Guest Blog: Marco Ryan
I’m going to go down a bit of a rat hole. I’m even going to give it a name: value.
You’ll already be wondering why a post that begins “I’m going down a bit of a rat hole” might have anything to do with Focus for Humanity – a newly launched foundation aimed at giving grants to aspiring photographers and to help under-funded NGOs afford world class photographers – but stay with me for a couple of paragraphs and hopefully you’ll see why.
I’ve never quite understood why photographers struggle to sell the value that they bring to organizations. Well perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have never really understood why organizations won’t pay for the value that photographers can bring to their organizations.
That’s value with a capital “V” by the way – the intrinsic benefit that we recognize that great images can bring to a brand – and also value with a small “v” – because I think most photographers are undervalued and charge too little for what they do.
Why is it that an organization will pay an IT technician $70 an hour or a lawyer $200 an hour but not pay a photographer $100 an hour?
Perhaps it is because there is an association between complexity or certain required qualifications or proven experience and a market price.
Or perhaps it is that, for a profession such as a photographer, the need for creative vision, emotional intelligence and expressive story telling often outweighs the need for bachelor, graduate or professional qualifications. Yet because those qualifications are optional it becomes – especially for the uninformed buyer – more difficult to arrive at that market price or critically, to measure the value delivered.
It is of course further complicated by the proliferation and pervasiveness of digital cameras that mean many organizations don’t even to begin to create a business case for an assignment because its just too hard, right? Instead that same organization will thrust a Canon Ixus into the hands of the nearest intern and say, “get on with it”. (though I’ve nothing against Interns or Canon Ixus’!)
Now let’s add a layer of complexity. Let’s go further down that rat hole.
Imagine now that you are a business that is underfunded or does not make a profit, like an NGO. How do they afford someone like Matt Brandon or Gavin Gough? Or what happens if you are a talented semi-pro photographer looking for your first proper client and someone approaches you. How much do you charge without losing that first job or undermining that all-too-difficult-to-judge market price?
Many of the larger more established NGOs have multi-million pound marketing budgets and regularly use the likes of Karl Grobl, Matt Brandon, David duChemin or Ami Vitale on highly structured and well funded assignments. And long may that continue.
But the issue is more with the new, fledgling or underfunded NGO and also with that individual semi-pro photographer who is wanting to make the leap to full time – both of whose activities are more localized or more specific to a particular campaign.
Often, that new NGO’s need is greater, but their budget is smaller, resulting in a prioritization of funds away from hiring that top photographer. In the case of the semi-pro, they opt for doing pro bono work in the hope that it will strengthen their portfolio, but all that happens is that it undermines their value with the client going forward.
The first stage of resolving this is that the NGO needs some form of Damascan road experience to help understand how to budget and monetize the value of the photographer’s work and the semi-pro photographer needs the courage to value their own work and stand firm on their price so as not to undermine the market.
So how do we break this vicious circle? How do we climb out of this rat hole?
Well, one answer it to try and remove the barriers that are stopping each of them. In the NGO’s case that barrier is usually a lack of funds. In the semi-pro photographer’s case it is often a mix of lack of confidence, lack of knowledge in how best to price or a lack of experience with customers.
And this is where an organization such as Focus for Humanity (FFH for short) starts to make a difference. We see our role as bridging these two communities who have shared needs and common goals but perhaps different perspectives.
So as to not leave you hanging, here is a brief summary of how we tried to create a solution to help everyone climb out of that rathole!
Focus for Humanity created assignment grants to allow underfunded NGOs to win the services of established photographers such Matt Brandon, David duChemin, Gavin Gough, Karl Grobl, Jeffrey Chapman or Edoardo Agresti. For free. The NGO gets a full assignment undertaken by a world-class photographer with no strings attached. Well, actually a couple of very minor strings, like agreeing to budget for the following years for similar services; being willing to take some mentoring from FFH on digital marketing and acting as a reference for future NGO applicants. The established photographer gets a new client and is paid the right market rate for his work.
And for the semi-pro looking for that final leap to full time photographer?
We have an annual scholarship that provides the funding to allow them to work with their first client – probably an NGO – and to be mentored into how to approach and further educate clients in the value of images. In addition the grants cover travel, upgrading their equipment and some project expenses.
And for those of you still a few years away from being ready to apply for this scholarship there will be a series of mentoring and workshop grants that will help you to work on your craft and vision.
We fund the Foundation solely through donations, and we run the organization as a virtual online foundation to minimize the costs. Our current target is to allocate 93% of funds into grants each year.
But we can do with your help in three ways:
Firstly tell everyone one about it. Add a blog badge to your site HERE, follow us on twitter HERE, join us on Facebook HERE but, most importantly, become our advocates within your own network and get others to sign–up or donate.
Secondly we need your pledges and donations and those of your friends. It can be a one-off donation of $10 or a monthly recurring donation of any amount you like. But if, for example, we got a thousand of you to give, say, $50 each we would then be able to meet all our commitments for this year. So if you want to help, then help us to reach more than a thousand people willing to give just that little bit.
Thirdly, If you work for a company in the photographic industry then you can help with sponsorship too – although we prefer to use the term partnering as we believe that this is a two way relationship and we need to give those partners equal benefit in return for their support. Every lens, body, bag, filter, tripod, plane ticket or item that we don’t have to buy for our grant winners, is money that we can re-allocate into another grant. We’ve got great ideas on what else we want to add to our grants in the coming months and years, and sponsorship or partnering is one way of making that happen.
“Be the change you want to see in the world”, said Mahatma Ghandi. Perhaps you can help us make real change in how NGOs and other organizations value the work of photographers to help humanitarian causes.
Our thanks to Matt for allowing us the platform of his blog to reach out and share with you all about Focus For Humanity. Thank you for reading this far and for showing an interest in what we are trying to do. You can read more detail about Focus for Humanity, our grants, how to apply and how to help by checking out our website, http://www.focusforhumanity.org.
Marco Ryan was born in the UK, but now lives in Cairo, Egypt with his wife and young family. His professional career as an eCommerce Strategist, Digital Marketing expert and speaker is covered on his work blog, www.marcoryan.com, but it ensures endless travel but sadly insufficient time for one of the more creative forces in his life – photography. Contact him through this blog for commissions or prints.