Merja Leppinen: The Skilled Professional
Merja represents Pixmac stock photos in Finland. She was actually the first ‘explorer’ with whom we introduced local version of our site. Merja has extensive experience in stock photo business and she is our everyday teacher of how the business works and should work. Without Merja, Pixmac wouldn’t be where we are now.
Can you introduce yourself ?
At the moment I work as local country manager of Pixmac in Finland. I am also an agent for group of Finnish professional photographers whose imagery I push worldwide.
I have long experience in professional photo agency business where I have worked long enough to see the change from analogue pictures to digital pictures, from RM to RF, and from “traditional RF” to macro – and microstock. I have been representing both news and stock photos from famous agencies like Gamma, Sygma, Magnum Photos, Camera Press, Science Photo Library, The Stock Market, VCG, Zefa, Image Source and exclusively the whole Corbis collection (news, celebrity, stock imagery) since early 2000 when they bought The Stock Market. Above the international big and small photo agencies, I have worked closely with number of Finnish professional photographers.
I came to image industry as a very young girl when I was still studying, and immediately lost my heart to this industry. During the years I have done every job in photo agency: archiving, sales, marketing, human resources, key customer contracts, international representation contracts, economy, teaching keywording, IT and finally as managing director of big local photo agency. I have spent many nights on airport customs picking up some urgent news material, seen what the death of Princess Diana meant to this industry, spent 48 hours in office without any breaks during the 9/11 catastrophe, delivered hundreds of stock image catalogues to customers, created and launched multiple photographic digital archives in close co-operation with IT specialists.
Vita: Wow, this is more than impressive! In other words, this digital business is nothing compared to what it was in the early years. I’m so glad we don’t have to deliver catalogues any more!
What inspires you in stock photo business?
Above all the photos? Working with the photographers. The international co-operation. The customers. The technology.
Photos and photo agency business really is my big love. I could spend hours and hours watching good quality pictures, and I admire the photographers who are able to shoot them. I am always proud for being able to highlight the work of the photographers and producing agencies. I also enjoy working with the customers; it is always nice to be able to fulfill their hopes and demands. To me this is not only work but a way of living. This is also industry that has been changing a lot, and still is changing a lot, and the competition is hard – that makes life very interesting and makes sure one must be able to adapt new things all the time.
What factors you find are the most important when working in photo agency industry?
I see this as a seamless triangle of content producers, sales organizations and end users. Good content is the ground for everything. That means one must highly value the work of photographers and the agencies supplying that. It is also crucial that one understands and honors copyright law; the commercial and moral rights of the photographers, and also the releases involved in trademarks, logos, properties, models etc. The fact that I have studied copyright law gives me certainty in what I am doing. I have shared my knowledge by giving lectures about copyright law at schools, publishing houses, fairs and advertising agencies, too.
It is also important to understand VAT, tax at source, EU law, rules in online selling, consumer’s rights etc.
One must also know what makes user friendly sales platform. Modern online digital archives must be able to handle huge amount of all kind of tasks nowadays, especially if one is selling content from many different suppliers and working in many countries. But everything that is visible to end users must always offer stable and easy to use functions.
Like in all kind of archives, it is very important that users are able to find what they are searching. Therefore keywording and good search engine is extremely important.
The hopes and demands of end users and customers in microstock are no different than those in traditional photo agency business. In this section I see need to make some development in services the microstock offers – I am happy to know Pixmac is willing to make the changes needed, and lot has already been done during the past year.
Pixmac Finnish HQ in Summer
Cottage, boat and sunny day. Couldn’t be better!
How did you come to Microstock world and why did you choose Pixmac as your partner?
Like I have said, photos and photo agency industry is my big love. I have always made my very best to make sure I work for the best of the photographers and agencies I have worked with. So when some years ago when I was managing big photo agency I found myself in a situation where my values were not considered important, I made big decision and left my position and thought it is time to start in some totally different industry.
Pixmac Finnish HQ in Winter
But when a person loves, a person loves. So after some time I started to think I want to return to this industry, and because I had seen everything else than microstock in this industry, I thought why not to see this section, too. At the same time I also already saw the customers are more and more turning to microstock. So I started to search for a good partner. I personally knew one person from Pixmac, and the fact that his background was in traditional photo agency business, too, was my first reason to contact Pixmac. When negotiating with Vita (CEO of Pixmac) I soon found out he shares my passion for photos, work with photographers and photo agency business. He also made it clear that he was not looking for a sales organization only but close co-operation in every possible way – and he has kept his words; work in Pixmac team is more than just business relationship; it is very open, very encouraging and supporting, ideas are shared and welcomed from everyone.
After working together for some time now, I have been happy to see how motivated the people in Pixmac are. From Pixmac I have learned a lot from new marketing possibilities, that supports nicely my own marketing knowledge. Pixmac has always been very open to hear my feedback about everything, even though I am a perfectionist and do not easily accept mistakes. It is a real pleasure to be able to work with people who are willing to hear what has been done wrong, or what could be done even better, or who have no problem in saying some mistakes have been done. It is nice to know there are also other people with professional image industry business background in Pixmac team, too; people who have worked in “traditional” image industry, and people who are photographers themselves.
Vita: I’m impressed to see the nice words. We all know that building a company from scratch is not easy and therefor I must thank you for all the patience you have with us. We’re on the same boat and that says it all. Thank you Merja.