When people from advertising agencies doesn’t know any better

BY DOMINIQUE JAMES

How often do you get to work with people you don’t actually like? Does it bother you? Is your standard of performance generally lower when you know you are dealing with people you don’t like compared to the ones that you like?

As a professional photographer for more than 15 years, I must have worked with all kinds and all “sorts” of people. There are the friendly ones, and there are those who are not too friendly, and everyone in between. But does it bother me that some people I work with are not exactly the friendly sort? Yes it does. But I make sure they don’t know it. The way I carry on, I work as if nothing is wrong, and I deal with them as if they are the finest people on earth, and I would want to work with anyone else. That’s part of the secret of being a “professional” photographer.

I sometimes think that, when I get handed the check as payment for my “professional” services, I often feel as though that I’m being paid not because of the services I rendered, but because I am being compensated for the way I have to put up with the people I have to work with.

What I particularly find annoying is when agency people “look down” on you, as if you don’t know any better or that you don’t even know half of what they know. Have you ever worked with people from the advertising agencies? Gosh, they are the strangest people on planet Earth. They carry on as if they are God’s gift to humanity. They are so arrogant!

Well, before I get lambasted, I should say, “not all of them.” Many of them, but not all of them. I have lots of friends in the advertising world, and many of them works for advertising agencies, and they are the coolest bunch. But, just as many are the most absurd people I know as well. Yes, I know because I’ve worked with a whole lot of them. It is unavoidable. Every time a project comes in where I have been commissioned to do the photography, my first concern is not about photography per se, but the people I will be working with. Not everyone is nice. There are those who can be really rough, and tough, to work with.

Now, I don’t mind working with tough people. Actually, I do expect the people that I work with to be really tough. Otherwise, I will doubt their credibility and credentials. So, I’m really very used to working with the toughies. I can work with the toughest people and I’d be fine with that. Just give me a barf bag, and I will be alright. I can carry on all day long as if nothing is wrong. Of course, at the back of my mind, I am always hoping that they won’t be jerks. They are acting and being like “jerks” when they think they know better. I absolutely hate it when they think they know better than others. When they carry on in high-winded fashion, that’s when I need the barf bag. It’s tough enough to be working with tough people without them being jerks. But since my paycheck is coming from the agency, I mostly just brace myself and bear with it in a painful, golden silence. And the hardest part of it all is that I have to smile at them through it all.

There’s not much I can do, specially when I love the project, and specially because I love the money that comes in with most agency projects. And, the mere fact that I am working with an advertising agency, that the ad agency chose me over many others in a very long list from their “black book” of suppliers, is a badge of honor of sorts. It means, I can deliver. This is why they chose me in the first place.

I just comfort myself with the fact that, the reason why they brought me in, in the first place, is not to dictate upon my style or creativity or accomplishment as a professional photographer, but to draw upon the deep well of my professional knowledge, strength, creeativity, style. They chose me to work with them because they know, and hopefully they do know, that I can not only deliver the deliverables, but provide an added value to the work that they do. In other words, I hope, and they are hoping too, that I can make them look good to their clients. If they are happy with the work I did, and if they are happy with the clients, and if they are blissfully ignorant of the fact that I know better than them, then all is well and good. I don’t have to point out the fact that I am better or I know more than they do. I don’t have to tell them, or make them realize, and therefore satisfy my huge ego, that I am much better than them.

Let them go on believing that they know better. I’m just happy, as it is, to realize that I know what I’m doing, and for them to keep asking me to work with them. The mere fact that they want to continue working with me is enough sign, and is a redeeming value, of their intelligence and shrewdness. They think they know better, but I think I know best. At least, they know how to pick whom to work with. For that alone, I let them be, and I let them off the hook.

So, how do we do this? What’s the best way to handle jerks? I mean, agency people …. What, exactly, is the winning strategy?

Let’s just keep this our own little secret. When we meet them, when we talk to them, let’s just smile sweetly and innocently, as if we don’t know any better. Let’s not make them realize, or let’s not tell them that we actually know better. Ms. Manners says that (yes, I’ve read the book), short of feeding their ego, we don’t really have to do anything about it. It’s not our fault that we know better. Just let them continue thinking that they are on top of things. (Oh yes, Ms. Manners says that it’s their problem that they are jerks, and they need therapy.)

Because we know better, it becomes our serious responsibility to watch out for them, without them knowing it, so that they won’t make too many mistakes and therefore cause too much damage. We are in the unique, but delicate position of helping keep them on a straight and narrow path of the right, and so that they won’t fall by the wayside.

If we do our job right, it becomes all the more fulfilling. Not only did we do our work as a photographer, but, we also did our part in the larger scheme of things, in making the project a success. And, don’t wait to be acknowledged for your help in making the project a success. Since no one realizes it but you, you only have yourself to congratulate. You won’t hear others congratulating you about this, but, just keep this to yourself, and celebrate on your own if you like to, but really, you don’t need to let them in on your own victorious celebration.

On the other hand, when you try to put your foot forward, and you try to show off that makes the agency looks bad and stupid, specially infront of the client and other people (e.g. suppliers), they will certainly feel vulnerable and they will feel bad about it. And they will certainly feel bad about you for pointing it out to them and making it obvious. And because of this, and unless they are masochists by nature, they won’t forget the discomfort and humiliation you’ve caused them, and the will not forget you. When they remember you, they will remember you as the guy who “belittled” them, hence, they wouldn’t be too keen on getting you next time. There will be no more next time.

It’s all in a balance really. Dealing with people that you work with as a photographer is often harder than doing the actual job itself. You need to be always conscious of the different types of people you are dealing with, being nice to everyone and all, on top of being a professional photographer and doing your job, and surpassing everyone’s expectations as well. Very tough. But it can be done. And it should be done. That’s the hallmark of a pro.

Now, unless you’ve become the superstar photographer where you are even more famous than most of the people you are photographing, then somehow, maybe, you can start acting like a prima donna. Because you can now dictate, and the rules of engagement have changed, with people kowtowing to you instead, then, hopefully, they will all bow down to your whims, fancies and desires. You have nothing and no one to answer to but your focus on your commitment to deliver, and you can do it in any damn way that you please. But really, what’s the point? Ego? There are far better sources of satisfaction than flaunting your superiority. And sometimes, keeping the secret that you know better is far more satisfying. Let others think that they know best. I just keep things to myself.

And oh, by the way; yes, I have a lot of secrets.

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