What’s an Advertising Image Worth?

Posted on 5/13/2010 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (3)

What is top-quality photography for a major advertising campaign worth? Evidently, art buyers at Campbell-Ewald, one of the largest advertising agencies in the U.S., think $2,500 for “all advertising” and “all print” rights is fair and reasonable, as evidenced by a recent negotiation for the use of one of Hans Halberstadt’s photos.

Halberstadt is one of those photographers with a very unique niche, developed over decades. He photographs modern military activities. His images are designed specifically for use in advertising, marketing brochures, trade-show displays and Web sites. He is a combat veteran and author of over 60 books, most on modern military topics. He has spent extended periods with Green Beret and Navy SEAL units, flown in most American military aircraft and participated in boarding operations on the high seas with the Coast Guard. He is the sole source of Navy SEAL photography worldwide, and his is undoubtedly the premier collection of model-released military images that comply with U.S. Department of Defense regulations for advertising and promotional use.

Recently, Halberstadt received an email from a senior art buyer at Campbell-Ewald asking for a quote on one image for "all advertising."  Since she was vague and asking for a wide spectrum of use he quoted her $21,484 for "all advertising and marketing."

That produced a response saying that was too high, which was not a surprise to Halberstadt. He responded with an "all advertising" and "no marketing" quote of $18,000. Again, the buyer said that was too much. The two sides played price-quote ping-pong until the buyer finally indicated she could offer $2,500 for unlimited print media.  Her client is U.S. Navy Recruiting and they do a lot of print. 

The price was not the only problem. The buyer also wanted Halberstadt to sign a terms and conditions statement that essentially made him accept legal responsibility for any problems related to the use of the photo the company was trying to license. 

Halberstadt told her they could not do business, and the agency ended up using something free from the Navy.  After considering overnight how the negotiations had unfolded and the time wasted dealing with this issue, Halberstadt sent the art buyer the following note:

After considering the dialog yesterday regarding the unlimited print use of one of my photos, I would like to request that C-E not contact us again about licensing stock photography.  The standard prices and SOPs for licensing images for advertising are both well known to us all.  If you want iStockphoto prices, use iStockphoto pictures. 

There is something rather insulting about a major advertising agency, working for a major client on an account worth millions, asking for unlimited use for ten percent of the standard fee. 

Halberstadt told Selling Stock: “While I am used to dealing with unsophisticated clients who do not know what the rates and procedures are for licensing stock photos, it seemed quite odd that a major agency's art buyer, working on a major campaign worth many millions, would behave in—to my mind, anyway—such an unprofessional manner.

“The message I meant to send to C-E was that vendors can fire clients, even major ad agencies, and that they need me a lot more than I need them,” he continued. “I don't have time to play games with professional art buyers who aren't candid about their budgets. C-E has the U.S. Navy account, and I am the only vendor of Navy stock photography around, and the sole source of Navy SEAL photography worldwide. The art buyer should have learned what the rates for ‘all advertising’ and ‘all print’ were when she was in kindergarten. Offering 10% of standard rates without explanation is insulting and unprofessional. They can now go make their own photos or depend on the client to supply them.”

One of the important lessons here is that there are times when image sellers need to say “no.” Halberstadt added: “It is my opinion that the large photo agencies are unable to adapt to an evolving market and are going to continue to fail and fold. Because we're very small and have no debt to service, we don't have to take whatever clients offer, and tell a lot of them, ‘sorry, no deal.’ I'm content with our cash flow right now. I'm taking a harder line in negotiations than in the past. Nobody anywhere can offer the sort of images I have, period. I recently bumped our ‘corporate’ rate schedule up 300-percent over the FotoQuote figures, and if that means we loose some sales, no problem here.”

Copyright © 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.  


  • Jon Feingersh Posted May 13, 2010
    Kudos to Mr. Halberstadt for standing his ground, as well as telling the agency to go away. It would be interesting to know the value of the US Navy account, which as he says, is probably worth millions.

    I once had a client who felt the price I quoted was too high, and told me "the janitor's brother's got a camera. I'll have him do it." Two weeks later, and much closer to his deadline, the client called me back to have me shoot the job. Of course, that's when I was forced to tack on the standard 10% "bother & trouble" fee.

    I sincerely hope the next time C-E calls, as they certainly will, that Mr. Halberstadt will add the B&T fee for this past episode.

  • Posted May 13, 2010
    I think it's fine to turn down people because the fee offered is too low - it certainly was a ridiculous offer on behalf of the agency. I walk away from offers of low usage and assignment fees frequently in a calender year. That said, I think Hans Halberstadt crossed the line. I think his note back to the art buyer was bitter in tone and bordered on rude. He may be a sole source of Navy Seal imagery but that's not a reason to adopt a vindictive spirit with low budget clients(no matter how unjust the reasoning behind these budgets are). All photographers suffer injustices in bidding, professional respect, etc. However in a age where all sense of business etiquette has been eroded, communication needs to be delivered in a way that we would want to be addressed ourselves.

  • Bob Prior Posted May 14, 2010
    Oh dear. This all too familiar story, raises several issues that are critical to every aspect of the marketing and advertising industries, and the image-makers and stock libraries who supply them.

    How we, as an industry, respond will determine not only the quality and impact of all visual communications in the future, but also the way in which expertise is valued.

    An agency buyer's journey follows this simple route:

    What is the cost of the product and its retail pricing or value?

    What is the spend on creativity to promote the product?

    What is the spend on media to generate sales or product awareness?

    What are the profits/benefits?

    The thing is, though, without impact none of the above matters.

    Great images deliver great impact. That's the whole point. They are the differentiator between memorability for a product or campaign, and something which disappears into the background. If you don't achieve stand-out you've wasted your entire budget.

    So the question has to be asked: as an agency buyer why would you compromise the impact of whatever it is you're buying the image for?

    If an exceptional image can maximise the chances of a client's return on investment, surely the price paid for that image should be set in relation to that?

    Image quality and creativity is a key contributor to campaign awarness and product recall. This translates directly into profit for both agency and client.

    So the issue is not what should the stock library or image-maker charge, but what should the client/advertising agency pay?

    Robert Prior

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