Good Timing, Bad Timing and Your Photography Business

Timing is everything, as we learned recently when Farrah Fawcett’s death was the news of the day — until about five hours later, when Michael Jackson died. Suddenly, the ’70s It Girl’s passing became a footnote.

The timing of news events affects corporations, too. Sometimes dramatically. XM Satellite Radio, a client of mine, had made plans to launch its service with much fanfare — on Sept. 12, 2001. It ended up settling for a subdued announcement on Sept. 25.

The other day, I was working with a client who was promoting a press conference for a worthy (and newsworthy) cause. Unfortunately, there was a metrorail crash that day, so no media came to the client’s event.

As photographers, we know that in capturing the moment, timing is everything. But we sometimes forget that timing can be everything on the business side as well.

Respect the News Cycle

Would you ever send a casual, “how ya doin’?” e-mail to a photo editor in Los Angeles in the hours after Michael Jackson’s death? Not if you wanted it to be read.

If you do editorial work, you must be cognizant of the work patterns driven by the news cycle — even on slow news days.

This means, for example, you should avoid sending non-urgent e-mails to photo editors at daily newspapers when they are on deadline (usually between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.), and to weekly publications on Tuesday afternoons (when they generally put their issues to bed).

The same principle applies to your corporate clients. Don’t send them e-mails on Saturday afternoon. They’ll get lost in their inboxes, and a lesser portion of them will get read than if you sent them Monday mid-morning.

Prepare for the Unexpected

Another business lesson to learn about timing is that, as photographers, we must prepare for the unexpected.

We must prepare with our cameras, of course — being ready to jump from one assignment to the next to meet our clients’ needs. But we also must prepare with our contracts, for those occasions when events cause our editorial or corporate clients to cancel an assignment.

What if you were a photographer preparing to shoot a VIP reception for hospital donors at the UCLA Medical Center when the event is cancelled because of the crush of mourners and media outside the facility in the days after Michael Jackson’s death?

A cancellation fee should apply — particularly if the client waits till the last minute to tell you. (If the client had let you know earlier, you could have been one of the media hordes covering the Jackson story yourself, right?)

Depending on the circumstances, you always have the discretion to waive your cancellation fee. But you can only do this if it’s in your contract in the first place.

In the pricing section of my Web site, I spell out my standard cancellation fees, which apply to both editorial and corporate assignments. They are:

48-72 hours before: 40% of creative fee
24-48 hours before: 65% of creative fee
less than 24 hours before: 80% of creative fee

As a photographer, you of all people should understand that timing is everything. Don’t forget to apply this principle in your business.

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