Should You Pay to Have Your Portfolio Reviewed by an Agent?

I sent a tweet out the other day asking, “What do people think about portfolio reviews that cost £250?”

I couldn’t fit it all within Twitter’s 140 character limit, but I was specifically referring to an event where photographers could have their books reviewed in 20 minute meetings with three different photography agents.

Such an event is certainly worthwhile for those hosting it — 20 minutes per review x 10 experts x 8 hours = £60,000 in revenue for the day. But is it worth it to those who pay to attend?

“Agents You Just Never Can Get Hold Of”

A few Twitter friends responded that paid portfolio reviews are worthwhile and help a lot of people. Others — including a couple of experienced reviewers — informed me that these events are hit and miss, largely due to the process, which can cause fatigue and rapid photo-blindness among reviewers.

Most respondents were as shocked about the price, and cynical about the value, of such reviews as I was.

To be clear, I believe that having your work honestly reviewed by someone whose opinion you trust is valuable and worthwhile. For example, the two reviewers who responded to my tweet would be among my prime targets for insightful critical input.

But pricey events like this one pitch themselves differently — offering you a chance to meet “agents you just never can get hold of.”

And what is the value of meeting people like this, exactly?

These people are not going to publish your book. You’re not paying to meet Dewi Lewis, Chris Boot or Michael Mack.

They are not going to publish your work in their magazine. You’re not meeting Jon Levy, Phil Bicker or Kathy Ryan.

Nor are they going to commission you. You are paying to meet prospective business partners — collaborators.

So is paying for their attention the best way to begin such a relationship?

Looking for Talent — or a Quick Buck?

Let’s look at this from the reviewers’ point of view. They are advertised as people that “you just never can get hold of.” Well, why is that?

Presumably, it’s because they’re not taking on new talent.

Even assuming they are very busy people, if they are taking on talent, then finding that talent should be a priority for them. It is, after all, their primary source of income (other than appearance fees), right?

So are they really going to select this new talent from the pool of people willing to pay them simply to look at their portfolios?

I doubt it.

Photographers, think about this for a moment. Would you pay three different real estate agents to come to your house and decide whether they want to sell it? Would you pay three different lawyers to see if one of them is willing to take on your case?

So why would you pay such a high fee to meet a few agents?

I would argue that you shouldn’t.

Here’s an interview I conducted with ex-agent Bree Seeley on what to look for — and what to look out for — when seeking an agent. (The podcast is here.)

Let me know what you think of it — I’m considering pricing it at £249.

Meanwhile, if you do meet the agent of your dreams at one of these events, I hope they will at least refund your £250 out of their first commission slice.

11 Responses to “Should You Pay to Have Your Portfolio Reviewed by an Agent?”

  1. I'm going to said event, but I think you need a clear reason for doing so...

    I want to identify the level of specialism required in a folio, within the London market. I'm interested if they feel me existing folio is too broad of genres. As the agents are used to selling in this market, they'll be able to advise!?

    I think if you go to one of these things with no clear questions for these people, your likely to be dissatisfied? I certainly don't expect to be a better photographer after a 20minute chat... but I'm (hopefully!) looking forward to finding the agents insights useful!

    I'll let you know how it goes and if I thought it was worth while. Si

  2. Thanks Simon,

    It sounds like you're going with good questions and sound reasoning. And you're definitely not going in the hope of being taken under the wing of someone who retains the keys to the magical kingdom of hugely paid commercial work.

    A lot of people are as savvy as you though.

    Even still, I hope you don't get any "dead-end of the day slots" or "just before lunch times" as that would suck.

    If you do, then just take down the names of the people you wanted to see, their bios and contact details and build a plan (contrary to the marketing you can actually get to see them). I've always taken this approach and found I've garnered a lot more respect for having done so.

