Member Profile: Interview with Valerie Saunders: Tetra Images

February 21, 2017


Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email


Riley Cardoza, DMLA Social Media Assistant, sat down recently with Valerie Saunders, President of Tetra Images to gain some insight into this DMLA member.

  1. Can you describe your experience in the industry?

I started out on the editorial side right after I graduated from college as a photo researcher and then photo editor for magazines at Conde Nast and Gruner & Jahr, among others. I worked with some of the top fashion and beauty photographers of the 1990s and had my first taste of conceptualizing imagery to go alongside headlines and stories. I was surrounded by interesting creative and later became curious about the commercial side of the business. I interviewed at advertising agencies and stock photo agencies and was offered a creative director position at Comstock (a brand that was eventually bought by Getty Images). I was there for six years and tasked with developing their royalty free offering from scratch. I absolutely loved strategizing the content map for that product and working with photographers to produce it all. I learned a great deal about the demand for stock and the very different approach required as compared with my editorial roots. With the advent of the internet and digital photography, the business transformed quickly and I made a decision to leave Comstock and to begin producing content with photographers to market through multiple channels such as Corbis and Getty. Eventually, this evolved into a partnership to launch Tetra Images in 2004.

  1. What is Tetra Images?

Tetra Images is royalty-free imagery produced by leading professional photographers based all around the world. It is art directed and edited by top industry professionals, ruthlessly curated, and distributed through every major global licensing channel. We produce conceptual content across all subject categories and have been a top-selling brand for almost 12 years.

  1. Where do you see Tetra in the next few years?

We are making a big push to bring on photographers who are in more remote locations and who cover different niches. We want content that resounds with every possible territory and to keep energizing the collection with fresh perspectives. The speed of technology is creating a bunch of new opportunities and new audiences for our work. A huge part of my team’s strategy is to cultivate our current and prospective relationships so that we are always putting our pictures at the forefront of these new opportunities.

As the massive volume of imagery continues to crowd the search process, I also see our commitment to curation being a very important part of our service to our licensing clients. As an industry, we need to find ways to make that search process more efficient. No one wants to wade through pages and pages to find something (or nothing). They should be inspired and
excited with every click.

  1. How have your anthropology and economic degrees influenced your work?

Anthropology is the study of culture. In royalty free creative content, especially, you need to speak to a broad audience. A photograph needs to be exceptional enough to get your attention and it needs to be a fast “read” so that the viewer understands the message or the emotion immediately. Certainly a lot of the lifestyle material that we create and represent is at its best when it reflects modern culture in an authentic way. It helps enormously to be interested in what the human experience is, what is trending and how our daily lives are changing all the time. That informs our creative direction so that the imagery is relevant and relatable.

As far as economics, what I love about this business is that you get direct feedback from your buyers as to whether what you are doing is working. If you’re creating the right content, you’re making money. If you’re not delivering the right solutions, you’re out of business. It’s
straight math.

  1. What do you know now that you wish you knew when you started?

Don’t get too caught up in your intuition and hunches. It’s all about the data. Never take your eye off the sales and what clients are responding to. There are a lot of collections out there right now that are busy picking pictures based on their editors’ taste and what they personally like. I have seen this type of “curation” many times over the years and it does not work long-term. A disciplined strategy based on real data and numbers is a far superior predictor of success. This is where the economics kicks in.

  1. How long have you been a DMLA member?

Tetra has been a member of DMLA since our very beginnings in 2006. PACA and DMLA have given me an amazing resource for connecting with other businesses like ours to share information and support each other as the industry continues to grow and transform. The conferences in particular bring the content creators and distributors in one place from around the world and serve up an energized space for exploring opportunities. I have signed many contracts at these events over the years and met some of my very favorite people through DMLA. I consider it an absolutely essential piece for any media licensing business. Onward we go.