Photography is one of the rare businesses that supplies every
other kind of business in the world. But not every photographer
does the kind of imagery that may be required by any kind of client.
Put it all together, and you can have an infinite permutation of
marketing strategies can generate business. Despite what some
might say, there is no one-size-fits-all marketing strategy. It's
not just a matter of sending portfolios to potential art directors,
or mass-mailing postcards to advertise your services. You can end up
wasting a lot of time and money, not to mention stain your image, if you
market and promote yourself inappropriately. What's more, to optimize
your financial bottom line, you need to factor in how much time you spend
on any given marketing approach, weighing its short-term and long-term
benefits. You don't want to spend a week producing a marketing piece
that may pay for itself, but has no other long-term value.
The main objective of this chapter is not to help you figure out which
marketing method is right for you, nor how to implement it once you figure
it out. Sure, you have to know how to make a portfolio, but that's a task,
and you can find plenty of books that discuss this. It's folding that
"task" into the bigger picture of your business model that will help you
market yourself effectively, and that's what this chapter is about.
Your objective is to understand which marketing strategies are most
appropriate for photographers, and which may be right for you. Once you
have that, you can then intelligently "do" your marketing plan by learning
the individual tasks elsewhere.
Marketing can be expensive, but odd as it may sound, the historical
barrier to entry into the photography business has not been marketing
so much as it has been distribution. As discussed in the Photography Business, the
old days of getting photos to a wide base of clients was costly and
time-consuming, and one needed a critical mass of product and customers
to be profitable. Most individuals never had that kind of distribution
capacity, so they have relied upon employers or agencies to do sales for
them because they were large enough (with enough images and clients) to
enjoy those economies of scale. (I.e., it's more profitable to represent
a hundred photographers than just ten... or one.)
Therefore, the kind of marketing that photographers did has always been
less directed towards the end buyer, as it was towards those middle-men
in the supply chain that controlled the distribution channel. Having a
strong portfolio and getting it into the hands of art directors and photo
agencies were seen as the only way to build a career in this business.
When the Internet came into mass public use, the barrier of "distribution"
evaporated. What's more, digital images replaced film as a desired
medium of choice, making sales and marketing considerably cheaper and
more accessible to more photographers. Today, getting product to buyers
isn't the challenge, it's getting noticed among the noise of images that
buyers see. That's when marketing became the leading competitive tool.
Traditional marketing methods, while they still exist and can be effective
for some situations, are quickly becoming a smaller part of the overall
marketing plan. Buying mailing lists or other resources to target photo
editors and art directors, may have some success, but your chances of
success are compromised by the shorter attention spans these people have
due to over-saturation. It's fine to buy lottery tickets now and then;
just don't spend your college fund trying to get rich the easy way.
Today, marketing has broadened its scope, format, audience, and methods.
Photographers may still target agencies and other middlemen to represent
them, but they also go direct to the buyer. This complicates the marketing
plan because those different targets require different approaches. What's
more, different clients have different financial returns (e.g., direct to
buyer versus agency), so part of the marketing equation has to factor in
the return on investment. (That is, should you send expensive portfolios
to agencies, when the time and cost of doing so can be redirected towards
a more profitable sales strategy?) These questions have had a direct
impact on the nature of how marketing is done, who you're competing with,
and how any of these efforts contribute to the bottom line.
In this chapter, we'll explore all of this, starting with an analysis
of traditional marketing methods. We present a checklist for weighing
whether (and to what extent) any given approach is effective (and under
what circumstances), and when it's not. We'll then look at how buyers and
agents choose the people they work with, so as to guide how you should
spend your time and resources when developing your own marketing strategy.
The objective behind marketing is to yield the most prospective clients
who pay the highest price for your product, at the lowest possible cost.
The process of marketing can be separated into two categories: you
contact them first, or you entice them to contact you first. For example,
all of these strategies should be pretty well known to anyone in the
Sending portfolios to clients: buyers, editors, art directors, agencies.
Sending direct mailers to target clients.
Exhibiting at galleries, cafes/restaurants, fairs, and competitions.
Working with an agency or representative who does your marketing for you.
What all these have in common is attempting direct contact with
specific, pre-qualified targeted buyers. This is called
. An overt "push" onto a directly focused group of pre-qualified people who fit a specific profile. You are the one that attempts initial contact.
