Friday, March 13, 2009

It's Friday, Do You Know Where Your Ballot Is?

Previously, we wrote and encouraged you to learn about, and subsequently, to vote "no" on the referendum before you (that likely just arrived in your mailbox), as an ASMP member (and if you're NOT a member, click here to join) your voice should be heard.

I wrote extensively about this previously (read it here), so I won't rehash what I wrote then, but I WILL repost it today as the deadline is March 15th (meaning mail it today or tomorrow!). Let me make one thing clear about this referrendum - I am not on ASMP's board, I was not in the past, and I don't currently have any plans to be on the board. Further, ASMP has not asked me to take a position, I am doing so because I think that the referendum is ill-advised, and will be detrimental if passed.

A few weeks ago, in response to an ASMP seminar in New York, the leader of this referendum - Scott Highton - sent out a missive with criticisms of the messages that were put forth, and suggested that what the presenter said at that seminar was "flat out wrong" and that the presenter "should be ashamed of misleading members this way."

As Scott Highton suggested in his letter in criticism of the brief remarks that the presenter made, Highton reports that the presenter said "the current By-Law referendum, and claiming that if passed, it would prevent talks like this from being presented by ASMP in the future."

Actually, what the presenter said was, in point-of-fact, the truth.

That presenter, who is on the National board of ASMP, and is a leading expert on digital asset management for individual photographers, would not be in the financial position to be traveling the country away from his photography business giving those talks. Other national board members who are experts in fields like website search-engine-optimization, and so on, would have to choose between volunteering their time to serve the membership at a national level, and giving presentations. Thus, the cream that has risen to the top and are volunteering as leaders on the national board could not also serve as traveling presenters to chapters, and earn a token amount of money for their 2-3 day commitment they have for each of the cities they have to travel to, loosing money because they were not available for photo assignments for their clients, and giving great benefit to the members their programs touch. And, let me remind you - these token payments are coming from sponsors via ASMP, and not coming out of membership dues.

Further, this referendum would eliminate the token $15k payment to the President for what is essentially a 40-hour a week job for a year. Further, the Library of Congress project that came to ASMP was, in-point-of-fact, brought to ASMP by a board member - and, if this referendum were passed - that would not - in fact could not - happen in the future.

What Highton hasn't been so forthcoming about is the fact that he was on the national board at the time that it was voted that directors should be paid, and he voted in favor of the very thing he is now opposing so hard. Scott Highton could easily paraphrase John Kerry's famous flip-flop line about funding the war, and say "First I voted for paying directors for giving talks, and now I am opposing it." Nice flip-flop Scott. Good luck getting elected.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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One More Nail in the "Print" Coffin

News Blues is reporting today that National Public Radio is cancelling all its newspaper subsciptions, effective immediately. The memo that went out read, in part, "This is a cost-saving measure company-wide". I would bet that NPR, with its national audience, will likely get many of their subscriptions comped, if the newspapers' marketing departments have anything to say about it.

Yesterday, they reported that the New York Times us unable to sell its corporate jet.

Really? Why would they have a jet still?

They themselves are reporting about the demise of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer here, and the newspapers that built their online models in the same way that the staff photographer took on freelance assignments, foretold the demise of the former, and the unsustainable business model of the latter.

(Comments, if any, after the Jump)

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Just Words?

Photographer or Photography?

The Profession of Photographer, or The Photography Industry?

Over a decade ago, I had a big decision to make. It honestly didn't seem like a big decision at the time. In fact, I didn't think it was such an important one. However, it was. The question at hand was:

Do I call what I am doing: John Harrington - Photographer, or instead John Harrington Photography. Fortunately for me, I had Elyse Weisberg asking me this question, and instead of letting me make the wrong decision, Elyse was among the top photography consultants in the country, and without going into her CV, let's just say she worked with Eddie Adams, and wrote Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers.

What Elyse did was guide me to John Harrington Photography. She said "you're a business, and you want your clients to see you that way. When you're 'John Harrington, Photographer', you're seen as just an individual, and businesses want to hire other businesses." She needed say no more. This was one of the earliest stages of branding I participated in, and one that set me on the right path for the long term.

The question of The Profession of Photographer, or The Photography Industry is, at first blush, semantics, but is very important to distinguish.
(Continued after the Jump)

During the Presidential campaign, the power of words was dismissed by some. The power of possible plagarism on this very subject, came to the fore, as highlighted in this minute-long video. Words, and the choice of them, is critical. I mean, vitally critical.

We spend a great deal of time here in my office thinking and re-thinking our messaging. for example "I'll need to get you my contract for you to review and sign before I can get started" is an off-putting message. Instead, we use "we'll send along some paperwork for this assignment, and if you'd sign it, we'll be all set." Notice the use of "we" over "I". "some paperwork" over "my contract", "we'll be all set" over "before I can get started". Which one sounds more appealing to you? I've been attentive to this level of detail almost since the beginning - since discerning the difference Elyse put before me.

One of the most respected consultants in the political arena is Frank Luntz. Luntz is usually hired by Republicans, but even Democrats like John Kerry begrudgingly respect his genius. Luntz dissects, in his book Words That Work, how the words we use have impact. I have just finished his book, and it's full of post-it notes and dog-eared pages for me to return to, and it's also now out in paperback. The books' tagline is "It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear ". This is a time-tested concept, in part made famous as a thread running through the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus book, where the message was that when a man says something to a woman, she hears things he didn't say, and vice-versa with women speaking to men.

