199 ELSNER OPENS CONSULTING SERVICE
February 9, 1999
After more than thirty years with FPG International, Gary Elsner has left
to form a consulting company that will provide services to the
photography industry. Gary was Vice-President of Sales and Marketing
prior to his departure.
JP - What services do your consulting firm offer?
GE - I will be offering sales, marketing, and automated-related
consulting support to companies that provide photographic services. I
also will be offering my services to photographers and agencies that
desire help in resolving copyright infringement or lost original
photography issues. This includes using my experience to directly
resolve the matters on their behalf as well as providing expert witness
testimony in legal proceedings that deal with these issues. I will be
working with photographers to help them get into the stock industry or
expand their existing role within the industry. For those photographers
interested in developing their own direct sales operation, I will offer
my services to help them either set up their operation or enhance what
they already have established.
JP - What sort of sales-related issues do you envision companies might be
interested in hiring you to address?
GE - There seems to be significant interest in the following areas:
enhancement of customer service and new business development programs,
establishing effective sales compensation structures, training programs
and creation of key account retention and contract selling programs where
none exist or current programs are ineffective.
JP - What sort of marketing-related issues will you be focusing on?
GE - I plan to involve myself in assisting companies in the creation of
marketing strategies and objectives. I also intend to use my many years
of marketing experience by assisting companies with the actual creation
of products and promotions and if need be, getting them to the end user.
Most importantly, I expect to use my sales and automation experience to
establish systems to evaluate the effectiveness of the efforts being
JP - Are you qualified to provide Information Technology-related
GE - I have never written a stitch of programming and wouldn't know where
to begin. Having said that, over the course of the past eight years, I
have played a key role in conceptualizing the automation of FPG. I
worked with a highly skilled and motivated group of IT professionals and
staff members to make it happen. I have an acute understanding of what
computers can do and how you can get them to effectively work for you.
To get a return on your investments computers must save time, enhance the
quality of the service you provide and give you information that will
enable you to better manage your business.
JP - How will you work with photographers and agencies on copyright
GE - I am offering my services to act as an agent for the stock agency or
photographer in order to effect a worthwhile and appropriate settlement
of the matter without the need to hire an attorney.
JP - Has there been any interest in this service?
GE - I was actually quite surprised to see how much interest there was.
I already have arrangements in place with several stock agencies to
pursue the resolution of copyright infringements on their behalf. I also
have quotes out to a number of attorneys presently working on copyright
JP - What sort of arrangement have you worked out regarding the service
you offer to pursue copyright infringements?
GE - My proposal is a very fair one for both the agency and the
photographer. I will do the work on a contingency basis. For each
matter I successfully resolve I charge a reasonable percentage of the fee
I recover. On small jobs, I charge a minimum fee, with my compensation
being the greater of either the percentage or the minimum fee charge.
JP - Speaking of copyright infringement, FPG was the first stock agency
to take a highly publicized position against copyright infringement.
Please tell me a little about what was done.
GE - The early '90's saw the growth of technology and the quickly
declining prices of computers and scanning equipment. Access to images
and the equipment necessary to digitize them had increased one
hundred-fold. It was only natural that what followed was an explosion of
copyright infringements. With FPG's President, Barbara Roberts, leading
the assault, we seized upon a very visible infringement opportunity to
focus the industry's attention on the issue. In 1994 I established a
copyright infringement enforcement program to enable FPG to seek out and
effectively resolve copyright infringement issues. I personally
developed our program and, for an initial nine-month period, handled and
resolved more than 100 copyright infringement issues we uncovered. I then
trained a staff to handle ongoing infringement work. As of last summer,
that operation was still in place and producing substantial returns.
JP - As a photographer and a proponent of photographer issues, I am most
interested in how you see yourself helping photographers.