By contrast, there is another approach called,
. A broad-based marketing approach, using general mass-media outlets, such as print and television, where potential clients are "pulled in" by a promotion. Here, clients respond by initiating contact with you. Examples of Pull Marketing strategies include:
The object of Pull Marketing is to reach thousands or millions of
potential clients with the hope that a greater total of "qualified
buyers" will see your promotion than would with the more targeted "push"
strategy. A Simple comparison of the two:
A Push Marketing strategy would be a direct mailer that goes to a
thousand art directors in a target industry (say, advertising agencies).
A Pull Marketing strategy would be placing an ad in a magazine
whose subscriber base reaches a hundred thousand art directors, of
whom maybe five thousand meet the target profile.
A simple observation would suggest that the Pull strategy is better because
it reaches more of the target audience. But, the price of producing and
placing an ad in such a magazine may be prohibitive. Moreover, a direct
mailing may not be as quickly overlooked as an ad might be. Also, a mailing
can be somewhat personalized, or include target-specific information that
may not be effective in ad. Back to the other hand, the ad can be placed
strategically next to a particular article that your target audience is
highly likely to see. (Such placement often influences brand identity,
which also increases the subtler influence of brand perception.) This type
of pro-and-con analysis should illustrate that one form of marketing is
not inherently better than anotherit's more a matter of choosing
based on circumstances. We'll get into more of this type of analysis
throughout the chapter.
The odd man out to the various marketing strategies is the Internet. As
the newest entrant into the "mass-marketing" group of options, the net
can surpass television and radio for the potential to be seen by the
greatest number of eyes (or ears). Additionally, it can be used to target
specific individuals, since, unlike broadcast television or publication,
it's a bi-directional communication mechanism. Ironically, it can also
be the least expensive way to capture those eyes, even less expensive
than the most common direct-mail and cold-calling methods.
The hitch is, Web pages are everywhere, and where your site "ranks" in the
noise can either make your business a smashing success, or a huge waste of
time and money. Getting it right isn't easy either; most photographers
either under-invest by only having a short resume and portfolio, while
others over-invest by paying a designer to create a very sexy and unique
site that fails to draw in sales or prospective clients. (Many such
sites have won awards, which look great in a high-profile magazine,
but don't necessarily translate into actual dollars. At least, not for
the photographer; the designer usually gets a lot of business, though.)
Despite the challenges, one fact is clear: not using the Web can
actually be harmful, not just because of the lost opportunity, but
can also give the impression that you're not the professional your
clients expect you to be. Would you still use a lawyer that still used a
typewriter because he didn't understand word processors? Because this
subject is so big, I've dedicated an entire chapter to it: Web-based Photography Business.
For all other marketing strategies, whether Push or Pull, photographers
on a budget often make the same mistake: they opt for the short-term
approach because it's more affordable. That is, they may send a postcard
once to see what the response is, and if it generates enough income,
send another. The old adage about being penny wise and pound foolish
applies here more than any other aspect of photography (except, perhaps,
for the actual equipment you use). No matter how you promote yourself, or
what your profile is, you need to identify a marketing plan that
incorporates certain basic principles:
You need to target your audience.
Whether Push or Pull, if you're casting too wide of a net, your expenses
may not be justified by the returns. What's more, you may find that
dealing with a huge number of unqualified responses holds you back from
being more productive.
Your target audience needs to see your name a lot.
Even in high-profile, mass marketing campaigns that span multiple mediums,
most people don't recognize a new name or logo in fewer than three
exposures, and statistics show that initial contact isn't made in less
than five exposures. These examples apply more to magazine advertising
in some places, but it is a useful example. Exposure rates and
recognizability can vary depending on many criteria, such as long gaps
between each exposure, and the number of media outlets used.
As we'll get into later, you need to represent yourself and your product
in the context that is relevant to the target audience. That can mean
personalizing marketing materials, customizing a portfolio to match
exactly what a specific client needs to see, etc.
Longer-term planning not only helps in effective marketing, but you also
get other benefits: lower prices for higher quantities, the ability to
foresee important events, such as conventions, news releases, holidays,
or other things germane to your business. Most marketing consultants
advise budgeting for an annual marketing plan that includes a series of
cross-promotions that include all these approaches. The most aggressive
marketing campaigns usually involve the purchase of media packages that
include prepayments of up to three years in advance for ads (so as to get
a lower per-placement rate). But, let's face it, that kind of planning
is beyond where most photographers are who are reading this book.
