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.

36 Responses to This Job Is Not As It Appears

  1. Pieter July 28, 2008 at 1:11 am #

    Answer A or D:

    A: If it’s a first time client and I would not have been clear enough or didn’t look into all the details, I would respect the contract and learn from it to avoid this situation the next time. Important is that extra costs are my time, but will not cost me on gear or people.

    D: If I have been very clear, have pointed out all issues and limitations and the client would have chosen for a certain (cheaper) formula, they cannot expect me to go for a more advanced formula along the way, without changing the budget.

    It’s all about what you agreed on. Somethings cannot be foreseen. As long as you client is honest and playing fair, I’m willing to go far. Once you see they are trying to get as much juice for as few money, I follow the contract more strict.

    The thing is: advertising agencies should be pros. They should not make beginner mistakes. Advertising is about money and creativity. You should both make money, not let them make money at your expense.

  2. Julian Love July 28, 2008 at 1:25 am #

    Going the extra mile for a client is always going to be well received. And being easy to work with is a great advantage when so many in our industry are not.

    If making the required changes is not going to leave you financially worse off then it’s an easy call – it gets harder when the extra work is going to leave you out of pocket.

    Then you have to weigh up the likelihood of getting additional work from that client, of them referring you to other clients, of getting a great tearsheet etc, etc versus the awkwardness of re-negotiating aspects of the contract. I guess it’s different for every job, and it’s important to have good business judgment.

    Seems like you made the right call on this one and it worked out great for you.


  3. c3l5o July 28, 2008 at 1:26 am #

    I think it’s a one time thing… The worst that could happen is that they think that they can pull some this stunt again and get away with it right?

    The way I see it, there is no harm in choosing option A, as long as the guys that hired you don’t make it into a habit right?

  4. Kip July 28, 2008 at 1:31 am #

    This is one of your tastiest morsels of info yet. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Anonymous July 28, 2008 at 1:42 am #

    Alright, folks. “Getting as much juice for as few money” is basically what everybody does. If you make a small (or bigger) discount on your product, the client is happy and he books you for the next job. Well, that’s pretty obvious. All that stuff about being a good businessman or a good human being is just the package; we are all commodities after all. If you are being sold for a good price with a queue outside, why not share the profit, it won’t hurt anyway.

  6. Olesund July 28, 2008 at 2:25 am #

    Very well written!

    / Erik, Sweden

  7. MarquiMarc July 28, 2008 at 4:49 am #

    As expected you dont really know what would really happen in teh end… It will test you as a photographer and as a person. Just like Chase would always do is overdeliver… And in the end everyone will be happy… Good job!

  8. Andrew Ptak July 28, 2008 at 5:21 am #

    I have also chosen option A many times. But I will have to admit that it has rarely been appreciated. However, I do it mainly for me and not the client because I like to wrap job with my head held high regardless of if the client appreciates it or not.

  9. Tattooed Bride July 28, 2008 at 5:35 am #

    Seth Godin would be proud of you! Offering service over hype – he would say that’s the best marketing plan of all.

  10. Ziv July 28, 2008 at 6:25 am #

    Your choice of “A” doesn’t surprise me. You once mentioned you always try to under-promise and over-deliver.

  11. Paul D'Andrea July 28, 2008 at 8:26 am #

    This is something I’ve been struggling with lately in pricing my portraiture work. If I charge the minimum for what I thought was fair for my work (since I’m just starting out) there would be very little room for going the extra mile without feeling like I was being taken advantage of.

    I want to allow some room to breath when my clients ask for more, to be able to say yes with a genuine smile.

  12. Will and Debbie July 28, 2008 at 8:35 am #

    Chase, I have to strongly AGREE with going the extra mile. We come across the same issues sometimes but we take things to the next level and work a bit harder than agreed so it comes back to us…great stuff.

  13. Becks July 28, 2008 at 8:44 am #

    Chase, are you Jesus?

    It boggles my mind how much you give back the community just by writing a few entries in a blog now and then. You take the whole being a pro thing down to earth and seem genuinely keen to keep newcomers from doing the same mistakes that you have done and are not afraid to share some of your tricks to help people make better pictures.

    I applaud you, good sir, for your continiued efforts to helpt photographers evolve. Good job.

    PS, I’d like a signed copy of the third testament, whenever your apostles (or TEAM as you so cleverly call them) get around to writing it. DS.


