Y’all have been gentle in your criticism of the Art Buyer but it still seems that the responsibility for improving the unique quality of your work has landed back in my lap. (I am referring, of course, to the fantastic discussion in response to Myles’ ubiquitousness post- specifically the idea that Art Buyers need to take more risks.)
Let me tell you a bit more about Art Buying as it pertains to awarding work:
1. I don’t know an Art Buyer who wouldn’t want to be responsible for breaking a new and exciting photography style. We all want to introduce a new imagemaker into the fray.
2. While I don’t think we are frustrated/failed artists (those are the Art Directors), our sympathies lean to the expressive, the new, the unique. This was something that I struggled with when I started in this role. I wanted every campaign to show something vibrant and exciting. As I became more senior, I realized that just because the work was novel, didn’t make it right for the client, or, better put, for the demographic.
3. Normally, an Art Buyer’s participation in a project starts with this question: “Who can best execute this concept.” Rarely does it start with this question: “How can Client X use innovative photography to improve their brand.” Don’t get me wrong,
I like I love this question, I just don’t normally have the luxury of indulging it.
4. There are many decision-makers involved, either directly or indirectly, in choosing the right look for a campaign. Players include, at the Brand stage: Designer (both with the agency and the client), Creative Director and Client Brand Manager. At the Campaign stage, Art Director and Marketing Client. An Art Buyer is part of this process but by no means is she the last word.
Recently, I had the luxury of leading an audit of Bell’s lifestyle photography. At every point, I had to be true to the brand guidelines of what a Bell Ad needed to express. This wasn’t something I could change, merely something I had to interpret in the best way possible.
As Lead Art Buyer for Bell, I became a Brand partner- I had enormous opportunity to understand and shape the way photography might enliven the platform. Rarely is an AB able to work so closely to the brand and fight for a particular approach to photography, building the photography look and feel from the ground up. Needless to say, it was a fantastically complex and enlightening process.
Aric Rist, Global Brand Photography Manger for Nike puts it this way (as heard as part of Adbase’s Art Buyer’s Lounge series): “We understand the brand message for each category, we see the long term plan.” Nevertheless, when he talks about sourcing photographers, he still privileges photographers who understand the importance of “having a voice and being able to present that confidently, bringing something new to the table”
5. Let’s be clear: my job isn’t to “fight for the photographer”. My job is to fight for the best expression possible for the brand. Happily, sometimes these things coincide.
Take a chance on a new shooter? Yes, I’ll take that challenge/criticism.
Take a chance on a new style? That’s not entirely up to me. It’s something I can suggest, if I think it’s right for the client but not just for novelty’s sake.
Let me end by saying that I love the idea of Art Buyer as Mentor as Joel suggested in his comment. An Art Buyer can and should (when appropriate) bring young photographers along, nudging their vision in the direction of her client, encouraging both parties to meet in the middle. Let’s do it.
Next up: Images, pre-post.