For everyone else, there's the dilemma: how do you execute a longer-term
marketing strategy on a limited budget? To answer that question, we need
to master the technique of objective analysis of marketing.
The goal of good marking analysis is to understand which approaches are
more effective under certain conditions, and the time when such methods
are cost-effective (or not). This process can be broken down into looking
the data associated with the following items:
Direct and indirect costs of reaching target audience
The percentage of those who respond or buy something
The financial return from that investment
The longer-term benefit of name recognition
Time and effort required to produce and execute any given marketing tactic
Let's return to that hypothetical scenario of sending out postcards
to promote yourself to a target audience, and flesh it out some to
provide data we can analyze. Let's say you paid $1/card to produce
2000 postcards, and $.50/card to have them labeled, stamped and shipped.
Your total cost is $3000. One might gauge the success of this effort on
whether enough buyers buy over $3000 worth of product. If ten people
responded, and three of them bought $4000 worth of images, would this
be deemed a success?
Does the fact that we made $1000 define success? Not calculated into
the equation are what the expected response rate should have been. If
you do pet portraits and you bought a mailing list from a veterinarian
that treats show dogs, wouldn't you have expected a much higher response
What's the average price per item that the buyers chose? If you are
a flower photographer and were selling $15 boxed postcards of pretty
flowers, that kind of response rate would be considered a success.
What about the indirect costs of the time and effort required to do
the mailing? Were longer-term benefits realized? Put another way,
could we have chosen another form of marketing that yielded a higher
response rate? One that didn't require as much time or effort to produce?
What about longer-term benefits? Direct mailings expire anywhere from
three days to a week after the recipients received it. Then what? Could
time have been spent doing something that has longer-lasting effects?
This may or may not have been worthwhile, but it's not nearly as clearly
beneficial as another scenario: I once spent $500 on a postcard announcing
my participation at an exhibition at the kind of fund-raising event
where the list of attendees was limited, they were definitely showing up,
and they were going specifically to spend money in large amounts. I
personalized each card in order to establish the relationship with these
people ahead of time, which was then followed-up by a face-to-face
meeting at the event. This gave me a great chance at establishing
longer-term relationships at a justifiable expense. Of course, this
kind of Push was done in conjunction with another type of marketing
activity: finding effective co-marketing partners.
These two examples illustrate where Push Marketing efforts have different
digress of benefit. We'll look at more soon.
For Pull Marketing, the analysis is even more complex and imprecise. That
is, a magazine ad doesn't reach a specific person; it reaches a hypothetical
population base. You can measure the number of responses as a percentage
of the expected audience size, but you can't gauge the quality of those
respondents without directly contacting them. And then you have to
make sales. The checklist is still examined, but each item is evaluated
Except for internet positioning, Pull Marketing campaigns tend to be
ongoing (you buy ad space in time blocks of multiple issues). So,
one of the conditions that influences effectiveness is your degree of
name-recognition. For example, if you offer wildlife photo workshops
in Africa, you may place an ad in an adventure travel magazine like
Outdoor Photographer, where your target client will probably see it.
Many similar ads can be found in these magazines, so think to yourself:
which of those trips would you sign up for, and how did you make that
decision? Chances are, you'll scan the array of ads and cull out those
whose names you recognize first. That will be your first deciding
factor. Whether you find any or not, you'll then look for photos, ad
sizes, trip descriptions, and finally, price.
Test this theory by calling one or more of the photographers posting these
ads, and ask how those placements have done for them. I've found most do
quite well with them. (Some magazine's sales reps have this kind of
data that they will share with you if they think you're going to buy an
ad yourself. After all, they want to help you make the best ad-buying
decision so you'll keep the ad running longer. But make no mistake: their
goal is to sell, so be careful of what you hear.) If you interview
the photographers, most will give you responses that, upon analysis,
will demonstrate the direct relationship between name-recognition and the
"success" of ads. I've experimented with ad size as well, and there is
a cross-over between name-recognition and initial response rates as the
size of the ad gets bigger. (The same can be said for trade show
booth size, postcard size, brochure size, etc.) Those who are completely
unknown who place small ads often don't get any business, or too little to
justify the expense. The larger the ads, the better the response rates.
