How Photographers Charge for Social Media Advertising Jobs

February 7, 2018

By Holly Stuart Hughes

As advertisers shift more of their marketing dollars from traditional media to social media, reps and photographers are changing the way they calculate creative fees when producing images for social media ads.

They are now considering the reach of an ad—how many people will see it—when determining photographers’ creative fees. They’re also pushing back on the perception that fees for ads that are “just for social media” should be low. Agent Gregg Lhotsky of Bernstein & Andriulli says, “We used to say, ‘It’s just for the web.’ And now the web is more important, and there are now standards for what to charge for that.” Many clients still want a lot of images and a lot of usage for social media—at a low price, he admits. “You’re not going to get a national ad campaign rate [for social ads],” he says, “But going forward, social will be more important because there’s not going to be any [other] media for that national campaign to appear in.”

Social media platforms are actively pursuing advertisers and competing with traditional media. “When we first started pricing social media usage, there weren’t any ads on Instagram. Clients didn’t have the option to promote posts, or a way to get their content in front of users who were not already following them,” says rep Michelle Bablitz of SAINT LUCY Represents. That’s changed. Spending on paid Instagram posts, for example, grew 138 percent between 2015 and 2016. In 2017, advertisers were estimated to spend $17.3 billion on social media in the U.S. market alone.   

Once Instagram began offering sponsored advertising targeted to specific customers and demographics, “Photographers had to redefine social media usage and advocate for the kind of terms and rates that apply to advertising, because that is what a sponsored or promoted post truly is,” Bablitz says.

A sponsored post “functions like a banner ad. Therefore, the usage fee is higher for promoted posts than for a normal image posting on a client’s own social media page.”

© Little Outdoor Giants

For part of a year-long assignment for Miller High Life, Little Outdoor Giants created monthly social media content. © Little Outdoor Giants

Educating Clients 

Clients are commissioning photography for a variety of social media marketing efforts. They may want integrated campaigns for various media including social media, or they want ads tailored to social media that they’ll share on their own channels or as sponsored posts. Brands also hire photographers with large social media audiences to share posts and brand hashtags with their own followers.    

Traditional creative agencies “are not currently in step with the digital stuff and the social usage,” Lhotsky notes, so clients are turning to smaller, digital agencies for their expertise on social media strategy. “These digital agencies spend a lot of time on the demographics and analytics. They sell that to clients to show clients that they need to be spending money in the digital arena and not in traditional print and TV arenas.”

Working with newer digital agencies often means educating them on industry standards about rights and usage, says Alice Keating, who oversees National Geographic Creative, which represents National Geographic photographers for commercial work. “The legacy advertising agencies have procedures in place around talent and photographer contract negotiations, including robust legal or business affairs teams, which are advantageous.” Some newer digital agencies are not familiar with guidelines the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued about how influencers should identify the images they are paid to post. She spells out every part of the contract and approval process. “Industry standards around rights and usage needs to be part of the conversation.”

Looking at Reach

Lhotsky says when he’s asked to estimate a social media job, he asks if the content will appear only on the client’s social media channels, or if they’ll be paying to promote it on Facebook, Instagram or another platform. “They usually don’t know their buys yet when they’re contacting me. I do, however, up the fees if it’s to be used on a third-party channel because that means the client is paying a lot more money for that,” he says.

Recently, he says, a tech startup asked him for an estimate of social media job. “They wanted the fee to be $2,500, including photographer, assistant and gear, and they wanted all the photos retouched at the end of the shoot day for $200,” he says. “I did a little research.” He checked on the company’s earnings and sales. He also noted, “They’re calling through an [ad] agency and so they have some cash.” With that in mind, he says, “I’ll try to get as much as I can.” (Lhotsky and others we interviewed for this story declined to provide specific numbers when discussing fees.)