  14. Wick Beavers Blog July 28, 2008 at 8:44 am #

    This always happens to one degree or another. No contract can completely embody a job, especially one that has any dynamism inherent, which are the jobs we all most enjoy!
    I recently shot a 4 day ad campaign for a national agency using non pro talent where we had to make kick ass location portraits at the rate of 6 locations, 10-15 models per day. When I signed the contract, I had agreed to 8 portraits at 5 locations- all locations within golf cart distance of each other.
    I had a major hand in start and end times and stated I could roughly shoot a goiod portrait every hour if the set ups were available when I was. We started at 5AM and finished at 8PM or 15 hours/day. 15 good portraits /day is stringent but you get psyched and this is what I live for. Shit, it’s better than a big powder day!
    I think if you’re a pro, you state a fee and bust ass. If their AD, CD or other rep can’t keep up and you’re sweating bullets and you’re running 2.45 hours behind on the fourth portrait, you suck or they bit off more than anyone could chew at the shoot site.
    In summary, we agree to the crew size, the location, the start date, the shot sked, we agree to what’s to be delivered, and we take a good (50%) down payment. Let it rain, let them add more shots, let talent (or lack of) not show, let the sked change- I’m a pro, we’re human and I thrive on change. If they wanna go extra days, we draw up an addendum to the contract or they go and we don’t!
    Finally, do not forget a couple of cool things that long days can contribute to the artist’s endeavor: work THROUGH the stress and fatigue- amazing shit can happen when the dynamic is pushed, and also be sure to license the image usage properly and long days mean longer income in the depths of those long down times.
    Wick Beavers

  15. lizsong July 28, 2008 at 9:24 am #

    Chase, Thanks of sharing your process. It’s helpful to hear how you made the decision and thinking that went behind the final outcome.

  16. Anonymous July 28, 2008 at 9:47 am #

    Yeah, I’ve been there. I did a design contract that specified an 8 week job. The client was not satisfied when the job was finished on time. I decided to do whatever it took to satisfy them, for no extra pay. After 18 weeks, I decided the client could never be satisfied, and terminated the job. It turned out that this job was originally in-house but the manager was so difficult to work with, nobody could work with this person, so they decided to contract it out.
    I walked into this job seeking a showpiece work, something for my portfolio, so I was prepared to overkill this job. Alas, the client was the legendary client-from-hell and my work was so bastardized that I would never use them as a reference. Oh well.

  17. reid rolls July 28, 2008 at 10:44 am #

    thanks for the post chase. it came at an opportune time because i’ve been in the same boat recently, including a job that i’m currently prepping for.

    here’s my question for you:

    did you opt to tell the client that their changes exceeded the scope of the contract but you were going to meet their requests anyway? or did you simply do what they asked of you and never mention it?

    i’ve done both, with varied results. i guess it depends on the client. would love to know your take.

  18. Quinton Gordon July 28, 2008 at 1:06 pm #

    The photographic community at large has come along way to better business practices, better contracts, and a better understanding of how to value our work – largely do to the sharing of information as never before in our history through blog posts like this.

    With that in mind it was great to read about your approach to this situation because the fight for our rights as creative contributors should not cross over into penny pinching and bad service to our clients and it is through providing excellent service – while making informed decisions about our business position – that we will build strong, loyal client relationships… and repeat business is GOOD business.

    Thanks Chase, for another affirmation of how professional business practices and smart business ethics are the right way to build long enjoyable careers.


  19. Quinton Gordon July 28, 2008 at 1:09 pm #

    PS – and if a client burns you for this approach, then strike them off your list and move on to better clients.


  20. Rbnich July 28, 2008 at 5:37 pm #

    Great job Chase! You are certainly a wise businessman. In my day job I am an engineer working as a project manager and owner’s rep on multi-million dollar construction projects. I run into situations like this very often. All consultants handle it in a different manner, according to your options. But you know which ones get hired again and again? You guessed it! It’s the ones that get the job done and any deviations from the original scope of work is sorted out later usually to their benefit.

  21. Aaron July 28, 2008 at 6:08 pm #

    Thanks Chase,

    It’s very odd, but that’s just what I needed today.