But, then there's that problem with having a tight budget. And, just to
be thorough, this all has to do with response rates, not necessarily
sales. That problem remains, regardless of how many potential buyers
you bring in.
Now let's consider an opposite situation. If you are an unknown wedding
photographer, you may find it more effective to advertise in the local
newspaper or telephone book, since name-recognition is much lower on
couples' priority lists. Some go by referrals from friends and family,
but by and large, most couples "fish" to find a photographer that works
for them. Here, it's your portfolio and personality that closes the
sale. (That, and price.)
As we can see, there are conditions in which any kind of marketing
can work for or against you. To a larger degree, name-recognition
plays a big role. But before we get to that, we need to consider
two more items: the randomness factor (i.e., luck) and decision-making
analysis. That is, why do people choose what they choose? (Hint: it
often has nothing to do with the product itself.) So, let's approach
these items in order.
If you flip a coin 100 times and call "heads" randomly, you may be right
50% of the time, but that doesn't mean you had insight. You'd get the
same results by choosing heads every time. This is easy for us to see
because we know that coin-flipping predictably yields heads close to
50% of the time. When evaluating (or learning) marketing strategies,
many people often look to established professionals to see what they did.
The question is, are they really successful because of something they
did? Or, was there some luck involved? We know that coin-flipping is
50/50, but we don't know the degree of randomness in the photo business
because it's not as simple of a system.
As discussed in Photography and Business Sense, luck does play an unfortunate role in
the photography business. But it's not just luck; it's a matter of
degree. We know that over the course of time, "success trumps luck." But,
in the early days, luck can play a great role in positioning someone to be
"successful." As the saying goes:
"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."
Successful people tend to be so because they do things that minimize the
luck factor. That's what we need to understand here. When you're getting
started, competing head-to-head against others in a overly populated
market, there's a higher degree of randomness involved. And, when you're
talking about something as subjective and interpretive as photography,
that randomness factor is multiplied. How do we test this?
To start, I'll reference several talks I attended, where "successful
advertising photographers" spoke about how to make a winning portfolio.
(These talks were sponsored by the APA: Advertising Photographers
Association.) In each case, the featured speaker presented a slideshow
of ads he'd done for a well-known consumer product company. The oohs
and ahhs from the audience were audible all the way to the back of the
theater. Then came the discussion of "how to make a winning portfolio."
The photos from each photographer then took on a very different
lookusually very artsy black and white imagery. But, they all had
one thing in common: none of the images were from previous assignments,
nor did they look anything like the ads the photographers had created for
Everyone was so impressed that the room glowed, pens and pencils jotting
down notes. But, the analytical side of me couldn't help but wonder
about the subliminal cognitive triggers in the decision-maker's mind.
Was he really responding to the images, or were there other factors
involved he might not have been aware of? I know that if I were sent
this portfolio, I would not have hired the guy simply because his photos
were unique. I would have been looking to see if his photos addressed
my business needs. I had no way to gauge this attribute. The woman
sitting next to me believed the concept he was trying to express
was: be different, be creative, be unique. True, but if everyone is
different, creative and unique, how do you differentiate yourself from
others? Aren't I just flipping a coin at this point? To me, this wasn't
enough to account for the "success vs. failure" question. I needed to
know those other factors that no one was talking about.
A sales rep once wanted me to buy an ad in a large photo promotional book
that contained nothing but ads for photographers (who would pay to have
a full page or a double-page spread). This book was distributed to ad
agencies and other high-profile photo buyers. Most photographers had many
gorgeous pictures, each of which depicted the style and focus of imagery
that was his specialty. I happened along one page that was completely
white with "raised" letters that had his name in the middle. The rep
who sold ad space in the magazine said, "he can do that because his name
is so well known, all he needs to do is remind people he's out there."
Worse still, I saw all sorts of kids in the audience, many just out of
school, getting the indirect suggestion that a $5-10K investment into an
amazing project, like these guys had done, would enhance their chances for
success. At the same time, their contemporaries would be putting $100-1000
into a project, and yielding exactly the same results. Is this the
right thing to be teaching emerging photographers?
