Ask an Agent / Who wants to see my portfolio at an Advertising Agency?

Ask an Agent is a regular monthly column that answers all your dilemmas about the business of photography – a sort of photography agony aunt. Whatever area of the industry you are in, if you have any questions you’d like to ask please send them to Lisa

Dear Ask an Agent,

I’ve finally got a printed portfolio together with a view to trying to get my foot in the door with some ad agencies. Can you advise me on who I should try and show it to?

John Oliver, photographer.

Hi John,

The best people to show your book to in an ad agency are the art buyers, art directors and creative directors.

It is the art buyer’s job to source photographers suitable for a campaign, negotiate the shoot costs and oversee the production process, making sure everything is delivered on time and in budget. Some of the smaller agencies don’t have art buyers or they have different job titles such as creative services manager or project manager for example.

The art buyer liaises with the ‘creatives’ as to what kind of photographer would be right for the campaign they have created. The creative department is made up of teams of art directors and copywriters, with the art director creating the visual side of things and the copywriter the words, although the boundaries are often blurred these days.

The creative director oversees the creative output of an agency, they are also very good people to try and see but in the larger agencies they are generally very busy managing the creative team. The art directors are a really good contact to ‘get in with’.  If they like the way you see the world and your ideas it may well inspire them to create their next campaign with your work in mind. It’s all very much a collaborative and a people business, so networking with art directors often pays off for individual photographers.


A few final words of advice:

• Don’t be put off if an art buyer books you in 4 months ahead, this is fairly normal.

• Try and book to see a few art directors (e.g 3 or 4), at say 15 minutes intervals as it’s likely some will cancel on the day as they suddenly have a pitch to work on. They aren’t being rude it’s just the way it is.

• Don’t be put off if you make 20 calls and send loads of emails and don’t get anywhere. It is part of an art buyer and art director’s job to see as many photographers as they can, so don’t think you are being a pain or wasting their time.

• Having said that, be respectful of peoples time and only show relevant, well edited and well presented work that is actually useful for the ad agency to see. Do your research before your meeting and familiarise yourself with their clients and recent work, everyone likes to talk about themselves!

• Don’t ever get shirty if your calls or emails don’t get acknowledged, if someone says they don’t want to make an appointment or gives you negative feedback. Sooner or later, if your photography is right for the brands an agency works for, your perseverance should pay off.

Good luck!

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This advice should be taken as a guide only. Lisa Pritchard and LPA take no responsibility for any omissions or errors. Please seek professional legal advice should you require it.