant publicity the photographer receives makes it unlikely that any large project is acquired solely by the photographer. That may seem hard to get behind, but if you understand that your agent is working with your best interests every day, you’ll have no problems with the commissions.
Be clear about what you can expect from your rep and what they will expect from you. What promotions are you responsible for funding/doing, and what does the rep expect their photographers to do/pay for? Also, what is everyone’s level of involvement in estimating and/or production?
The Gren Group, for example, strives to keep it simple. The company pays for all their own travel, website updates, portfolio shipping, trade shows, database subscriptions, and email campaigns. The photographer pays for their own trade advertising, promotional trips, and direct mail pieces. When they hire a producer, which they almost always do, the producer handles all aspects of production for the project.
Sometimes, the client pays the photographer directly and then the photographer pays the rep their share — and sends along copies of receipts for all the expenses. Our experience is that an agent will typically bill the client and then pay the photographer when they get paid.
Sometimes a relationship doesn’t work out, and it’s important to know what happens if you decide to part ways. Who keeps the clients? Do you need to pay your rep if you work for clients that they go for you after you’ve split up?
Most agents have a severance clause that has the photographer paying the regular commission for six months after termination, plus one month for every year they were under contract. So, if they worked together for five years, the severance would last for 11 months.
A lot of what happens to a given client after the photographer and agent have split depends on said client. If the photographer has a better relationship with the client, they would probably keep them. If the agent has a close relationship with the client, they will probably continue to cultivate that.
Mark says that the contract is meant to lay the foundation for what is to be expected on both sides. But, of course, there’s room for negotiation. Some companies even permit the photographer to go without any severance period or additional commission, especially if the agent was collecting commissions on existing clients from day one.
Finding a rep can be a long and complex process. So, be sure you’re ready to make that commitment before heading down this road. Do your homework, ask other photographers who have representation what their experience is like, and find out everything there is to know about a potential agent before reaching out.