When it comes to certain types of marketing tactics, including making a
portfolio, there is a heuristic argument (rule of thumb) which states
that there is a ceiling of investment (time, effort, money and other
resources) necessary to achieve a certain level of success, after which,
any additional investment yields insufficient results to justify it.
This is what marketing people call GLOSSARY:The 85% Rule, whose name
stems from the "feeling" that 85% of the job is usually the point of
The speaker's own experience, plus the lesson that the audience
should have gleaned from his talk, is simple: he was already a famous
photographer that didn't need a portfolio; he only needed to remind
people that he was out there and available. In this case, that was
the subliminal and determining factor that got the gig. If I were that
art director, I would have seen the name, gotten excited about that
first. On second look at his piece, I would then say, "oh and, by the way,
isn't that a nice portfolio he put together..."
Obviously, there is a matter of talent and other human features in
photography that influence success or failure, which is how we know
it's not as simple as a random coin toss. But, once a certain degree
of proficiency is achieved, it's really about those other factors.
We can find them by understanding what actually goes through the mind
of the decision-maker (editor, art director) when choosing a photograph,
a portfolio, or a photographer. Note that I'm not just challenging the
premise that the portfolio itself has as much weight as people claim
it does. The portfolio is merely an example of the broader objective:
all marketing methods should be similarly challenged. By this, I don't
mean to suggest that all prevailing assumptions about photo marketing
are false. On the contrary; all marketing schemes have some benefit;
the goal is figuring out how and when one can optimize those
benefits, or when methods are less useful.
To understand the mind of the decision-maker, I cite another meetingthis
one sponsored by the ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers). Here,
we have a panel of four art directors, each working for a different
ad agency, each of which specializes in different types of clients
and products. The topic: Creating and Submitting Portfolios: What
Art Directors Look For. Rather than hearing photographers talk about
their own successful portfolios, we hear from art directors that look at
portfolios for a living: what they look for, what turns them on or off,
and so on.
The bulk of the session was the question and answer period with the
audience, which lasted an hour, followed by a "free analysis" of
people's portfolios. When the questioning got started, the basic
stuff was asked: "Should you use large images?" "Is it ok to use a
portfolio book from a photo-supply or art store?" "Should you submit
prints or slides?" "Do you care what kind of film is used?" Dozens
of questions wee rifled at the panelists in attempts to see a pattern of
how these people made decisions.
I had an entirely different set of questions, which I had to get permission
to ask ahead of time because they had to be asked in sequential order, and
because they didn't ask the "direct" questions that everyone else was
likely to ask. Almost all the panelists had roughly the same answers.
How many unsolicited portfolios do you receive a week?
Why hire a photographer that sent you an unsolicited portfolio?
If none of the photographers on the regular "go-to" list were available.
Also, to seek out new talent due to normal attrition.
How often might you hire someone based on his unsolicited portfolio?
About once in three or four months. (Note: that's one in three or four
thousand that gets picked.)
Do you seek other people that you don't yet work with before you go to the "unsolicited list?"
Yes. Known photographers, referrals, or names seen associated with
other ads or competitions will be attempted before unsolicited portfolios
Of those your hired, was a client ever not satisfied with the work?
Have you ever regretted having chosen a photographer?
Well, photographer's have egos that can sometimes be difficult to
deal with. We've chosen not to work with some again based on personality
conflicts, but we've never chosen a photographer that wasn't capable of
doing a good job for us, or where the client wasn't satisfied.
My questions caught everyone off guard because they had nothing to do
with how these people choose portfolios. I noted the fact that they
receive thousands of portfolios before choosing to work with one, and
I'm sure that there were possibly many that were equally good, so
the one photographer that was hired was, put bluntly, "lucky." No one
really wanted to dispute that point, but they still felt that there
was a lot more to it than that, but they didn't really articulate what
that might be.
The fact still remained: those who send unsolicited
portfolios are at the bottom of the barrel, and their chance of success is
comparatively small. That may not be the case with every art director,
but does the photographer sending his portfolio know this? How many
of those knew ahead of time any of these facts? None in the audience
did. They all thought that they were going to learn how to send more
effective portfolios, and, armed with this information, possibly get an
edge against others.
While my observation of the randomness factor was important, that wasn't
really my main objective. Instead, I was looking for reasons why any
given portfolio would be seen in the first place, and what is the art
director's mindset when she sits down to look at it. Rather than ask what
they look for when they review portfolios, I want to know when those who
review portfolios actually stop to look at them. When they're home sick?
