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Why Have A Photographer On Retainer

Most businesses hire a photographer one of two ways; they either hire a freelancer for a one-off project on an as needed basis, or they are aligned with an artistic agency who offers access to photographers as part of their general services. Both of these are perfectly acceptable ways of hiring a photographer but there is a third option that is often overlooked.

The disadvantages to 'One-Off' project work

One-off projects from the photographer’s point of view, can be a bit of a nightmare. An excessive amount of time is spent pitching to clients, seeking new shooting opportunities and selling yourself by marketing on social media and other platforms. It eats a lot of time, time that could be better spent shooting and being creative.

Now although as a business you are possibly thinking “why do I care?”, this isn’t very good for businesses either. With this approach the photographer is not able to build deep relationships with clients, instead those relationships end up being shallow, because even if the photographer loves working for your company, when they are hired, they are also painfully aware that the next job isn’t guaranteed. Developing deeper relationships encourages more effective working that gives the client full value of the photographer’s expertise.

One-off projects also can reduce the amount of creative freedom for the photographer and that is bad for business, because photographers are creative people that thrive on creativity opportunities and the more chance your photographer has to be creative the more chance they have of developing work for your brand that is unique, fascinating and innovative. By the time you hire a photographer for a one-off project, you have likely already decided what you need and what you want, there sometimes isn’t much scope for suggestion from the artistic viewpoint of the photographer.

The disadvantage of using 'Agencies'

To be honest there are not a lot of disadvantages. They are market professionals who will probably be able to offer you a range of services that you possibly have no interest in delivering in-house. But, they can be incredibly expensive and beyond the budgets of some businesses.

Many companies have invested large amounts of money in creating their own in-house agencies with marketing, communications and graphic designer expertise that is often then used as a company within a company by other departments. But interestingly, despite the importance of social media presence and visual marketing, lots of these companies do not hire photographers or videographers, or even train their staff how to take an arresting, high-quality image. Their approach to photography can be very ‘point and shoot’, or they will spend money on a photographer as a one-off and pay an extortinate hourly rate. They are cheap and spend money needlessly at the same time…hmmmm odd right?

The third option: ‘Freelance on Retainer’

And that is where the third option comes in, hiring a company photographer on retainer for a set number of hours or days per week. What is the benefit in that exactly? Well I am glad you asked, here is an example:

‘A Company’ has a freelance photographer on retainer for 5 hours per week on a rolling six-month contract. The company is based in London but has several sites across the UK. The cost of the photographer equates to around one, one-off project per week. The company budgets for this expense every year and puts together a roadmap for the photographer over the coming months. Sometimes there are extra charges for travel, or for additional hours required, but other than that the price remains the same. Because the photographer is on retainer, ‘A Company’ is almost compelled to use them all the time so that the money isn’t wasted. The photographer is able to provide a consistent portfolio of images across the whole organisation, always using the same post-production techniques that adhere to branding guidelines, and they produces new high-quality content for social media posts and promotions regularly, every week. They use top of the range equipment and keep it up to date. When there is no specific work lined up, the photographer is used to create content for asset banks and for company image stock. A deeper relationship with their client, will result in understanding the industry and its aspirations and goals, as much as a direct employee, and they become invested in your message. They are able to attend marketing meetings to discuss projects in advance and help design shoots from a photographic expert’s perspective, making the projects more creative and efficient,and also contributing positively to the companies marketing arc and objectives. No-one ever says “oh if only we had arranged for a photographer to be at this event” and no-one complains there wasn’t the budget because it already been accounted for. The disadvantage to keeping a photographer on retainer is internal arguments about who gets to use them. Best of all the photographer on site, uses some of those hours available in training others on how to take great pictures so the pictures improve everywhere.

Retainers are not right for everyone, it very much depends on your business model, but they are definitely something that you should be seriously considering if you want to improve your branding and presence on social media sites and in ongoing promotions, but you don't have a large internal departments or can't afford an agency on a full-time basis. Because they can be designed to be flexible retainers allow you the chance to play about with what works for you until you find the right balance.