  22. Tuffer July 28, 2008 at 7:02 pm #

    something I learned a long time ago as a contracts attorney. The law is a tool for the business. There are times where the law (or a contract) is the law. But many other times it just offers options for the business team. Quite often when the other party violates the letter of the contract, we get asked what the contract allows us to do. Most of the time the answer is “well, you have these rights now that thier in breach. but wait, think about it. you have many more choices before it ever gets there. make a business decision first”.

  23. Adam July 28, 2008 at 9:09 pm #

    I answered A, and was glad to hear you did as well Chase! I am a high school photography teacher and I teach my students the importance of customer service and grace under pressure. This client, good or bad, gets you more clients, and you can always be more specific or protect yourself from past mistakes when negotiating new contracts. These things are common to most business situations and really, life in general…give people more than they expect, consistently and see how you find your self being treated back in the long run. I think you’ll have more fun at what you do too!

  24. ian July 29, 2008 at 12:59 am #

    It is dependant on the circumstances but the many times I have run into situations when a client wants more and more on a shoot, I am already in the mindset of producing the best I can, so if there is a clear advantage to the outcome of the shoot it makes sense to try to achieve that increase in creativity. There are ofcourse many other factors to take into account, extra time, extra talent, location fees, extra makeup, weather, “is the client taking the mick?”, is the client trying to get something for nothing?. These are issues that need to be thrown into that heady fluid mix of the location shoot.

    As with any business it boils down to it being a commercial decision based on; will the product be better, will my relationship with the client improve, is it worth taking the hit on this one to get further work, will it contribute to my portfolio,is it a good client to be associated with, am I being compromised here?

    I have recently had to bring a very high profile new client up short for trying to take the mick,I feel they are trying to take advantage of my new association with them, I am as yet awaiting the outcome of my latest email to them. The situation might have of arisen because I overdelivered too much on the last job I did for them. Herein is the rub, if you really pull the stops out on a job more and more will be expected by the client next time.

    Happy shooting and negotiating.


  25. Jason Wallis July 29, 2008 at 8:16 am #

    I had almost the exact same thing happen (with a smaller client), but the end usage of photos is ending up being double or triple the initial agreement. I did exactly what you did, but now see the usage going out like crazy. What to do now?

  26. dan July 29, 2008 at 10:03 am #

    We’re still missing some key information. While you indicated that this wouldn’t hurt your bottom line badly, you didn’t give us figures–and that’s where the real kicker lies in this conundrum for any well run business. Is it going to cost you 1% on a $50k contract? Of course you go a little extra to please the client. Is it going to cost you 20% and kill your employee morale? That’s going to require some negotiation.

    These numbers are pure example, but any quoted contract should have a certain % variance built in that can fluctuate based on what happens the during the days when the contract is executed. Maybe it’s .05% and maybe it’s 20% (depends on the size of the contract) — but build it in…

    Regardless, trying to negotiate after the work is done is never, ever, ever the correct answer.

    I’m not a professional photographer, but I do manage a lot of “work for hire” contracts.

  27. TriCoast Photography LLC July 29, 2008 at 10:27 am #

    Thank you for sharing this.

    - Jordan Chan

  28. Anonymous July 29, 2008 at 3:06 pm #

    Almost all contracts end up bending a bit after reality takes its toll on well-made plans. I would choose “A”. Customer loyalty is a lot more valuable than what you would have lost by nickel and diming them over a little extra work.

  29. Kevin Arnold July 29, 2008 at 4:53 pm #

    I had the exact same thing happen to me on a recent commercial shoot, and I ended up doing exactly what you chose to do after deciding that the future relationship with the client was most important.

    After the shoot, they thanked me profusely for going above and beyond, and while they haven’t booked me again yet, I’m confident that they will.

    To be honest, though, I wasn’t sure how my decision would be viewed by other photographers, so it was good to hear of someone else who I respect taking the same line.

    Thanks for sharing this, Chase.

  30. Edward Suhadi July 29, 2008 at 9:40 pm #

    You’re good at typing the keyboards Chase. Keep ‘em coming :)

    “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. ” – Chase Jarvis

    I think I’m gonna hang it on my wall somewhere :)

  31. Embassy Pro Books July 30, 2008 at 6:06 pm #

    A: I would complete the job to the best of my ability and learn from it. If I leave the client happy then they may want to work with me again which is the ultimate goal. I’d just be a little more prepared and stringent about ironing out details ahead of time.

