Erik Almas hasn’t had a rep since September 2016, when his old agency, Vaughn Hannigan, shuttered. Though Art Department offered to take on the Vaughn Hannigan roster, Almas says one reason he did not sign with a new rep was his concern about why Vaughn Hannigan had closed—and soon after, Getty Reportage, Jed Root and Stockland Martel also shuttered. “Was it a sign that the agent model is not as relevant as it was before digital and social media?” Almas asks.
In a long blog post, Almas has assessed what he’s learned from three years of negotiating work for himself, without the help of an agent, and what he thinks a traditional rep agency does and doesn’t offer photographers and directors at different stages of their careers.
When he was launching his photography career, he says, approaching ad agencies seemed intimidating. “This was the late 90’s; there was no social media and websites had yet to become mainstream, and having agent was indeed crucial. While photographers were out taking pictures, the agent would take their portfolios to advertising agencies and magazines, present the work, and essentially sell the photographers on their roster.”
Now, he notes, art directors and art buyers are finding photographers in new places—often while scrolling on their phones.
To get their work noticed and to distinguish themselves from their numerous competitors, photographers may need help with publicity or social media engagement. “This type of brand building, however, is not in a traditional agent’s wheel house. It sits with managers and PR agencies,” Almas says.
Almas also says his advertising clients have been asking him to shoot motion. He enjoys it, and would like to direct more. Again, he isn’t sure a traditional photo rep could help. “The motion, or broadcast, side of advertising agencies, however, are not in the traditional photographers agent’s wheelhouse and [sit] largely with the production companies who represent Directors.”
But what about the money a rep can generate for a photographer? Almas reviewed his income for the past three years. Though his business had ups and downs, on average, he’s grossed the same amount in the past three years as he averaged when he had a rep. He writes, “With revenue in line with past years, my profits surged, as I did not pay the commission a photographer’s agent charges. This [has] for me equaled a significant salary increase, and if you asked my bookkeeper who looks at numbers, she would not at all suggest getting another agent.”
His own thoughts are more complicated. He says the jobs he’s getting are the result of 15 years he spent marketing his work and building his reputation. In his blog post, he explains why he thinks a rep remains valuable for a newcomer trying to build a career and get meetings with potential clients.
He cautions new photographers against relying solely on a rep to handle marketing. “At the same time, you have to start building your brand in as many ways as possible. This is where the longevity of your career will be rooted.”
Marketing his work—especially on social media—is one important task he has let slide in the past three years, he admits. “In my efforts of producing great work for my clients, being my own agent and spending time with my young family, something had to give. That something was social media, and it has now been a year since I last posted on Instagram and two years since I shared a post on this blog.”
Ignoring social media “is not sustainable,” he says. Via email, Almas tells PDN, “I realized people thought I was either slow or stopped taking pictures because I stopped social media. That’s not a great perception in the market so I just had to get back to it.” In August, he started actively posting images again to @erikalmas. In the captions, he tries to share some information about his process to art buyers scrolling on their phones: “I need to share why I so passionately like to create this work.”
Almas says he hasn’t made a final decision on the question of “To agent or not to agent,” and invites readers to add their comments about the pros and cons of the traditional rep. We are also curious to see if reps respond, and how in future they might adapt to the business changes Almas describes.
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