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Perfect Commissioning 1 workshop 29 October 2018 – notes from the session.


The AOP and the AOI held the first in a series of talks on the perfect commissioning process on 29 October 2018.

Whilst we have worked hard to ensure their accuracy, they are indicative only and are not a full account of the evening.


Host and chaired by Seamus McGibbon, Executive Director, AOP, the speakers were;

Lu Howlett, Head of Art & Photographic at Iris Worldwide
Daniel Moorey, Head of Photography and Illustration at adamandeveDDB,
Mat Wiggins, Group Art Director at Ink Global,
Alicia Hart, photo-editor, art buyer, creative producer, reviewer and visual artist
Jon Cockley, co-founder of Handsome Frank
AOP business and legal adviser, Nick Dunmur
AOI projects manager, Derek Brazell

Note-taker, Ren Renwick, Chief Executive Officer, AOI

What elements make up a good commission and successful result?

A strong team - From agency, agent, artist and the wider creative team. That team needs to have excellent relationships, and everyone needs an exact understanding of the role each person is playing.

A strong brief - The ability to write a succinct brief is getting worse – that is one challenge. Advertising Head of Photography and Illustration, Daniel Moorey notes that a brief should be like a shell, or structure – and within certain parameters there is space for creativity.

The right choice of artist - An issue can arise where the first choice of illustrator / photographer is not available. Then, illustration agent Jon Cockley notes, rather than just offer the same brief to another creative, it should be refined and made bespoke for another artist – there will be a slightly different outcome, but the same quality standard will be achieved. Sometimes a commissioner sees an artist’s personal work on social media – but that is where they are doing what inspires them. That passion and freedom expressed in personal projects doesn’t always translate to a dry corporate job as the artist is not as invested. There may be a gap in expectations.

Clear details - There need to be details in the brief – deliverables, feedback rounds, kill/cancellation fees, file formats – all the things that you need to know up front before starting a commission.

Honesty - “Set off on the right foot with honesty.” Daniel’s advice as a client was to be honest, on or off the record, about a boring job, or tricky client. When things get fraught further down the line, at least the artist knew what they could expect, having been forewarned.

Having an agent - Advertising jobs are ‘uglier beasts’ than they were, and having an agent is helpful to both sides of a commission. Alicia can find herself doing the job of an agent where the artist doesn’t have one – something she doesn’t have time for.

It’s also about trust – the client needs to know the job will be done, and an agent, or third party production company can be a hall-mark, facilitating a smooth production.

It doesn’t always have to be for full representation – it’s perfectly fine to work with an agent on a job by job basis. This can also work out as a sort of trial period. Lu Howlett also recognises the importance of illustrators and photographers meeting with agents. There are times where an  agent will signpost someone to her who is not on their books, because they don’t represent the right person. Being in people’s minds is helpful! Jon countered this saying “It’s a myth agents are there just to find you work.” What they can do is manage work offers for successful artists – sifting emails and dealing with the paperwork, freeing time for the creative to create. 

Payment for samples - Clients are increasingly nervous of taking the visual leap – they want to see before the buy – so having a broad range of subject matter in a portfolio is really important. Where a sample is asked for, it was agreed it should be paid for. The APA have a policy which limits a commissioner to asking a maximum of 3 photographers for a treatment. This is a written and visual proposal for how that photographer would do the project. Treatments, which photographers are increasingly being asked for, are not usually paid for, however.

What can AOI / AOP do?

• Develop a Checklist for commissions

• Develop policy around samples/ treatments as per the APA

• Consider challenging unpaid treatments

What makes a good creator and creative process for that commission?

Relationships - Build relationships over time between commissioner and creative. Talk about process which is good for creatives. Remember that we are all on the same side.

The right tone - Jobs are fraught, keep it light when dealing with others. Joke. Be a ‘real person’ and set the tone for the project. 

Professionalism - Jon says, “The work is everything and nothing. You can fall in love with an image but unless the creative person behind it is professional, meets deadlines, takes feedback etc. It all falls apart. An agents job is to learn about different artists’ processes, and adapt to those and help them work – not create a template way they expect to be adhered to.”

