Elsner Opens Consulting Service

Posted on 2/9/1999 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)



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

infringement projects?

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

infringement cases.

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

the year.

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

first-hand perspective.

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

Copyright © 1999 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 www.selling-stock.com, 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: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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