Recruiting industry experts or experienced outsiders?

I’ve been recruiting for companies within the stock photography industry for close to five years. A significant number of candidates I have placed worldwide have been sales professionals. With a background in sales myself, these are candidates I particularly enjoy dealing with and recruiting.

When I’m recruiting sales people, I’m continually faced with the dilemma of stock industry experience vs no industry experience. Despite many attempts to recruit new sales blood into this industry, the stock agency client has invariably opted for an industry insider. Are we truly giving a fair chance to those sales professionals trying to break into this industry?

I fully understand stock photography or footage agencies that look to recruit sales people with specific industry sales experience. It seems to be the safest approach. You will be getting someone with (hopefully) a proven track record in selling to the clients you want to be targeting. Existing relationships a sales person may bring with them are of course very valuable for a business. As the adage goes: people buy from people. To be clear on this point, I draw a clear distinction between an industry professional who has developed strong relationships of trust and respect with image buyers that they can take up when at a new agency and a candidate downloading a company database and taking these contact details to another company: an act that is in breach of any employee’s employment contract.

So what is the value of such client relationships, and not just client relationships, but also knowledge of how to price and license an image with the different types of client and image products? How does this value compare to the value of a sales professional who can effectively make new contacts and quickly build new client relationships by having finely tuned sales skills and the ability to adapt these to any type of industry and client?

The ability to network, to listen to a client’s needs and to build empathy, trust and confidence is universal in a good sales person and totally transferable as a skill. It’s certainly not being brash, overly confident and harassing clients to purchase something they may not need or want. I feel this is all too often how some sales professionals from other industry sectors are still being viewed.

For a stock agency, does it come down to how easy it is to train someone up on a new product and how much time and internal resource is taken up with this? It could also mean that there is a longer lead time before clients buy as you need to factor in the period of industry learning. But do these points outweigh the longer term potential for strong sales results?

I think some stock agencies share an apprehension that a non-industry sales person may stand a greater chance of not working out. There probably is a greater likelihood that someone coming from outside the world of stock may decide that they don’t ultimately get how this industry works and just aren’t interested in the product or don’t fit with the company they have joined. As a recruiter, I would say that these reservations can be overcome by a good recruitment vetting and selection process that also explores a candidate’s interests, motivations and personality, but there will continue to remain an element of risk. More often than not, I think it can be a risk worth taking.

Check out the discussion in the forum and feel free to contribute there or post a comment

About the author

Liz Pepper has developed her career in international business, sales and marketing over the last 13 years and she has lived and worked in France, Germany, Austria and Japan. Liz entered the stock photography industry in 2002 and has been continually involved in international business development, sales and management. At Pepper Stark Liz is involved in all aspects of the company’s business including the recruitment services, devising and implementing sales and management training programmes, business planning, strategic consultancy, content acquisition as well as setting up and managing international distribution networks for the company’s clients.

Pepper Stark was founded in June 2005 by Liz Pepper and Claudia Stark to offer a specialist consultancy, training, recruitment, distribution and content management service to the stock photography industry worldwide. Pepper Stark continues to expand its bespoke consultancy and recruitment services within the wider creative media environment. For further details on any of Pepper Stark’s services go to. Contact: + 44 (0) 207831 0745 or email

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