This Job Is Not As It Appears

An advertising agency client recently got themselves into a little pickle. They had hired me for a gig, we spent tons of time on pre-production, and before you know it, we were whisked off to location. It soon became clear to everyone on set that the scope of work outlined in our signed contract was a little different from what was really required. The budget had been fixed and there were the same number of final images required, but the route to get to those finished images was going to be much more challenging than previously imagined… This shot suddenly required two angles, this other shot required a third version, there was extra talent needed, etc. It was a week-long shoot and despite the rigorous pre-production we’d all agreed to, the CD and the AD had to make some changes on set.

I was faced with a handful of options:

A) Meet all the client’s needs with no changes to the contract
B) Change the contract before agreeing to any changes on set
C) Meet all of the client’s needs on set and wait to re-negotiate changes after the scope of work was known
D) Don’t agree to the additional work since it’s wasn’t in the contract
E) Some answer not contemplated herein

What would you do? Seriously. Answer the question. After that, click the ‘continue reading’ link below to find out what I did and why.

Ready for this?

I chose A) Meet all the client’s needs with no changes to the contract

What the? Why? Who tha? Huh? You’re saying to yourself “He chose A!! That’s what contracts are for, they outline responsibilities. Why would you do stuff that’s beyond the scope of the signed contract? You’re selling yourself short! You’re undermining the industry!”

The answer is simple: I did the extra work because I wanted to and because I could. Because making clients happy is part of my job. Because it was the right thing to do.

OK, now the explanation. This was a bit of a trick question. You didn’t have the details in this particular case, but to make my point here: the details you didn’t have DON’T MATTER. The point I’m trying to make is this: changes and challenges on location happen. It’s a part of the creative process whether you like it or not. Regardless of your contingency plans and all your experience, shit happens. Sure, we mandate that our productions are always impeccable, and this was no exception, however stuff is ALWAYS different out on set than you picture how it is during the pre-production conference calls! Where a real professional creative shows his or her gold stars is in getting the job done–whatever the requirements– with style and grace, and in the face of any adversity that might come your way.

I have a tremendous respect for contracts – they’re meant to guide us. But they are not the end-all be-all.

I confess I did a little impromptu analyses:
Is this extra work going to make the final images better? (yes)
Is this gonna change the number of final campaign images? (No)
Is this going to add extra days to the job? (No)
Is this pounding my bottom line? (Not badly)
Am I being compromised to an unreasonable degree? (No)
Is this client a great client that I want to impress? (Yes)
Is over-delivering going to help strengthen my relationship with this client? (yes

Suffice to say, this stuff happens all the time. Look at it as an opportunity. Not to give stuff away or devalue your work or any of that. Because considered rightly, it really is none of those things. It’s most often the right thing to do. Over-deliver. Avoid becoming a primadona. Embrace collaboration and give and take.

Understandably so, I think photographers and artists everywhere get it beat into our skulls from a very early age that “creatives get taken advantage of… don’t let that be you. Be a great business person, play hardball, yada, yada, yada…” Sure our ilk have been fed the short end of the keilbasa sausage more than once, but truth be told, good business also means taking a big perspective view of the relationship. It means being a good human being. Sure we should all be smart is business, but do so with as long a term view as you can possibly afford to take. Balance yes and no. Keep perspective. Resist being the photographer that is proud of being a stubborn jerk. Contrary to what you’d read in lots of blogs and books, there is a middle ground between getting taken advantage of and being friendly and hardworking.

In the case of this real-life example, I did all the extra work without so much as raising an eyebrow. Why? Because is wasn’t going to hammer me and it was going to yield a better result. It was a lot more work than expected and certainly more than the contract outlined, but it was the right call.

After the shoot, both the CD and the AD thanked me for going the extra mile. They loved it. And you know what? Shortly after we returned from the gig, they immediately booked me again for their next project.

You might be learning, might be just another solid artist, or you might be the best artist in the world and have the buyers eating out of your hand. Regardless, I promise you: taking good care of your clients will never go out of fashion.

Flaunt it.

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