  32. Aaron Bailey July 31, 2008 at 5:24 am #

    Great advice and perspective – Thanks!!

  33. Artisan Photography LLC August 7, 2008 at 1:08 pm #

    It depends on the details, mostly the attitude. Choose “A” with the “Entitled” client and your misery will run deep.

    In some regard, we teach our clients how to treat us and just giving in as a rule, isn’t always the best path.

    As mentioned, it also really depends on the dollars. I’ll step over hundreds for thousands any day, but we really need some more texture to the scenario- what is “more challenging”, 14 vs 8 hour days? Skipping lunch and no afternoon beers? Twice the setups for the same final image count? It’s all in the details.

  34. Phil August 9, 2008 at 12:12 pm #

    Very smart, Chase. It looks like you intuitively understand human psychology. Or may be you have read “Influence, science and practice” by Robert B Cialdini, a classic text by an expert in social psychology. One of the chapters in that book is on “Reciprocation…the old give and take”. To cut a long story short, if you do a favor for someone they feel obliged to return it. I am sure you have received unsolicited gifts from businesses along with, say a magazine subscription form. Well, they are playing on that reciprocation rule. You can do that to. According to Cialdini (and and I have field-tested this on a few occasions), the best thing to say after you do a favor for someone is “no problem, I am sure that if you had been in my position, you would have done exactly the same thing”. By saying this, you make them feel, in a very nice way, that they owe you one. There is of course no guarantee that they’ll return the favor, but you greatly increase the odds.

  35. Anonymous August 9, 2008 at 3:59 pm #

    AD here.

    I don’t think I can adequately judge the situations from the few parameters you have provided us with, so I’m going to cover different eventualities.

    my primary concern is to get my idea produced. I want to get what I have sold the client on, what my CD has approved, what I have come up with. I usually try to have my concepts solid before we begin talking to photographers but from time to time last minute changes even on set are necessary. I expect my art buyer/producer to be able to handle the financial issues without me having to worry about money and would expect him/her to tell me “the budget is tight, we really can’t change anything” beforehand if that was the case. I would quite frankly be pissed if work stopped because of money, so (D) seems really the worst option here. I would look (deservedly or not) like an ass in front of CD and client, the art buyer and producer would be in trouble and you would lose a contact. considering that we all talk to each other and recommend photographers we enjoyed working with this might lead to further losses. I’m refusing to work with a certain motion graphics house because of such a situation.

    or was it you who thought a shoot was going to require x only to find out you were mistaken and needed y instead to produce the agreed upon result? that would be bad planning on your part. I look to you as the professional craftsman able to execute the idea. I hire you because I hope for you to be more knowledgeable in an area than I am. not a problem though – everyone makes mistakes and a quick chat can clear the air quickly. the single most important thing is that you save the day. get the end result right and you’ll impress all the more with your with your ability to solve problems.

    I usually have six to twelve different briefs on my desk at the same time. I’m getting overloaded by my agency already and there are a plethora of deadlines I have to think about. the worst thing that could happen to me is that something goes wrong. delays are what force me to stay in the office until midnight, what make my girlfriend leave me and my belly get bigger. something always goes wrong somewhere. I am always putting out fires left and right. that’s my job. I notice when something that was supposed to be a problem solved itself. I notice when someone ‘gets it’ and doesn’t need me to hold their hand every second.

    and I remember that when other projects come around. there is one very famous photographer I have hired for five campaigns because I know that if this guy says he can do it for x in y, he will and it will look exactly as awesome as I had expected.

    changes to the contract or whether you should change terms and charge more are a different issue. depending on your relationship with the agency, I’d suggest either having one of your people talk to the art buyer or producer while you continue to work or address it with them after the shoot is done. we all know certain agencies are cheap and others straight, making this a judgement call for you to make.

    (I thought about signing this with my full name but decided to be a bit careful. I will check back though.)

  36. Mark Lyndersay September 6, 2008 at 11:12 pm #

    I faced a situation like this recently and I have to say I side with your decision.
    In my case, it did add some time to post production, but I get some nice portfolio work out of a paying job.
    A straightforward portrait shoot with a large number of individuals ended up with some variables in posing and a larger final select than I had budgeted for in the original job.
    Still to be seen whether the gratitude of the folks doing the production work will filter up to the folks who decide to hire, but I’m proud and pleased to have delivered a good finished job that represents my best work.

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