When they're at the office after lunch? When they're feeding the baby?
If I were to submit portfolio to someone, I'd want to know what her frame
of mind is so I can present something that matches those conditions.
Obviously, it won't be consistently the same conditions every time, but
my process of getting to know the art director may tell me something
One thing I know about these art directors on the panel: they look
at portfolios when they're looking to solve a problem. Usually pretty
quickly. That tells me a lot about how to design one for one of them.
Note to Self
Portfolios are considered when the reviewer is either in 1) "browsing"
mode, making your chances largely subject to random selection, since
you can't predict the reviewer's frame of mind; or, 2) problem-solving
mode, in which case, portfolios should illustrate focus and exercise that
demonstrates your ability to solve business problems. Hence, don't send
the "same" portfolio to people, customize each to match that person's
specific business focus.
Without intentionally looking for it, I also learned something from
the statement that every photographer satisfied every client. In other
words, none of the art directors was ever wrong in deciding which
photographer to hire. Why is this important? I'm reminded of a child's
game where the two-year-old picks up rubber ducks from a plastic tub and
looks underneath to see if he won a prize. He did! How exciting! He
think he's smart, but little does he know that every duck is a winner. It
may not be that 100 percent of photographers are winners, but if every
photographer these people hired produced a satisfactory result, the
chances are that those photographers were mostly all winners. Why?
Most likely, it's because that these directors worked at the kinds of
agencies where amateurs or even less-experienced photographers never
send their portfolios. By the time these directors saw anything, they're
looking at professional portfolios from qualified candidates. In turn,
choosing among them dissolves down to... well, randomness. (Just like
picking one of the rubber duckies.) The fact that they were always right
gave them a false sense of confidence that they're insightful.
Of course, no one is assuming that photographers are chosen based only
on their portfolios alone; we assume that there has also been an
interview and maybe even calls to references, but you'd be surprised
how few clients actually ask for references, let alone call them.
As for the interview, I've rarely been asked tough enough questions
that any reasonably proficient and experienced photographer wouldn't
know how to answer well. But, what's your likelihood of getting called
in for an interview, if the only criteria to do so is your portfolio?
And if your portfolio is subject to such random conditions beyond your
control, how can you enter the fray while minimizing your costs, time,
resources, and other detrimental effects?
Yes, portfolios do have value. Indeed, the same can be said of many
individual marketing tasks. Some are better or worse than others, but
it's the times and places for when and how they are implemented that
differentiate one set of marketing tasks with others. We'll get into
that in a moment.
Those aspects that show whether photographers are good candidates include
qualities that portfolios don't show:
The ability to work with a team (from a team of twenty to a team of two)
Contributions of good, constructive ideas during brainstorming sessions
Compatible attitudes with others on the set (models etc.)
The performance, reliability and delivery of service-related duties
While a portfolio may get you in the door, it's often the interview
itself, and the rapport between the artist and the art director that
really seal the deal. Few interviews I've ever had really tried to
establish this sort of thing, although one can probably extrapolate
such facts from the kinds of work that I've done, and for whom. Many
seasoned art directors know this, but it's advisable for the photographer
to do his homework on the person with whom he is interviewing, and
his reputation for working well with others. This relationship
goes both ways.
There is a counter-point still that I acknowledge: something has to keep
the number of applicants to a minimum, or the floods of people at their
door would be overwhelming. And, in a way, the portfolio is the perfect
tool for that because it is arbitrary. Turning someone away because of
their portfolio is a quick and painless method that has no "quantitative"
value that can be logically disputed. It's "qualitative," by definition,
which allows the art director to dismiss a candidate without having to
give a defensible reason. We've all experienced this, but the point really
comes to the fore when certain experiences drive the point home:
In the past four years, I've had contact from six editors from major stock
photo agency to solicit my joining the company. This would usually happen
after the agency lost a bid on a contract for a big client, and the
client informed them that its used my images instead of those from the
agency. The sales rep who lost the contract reported up the management
chain, which got the attention of someone to contact me to see if
I'd join the agency. After some initial discussions, it came time to
submit my portfolio. After having put considerable time and effort
into doing so, I would then get a form letter about three weeks later
from some art director, saying that my portfolio was thoroughly reviewed,
but it did not meet the high standards of the agency. I would call my
contact person and ask what happened, in which I would get a reply saying
that he had no contact with the art directors, who work independently,
and whose decisions are final.