GE - One of the things about my career that I am most proud of is the
work I have done to help create meaningful careers for many of the
industry's top photographers. During the first fifteen years of my
career, the industry was small and could not generate sufficient income
for a photographer to realize an adequate income stream to support both
their production and living expenses. I remember when FPG's top
photographer grossed $30,000 as his share of license fees created during
Today things are totally different. That same FPG photographer is
semi-retired and is annually realizing a significant six-figure income
based on sales generated by his many years of production. Many active
photographers are doing a lot better than that. I am aware of at least
one photographer who has seen his annual sales grow into seven figures
and I am sure there are other photographers out there that I am not aware
of that are doing equally well!
Having said that, I plan to help photographers in several areas. Many
photographers are looking at the industry and are interested in getting
started. There are so many questions and issues that they need to
resolve such as: What subjects should I concentrate on? Should I work
with a big or small agency? Should I work exclusively with one agent or
spread my work around? Who should I contact and how should I deal with
their contract? How should I organize my operation as a business?
Most stock agencies are not equipped or interested in devoting any
significant amount of time to someone that only offers them the potential
of the future. That is a void that I can easily fill and provide a
service of substantial value to both the photographer and ultimately the
agency they work with.
JP - Do you expect to get inquiries from photographers who already shoot
GE - I expect some feedback from photographers who are already involved
in the industry. They will want to know if I can help them to effectively
grow their revenues to a point that they could drop their assignment work
and devote their full energies to producing stock. I am uniquely
qualified to assist them in accomplishing that goal, having done that
more than a dozen times during the course of my career.
JP - What about photographers that want to or already sell their own
GE - There are three business areas that I can also help photographers
with. I can assist them by handling copyright infringement issues for
them. I can also help them by getting payment for them on lost photo
issues. Lastly, if a photographer decides to set up their own direct
selling operation, I can help them with systems, paperwork, client leads
and by helping them to produce saleable photography for their market.
JP - Will your work take you outside the industry as well?
GE - Yes, it will. In fact, I have associated myself with The NorthStar
Consulting Network. The NorthStar Consulting Network is an organization
of independent consultants who provide consulting services to many
industries in the tri-state area. I am presently awaiting confirmation
of assignments that will take me into corporations that are in trouble
and are working with their banks and accounting firms to turn things
JP - What sort of work did you do with FPG's photographers early in your
GE - When FPG was much smaller, I had the opportunity to wear many hats.
I handled the sales for all of FPG's key accounts.
One of our frustrations was that we had more clients ready to buy images
than we had saleable product that would be of interest to them. I
convinced FPG to allow me to organize photo production trips with key
photographers. I planned the trips, made the travel arrangements, hired
the models and produced the shoot lists. I negotiated all sorts of
trade-off deals to keep the costs down. I went on the trip and acted as
the art director and photo assistant. We brought back highly saleable
images that quickly paid off the costs of the trip and produced huge
returns on the investment. To quote one of FPG's top photographers,
"Those images still appear on my monthly sales report, some thirty years
Over time, as FPG got much larger and my responsibilities grew, I could
no longer personally conduct production trips. I continued to work
closely with key photographers by using my management skills to create
annual production objectives as well as motivate them through personal
visits and weekly phone calls. Photographers need a lot of stimulation
and handholding to be the best that they can be. I have always been
involved in the sales process so I was always able to give them general
guidance as well as specific answers to the eternal question: "what
sells"? Filling out the picture for the photographer and giving them the
confidence to produce the work will always be instrumental to the success
of stock photographers
JP - Other than your many years of experience, which of your skills will
enable you to make significant contributions in a consulting relationship
with a photographer?
GE - I understand photographers, having worked so closely with them
throughout my career. I have a clear understanding of what it takes to
produce saleable stock photography. Having spent a huge amount of time
traveling to see key buyers throughout the world and based on my position
as the director of FPG's sales operations, I also have a clear
understanding of what is a saleable image and the relative worth of
different subject matter.
JP - Now that you have been separated from FPG for more than six months,
how are you able to keep your information, knowledge and insights
GE - I've employed a combination of networking, research and customer
contacts to keep my knowledge up to the minute. I have established a
worldwide network of contacts within the industry that I keep in touch
with on a regular basis. I've also spent a considerable amount of time
researching the industry by talking with a broad spectrum of people on
both the user and provider side. I've also done a significant amount of
mystery shopping, both by phone and through the web, in order to get a
JP - Do you see an ongoing need and interest in print catalogs?
