Smart Estimating & Keeping Kids Off Drugs With The Photo Closer

Frank Meo is The Photo Closer. (The name alone has a really cool ring to it.) Frank has worked in the photography business for over 25 years representing the most talented and esteemed photographers, like Ron Haviv, Robert Ammirati, Joe McNally, and Tim Mantoani. is new venture for Frank — one part a search engine designed to promote photographers of various specialties from locations around the world, and one part a team of top industry advisors who are on standby to help photographers with key business issues and functions.

Frank promotes his photographer search engine to an impressive list of art buyers, photo editors, and corporate clients he’s worked with over the years, including Citibank and American Express. His advisors are the cream of the crop – art buyers and photo consultants – including Allegra Wilde, Aurelie Jezequel, Kayte Geldzahler, Louisa Curtis, Lucy Raimengia, Selina Maitreya, and Tricia Moran. They help with everything from marketing and career development to shoot production on a freelance basis. 

Today Frank shared with us some valuable estimating insights from a recent project. His vignette provides some great advice on getting beyond the numbers, connecting with clients on a personal level, and standing out with creative solutions to the client’s needs.

In Frank’s words:

Recently we were asked to bid on a job that was extremely intriguing for a variety of reasons. First, the ad agency was out of Austin and they were interested in a photographer we represent from New York City. The client is a pro-bono account that has won numerous awards and there were five photographers bidding. We wanted the job in the worst way, like everyone did. The intriguing part is that of the five bidders, two were in Dallas, one in Austin and two in NYC.

So, before I started to even think about numbers I identified the task and laid it out to the photographer. How do we get this creative team (who has no time) to fly across the country for a pro bono account where the client needs to watch every nickel to shoot here in
NYC? Plus, in their own city, Austin they have a photographer they’re interested in
and two others just down the road in Big D. At first look, not good odds. However, if you’re in the game you play to win! I never think we don’t have a chance. Either way my job is to make the agency thinks really hard about using our photographer.

First things first. Before we got too excited I needed to talk honestly with the Art Buyer. She was great with her candor and forthcoming in supplying information.

  1. I asked her how many photographers were bidding. Five — and she told me who they were. This was key, once I could see the other photographers I knew the final decision was going to be a “creative call”. I always feel that the only “good reason” not be awarded a project is when a photographer’s style is not what the creative team and client wanted.
  2. Does my photographer have a realistic chance at this project? Yes — and I was told they liked him a lot. All good.
  3. Do you have a budget? Yes — $50K. Not bad, for a pro bono project it seemed doable.

A little background. The art buyer and I had never worked together, actually never spoke. But what was great was we both new each other by way of being in the industry for many years. So immediately we clicked and got on well, very professional. It always amazes me how by simply being a decent fair person in this industry your reputation is solidified.

So the ads are going to be a wonderful creative challenge on many levels. First we must cast teenagers who will appear in the ads as suffering drug addicts. We’ll need a special effects Hollywood makeup artist who can do open bloody sores and bad looking teeth. (The agency loves a makeup person – she’s in Dallas – so now we must fly her to NYC too – another cost.)

So I start working up preliminary numbers but I realize quickly this will not be key to being awarded this job. We must stand apart from the other four photographers. The reality is everyone’s numbers are generally going to be the same $45,000 to $50,000 range. From a practical point of view, if someone came in under $40,000 they (I felt) would look unprofessional and over $55,000 looked like you weren’t paying attention.

My photographer, the producers are all in. We want it bad. (On a personal note: I hate wanting anything but I was smitten too.)

Usually I can find a “hook” that connects us with a project on a deeper level. Sometimes it’s an obscure fact, sometimes its cosmic. Other than the clear fact “we wanted to be part of helping this cause” there wasn’t anything…yet.

In the meantime we had our conference call and it went great. Of course, we speak about the project details and realize the importance of this community outreach and get a true feeling about our mutual passion to help kids stay away from these drugs.

More then that we “connect” with them on various levels. From the mundane to the Cowboys, we can tell these are genuine folks that we’d like to create powerful imagery with. All good.

So what is the hook, how can we stand out?

First, I felt the photographer should write a creative brief. What better way to express, unfiltered, his passion his approach to shooting these six images. Two paragraphs of his creative vision and approach to help eradicating this horrible plague on our society. Heavy stuff. It was beautiful thing to read, no bullshit, right from the heart.

Second, in a practical way we needed to connect the dots. While doing the estimate, the light bulb went off. We should have a Drug Consultant on the shoot. The reason being, who better then someone who “experiences” the effects of these drugs and witnesses them each day then to be on set? I felt he would provide intimate first hand knowledge to the talent, client and photographer.

The ad agency called me on this “Drug Consultant” line item in the estimate — $500.00 per day for two days. I explained my thinking and they were truly impressed. (To save money) they asked me if the client could supply a person. I said that would be fine, as long as their person had the real-life experience. The point is, they liked the thinking, the peeling back of the onion to understand their “product concerns” on a level that nobody else did. All is good.

In the middle of all of this, we found out the Art Buyer is leaving due to the fact that she’s pregnant. Terrific news for her, and for us, who knows! The new Art Buyer was introduced and she too is a dream. You cannot take for granted the pleasure of working with top level – zero ego – truly professional people.

A couple of calls followed about image usage and the number of images. There too, I tried to be as accommodating as possible and the creative team was extremely thankful.

So yes, we got the job. We ultimately used our drug consultant, and he was hired by the agency to work on the TV shoot for the exact same reason I hired him. We shot extremely powerful images that the client loves. Hopefully one single kid will avoid the temptation to
try a very destructive drug.

Sometimes it’s really not about the numbers — it’s about connecting with people on a different level.

Learn more about Frank Meo at Frank also recently shared insights on working with an agent in our guide, Starting a Photography Business.

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This article was written by

PhotoShelter CEO. Follow on Twitter: @awfingerman and Instagram: @awfinger

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