If you think this is sardonic beyond plausibility, it gets better:
One particular stock agency calls me mostly on an annual basis, each
time from someone new, and the cycle happens over and over. It's no
longer my objective to "join" this agency, but I find it so humorous
that I am always approached with such enthusiasm, yet so quickly and
uniformly dismissed by what appears to be an arbitrary process. I often
wonder if very famous photographers would also be rejected if they
submitted unsolicited portfolios to agencies, simply because the robots
handling the red tape would just pass over them.
Obvious red-tape inefficiencies aside, the entire model doesn't help
anyone; while it makes it easier to filter out masses of applicants
trying to get in, it doesn't help the company find good photographers.
The company isn't to blame; it's more the photographers' responsibilities
to be more cognizant about how they market themselves. In keeping with
that, I never send unsolicited portfolios to anyone. And by "unsolicited,"
I even include cases where I establish contact with someone and then
ask them if it's ok if I send it. (That would be similar to the stock
agency experience noted above.) For me, I never send a portfolio that
isn't actively requested of me from someone who is in a position to
make a business decision. Of course, I can do that now because my career
has taken me to this point. I could not say the same when I was getting
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I want to make two things clear:
First, as I said, I don't really blame people for routinely rejecting
portfolios as a matter of policy. It's simply not efficient to deal with
an ongoing plethora of photographers incessantly sending in material that,
as pointed out, doesn't really tell the whole story about the complete
package. In fact, I agree with those who don't even accept unsolicited
portfolios or cold-calls of any kind from photographers. It's far more
efficient and effective to solicit existing well-known photographers
directly. With the right business proposal, which an agency is certainly
prepared to offer, good photographers usually hook up with photo buyers in
short order. Thus, a win-win scenario: the agency spends very little time
gathering new talent, and the pro photographer gets right down to business
without having to promote himself. (Presumably, he'd already paid his
dues during the early stages of his career.) It's a self-perpetuating
cycle, where success breeds success.
Secondly, while photographers may now be the ones yelling the profanities
at me for supporting the cold-hearted practice of rejecting portfolios
as a matter of policy, one thing that I hope this chapter raises in your
mind is that I may be saving you from yourself. That is, the blanket
cold-calling of potential clients and sending out portfolios is like
trying to get rich by playing the lottery: sure, if your number comes up
you win, but your investment of time and resources can yield much better
returns elsewhere in your marketing strategies.
Up to this point, I've discussed traditional marketing methods, mostly
using the "portfolio" as the example of the Push Marketing strategy, and
why it's important to analyze those conditions where your investment
into these strategies have varying degrees of success due to conditions
beyond your control. I raised caution to avoid over-investment into any
task that may have limited returns, may be disproportionately subject
to randomness, or whose costs aren't justified by those returns.
I would call these conclusions the result of reactive analysis, because
it explores tasks that are already practiced widely, and which are often
repeated from one case to the next, regardless of the conditions.
To market intelligently, we need to do proactive analysis, which
involves exploring activities and approaches that are usually devised
on a case-by-case basis, for the purpose of proactively focusing
on a single individual or situation.
Since this kind of proactive approach involves focusing on individuals,
it begins with understanding people's psychological biases. That is,
how and why people make choices, how those choices change on various
conditions, and how you can preemptively establish those conditions to
match your presentation. Wouldn't it be nice, for example, if we could
put the art director into that right frame of mind that makes your
portfolio more appealing? It'd be better than blindly sending it in and
leaving it to random chance.
There have been many studies exploring how and why people make choices,
ranging from creative to analytical decisions. There are social, economic
and even chemical components involved, each of which can hint at certain
biases that influence decisions. These can be used to predict ranges of
outcomes before decisions are even made. Clearly, a portfolio, postcard
or any sort of marketing/sales presentation has to be appealing, and in
that sense, such items are critical. What we'll find is that making a
good marketing piece is only half the challenge, which in itself needs
to understand these "decision-making" principles. The other half of the
battle are the methods used before contact is made, the actual point of
presentation, and finally, follow-through.