Outdoor photographer Chris Burkard gets hired to shoot ads, and also to share the images he shoots for advertisers and sponsors on his own Instagram feed, which has 2.8 million followers. When estimating commercial assignments, he and his reps list social media work as a separate line item in the budget.
“I find that that is critical, to separate everything based on, ‘Here’s your expense to create the work. Here is the usage [fee] to use the work. And here is the line item for me promoting the work on my channels,’” Burkard says. “Because if you start to just bundle things up together, then the value of certain items gets lost.”

To calculate his creative fees, he considers the ad’s reach. “I think a good place to start is looking at the amount of viewers [the clients] have. They could be a massive company with billions of dollars, but if they have a social media channel with 20,000 followers, it’s not going to be the same thing as trying to bid out a big print campaign for [a client] like that.”

Equally important is to spell out all potential usage for the ad. Bablitz says, “We have seen clients initially expect an account to be able to utilize imagery without limitations, the way they witness their friends and family sharing photos.” Burkard notes, “People get into a situation where they shot a photo for Instagram, charged somebody $500, and then it ends up on their website, it ends up in all these banner ads and it ends up being this huge, global image that’s seen by a lot of people, and they thought it was going to end up on their 20,000-person Instagram page.” If the client suggests they might need multiple online uses for an image, Burkard says he offers “digital advertising” usage, rather than the more limited “social media” use. “If you license an image for two years digital advertising usage, it gives them a lot more freedom, but it costs more money.”

© Chris Burkard/Massif

An image for Fjällräven outdoor gear that Chris Burkard posted on his Instagram. © Chris Burkard/Massif

When the Photographer is Paid to Post

Keating says clients like to hire many of the photographers she works with—such as David Guttenfelder, Aaron Huey and Ami Vitale—to share posts with their followers, who number in the millions. “Brands are very attracted to that,” she says. “They want to access those followers, and we take that into consideration when we’re pricing.”

Clients can get data on the reach of an influencer and photographer, and the demographics of their followers, through a number of companies, such as Socialblade, CreatorIQ and Influencer Marketing Hub. Photographers can also offer their own statistics, gleaned from Instagram Insights. Clients interested in return on their advertising dollars sometimes ask Keating about cost per thousand impressions (known as CPMs), click-through rates and other data. “We’ve had people ask about pricing according to CPMs,” Keating says, “but we’ve steered away from that because it’s just not the model of how you price a photographers’ time and expertise.”

She tries to negotiate a fee that reflects the amount of time a photographer will spend creating posts. “They’re creating the image and writing the copy, art directing it and publishing it with the approval of the client,” she says. She also considers whether the sponsored posts are a good fit for the photographer’s feed and their followers’ expectations, and the procedures for making sure captions on sponsored posts meet FTC rules. “We try to spell out: This needs to be in the photographer’s voice but it is a collaborative process and we ensure the client sees it before it goes live.”        

The Risks of Endorsements

When photographers are paid to share posts with their own social media followings, “There’s an implied endorsement,” Keating notes. And it can deter competitive brands. Some clients, she says, specifically ask, “Don’t show us any photographers who have shot for another car brand.”

Keating warns, “Understand that when you’re attaching your name to a brand that there’s a reasonable expectation that a competitor will no longer be interested in hiring you. It’s probably not forever but it’s a period of time, maybe a year, maybe less, it depends on the client.” While clients might ask for some exclusivity, she has to explain, she says, “This is why you need to pay more for this. They [the photographers] will be out of the marketplace for a while.” This applies equally whether the sponsor is paying the photographer a fee or bartering free gear.

Burkard says, “I see these up-and-coming photographers who are trying to build their social channels and they’re tagging all these random brands” to attract their attention. It can alienate brands, he says. “It doesn’t really allow the brand to feel like there’s any brand allegiance.”

Keating advises photographers, “You have to take the same kind of care with your platform as any publisher would for its publication.” She also advises photographers to stay up to date about the latest guidelines from the FTC, “and don’t assume that your client is.”

“There is a learning curve to photography usage that is ever changing,” says Bablitz. “It’s up to the photographic community to recognize the unique value that our photographs bring to clients in that space and to price the usage accordingly.”

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