Hey guys, Andy here. I was recently asked again for free photography under the guise that the project was pro bono. Asked by one of my portrait subjects keen for my portrait of them to be included, I was open to the question. However the outcome has me wondering is it me, the creator, or is it the work that is worth £0?

I was asked by an elite athlete for a portrait I’d taken of them to be included in an upcoming sports program created with Ogilvy, the British advertising and marketing agency who, since becoming acquired by WPP, can be considered a Fortune 500 company (a list of the largest 500 companies in the USA according to total revenue for the previous fiscal year). The portrait was envisaged to be used in the opening of a planned video series.

The opening email from the athlete indicated that the project was aimed at work places with follow up communications informing me of the hope that clubs, national governing bodies and walking charities would be able to benefit from the program. However this is where the request began to unravel. When I asked Ogilvy for information about the project there was a level of detail and a significant amount of omertà that raised red flags; the project was a pro bono staff well being initiative with the only credit coming from a post of my image on a company social media channel.

This level of detail was unsatisfactory and unprofessional. How can a project aimed at work places be pro bono when the term is usually applied to charitable deeds? The word ‘staff’ is doing not an insignificant amount of potential deception; who was Ogivly referring to when talking about ‘staff’; UK staff, international staff, WPP staff, staff at other companies? And if on offer to other companies was there a commercial element involved? Secondly the offer of a post on Ogilvy’s social media was meaningless to me; exposure doesn’t pay the bills and especially not when, on average, engagement on their UK channels is 0.5%. Was there any other offer of credit (to note, the program was a series of videos, was I not even going to get a mention in the end credit sequence)? Lastly there were no licensing details; even if handing over work for free it is important to get details to ensure no potential future complications and infringement. How long did Ogilvy envisage the program be active for, would the image be used in collateral to promote the program, in which territories would the program be undertaken? It was concerning that an international advertising agency, which should be used to licensing, offered no such detail. Without answers to such questions it is possible that the image get used far beyond the opening title sequence, for an known time period and internationally. 

The reply from Ogilvy, aside from pleasantries, was short; “Based on what you’ve said I feel it will be safer not to pursue incorporating your photography into the training videos.” 

“Safer”; safer for whom? Safer for me or you? The answer suggests my level of professionalism and knowledge about licence and protecting my work took Ogivly by surprise, which would indicate the ad agency wanted to take full advantage of an unlicensed image. The lack of transparency with answers is telling and it is hard not to see this as the hope to get photography for free from a naive or inexperienced photographer. It is exploitative and, coming from an advertising agency, it is shameful. As a photographer who, like many others in the UK, has experienced little to no work since COVID the request that a portrait taken at my time and expense be good enough for a global company but worth £0 is galling. The company obviously see value in the work, otherwise why ask for it? Companies are not charities or non profits, they exist to be financially successful. So if there is an asset deemed of sufficient quality to help with this endeavour, then how can that be worth £0 to the creator behind the asset? Is it because it is the creator, not the asset, is considered to be worth £0? 

By not using my image Ogilvy may have to spend on finding an alternative (unless they find a photographer with an image of the athlete willing to hand it over for free); be it via a licence for a stock image or through time and cost of their own photographer. This means they will be incurring cost. However they have chosen not to spend that budget on me. Contrast this with when a celebrity or already well known photographer is hired and their name is promoted almost more than the images. At this level the quality of the work is almost immaterial and it is the person who is feted. Until that level of fame who’d want to be a creator?