Featuring Alice Keating, Vice President, Marketing and Sales, National Geographic Creative
With a background in photo archives and collections, Alice Keating has been with National Geographic Creative for over 20 years. The agency represents an active list of about 150 photographers, filmmakers and explorers who have existing relationships with National Geographic editorial properties. “It is such a rewarding job,” says Keating. “Of course, there are lots of challenges, but I work with the most amazing, dedicated staff you could imagine who are so passionate about the photographers and the filmmakers that they represent.”
Who does NatGeo Creative represent?
We represent photographers, filmmakers and explorers, and we also represent their collections that they give us for representation. We represent the brands of these photographers and filmmakers and explorers.
We also license archived content from photographers that shot for the magazine in the ‘70s and ‘80s who may not be active shooters right now. We represent a total of 400 photographers, but the ones who are active are more like 100 to 150.
Who are your clients? What sort of buyers are you placing this work with?
Our buyers are the art buyers and creative directors at ad agencies and art directors at editorial publications, commercial publications, and corporate branding people. We license content and work with people around the globe.
How is NatGeo Creative different from a regular photographer creative agency?
I think we have a very unique position in the marketplace. Our unique proposition is that we have the best storytellers and filmmakers in the world, and they can execute storytelling for specific brands.
I know the term “storyteller” gets thrown around a lot, but we are the original, great storytellers. It’s what these guys do and have made a living doing for National Geographic. For brands to be able to access the top talent in those areas is very special.
In addition to that, the trend in the marketplace for real and authentic people, that too we have. We have the real deal, and I think that authenticity is very appealing to brands because there is just so much more transparency in the marketplace and with consumers. It’s important for brands to be authentic themselves, and partnering with our genuine people is powerful for them.
How do you select whom you represent?
When the agency was founded, the prerequisite was that the people that we would represent had to have worked with National Geographic. As National Geographic has expanded, we’ve become more selective about that. We’re really looking for talent that has a strong body of work, who has a strong category behind them and who is continuing to do work for National Geographic in the editorial space. They may not have done work in the printed publication, but they have to have an active relationship with National Geographic. Is this someone that National Geographic is getting behind? Are they really supporting their work, and is there longevity in this relationship?
We are leveraging the fact that these are people whose work appears in the magazine and online. It lends gravitas to who they are. As a consequence of having a close relationship with National Geographic and the editorial properties, they’re also getting much more exposure out there in the world, which of course helps us.
Are the photographers that you represent exclusive with you or do some of them have other agents?
We are image exclusive, so any content that they give us is exclusive for representation of that content. As far as exclusive representation, that has been a little bit more fluid. We’ve had exclusive contracts with a handful of people, and we will probably be expanding that down the road. Some of the photographers that work for the magazine already have representation elsewhere and we have conversations with them, too, if they’re interested. That’s how it all starts.
How do you match up photographers with projects?
The process starts with my team having very close relationships with the talent that we represent. That’s imperative to being able to represent someone. We know their work very well. We have in-depth conversations with the talent about what their personal and professional goals are. That is a critical point of a conversation because you want to make sure that their goals and objectives are achievable, and then you have to set a road map to get there.
Once we have a very good idea and concept and understand the road map for a particular talent—what their values are, what they’re interested in doing—we create this road map. When we speak with a brand, we’re talking about what their objectives are and what they’re trying to accomplish, and then we try to match that up with the talent.
What do you expect from your photographers in terms of self-promotion?
We’re a little bit different in that regard to a lot of agencies. A lot of our photographers already have star power with massive followings on social media. We’ve got more than 20 photographers who have upwards of 500,000 followers on Instagram, so that is the best marketing tool out there. You can’t buy that. It’s so powerful.
Our objective is to get their name out there as much as possible. What I really encourage our photographers to do is the old line from Jerry Maguire, “Help us help you.” We like to make sure that they are leveraging their social media presence to their best advantage and making sure that they’re tagging us as their agent when they’re doing projects. We make sure that they are communicating with us about the activities going on so that we can leverage that for our agency as well—just making sure that when they’re out there in the world people know that they have an agent and they can work with other people and do custom projects.
Are there any plans to evolve and grow your support for photographers?
For us as an agency, our challenge is to make sure that we’re keeping up with the trends in the industry and in technology and making sure that we are constantly re-looking at our businesses and saying, “How can we get better in this business? How can we be smarter? How can we be more competitive? How can we evolve?”
We are passionate about keeping the talent in their profession, and that’s a lot of work. It means being smart about the marketplace and being competitive and helping so that you’re providing an income for them so they can continue to do the work that they’re doing. That’s really my personal passion; all of these photographers that we represent are doing such important work for, not just National Geographic but for the world, and really making change. My objective is to make sure that they continue to make a living in this profession.
Any last tips for photographers who want to work with an agent?
I would say that just as an agent is trying to evolve and keep up with the marketplace, photographers need to be flexible too. The more flexible they are in what they’re doing and the more they’re creating a strong brand for themselves, the more successful they’ll be. Working with an agent can be a really, really great thing if you have full trust in your agent. If you don’t, then you should probably not have one or get a new one.
For more tips to lock down a rep and seal the deal, check out Tips to Getting a Photo Rep.