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The Corbis Perpignan Battle Plan

3 September 2000 - EPUK

EPUK Exclusive: A Copy of Corbis’ strategy document “Plan For Pergignan” has been leaked to EPUK. While it’s good to see that Corbis are actually aware that they have problems, what is striking about the document is that it reveals how shallow that awareness is.

Suffice it to say that Corbis’ strategy for Perpignan appears to be “set spin control to maximum and hope for the best”. There is certainly no discernable attempt to address the underlying problems which have led them to the brink of disaster.

Aside from the paucity of ideas in the document, Corbis face a further problem: two of the figures crucial to successful implementation of “Plan For Perpignan” – Peter Howe and J.P Laffont – have abruptly left the company. So whether Corbis any longer have a workable strategy for Perpignan remains open to question.

We reproduce the “Plan For Perpignan” in it’s entirety below, with our comments in bold.


We have spent a considerable amount of money this year becoming one of the main sponsors for Visa Pour L’Image in Perpignan. We have an opportunity as a sponsor to clearly articulate key messages to the photography community, both European and US, and it is vital that we are all on the same page as to what those messages are, and how they are delivered.

The Key Messages:

• Photographers are our partners. It’s ironic that Corbis should have to begin by reminding themselves of that fact: at least here they seem to realise that they have so far failed dismally to convince the photographers.

• We are the “listening agency” that takes photographer concerns into consideration in the formulation of our business practices. Listening, at least according to the resigning Sygma photographers, is not Corbis’ strong point. See Allen Tannenbaum’s article. Anyhow, as becomes clear from their plans, the only voice Corbis hope to hear in Perpignan is their own.

• Our new contract reflects both of these positions, giving photographers a level of security unparalleled in the industry. See the f180 group’s point by point response to the perceived inadaquacies of the new Corbis contract.

• We are committed to conducting business ethically, and to maintaining and where necessary improving the standards of the photographic industry. Allegations of Corbis’ lack of ethics are at the heart of the recent, and ongoing, series of resignations by leading Sygma photographers. Again, see Tannenbaum.

• To this end we will work with leading photographer representation groups to improve such areas as copyright registration. Corbis have indeed met with photographers to discuss copyright. However, those meetings have almost invariably centred on photographers’ fears that Corbis are determined to wrest their copyright from them, an improvement they feel they can do without.

• We are dedicated to photojournalism as one of the key components in the photographic spectrum that we offer to our clients. True. Unfortunately, to produce photojournalism you need photojournalists. That’s them over there, walking out the door with their archives.

Key Opportunities:

Press conference:

Once again we will be able to hold a press conference in the Palais de Congres. This is likely to be well attended because of the Corbis contract issues from earlier this year. A considerable understatement! One thing Corbis are certain to achieve at Perpignan is a sell-out press conference, if for all the wrong reasons. The contract issues from “earlier in the year” are, of course, hotter than ever. The audience may well be hostile if there has been no substantial resolution of the situation with the French based Corbis Sygma photographers. Far from being resolved, the Sygma situation has worsened dramatically in the last few days. Flak jackets mandatory for all senior Corbis personnel present. However it will be important to keep the content of the conference as much on our agenda as possible. The theme should be the importance of photojournalism to Corbis business plan, and our commitment to revitalize [for “revitalize” read “own”] this genre of photography. To this end the panel representing Corbis should be the key players in the company from news and documentary. Valuable participants will be:

• Francois Hebel (French Speaker)

• Eliane Laffont (French Speaker)

• Marcel Saba (French Speaker)

• David Turnely (French Speaker)

Hopefully Corbis will learn how to correctly spell the name of their leading contributor before the conference begins

If constituted thus the press conference could be held in French, which would please the natives, [yes, they really said that, we wouldn’t dare make it up] but probably annoy the visiting Americans and Brits. But not as much as it annoys the French to see how Corbis regards them as “the natives”. Additional personnel could include Peter Howe (moderate French language skills), and Steve Davis (minimal French language skills). We don’t think so. Howe, of course, quit last week, leaving Steve holding the dictionary.


This year we will have the same workspace in the Hotel Pams as last year, but with the addition of the small adjoining room that was used by the National Geographic in 1999. This will be an especially prestigious spot this year because most of the working areas are being moved to the Palais de Congres due to the severe limits on space in Pams. Corbis Documentary will have a smaller area in the Palais to screen recent works. We will make sure that visitors to the workspace in Pams are aware of the second Documentary site in the Palais.

The activities in workspace should be divided as follows:

Main Room: This will be an informal meeting area with a well-executed exhibition of Corbis photographers’ works. Leora Kahn is coordinating this exhibition. The room should have a coffee machine and a refrigerator containing bottled water plus one or two fans to relieve the uncomfortable heat that can build up there. It’s going to take more than fans to cool the uncomfortable heat that Corbis have managed to guarantee for themselves.

The Adjoining Room: This should be made available for more intimate conversations with photographers and others, and for the review of portfolios. Portfolio review is a tedious business, but is always appreciated, and is a good relationship building exercise with the photographic community. Read that again: “portfolio review is a tedious business”. Just what an aspiring young photographer wants to hear from a company claiming to be the future of photojournalism. Translation: “We’re busy with spin control. Go away. The Getty booth is just down the corridor. Future Turnleys need not apply.” Or to put it another way: Corbis want to be seen as listening, and are prepared to make an effort to that end. But actually it is only TO BE SEEN as listening; to actually listen would be, well, tedious. Corbis should make it clear that this will be available for photographers.

The Corbis Party: Once again we will host a party at Les Trois Soeurs for Friday the 8th from noon to 3pm. Expect major face control and weapons searches at the door.

The Evening Screenings: As sponsors we will have reserved and preferred seating at the screenings each night. Once the number of seats available has been established with Jean-Francois Leroy we should consider not filling them all with Corbis staff, [if there are any left] but saving some for clients and VIP guests. We have also submitted TK transparencies for projection. Get details of Screenings.

Ad Hoc Events: As always the loose atmosphere of the festival will be conducive for impromptu events such as dinners, lunches etc. Not to mention impromptu full and frank late night exchanges of view between Corbis representatives and their dwindling band of photographers. However it will be important that each Corbis participant has a target list of attendees whom they wish to foster. For Leslie Hughes it will likely be agency heads; for Marcel Saba prospective photographers and for Peter Howe photographers and photographer representatives. Now impossible in one case, and unlikely in the others. Peter Howe is already out of the picture. Any meetings between Leslie Hughes and agency heads will have to be very discreet, given the number of photographers present; in the current atmosphere what agency head would risk being seen meeting with Corbis? For Marcel Saba it’s also a tough sell, given the cool reception given to the Corbis-SABA deal by his current photographers. The first question any photographer approached by Marcel is going to ask: “How long before you get the Laffont treatment?”
Key Personnel:

Overall Planning and Logistics: J.P. Laffont, who will also be our main liaison with Visa staff. Not any more. Last week Corbis forced Laffont out of Sygma, the agency he co-founded.

Technology: Valerie from the Paris office and Carlo from London. They will also be responsible for the hardware that will be shipped from the Paris office.

Strategic Decisions: Steve Davis and Peter Howe. Again, not any more. Presumably these roles will now be filled by Steve Davis and an interpreter.

Photo Display in Workspace: Leora Kahn.

Corbis Documentary: David Turnley

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