It’s 7 p.m. on a Monday. My office manager, postproduction manager and intern have all gone home. I am still working. The phone rings.
It’s a prospective client — and she’s in a jam. She had asked her organization’s PR firm to arrange for photography of certain attendees at a Senate hearing the next day. Apparently, the PR firm originally planned to just snap some photos with the office digital camera. Then, they scrambled to find a last-minute assignment photographer. They ended up with one who did not have a lot of experience.
There to Listen
The woman on the phone was very upset. I talked to her for about 20 minutes. I learned that the assignment wasn’t just coverage of the hearing; she also needed portraits of several visitors from out of town for use in marketing and advertising. I knew the photographer her PR agency had hired would be completely out of his element with this part of the assignment.
What to do?
I chose not to bad-mouth the other photographer, but I did explain what the client was missing out on by not hiring a photographer with the right experience. She tried to corner me into reassuring her that everything would be OK. I couldn’t.
Instead, I outlined the logistics of the assignment, interspersing ideas about how I might have gone about it, and told her I thought it would be a challenge for her photographer. She needed to know that it wouldn’t be smooth sailing.
She said she was locked into the other photographer at this point, but was curious how much I would have charged for the assignment. I gave her a figure that was over twice what that photographer had quoted her. She assured me that next time she would call me directly, and not farm out the photography request to her PR firm.
The beauty of this is not only that she would have paid double what the other photographer quoted, but that I have reinforced to her that I am a premium-brand photographer — and one who is there for her when she needs to talk.
I closed the conversation by saying that I would be up fairly late that evening, and if she changed her mind and wanted me to take on the assignment, I would make it happen, even on short notice.
The 9 p.m. Call
Sure enough, at 9 p.m. my phone rings again. I assumed the prospective client was calling back.
But it wasn’t her. It was a regular client, who started the conversation by asking, “What are you doing answering the phone at this hour?” I told him I was doing some paperwork and asked him how I could help.
He was at an event and had learned at the last minute he needed a photographer there the next day. I told him, “Sure thing. Consider it done.”
He said, “It’s really going to be about 10 minutes of work, but I know you have a minimum, so just bill me for that.”
I said, “Yes, we do have a minimum that would apply. I’ll get that paperwork off to you in the morning and we’re all set.”
Now, this client can turn to his superiors on site and say, “I’ve just secured a photographer for you for tomorrow.” They will be impressed by his ability to get things done so quickly, after hours. He will garner cache akin to the hotel concierge who scores two orchestra tickets to the sold-out performance at the city opera at the last minute.
He looks good, and I look good for making him look good. And — oh yeah — I have a paying assignment tomorrow.
The Value of Availability
For freelance photographers, it pays to be available — no matter the hour of the call. When you can answer the phone at 1 a.m. with a cheery face and acknowledge that you can be on hand at a 7:30 a.m. breakfast, that’s a competitive advantage.
Maybe the prospective client forgot to book a photographer. Maybe the photographer missed the flight or lost his luggage and gear. Maybe the photographer is sick and the client just got the voicemail. Whatever the circumstances, when you are there to step in and pick up the pieces, you become the hero.
And chances are, you’ll be the client’s choice on future assignments.