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12 Rules of Negotiation

The ASMP Bulletin’s Winter 2010 issue featured the article NEGOTIATIONS: Signing Up or Saying No, excerpted from chapter sixteen of John Harrington’s Best Business Practices for Photographers, second edition, © 2010. Used with permission of Course PTR | Cengage Learning. Available from booksellers or direct from


As a companion to the article in print, Harrington offers further tips for photographers to consider before they begin the negotiation process, based on author and high-profile sports agent Leigh Steinberg’s twelve essential rules of negotiation featured in his book Winning with Integrity: Getting What You Want without Selling Your Soul.


Twelve Essential Rules of Negotiation

1. “Align yourself with people who share your values.”
This means photo editors you admire and publications whose reporters you trust and whose stories you respect. In the instance of companies or organizations, perhaps it’s humanitarian aid organizations or the philanthropic arm of a corporation. For example, suppose a company such as Ford has a separate charitable organization, the Ford Foundation, that does good in the name of Ford.


2. “Learn all you can about the other party.”
This is applicable not only to the photo editors as individuals, but also to the potential contract terms you might face and have objections to, the state of the company (flush with profits or facing cutbacks and recent staff layoffs), and so on.


3. “Convince the other party that you have an option.”
If they’re not sure you’re capable of the assignment, convey past successes (without appearing to boast), working relationships with other editors they may have worked with in the past, or your track record with a challenging assignment type (underwater, aerials, and so on).


4. “Set your limits before the negotiation begins.”
Negotiations that are too quick can be a possible risk, but those that are too long and drawn out can be risky as well. You don’t want to look back at a multipart negotiation and realize that you’d never have agreed to the deal had you not been incrementally moved to the point you are at now.


5. “Establish a climate of cooperation, not conflict.”
Begin by engaging the client about the project —let them know that you’re interested in the project, are excited to talk through some ideas you have, and so on. If conflict is going to come in the form of “take it or leave it” contract language, it’s going to come. Further, there may be a dozen clauses, three that just need clarification and two with potential deal-breaker points in them. Resolve the first three first — getting repeated “yes, that’s fine” answers to your requests will make resolving the final two problematic clauses easier when you are operating from the initial spirit of cooperation instead of starting with conflict out of the box.


6. “In the face of intimidation, show no fear.”
When faced with “Every other photographer has signed…,” I often think, “Well, why are you calling me then?” or, “I’m not every other photographer,” but of course, I’d discourage those smart-aleck remarks from actually passing your lips. Yet it’s a mindset that can drive a more reasonable dialogue with the client. Try responding with, “It has been my experience that signing contracts with those terms isn’t conducive to a good working relationship, and it is against my policy without reasonable modifications to it.”


7. “Learn to listen.”
Although this might seem obvious, pay attention to what the other party is saying, rather than preparing your next objection. I have found many a creative solution by listening to what people are saying and offering a solution.


8. “Be comfortable with silence.”
If you make an offer or respond to the client’s request for a concession, and then there is silence, do not speak just to fill the void. By doing so, you begin to negotiate with yourself because you feel that silence is non-acceptance of your offer or response.


9. “Avoid playing split the difference.”
Suppose your estimate for an assignment is $4,500, and the client says they only have $2,500, so you suggest, “How about $3,500?” You’re setting yourself up to appear as if you were padding your estimate by $1,000. If you’re going to come down, there needs to be a good reason why. Perhaps you can eliminate an assistant, catering, or extensive retouching, or perhaps you can learn that the client does not need five years of rights to the images, and only two are necessary.


10. “Emphasize your concessions; minimize the other party’s.”
Outline how you’ll cover the expenses without an advance, with a delay until payment upon publication, with an extended rights package, and the like.


11. “Never push a losing argument to the end.”
There’s no reason, really. You hope next time to deal with this person either at this organization or another down the line. If you know that they demand work made for hire (WMFH) and they have never negotiated that, then don’t waste your time or their time. Many times, a photo editor who is requiring WMFH knows that it’s bad for you, and there’s no sense debating the issue, but saying something nice such as, “I understand that’s your policy, and mine is counter to that. I hope that in the future it will change, or that should you find yourself at another organization down the line, you’ll consider calling on me when that term is not etched in stone.” This will let the photo editor know that you’re a reasonable person, and the editor will respect you for that. Further, let the photo editor know that you’d be happy to talk further down the line if he or she is unsuccessful in finding a satisfactory photographer who will agree to those terms. And lastly, when you object to a term and the call ends, there are times when the client will be calling back to offer you something better. Most publications have tiered contracts, and everyone gets offered the most egregious one first and the more equitable ones after they object to the first one.


12. “Develop relationships, not conquests.”
This is absolutely true in the photographic community and is a great follow-up to my comments from the previous rule. The community of people who contract with photographers is very small, and as you evolve your business, ensuring you’ve not burnt bridges or taken advantage of a client’s circumstances will ensure your own longevity and respect among prospective clients and peers.