Dear Photographer, What can we learn from the recent $1 million lawsuit?

 Iceland elopement/wedding

Over the years there have been a plethora of stories of people feeling slighted, and then destroying a business that people have spent years to build. Cake shops being shut down for refusing service, photographers being sued for coverage, or images, or failure to meet expectations, it is a messy world. 
Recently a story that I have been following for awhile has been somewhat resolved. A photographer, Andrea Polito, was sued by her clients over "images being held hostage." I am not going to go into the whole story here, but you can read in the links below. 

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Before I start writing my opinions on this, let me say that I have not spoken to Andrea Polito or anyone else involved with the situation. 
So probably like many of you, after reading these stories about people closing their business after years of hard work due to an upset client, I have had the fear that this may, for some reason, happen to me. If you have been following my blogs for any time, you know that I am a huge proponent of branding (more in the non-visual sense) and communication. 
I believe that 99% of issues can be solved with good communication, and most of this comes before the day of the shoot/wedding day. Your email communications, your brochures, your consultation/contract and even any shoots/meetings before the big day are huge as far as what you are saying to the client. 


All of your customer touch points are massive when it comes to your brand's identity and image. Some of this is visual, but much of it is in the way it is presented. Now in the recent case, the couple felt like their images were being “Held Hostage.” I recently listened to a podcast where one of the guys was talking about how digital photography has changed when and how people want to receive their images. People don’t want to wait, everyone feels like digital is instant and they want their images ASAP. 
With our businesses, we all have the choice of how to make the final delivery of products. I for one value printed photography. Over the past two years, I have delivered all my images as 4x6 prints first before I send the digital delivery. I put a lot of work into my photos, and I know that a client can flip through 500-800 photos in 10 minutes. I want them to realize what their investment is worth and to be able to relive their wedding day over again as they work through the prints. Yes, this process takes time, and I have had impatient clients, but that impatience is good. I have told them before hand that this is how I operate because I value my work and I want them to see the value in what they are paying for. 


Communication

Like I mentioned before there is so much you can do before the shoot/wedding day that will help your brand. If you are working with someone for a single shoot, then make sure that you highlight why you do what you do before the shoot. This can be in the initial email, a follow-up email, and even…a phone call. Better yet use several of these methods. Make a PDF or even a hard copy of what they should expect. Set yourself up for success before you even start. If you are working with a client for a wedding, then you have far more opportunities to set your clients expectations.
When a client first contacts me, I send them an email that lines out why I do what I do. This includes why I find printed work important, my style, and what they can expect as far as the experience. 
During the consultation, I bring a paper copy of the contract (I send a digital one as well) and as we talk, I touch on key points of the contract, once again explaining why I do what I do. The clients can read over the contract, ask any questions, take it home, mull it over and ask any questions they may have. I strive to be as transparent as possible. 
Once they book, I send them a PDF that I created for tips on engagement photos and planning their wedding if they want the same quality of photos that they see on my site. In this PDF I mention things like when the best times are to shoot, what to wear to their engagement shoots, and when they can expect their photos after the wedding and how they will be delivered. 
Every business has clients that are unhappy, and many things can be resolved. But there may come a time when it goes to a deeper level. 


To Be Professional 

As photographers, it is our responsibility to educate our clients. Any professional should educate their clients. There may be a few that know the process of booking a photographer, but each photographer is different. Every type of shoot is different. It probably will not take the same amount of time to process photos from an engagement shoot as it will to edit a wedding. But clients may not know this. Also, they may have had a friend that received their photos within a week, and that will mean that they may assume this is the status quo. 
This education is also an opportunity for you to sell your potential client on YOU, not just on photography. Everyone has a unique selling point, the thing that sets you apart from others, find yours and sell it. 


The Lawsuit
This lawsuit in a way is a win for the small business owner. We now know there while there is and (hopefully) always will be free speech, there still may be consequences for what is said. Hopefully people in general, not just clients of photographers, but everyone will think twice about if it is really worth it to destroy something that someone has worked so hard to build, just to prove a point.

There will be clients that you will never be able to make happy. They may write bad reviews. They may harass you. They may try and destroy what you have taken years to build. If/when this happens remember several things. 
1.    Document. Print and save all emails. Record phone calls. Screen shot any text or social media messages. Prove that you communicated professionally and appropriately. 
2.    Stay level headed. No matter what they say or do remember you are the professional, so act like it. 
3.    Seek community. It will be a rough road; you will need friends to chat with, to go out with, to have a drink and enjoy life. 
You can read Andrea Polito’s open letter
http://www.blogpolito.com/
From what she writes, it seems as though she communicated properly and professionally. 

As I said, I have not spoken to anyone involved in the case. These are my opinions, build a strong brand. Know who you are. Doing this will help carry you through anything.