GE - Most of the clients I visit with still tell me that catalogs are the
single most important tool in their decision-making process. We have
spoiled our customers with a steady diet of slick catalogs that they can
browse through rather effectively. They still enjoy being able to
quickly show an image to someone else that is in on the decision process.
The client's reliance on print catalogs will diminish over time. Just as
catalogs started out as being small promotional vehicles that gave the
user a taste of what existed in the library, I predict they will
ultimately revert to that format and once again become more of a
corporate information piece that communicates marketing messages. That
process will take another five to seven years.
JP - You mentioned that you gained your computer experience when FPG
automated their operations. We all know how automation can help the
accounting process as well as control the inventory. What innovations
can you create that will help build the sales and marketing areas of a
GE - I understand how to use an existing database to create a series of
informational screens that will provide up-to-the-minute information on
current orders as well as complete account and image histories.
Productivity will always be a key for any sales team. My experience has
taught me how to utilize computers to do much of the manual work the
sales staff would otherwise have to perform, leaving them free to devote
maximum time to developing and closing business. For example, I designed
a sales activity screen that eliminated the need to publish internal
sales-related paperwork. It is unbelievable how much time can be spent
sorting distributing, filing and maintaining paperwork in a manual sales
On the marketing side of the business, I can design marketing query
screens that enable the extraction of all possible demographic data from
customer and mailing list files as well as interactive mailing list
systems that enabled online product ordering, fulfillment as well as
storage of account-related data.
On the management front, I have experience in the development of
management query screens that provide everything from average pricing
information to rate of success on order fulfillment. I also can design
report processing systems dealing with inventory control, license
expiration reminders as well as lead development. These reports produce
income, save many manual hours of staff time and very importantly,
provide tremendous insight into what is really going on inside your
JP - After so many years, why did FPG and you part company?
GE - As you are well aware, Visual Communications Group purchased FPG
International in the summer of 1997. When companies are purchased, the
purchaser comes in with an agenda and a business plan for operations. It
is often said that nothing lasts forever, and after more than a year of
transition, we parted company, enabling me to pursue new opportunities.
JP - After being in the industry and essentially with one company for so
long, how can you still possess the vitality and enthusiasm you obviously
have when it comes to stock photography?
GE - People often ask me "Why aren't you bored?" The simple answer is
that the industry has changed so much over the past ten years.
Technology has taken over as the driving force. I realized long ago that
unless I become totally competent with the potential of computers,
digital delivery and e-commerce, I would quickly be left behind. How can
you become bored when you are constantly learning about new applications
and dealing with the opportunities and challenges to incorporate those
technologies and thereby enhance the business?
JP - As we race toward the next millenium, what do you see as the biggest
challenges to traditional stock photographers and agencies?
GE - The industry as we have known it for many years is going through a
period of tremendous change. Our client base is changing as it expands.
The providers of product and the suppliers of service have to go a lot
further than they already have to recognize those changes and adjust
their thinking and practices to an ever-changing and demanding clientele.
The demand for image-related services is going to continue to explode.
The agencies that are flexible and willing to think outside of the
traditional time-honored ways will reap the rewards that this exciting
industry has to offer.
JP - How do you see the royalty-free component working in to your
projection of good times ahead?
GE - Interestingly, I see both sides heading toward each other and then
passing each other as both entities strive to take market share by
expanding into each other's domain. Before the year 2000, all of the
major stock agencies will have a clip art business, either set up as a
wholly owned company or as a division of their operation. Royalty-free
companies will become more "traditional" by producing higher quality
catalogs and perhaps offering uniquely exclusive services at premium
prices. When the dust settles, an outsider's viewpoint might very well
be that they all look alike and what really is the difference?
If you are interested in learning more about Elsner's consulting services
you can contact him at: 455 Windham Court North, Wyckoff, NJ 07481, phone
& fax 201-847-0048; e-mail: GElsner@worldnet.att.net