Photographers went through this kind of thing for ages. Maybe they
still do. They came up with a number of schemes, but none of them
worked perfectly, and some of them made the proofs look cheap. If
your client is going to steal from you, he will probably find a way.
You could make it inconvenient by putting the presentation not only
in a PW protected Acrobat file, but also collecting enough deposit
before presentation, to make it economically unfeasible for unethical
clients to steal. That actually works. And it gives you up-front
signals, too. If someone ... a person or a company ... objects to the
deposit, he is sending you a very strong message that he is not to be
trusted. Some big companies try to strong-arm you about that. I caved
in on it several times because I really needed the business ... and
lost money each time. One time I prepared a rather innovative full
page ad for one of the biggest ad agencies in Houston, for a big
optical account ... they wanted something very special for full page
weekly newspaper ads all over the state ... that the newspapers of
the day could not screw up ... and they usually screwed up
photography. They were not willing to givbe me a deposit. It was
against their policy, they said, and if I wanted their business, I
had to play the game their way. Well, I not only wanted their
business, I NEEDED a big account like that. And this was not your
little local mom and pop agency ... this was the Houston branch of
one of the biggest New York agencies. I mean, I was impressed all to
hell, and dying to snare such an account.
So I thought about it, played around in the darkroom for a few days
.... all at my expense ... and came up with a full page size image of
a model wearing some of their frames ... pretty and ethereal ... and
applied my technique to it. It took it to a copy place (which was
far more primitive in those days than you can probably imagine) and
again at my own expense, had them make the absolute worst copies they
could, too dark, too light, too flat, too contrasty ... it looked
pretty good no matter how much they tried to turn it into mud, and
with half way decent printing, it looked marvelous.
Then I mounted the original, un-doctored, photograph on one size of a
16 x 20 board, and the one with my technique on the other side, and
took it to the agency.
Days passed. No word. A week passed. No word. I kept calling and the
guy wasn't available. Then I got in touch with him and he said the
client had it at their main office over in Beaumont, and he was
waiting to hear from them, and it might take another week, so please
be patient. I think he said something about how they were impressed
and not to worry, he was going to take care of me.
That very afternoon, a competitor called me up. A very fine
illustrative photographer. The guy who, when he was working for the
Chicago Tribune, made the color shots of Harry S. Truman when he
took over the Presidency upon FDR's death ... and who happened to be
a personal friend of mine. He said, (name withheld to protect the
guilty) from (name of agency withheld to protect the guilty) had
brought him a very interesting ad mockup, and wanted him to duplicate
it. He said he called me because I was the only one he knew who he
thought could do something like that, and he didn't want to betray
me. He described it. It was my special technique presentation for the
optometry account, of course.
I was terrified to confront this big agency with their crime, and
also could not betray my friend for having told me what they were
doing, but I was so mad, that I thanked him and told him that if he
could figure out how I'd done it, to go ahead, but I hoped he
understood that I wasn't going to tell him how I'd done it. He
actually tried, but wasn't able to figure it out and when the account
executive later called me and said they had decided to go ahead with
it, I told them I was booked solid for the next three months and was
trying to hire help. And I was always too busy for them, after that.
One of the most interesting things about the experience was, that
after that, two other agencies called me up with big accounts they
wanted me to work on. One agency had the Gulf Oil Company account and
the other had the Dow Chemical Company account. Both of them were
straight shooters, and treated me like a member of their own team.
One of them even told me on the way to a photograph a big Gulf pump
station, that he needed to talk to me about my prices. I thought "Oh,
hell, here it comes."
But what he said was that my daily rates were too low, and he would
appreciate it if I'd triple them, so his 15% markup would make him a
little more money.
Not too long after that, a prestigious advertising art studio offered
me a job where I could do my thing without all the headaches. In the
deal, they agreed to collect my pay on another job that a criminal
agency had been doing the old "check is in the mail" routine on. It
was a big saddle manufacturer catalog account, and happened to be the
job that had gotten the studio's attention, because they were doing
the catalog that my hand tooled leather saddlery photographs
illustrated. So, when it came time to deliver the camera ready art,
they informed this agency that they would need to pay for my
photographs, too, because they had acquired my business. They
collected it for` me, too. The agency screamed and yelled,
but was not in a position to tell the manufacturer that they couldn't
deliver their catalob because they had gipped the photographer ... so
my new employer stood by his guns and got the money. They didn't
need this pipsqueak agency, so the fact that he probably wouldn't
come back with future business didn't bother them. Amazingly,
however, they did return next year for a new catalog, and were
willing to pay 50% deposit before starting.
After that, I worked for another well established photography studio
in Houston, and later one in Dallas. Usually, they did business on a
handshake with big, well established companies and big agencies, and
never had such trouble with such clients, because THEY were the big
boys in their field, there wasn't anybody else of that calibre
between Chicago and San Francisco, and they all knew each other.