Zēro - A Fresh Take on the Archaic Agency Model

Zēro - A Fresh Take on the Archaic Agency Model

We get stuck, we fall into these positions where we call ourselves photographers and think that's all we'll ever be. That's not a bad thing, but the truth is there are so many different outlets we can flow into being photographers. For some of us, that means using our knowledge and abilities to help others. Thats exactly what Jose Rosado did with his new company, Zēro.

A couple months ago I was on my twitter feed and I got a random shout by a twitter account called Press-Zero with fellow writers Zach Sutton and John Schell. Being a writer for Fstoppers, we get people who go through the writers page and contact us all the time, but this was different. The three of us writers are completely different photographers (in terms of style), but know each other very well. I did some digging and later gave up as I couldn't find anything on the subject.

Fast forward a couple months and my friend Jose announces a launch of "Zēro, a Creative agency representing photographers & cinematographers from around the country." My first thought was, finally I know what the hell this random Twitter handle is! My second after perusing the website was, holy crap, this is fantastic! Basically Jose came up with a way to help people who are talented and under-represented. We all know the big names in the industry who are sponsored by Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Profoto, etc. What about those photographers who stay under the radar, those who work their asses off but are doing it because they love it and never dreamed up the intentions of going after the so called real big fish?

Thats where Jose comes in. He's picked out people like John Schell, Jeff Roberts, and 17 year old Justin Amoafo and represented them. There's multiple agencies out there, but something is always lacking. Jose brings to the table the want for others to succeed. He's spent his life going with the grain of social norms that say you need a bachelors, and a masters and work a 9-5 job. He decided to leave it all behind and do what he truly loved by pursuing photography full time. While shooting fashion and editorial, he also established automotive clients such as AJ Foyt Racing, RallyCross, Tanner Foust, USF2000, IndyCar, Grand Am Series, ALMS and NASCAR. After awhile he realized that he was referring out work to other people in the industry if he thought they could do it better than him. He knew his limits in certain genres and landed other people gigs upwards of  $25,000. Once he realized he was helping more people, he turned it into an outlet where people could find them. Thus the idea of Zēro was born. 



He's taken everything he knows and transferred it in a way to help others. He decided to take something that usually has a negative connotation, like 'zero' and turned it into something else. Jose defines the basis of the company as this

"The word zero - we have a strange relationship with this word in our society. We think of zero in terms of nothing; no money, no time, no value, etc. Much like art as a whole, in reality it’s worthless yet at the same time priceless depending on the viewer.

Yet, for a lot of the world there’s a different meaning:

Zero in a rifle scope: make accurate
Zero'ing in on your position: getting closer to where you are
- Pressing zero on an automated machine: you simply want to speak to a real person for help

Simply put - we’re the ones you call for help. We ensure that we’ll help figure out your needs and wants, get on target with your brand and positioning, and most importantly make sure that the shot we take will be as accurate as possible in what you’re looking for."


He's turned his dreams into a way to help others realize their potential, and find them a way to get noticed. In the few weeks since the launch, he's already talked with many outlets such as Phase One, getting everyone working with the site a chance to deal with the company and test out products as well as a non-profit working with the roster on a documentary. The site may not be for everyone, but it gives us a chance to realize we can step out of the box with what we do.

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DAAAAAAAAAAAAANG, that's a nice logo.

Where we would be without the designer Jedi skillz of you, Jesse! Thanks for all your help throughout the process! :)

Great that you've started a new agency, but what exactly is the fresh take on it? I'd be keen to know, as I think the traditional model of photographer repped by agent going out to ad agencies with portfolios is getting dated and needs refreshing, and this comes from someone who already has representation and can see the weaknesses in it, as well as the advantages.

How about this, Joe - as someone who's previously had representation your input is invaluable to us.

What would you like to see different in terms of how an agency operates? What were things you liked about your last rep? If you're no longer repped, what was the reasoning behind leaving? And lastly, what was done on your end to help support your rep + making sure the one small piece of the puzzle a rep is, wasn't the only thing out there sourcing you work?

I still have representation, and I do a lot of work to support my rep. I often set up my own meetings etc. But I just feel that this model isn't working as well as it used to, possibly from over saturation etc or changing business practices. One model I've seen in London recently and that seems to be working well is a company that is handling the entire job for ad agencies from pre production, shoot, post production, design, formatting and output. Personally I don't like it as they're employing everyone on a full time basis producers, photographers, retouchers, designers etc rather than employ individual freelancers. However that being said they are getting a lot of big business... You an see the advatange for an ad agency, they can go to one place and get it all done under one roof for one price. I think the really big jobs are still going out to the traditional model of photographer and agent but companies using the model above are getting bigger and bigger and winning more big jobs.

it's threats from companies like I said above that I think are the reason why the format of agent and photographer needs to be refreshed and updated.

