Do Customers Know Your Agency?

Posted on 5/22/2013 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

In the UK the BBC4 has a weekly quiz program called “Only Connect.” It is billed as “a quiz show in which connections must be made between apparently unconnected things, where patience and lateral thinking are as vital as knowledge.”

A team of three contestants is shown a wall of 16 clues. The clues will fall into 4 categories of 4 items each. The contestants must name the categories and identify which four items fit into each category. The puzzle is designed to suggest more connections than actually exist. Some clues appear to fit into more than one category.

On a recent show 4 of the 16 clues were: Corbis, Magnum, Getty and Alamy. Anyone who as worked in this industry would spot that connection immediately, but the contestants from the general public had a much more difficult time.

Alan Capel, Head of Content at Alamy, describes what happened.
    We were delighted to be part of the answer to a quiz question on the BBC recently. We were in illustrious company, and I’m sure Corbis, Magnum and Getty felt the same way.

    Disappointingly however, the contestants who unravelled many more taxing (well they were to me) conundrums during the course of the program failed to find the link that connected us together.

    This highlighted something I discovered when I joined this industry many moons ago and has been pretty constant ever since. People, lay people and Joe Public, do not know who we are or what we do.

    How many parties have you been to where someone asks you what you ‘do’? You take a deep breath, you know this isn’t going to be easy unless a) they are a photographer or b) they buy pictures or c) it’s a work do! You explain you work at a ‘picture agency’ and they look at you as if you’d told them you were a phlebotomist (precisely! look it up).

    Victoria Coren, the presenter of the program falls into the same trap. “They are all photo agencies... picture agencies” she feels the need to give two names for the same thing. I’ve done this so many times myself, which of the words that I can put together will work this time... Photo, Stock, Picture, Photographic, Agency, Library. Still nothing. So I have to explain, and no we don’t ‘sell’ the pictures, we ‘license’ them and trust me you really don’t want to understand the difference between Royalty Free and Rights Managed.

    Back to the Quiz show, sure enough, 21.03 minutes in, one of the contestants says “Alamy... it doesn’t mean anything?” While that’s true and that’s why we picked it, it’s infuriating that the mysterious world of the picture agency remains an unintentionally closely guarded secret. Our product is everywhere; TV adverts, newspapers, books, on billboards, all over the web, Alamy even sold an image for a mural on toilet walls. You can’t avoid our output. People see our photographers’ pictures all the time. ‘We’ are everywhere, yet we remain largely anonymous.

    And I’ll venture that this is not an Alamy problem. I’ve worked at Getty, I know! Occasionally you may find someone who has heard of one or two agencies, but even Getty is still more synonymous with oil, art galleries or museums (Quiz contestant 22.26) than photos, despite appearing on every front page around the world. Magnum to these three is a detective with a big moustache; nothing else entered their heads.

    On a more serious note, greater awareness may lead to reduced image theft and more crediting of images but that’s a blog for another day.

    Maybe appearing on national TV will help raise our profile? Then again I hadn’t heard of this quiz show before we appeared on it, so maybe we’ve all got some way to go before we are truly mainstream.

Is This Important?

An interesting quiz show, but should we really care. Our traditional customers know who we are. However, as the print business declines the number of people who understand what we do is also declining. More and more users of imagery are Joe Public’s who only have an occasional need for images.

They have little or no understanding of, or interest in, copyright. They go where it is easiest to find something they can use. That’s the Internet. Search for photos, photography or images and see where you’re led. The traditional names in the industry are not high on the list – and the minor suppliers can’t be found at all unless the user knows enough to go directly to their web site.

I don’t have a good solution to this problem, but image creators need to recognize that in the near future more and more uses (and hopefully sales) of images will be made directly to the general public and fewer and fewer to our traditional customers.

We've got to find new ways to let the general public know we exist.

Copyright © 2013 Jim Pickerell. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Jim Pickerell is founder of, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to:  


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