  3. Sorry for the typo Simon - meant to say "A lot of people aren't as savvy as you" Sheesh.


  4. Haha! My dyslexia prevented me from noticing! And I did book the first morning sessions before the reviewers brain turned to mush!! Si

  5. It was useful for me to read the post re our event - mainly because we have many questions about it too. It came as a response to people asking us to create a portfolio review for image makers producing commercial work, but who didn't feel they could approach an agent. Having run the Rhubarb International Review for fine art photographers, for ten years now, we though we would shift our comfort zone. Its been challenging - the agents were so much more in need of convincing, though one or two then appeared to be added to the list. The price is too high, so we have given everyone more reviews. Just for the record, the most you can earn from this is £9000 - minus reviewer fees, marketing, travel and staff time. So next time we will do it differently.Its great responding to what artists need - its another thing making it work for both parties. We'll take what we learn at Commercially Speaking and move it on. Best R

  6. Unless I did something wrong with the conversion, but that comes to about $350+ for 3 - 20 minute interviews.

    20 minutes.

    Wow... That is some valuable information to be laid out in 20 minutes. I am sure it could be of huge value for some. And a total waste for others.

    Serious soul searching should be done in advance. Will the information make a difference - in other words, you may get some incredible information... will you use it? Are you a person that follows through on this type of information?

    If it is done with strong preparation going in, and the willingness to make enhancements that are suggested, then it could be a great value. Someone looking for validation, with a 'going my own road anyway' may find it not so helpful. And all the different levels in between.

  7. "Would you pay three different real estate agents to come to your house and decide whether they want to sell it? Would you pay three different lawyers to see if one of them is willing to take on your case?"

    Pretty much says it all. The event sounds like a marvellous business opportunity for agents with too much time on their hands [one wonders why] to milk aspiring photographers.

  8. I can see why some people are still sceptical about this... like the comment above...

    but any agent with a successful business (like the great reviews featured) is going to be an EXPERT in positioning and marketing photographers.

    They could teach most photographer a lot, I know I'm hopeless at regular marketing!! Plus £250 is nothing against what most commercial photographers spend as marketing budgets over a year, probably less than 5% in my case, any small insight picked up at an event like that could increase effectiveness at marketing myself is priceless!

    I think we photographers owe it to ourselves to INVEST in our careers... spending £250 on say a retouching course, testing a new camera, new film, taking a trip to a new location, or an event like this... We need to ensure we're always learning about every aspect of our business!

  9. Portfolio reviews can be a very good thing for many starting out or for those who have just begun solidifying their direction and/or business. So I wouldn't "throw the baby out with the bath water" on this one. While you do have some sound criticism, mainly that it seems a bit expensive for the return. Most reviews have set up the sessions such that the reviewers get frequent breaks and there are a limited amount of slots. Both of these are in place to reduce the fatigue factors.

    At the begining of 2009 Jörg Colberg's blog “Conscientious” covered many of the issues quite well and maybe you and your readers should read more on this idea…

  10. Last year I went along to the showing at one of Rhubarb Rhubarbs reviews. It was a really buzzing event. Very positive with some great work on show and some not so good work (although it's a matter of taste)

    I actually emailed Rhubarb with some thoughts I had about how 'white' the event was. I had an amazingly honest and passionate response. From my experience that's typical of Rhubarb, Rhubarb.

    They certainly are not getting rich off the portfolio reviews. What they do do is bring a lot of interesting people together.

    Yes it would be great if that was free. For some it will not be worth the money, for most I think it will be worthwhile and for one or two maybe even priceless.

  11. Thanks Rich Beaubien for the excellent Conscientious links. As always the blog-lord did a thorough job. In my defense, this wasn't a general review post, but one specifically about paying to meet an agent.

    Thanks Duckrabbit, I wasn't leveling an attack at Rhubarb and didn't mention them in the article, nor in my tweets. I did though mention some of the excellent people that they've had at previous events.

    I think that was fair, as my issue was the price, and the fact that it was to meet prospective collaborators, regardless of the organiser.

    Apparently they've now admitted that the price is too high and increased the number of reviews each attendee will get. Hopefully that means Simon and his peers will get to meet all the reviewers for their money.

    It'll be good to read some even-handed reviews of their experiences.

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