Definitely agree with you on those points. Employing that many full-time staffers is one direction to go, but our model will be a lot more minimalist with freelancer producers, retouchers, and other roles that fit within the needs of the business.

Everyone loves a one-stop shop, which is why the Wonderful Machine model works so well too. Bringing in the right people to be specialists in their role, letting people control the tasks their strengths gear them for.

To tell you we have all the answers right now would be lying, instead we're always taking on people's valuable input to see how we can make sure we're doing our best to fit the needs of photographers like yourself.

I think it's great that at least there's people out there trying to change it, I feel so many of the London agents are really trying new ideas they're just sticking with what has worked in the past.

I'm a business person who does this for construction companies for a living. So I'm going to get straight to the point :)

As an agent, what are you looking for? And what are your fees? I have not gone with agents for 2 reasons: 1) It seems that they are looking to fill niches for corporate clients rather than help me find work (which is what I need help with most since I have no choice but to work full time until I'm making enough money with photography). And 2) they want to charge me out the wazoo to basically change my Squarespace template and print business cards (which, just tell me what to do and I'll do it) then charge a very high percentage for anything I make on photography. I'm fine with the commission on work they helped me get, however I don't have $20k upfront because I am in the process of upgrading my system and no amount of sales tactics will make it appear out of thin air. I'm smart enough to know that I'm not objective about my own work and would benefit from an agent, but I'm also smart enough to know a bad deal when it's staring me in the face.

Jennifer, thanks for getting straight to the point as I will try and do the same.

In attempts to be as transparent as possible I will tell you this: I've tried to alleviate some of that stigma people have with agencies (creative + model alike) that all we want is more people to climb on board and pay us fees to take in as much cash as possible. Instead, it's quite the opposite.

For the time being (ground floor of a start-up), I've secured a roster that I approached one by one over the last year to ensure that the people I picked were a good fit. I wanted to keep the roster small to keep it manageable but also to reflect the culture of the company. My hope was to forgo fees and only do standard commission on the jobs coming in, but like we all know with business, it takes money to make money. However, the small fee that we're looking to implement will still keep in mind that we need to show people a return on their investment. Because the first thing anyone asks when handing over their hand-earned money is, what am I getting for my money?; and rightfully so. With that in mind, I plan on taking my time making sure every dollar taken is going to be used as efficiently as possible, as well as making sure the allotment of their cash + what I'm putting in is clear to everyone on the roster. Investing in yourself whether through the rep you take on or the money you sink into your own marketing efforts is doubly as important when trying to persuade people to invest in your work.

That makes sense. I guess I'm an odd duck. I went to art school and have a lot of top quality local contacts in graphics design, web design, and print shops. Many of those people have gotten a lot of business from me over the years and would do either free work or very discounted. So when I see a fee of $20k for a site redesign, I see no need to go to an agent to have it done, just tell me what needs to be done. I'd rather pay a higher consulting fee and have direction for people I already know and trust than say "here's thousands of dollars and my passwords to everything, have at it." I know I'm not objective about my work, no question about that, which is why an agent would be beneficial. But when you're building a new venture and people owe you favors that you need, you call them in. I get very suspicious when I can only have a site designed by X company or cards printed at Y company.

Oh for sure, when people ask for a huge chunk like that it's likely to make anyone suspicious. I realize that everyone is different, in terms of personalities and how hands on they are - some people will want to be involved in most of the decision-making process and others just are comfortable giving their day rate + only hearing back regarding jobs.

But knowing which type you are goes a long way in finding the right fit for you with regards to an agency whom you'll trust to have your best interests at heart. The people I picked for the roster were all artists whose work I've known for a few years and more importantly, passionate about; because if I wasn't genuinely excited to put their work in front of people with confidence it would show.

I've never heard of an agent charging there photographer! That's crazy. Just so you know I loose 25% of my day rate in commission but that's it other than the odd bit of money covering courier costs if my book is sent to a different city or country. Personally I would be wary of any agent asking for money. If they're saying you can only have your site designed by one company and cards printed somewhere i'd definitely walk away got bs written all over it.

Can't speak for the UK but with a lot of models currently out there, costs to promote the entire roster must be distributed somehow usually in either reasonable monthly or annual fees. Otherwise it would eat into the operating costs too quickly leaving any company bankrupt especially with most 'clients' paying Net-30 to Net-90 on outstanding invoices.

As for your 25% commission coming out of your day rate, it's a bit different here with your day-rate being your day-rate and the 20% fees being a separate break-down on estimates/invoices. Surely, with the smaller clients, who may balk at seeing 'agency fees' on an estimate for all the pre-production work that went into the gig, you would probably do an 80-20 split with your rep. But of course, it's 80% of a gig that you simply had to agree to and show up & shoot so it's a reasonable trade-off. Also, your existing clients are your clients so the work a rep is getting you isn't the only stuff that's coming in.