Q&A with 1Notion Founder Adam Renfree


I wanted to interview Adam Renfree, founder of LA and San Diego-based 1Notion, rep firm for industry-leading photographers Collin Erie, Adam Hendershott, Lou Mora and Woods Wheatcroft, to get a fresh perspective from someone who has recently launched a highly successful agency during the industry’s most challenging time.

In just a few years, Renfree has built a thriving agency with top talent on his roster and a blue-chip client and agency list including McCann Erickson, Intel, Mires + Ball, Sony, Road Runner Sports, The Rockefeller Center, Bolle Eyewear, the Riviera Resort among many others. I knew he was onto something and was hoping he’d share..which he did, about his positive attitude, building a full-service agency, and how to roll with the challenges of a changing market. And most importantly, what endures and inspires.

Autumn Reeser for Esquire by Adam Hendershott

Photography by Lou Mora

POP: When and how did you decide to found your agency?

It might have been after sitting in a room in Milan with 100 guys for two hours only to be humiliated in front of the client for not being tan enough in the middle of January. Or, it might have been after watching “Zoolander” for the fifth time and seeing many aspects of my life parodied on the big screen. But I was a fashion model and looking for the next step so, like most models, I thought I’d make the “easy” transition to other side of the lens and become a photographer. And, like most models, I was wrong.

But, while I was discovering I was not cut out to be a photographer, I was learning a lot about the business as I assisted, shot, and produced for a number of successful photographers on accounts from the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas to Bank of America in Los Angeles to an HIV documentary in Ethiopia. After years of working with all this talent and finding my way, I reaffirmed what I already knew: I loved the creative world. My unique talents, I realized, lay toward the business side of the industry so I had to think about where my niche might be. I love working with creative minds; I love connecting the dots; I enjoy consulting on progressive campaign ideas; and I take pride in seeing talented artists succeed — so I created 1Notion.

"The Bannan Way" by Adam Hendershott

For full interview, please click on link below.

POP: What is the vision for your agency and how did you choose your photographers?

I like working with artists and taking part in the creative process, but I believe the experience working on the project can be just as important as the end result. 1Notion is about highly talented individuals, but also about good, positive people to work with.  I don’t do well with the egos and prima donnas and believe there really isn’t a place in the business for them anymore.

Let’s face it: everyone is having to do more with less — money and time — so some compromising here and there, honesty, and being easy to work with carry a lot of weight nowadays, and always have to me. All of my photographers have been referred to me by friends or peers so I know a bit about them as people before I know anything about them as an artist. That’s not saying I wouldn’t take on a photographer I’ve met through others avenues, that’s just how it’s worked to this point.

Collin Erie for AOL

Photography by Woods Wheatcroft

Photography by Lou Mora

POP: Challenges and successes?

The biggest challenge was establishing my business in the worst economic downtown in modern history. The biggest success was establishing my business in the worst economic downturn in modern history.

Collin Erie for San Diego Magazine

Photography by Lou Mora

POP: Industry trends?

Is the industry changing? Yes, there is no debating that fact. Is it shrinking? Maybe… But I don’t believe it’s as bad as some people make it out to be. In my opinion, our industry is no different than every other industry and is in a transition period. How you view transition and change is all a matter of perspective.

A friend of mine, a great businessman, gave me a piece of advice regarding changes in business: “How you look at it is up to you regardless if you are looking forward or backwards. Whether you find the positive or hang on to the negative, it’s all a matter of perspective.” Business will continue. Our industry is no different. How we license usage and terms, the budgets available, the photographer’s responsibilities, the competition in the digital age, and the buying model for photography are all changing but you can either choose to see the new opportunities and keep moving forward or dwell on how things were.

Girls by Adam Hendershott

Ok, enough of that…

As for a few industry trends: I see more photographers piggybacking film shoots, more image library shoots, and more usage/longer terms demanded for less budget. These seem like a few trends that are here to stay. “We’re not exactly sure what they’ll want so we need everything!” is a pretty common line in discussions now. Ad agencies are transitioning as much, or more, than we are and getting more images and longer terms to cover their bases with the client is just part of the game now.

All in all, change is good and seeing that I can be considered relatively new to the game, I embrace it. There are still fantastic, creative concepts being brought to life all the time and there will always be a need for that work to advertise products and illustrate stories. Our mind’s lust for narrative and our eyes’ constant desire for beauty certainly hasn’t gone anywhere.

Photography by Woods Wheatcroft

POP: How’s it going?

Can’t complain one bit…  best year to date, knock on wood.

Bobbing for Apples by Woods Wheatcroft

POP: Direction for agency going forward?

Continue to provide unmatched customer service to my clients. Help create award-winning work that grows brands. Work with some new, marquee clients in locales that haven’t been turned into cliches yet… All the while helping my artists to grow and succeed. Oh, and more high fives after landing big jobs…

Check out what’s new with 1Notion on the frequently updated company blog. And a big thanks to Adam for his time and a great interview.

One Response to “Q&A with 1Notion Founder Adam Renfree”

  1. 1 glen serbin

    hi adam,

    nice interview.. great talent.. so glad to hear all is going well.. best for 2011!


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