Monday, May 11, 2009

Answering the Phone 'After Hours'

It's 9pm on a Monday. My Office Manager and Post Production Manager, and intern have all been long gone. At 7pm, my phone rang. It seems a major public relations firm, which had originally thought they could just snap some photos of attendees at a Senate hearing with their office digital camera. Then, they scrambled for a last minute photographer. They got a photographer I knew was less than experienced on the assignment (I asked whom they got, and they told me), and the person on the other end of the phone was that PR firms' client, and she was very upset. I talked to her for about 20 minutes, and the assignment wasn't just the coverage of the hearing, it was also several portraits of people coming in from out of town for use in marketing and advertising, and while this photographer was less than experienced covering the hearing, he would have been out of his element completely in producing a quantity portraits that were advertising quality in several settings.

What to do?

(Continued after the Jump)

I opted first not to bad mouth the other photographer, bad karma. She tried to corner me into reassuring her she would get what she needed. I started outlining the logistics of the project, interspersing several general ideas about how I would have done it, and then I closed with - "with all those portraits, and the hearing, it will be a challenge for sure." I didn't want to lie, but I did want her to know it was not going to be smooth sailing. She felt as if she had no choice and was locked into the other photographer, and she asked how much I would have charged and I gave her a figure that was over twice what that photographer had quoted her. (I asked, and she told me.) She assured me that next time she would call me directly, and not farm out the photography request to her PR firm. The beauty of this is that not only would she have paid double what the other photographer quoted, but it is now reinforced in her eyes that I am a premium brand photographer (and thus, am billing at a premium rate.) I closed the conversation saying that I would be up fairly late this evening, and if she decided she really wanted me to take on the assignment, I would do what I could to make that happen, even on short notice.

Even though I would have like the assignment for tomorrow, it wasn't meant to be. Yet, at 7 o'clock at night, I was able to have a conversation with this prospective client, as if it was 2pm in the afternoon.

Returning to the 9 o'clock hour, my phone rings again. Before my caller ID delivers to me the name of the party calling, I say to myself "oh, nice, she's calling back. Guess I'm doing that project after all...", and then, up comes a very regular clients' number, and I say to myself "hmm, that's odd." (this all happened in about 2 rings). Answering the phone, it is another client, "Hi John, what are you doing answering the phone at this hour?" I respond "I am working on some paperwork and so on, but I am happy to be talking to you. What's up?" The client says "well, I am at an event the continues on tomorrow, and it was just mentioned that they want a photographer for a luncheon, are you available?" I respond "sure thing, I am happy to take care of that for you tomorrow, consider it done." He says, "it's really going to be about 10 minutes of work, but I know you have a minimum, so just bill me for that." I say "Yes, we do have a minimum that would apply, and I'll get that paperwork off to you in the morning, but we're all set for you, have a great evening." Now, this client can turn to his superiors on site there and say "I've just secured a photographer for you for tomorrow." They will look at him and be impressed and possibly even pay him a compliment or two about his ability to get things done so quickly, and he will garner cache akin to the hotel concierge who secures two orchestra tickets to the sold out performance at the city opera at the last minute. Thus, he looks good, I look good in his eyes because I was available and able to confirm for him, and, oh yeah, I have a paying assignment tomorrow.

As photographers, it is important to realize that we don't have hours, really. When you can answer the phone at 1am, with a cheery face, and acknowledge that you can be on hand at a 7:30am breakfast, because either A) they forgot to book a photographer, B) their photographer that was traveling with the group missed their flight/lost their luggage with the gear in it, or C) their photographer got sick and they just got the voicemail, you not only earned that assignment and the revenue that goes with it, but also a client who will stick with you in the future, or who is reaffirmed that you are their go-to person for their photography needs.

Please post your comments by clicking the link below. If you've got questions, please pose them in our Photo Business Forum Flickr Group Discussion Threads.


brett maxwell said...

Great post! I will answer the business line at any hour, and when they've been surprised I answered I just say "yeah, I'm up processing some great photos and figured I would answer for a break" (which is often true). With email, I will answer late if it's urgent, but if it doesn't need a prompt response, I will wait "business hours" to reply so that I don't build an expectation of immediate response at all hours for non-urgent matters.

Jeffrey Byrnes said...

Great post. I have a client who loves to call me last minute for portraits. I know the feeling all to well about being available at nearly any time. I love working on assignments that have a narrow time frame for delivery. It makes the job that much more thrilling and rewarding.

Dave Wong said...

I primarily shoot weddings, and have even booked a regular wedding two weeks out -- obviously, there was a fall-out with their previous photog.

And in today's Age of IG (Instant Gratification), I do answer emails within the hour (if I'm in).

In general, our wedding clients have booked closer and closer to their wedding dates.

Anonymous said...

You never miss a chance to ridicule someone.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous spewed...

You never miss a chance to ridicule someone.


I've read the post 3 times; where's the ridicule? Just because Harrington points out that the person that was hired to do the job didn't have the proper amount of experience; you call that ridicule?

I call it "real world" and if you have a problem with that then you should lock yourself in a room and not venture outside; or maybe you can go back to playing t-ball where everyone gets a chance to hit a home run no questions asked.

Real world........the client doesn't like service; calls another photographer, photographer markets self to client explaining the fact that his higher level of experience is going to come at a higher price; then gets the job, other photographer who bit off more than they could chew doesn't get another opportunity to do that same job.

Quit your crying.

Brandon D. said...

Great post!

Yeah, when you get last minute calls like that every know and then, you know that you have to be doing something right.

Xmas said...

That's great one .

Newer Post Older Post