Interview With Andrea Stern of SternRep
May 2, 2018
SternRep, a boutique agency, is known for its personable, intelligent approach. Founder Andrea Stern says she’s discovered just how good life can be when you immerse yourself in what you enjoy most, and for her, that means cultivating relationships on both the artist and client side. That kind of connection is the cornerstone of SternRep’s success, and the reason the agency continues to bring together the most talented artists and successful clients year after year.
In this interview, PhotoServe talks to Stern about her career, and what it takes to be a photo agent in this ever-changing business.
Peter Berberian: How did you come to represent photographers?
Andrea Stern: Photography has always been my passion. I started out in this industry as a photographer. When I first began, I was shooting stills for commercials and movie sets, and then took the leap and went to Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara. That’s where I learned that I really enjoyed the business aspect of this industry more than the actual shooting.
PB: Is there a particular image from your childhood that made you want to go into the visual arts?
AS: When I was a photographer, Annie Lebovitz was my hero. I hung a torn New York Times front page article with a picture of her shooting on some tall building next to my bed. She represented the ultimate success to me. She uses humor and captures the spirit and essence of whoever is in front of her camera. I believe what I’m seeing, which is the magic of effective commercial advertising.
PB: How has the business changed in the last five years?
AS: In my 20 years of representing artists, I have never before seen a change like this. It has always been an industry of change because the advertising world possesses a young, progressive-thinking mentality, but this time it’s different.
In the last five years, we have really seen a complete transformation in the advertising and photography world. And I think a big part of that is because of the rising importance of what is termed “content.”
Nowadays we need to incorporate all of the established market tools for ourselves like promos, meetings, paid website search engines, as well as staying active on all of the social channels. And the content we share must be clearly aligned with our brand if we are going to do this right. I always say Instagram is your second portfolio that can have a sprinkling of personal work on it.
Hashtags can actually get jobs too. This is a new way that some clients are finding photographers. With that said, it’s not just about sharing endless content, but it’s about sharing content that speaks to your level of expertise and gives people a glimpse into your life as a successful photographer.
It’s more complex now because you must have your own voice as part of your branding. This type of expression used to happen on the creative conference call during a bid. Now you can use these social channels as a way to publicly show clients on a regular basis what you will bring to the project when they hire you. We have always had to stay in front of clients through marketing, but now it’s all about adding a more personal presence.
PB: How has your business evolved to meet the needs of the photo buyer?
AS: The photo buyer is more rushed and is seeing more images than ever before. We are all adjusting to this digital age and I have seen a growing need for simple human contact. I have always channeled my joy for connection into my business and now I see the opening need for photo buyers to also take a few minutes to connect over some good cookies.
PB: What do you love about the industry?
AS: There is so much I love about this industry.
I am inspired by what is happening in this ever-changing industry and what happens when we actually embrace these changes. By getting creative in my own marketing methods, I am now in touch with so many photographers and making contact with clients that would have otherwise been very hard to reach in the past.
I am being kept on my toes and pushed out of my own little box. I feel more connected from different ventures I have embraced, like my platform AskSternRep that offers free advice to photographers and creative folks in general.
I am enjoying the exchange I have with the world. It has completely changed the definition of a “rep” for me, and I am being reminded of why I first got into this business. I am enjoying being a resource for photographers and a part of this evolving conversation.
Also, I can honestly say I work with some pretty amazing people, clients, photographers, and others—and working with good people really makes it easy to love my job!
PB: What would you like to see change?
AS: With the growing importance of social media, there’s an explosion of “influencers” and “bloggers” getting more work directly from clients. They’re not using an advertising agency. This means the photographer is being tasked with much more work to be the art director and create the shot list, as well as doing the location scouting, producing and retouching all by themselves.
I’d like clients to see the importance of hiring an ad agency to bring up the standard of these content images.
PB: Tell me about your roster.
AS: Right now I represent seven commercial photographers and a retoucher. I chose each of them because their work inspired me and I saw their marketability immediately. They all have their own style and aesthetic that differentiates them from one another.
It’s always been quality over quantity. I want photographers who stand out. They need to know who they are.
The questions I ask myself when considering someone for my roster are:
- Can I make them money?
- Do I love their work?
- Can I trust them?
- Will they let me be their rep?
- Are they marketable?
With that said, I sometimes temp-rep for photographers who need some part-time help. Not everyone needs a full-time rep, and this is a great way to get the help only when you need it.
PB: How does the roster fulfill the needs of the ever-changing photo buying community?
AS: My agency is constantly growing and evolving as the photo buying industry changes. One must stay adaptable. My roster has shifted to include lifestyle photographers over the past couple of years. This is definitely where the world is now as lifestyle work is mainstream. While there is now a lot more lifestyle work needed, there are also a ton more lifestyle photographers. So they need to be unique and stand out more than they used to. I searched for a few unique lifestyle photographers to fulfill this need.
PB: What advice would you give to someone entering the business?
AS: Educate yourself on all of the photo industries which interest you. Get as much exposure to all ends of our business as possible. Then, to build their portfolio, it is most important to hone in on what you are best at and build a body of work around those strengths.
Photographers get hired for jobs when they have built a strong and cohesive portfolio which showcases the kind of work they would like to be booked for. Often I’d recommend the right consultant to help make that happen.
They should get to know as many people as possible, network, build a team, get their website and marketing materials together and get their business organized. This business takes a creative approach to marketing to incorporate all of the potential avenues which social media offers. Once they have their website well crafted, they should send it out to all of their dream clients and be tenacious about getting their work in front of people. Use all the ways we have at our fingertips these days and have a solid team or crew ready to go.
Based in Los Angeles, SternRep is an international boutique agency representing a group of passionate and talented commercial photographers in the product, automotive and lifestyle industries among others.