One of the points in the book was that using the word "industry" in the context of "Pharmaceutical Industry" suggested big business, uncaring bureaucrats, piles of money, and so on. What about, as Luntz points out, the Pharmaceutical Profession? That's your local pharmacist, or even possibly your own doctor who gives you a prescription? So too, when you say "Photography Industry", what comes to mind is not we photographers, it's things like Kodak, Fuji, Canon, Nikon, HP, and so on. In other words - big business. When we say "the photography industry is being devastated right now by X, Y, and Z", people don't think of the wedding photographer in Duluth, or the studio owner in New Orleans who is closing up his studio. If you, instead say "the profession of photographer is being devastated..." there is a more core sentiment felt for the individual small business owner that is a photographer. In fact, even changing the words to "the photography profession" dials back the individualistic components of what we do, if even just a little.

I want to strongly encourage you to think, re-think, and then, yes, think some more about the words you use. Luntz' book is certainly a great guidebook for that. However, not just the words you use to brand yourself, and in your correspondence to clients, but also in your phone conversations - how you answer the phone, negotiate, and so on. After every call or conversation, think about how you could have been more effective in that dialog, more succinct, or been more clear.

Words are not just words - they are the foundation of our communication, and are often short-changed.

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Monday, March 9, 2009

Getty Images And Paparazzi Pictures

Getty Images has several distinct brands. However, unlike a guest at the Intercontinental who would not take offense in knowing that the same company owns Holiday Inn Express (, knowing that income that supports Getty Images comes from Paparazzi "gotcha" moments, as well as helicopters flying overhead, and a mom trying to have a normal day at the park with a crying child, among the thousands of images that Getty Images is making money from, likely wouldn't sit well with the celebrities. Thus, the recent distribution deal between Getty Images and paparazzi agency Buzzfoto should be brought to the fore for a bit of discussion.

Would Brad Pitt have been comfortable knowing that he used Getty Images for his avenue of distribution for the first photos of one of his children, when they are also profiting from this photo of him, or this photo of Angelina?

Paul Melcher quotes, in his posting "It's Crazy, indeed", Getty's Global Vice President of Entertainment, Mark Kuschner , from a July 2007 article in the industry standard Variety Magazine:

”We’re never going to get into the business of the long lens, hiding in the bushes, hunting people down. Our business is based around relationships with celebrities and publicists and publications. The way we shoot is we’re invited. Paparazzi business is getting more play, but that’s also a very cyclical business.”

Never? Never ever? Oh, how the times have changed.

(Continued after the Jump)

Kuschner is quoted here as another segment of the Melcher quote "Our business is based around relationships with celebrities and publicists and publications. " So, I ask again - what do you think the celebrities you have built those relationships with would think about you profiting from their looking their worst through a backdoor channel?

The key players at WireImage, FilmMagic, and other companies built their companies on access, and ensuring that the celebrities they photographed, looked their best. I've personally seen more than one editing session where a celebrity image going out for distribution that had the celebrity looking less than their best would get axed. This was how these companies were built, and how they leveraged the relationships into companies that were then sold, and frankly, as long as everyone knows what's going on, there's nothing wrong with it.

Except when you make public statements that you would never do something, and then you do it when you think no one is watching.

Take a minute and dissect a single events' coverage.

Consider that a publication (either in print, or online), has just a few slots for images from a particular small to medium-sized event. If there is no "inside" photographer, then all the photos that are actually available, will come from the arrivals area. However, if you have these great images from inside, pairings of celebrities, those images will be more likely to get play than an arrival image - because they're better. Thus, When a publicist hires Getty or WireImage, and pays them $5,000, (and, by the way, the photographer gets about $250, for work-for-hire), that photographer is producing images inside, yet, on the outside, or in the bushes, or sneeking in through the kitchen (a la Blast 'Em) another photographer (or many of them) are producing images that places the same celebrities at the same event not only in a bad light, but also then has those images running side-by-side in searches.

So, when a photo editor can choose the pretty inside images from the $5k photo shoot, or the "more realistic" images from Buzzfoto, where the celebrity may look less than their best, the publicist's efforts have been watered down, possibly to the point where they become ineffective, yet, in the end, Getty not only collected the $5k, but the royalties from the less than flattering images as well.

Melcher makes a similar point in his piece:
"But how do you combine being the official photographer for a premiere or party, where you are hired to shoot the event and thus play along the publicists demands that all look nice, happy, and beautiful to the needs of a marketplace that would much rather see the same group of people, drunk, sick, dirty and arrested ? Especially since you went through incredible efforts to shut out your competition from all these official events, forcing them to wait outside and thus get those unauthorized shots ?"

Getty is trying to have it both ways, and in the end, if even one celebrity with the next million-dollar exclusive they want to distribute (Pitt/Jolie, Cruise/Holmes, etc), choosing Corbis, Zuma Press, or another agency may well cost Getty far more than Getty will likely earn from the paparazzi images they said they were "never going to get into the business of."

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