Astute Advice for Young Creatives … From a Century Ago

By Madison Avenue Makeover Archives
Cover image for  article: Astute Advice for Young Creatives … From a Century Ago

Emil Otto (E.O.) Hoppé was the most famous portrait photographer of his day —one century ago. Hoppé had a reputation like Annie Leibovitz today. He photographed Albert Einstein, King George V, Queen Mary, Thomas Hardy, Henry James, George Bernard Shaw, and many others. He traveled the world from England with his cameras, plates, and chemicals. Aspiring photographers inspired by his work frequently sought his advice. That advice was surprising then and still relevant for young creatives today.

Hoppé was born in Munich in 1878 but moved to London when he was 22, taking a job in a bank. In 1907, enamored with the relatively new field of photography, he abandoned his job and opened a portrait studio, where he began to photograph the rich and famous society women who were customers of his wife's high-end hat boutique on London's Bond Street. His fame and practice expanded rapidly, and he developed a worldwide reputation.

He ruthlessly experimented with photography techniques and even designed a 10" x 8" studio reflex camera, so he did not have to bury his head under a black cloth when trying to put his subjects at ease in his studio. Such was his commercial success that he was able to buy a 27-room house to use as a studio on Cromwell Road. "The artistic temperament requires room for expansion," he wrote in Hundred Thousand Exposures: The Success of a Photographer .

He was a prolific writer and giver of advice. "The amateur, with a few successes in exhibitions, is more interested in delicate shades of black and white than the cost of running a studio…. I remember a young man coming to ask my advice in regard to becoming a photographer and holding forth at great length about art and technique," he wrote. "I listened to him gravely and then said, 'Yes, that is all very well. But do you know anything about book-keeping?'"

Hoppé elaborated: "Not that I wish to convey the impression that I regard photography purely as a business. Heaven forbid. But artists, like other men, must live, and, in order that they may do so, it is essential for them to have both feet firmly on the ground. The failure of so many gifted amateurs in professional photography is due, in perhaps the majority of cases, to a lack of business sense."

Today's leaders in advertising agencies could well heed this advice. For more than two decades, business operations of ad agencies have been deteriorating, driven by falling fees and expanding (and more complicated) scopes of work. Few agencies have strategies beyond cost-reductions and downsizings to deal with business problems.

Rarely do you hear an agency CEO state that business operations need to be enhanced so that capabilities and creativity can thrive. Rarely do you hear that falling salaries and increased employee turnover are threats that need to be dealt with seriously.

What you do hear is, "We are investing in creativity, so we can win new business and improve our growth rates."

What rubbish! Business operations need to be stabilized as a matter of priority. Agencies need to restore leadership to their relationships and influence pricing and scopes so that their organizations can flourish once again.

The current strategy of "coping" with difficult and aggressive clients needs to cease. Restoring business health ought to be the number one priority at most creative and media agencies.

Hoppé would probably agree. As he said, "Yes, creativity is all well and good. But do you know anything about running a business?"

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