Similarly don’t be too precious – remember you’re a commercial artist. As Lu says “Don’t be precious – if the client wants a pointy hat and you’ve done a square hat? Give them a pointy hat. Pick your battles”

Jon followed – “It’s different creating your own work and creating work for a brief. If that’s challenging, don’t be a commercial artist”

What can AOI/ AOP do?

• Create spaces for illustrators / photographers to meet with commissioners.

Where and why do things come unstuck?

Commissioners - Sometimes commissioners don’t know their job very well. There are more briefs to deal with, and less time to do them well. Training used to be art school for advertising creatives, now it’s ‘advertising school’. There is a change in their starting points, not necessarily coming from a love of images, and often people are moving out of specialist areas and working as a ‘creative’.

The problem can also be that an art director has to sell the idea to the client – and if they have experience they can do that. Where they are less experienced or less confident, the client can get nervous and question everything, and things can start to unravel.

Art Buyers (or their absence) - Art buyers have a skill and knowledge about illustration and photography – and increasingly agents and artists are working directly with the client rather than with an art buyer. Things can get unstuck there as they don’t have the skill and specialist knowledge.

Similarly there are some outsourced art buyers – which means those involved are another step removed – not good for anyone!

Manage expectations - It’s important to manage clients expectations. Jon was reassuring then he said he very rarely has a client who does not respond well to hearing that something is outside the scope of the job and therefore requires more time or money.

Negotiate - Lu noted that you can also juggle usage – if the client wants an extra animation but not the budget, can you suggest a 1 year license as opposed to 2, or doing less static images for example. Never feel ashamed of talking about money!

Communicate - Use email and the phone. A written record is an important audit trail, but it’s also important to talk through feedback and ideas – and then ask for an emailed version so you can check you understand everything. When you are asked something, say it back to make sure you have understood it correctly.

Agree Terms - Important to have terms of business in case things go pear-shaped. Standard terms are the starting point for negotiations.

What are the fair terms, licence agreements and remuneration for that work?

Copyright - Giving up copyright, unless it’s fairly remunerated is not in the artist’s interest. However, not all areas of copyright are clear-cut so there can be negotiation involved.

Negotiate - Licensing is a brilliant payment structure. If someone wants the moon on a stick that is what it will cost. But you can ask them if they really want all the rights – and reduce down to a fee that is fair and manageable for them.

If you as the creator want to challenge someone – for example about not waiving your moral rights, explain why. If you get cross and angry, that’s not going to be helpful. A clear rationale will help the art director can take the issue up the chain for decision makers. Assert yourself but think about how you are received – don’t be a pain.

Contracts - Remember the commissioner you are liaising with hasn’t written the contract- and does not necessarily understand it. It’s good to ask questions as it helps them understand it and communicate if better. Always be clear what terms mean – ask if you don’t understand – they can mean different things from industry to industry, so it’s important to be clear. Alicia welcomes questions, so she can find out more and understand her contracts better.

Jon notes that contracts can be written by people who don’t understand illustration – there have been times when you need to go back and say that it’s not quite right for how it’s being used, and would a different template be a useful starting point – that can be well-received. 

Pricing - Jon confirms that you can’t be told a price is too high – it’s your price. It might be that you are busy and don’t really want the job, so you price it higher. Or, on the other side it might be lower because you need the work.

Lu continued that it’s useful for commissioners to give a budget – even if it is between X and Y. That allows the artist to go back saying, well, for X I can give you this, and for Y I can give you that. Some clients love negotiation, others just have a straight up fee that’s easier.

If you are pushed to offer a ball-park sum, you have to add the caveat that your quote is a ballpark too, and may be adjusted once all usage is known.

Don’t separate out project fee (creation) and usage in a quote – or you can be left high and dry if the client decides not to use it, and wants to pay solely for creation of the work.

Motion-based commissions (Illustration-led animation) - Increasingly clients wish to take stills from commissioned animations or photographer films to use in a project, and this additional still usage, for example as a poster, attracts a fee on top of the animation fees. This should be clear when initial discussions are made about usage.


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