A study done in England several years ago involved a series of experiments
where researchers asked a group of women to go into a store and select
what they thought were the best products from a list of clothing items:
sweaters, jackets, gloves, hats, shoes, etc. The list of clothing items
they were given were designed for cold weather, but they were not told
to shop in preparation for cold. They could choose whatever they liked
based on any criteria they wished: color, size, texture, price, function,
anything, so long as the items were on the list. The following week, the
same women were brought back in and told they were going skiing, and
that they should purchase anything they liked for the trip from the same
list of items they were given before to those items where they did,
there was a pronounced difference: not one item on the two lists were
the same. The clothing they chose for "no reason" were light, bright
and fashionable; whereas, the clothing chosen for the ski trip was mostly
heavy, functional, and durable.
Deciding on Content
When making a portfolio or marketing piece that you send to art directors,
do you choose images that are artsy, abstract, and clearly demonstrative
of your "tactical skills with a camera?" Or do you show those from
other client shoots, that demonstrate you know your market and how to
address real-world client needs? In each case, how will your collateral
be perceived by an art director under either of the following conditions?
1) just browsing, looking for the interesting image that catches the eye;
and 2) problem-solving, looking to find a photographer right away because
no one on the "go-to" list of shooters is available. Answer: There isn't
one. The same person can be in either mode at any time, so you have to
know the client and the conditions.
A similar study was done with women and kitchen cutlery with similar
results: when given a specific need, choices were very different from when
they were just judging based on what they thought were "appealing" without
a specific need or task. The hypothesis: when people are looking to fulfill
a need, their searching techniques are focused on very different
criteria than when they are just browsing. Researchers who study
buying habits of consumers, advise their retail-store clients to
place the "browsing-friendly" items in the store windows, but leave
the real "quality" items inside, past the so-called decision-zone,
where shoppers move from the objective, free-style browsing mindset,
to the problem-solving "I gotta have that" mindset.
Designing any marketing collateral needs to consider these factors, and
we see evidence of that working sometimes: portfolios often have content
that appeals the "browsing mindset" when they use the artsy
black and white photos. Yet, since there is that risk of not knowing
which mindset the viewer is going to be in when reviewing your material,
can you place that person into the right frame of mind for them?
This is called positioning, which has a dual definition: you're
positioning yourself, but you're also positioning the viewer to be
receptive to the idea you're presenting. It's sort of like setting
up people in a photo (positioning them) because you know ahead of time
where the camera is going to be (where you position yourself).
Positioning yourself in someone's mind before he sees your portfolio can
only be done by direct contact and communication before hand.
Business is about relationships, and building relationships is rarely
achieved by knocking at the front door where everyone else is trying
to get in. Circumventing the traditional crowds is not only smart, but
it often has other indirect benefits as well. But, this isn't just a
strategy that you "do," it takes planning ahead: you have to know about
your clients, awareness of their businesses, who their clients are,
and any other information you can use to understand what's important
to them. Once known, not only can you be useful in bringing in new
business solutions, you also position yourself ahead of everyone else.
For example, sending an email to the art director for an opportunity to
send her a portfolio will get either one or two responses: yes or no.
And, even if it's yes (which it usually is, if for no other reason than
art directors have to maintain a certain degree of PR), your portfolio is
going to be reviewed under the worst possible conditions, as we discussed.
So, upon first contact, it may be more effective to send an email that
speaks more about your contribution to the company's business.
Dear Ms. Crabtree:
The ad campaign that your agency did for Acme Rubber Chickens reminds
me of one I did for the agency that produced the campaign for Whammo's
Whoopee Cushions a few years ago, and it struck me that my experience
may benefit you. Since my client has since been under investigation
for insider trading with the SEC, I'm in the market for a new client
in this field. If you have time, let's talk on the phone about how my
experiences can benefit your business.
You'll notice there's no discussion of sending a portfolio, a resume, or
anything. It's clear that you're already in the business, you know what
you're talking about, and you have something to offer. It's assumed
you have a portfolio, so if Ms. Crabtree has anything to say, it would at
least be a request to see a portfolio. (Usually, the good ones will just
reply to your email and ask you to elaborate; some might actually call.)
Even in this case, it's far more likely your portfolio would be reviewed
with a more favorable mindset than merely sending it unsolicited.
It should go without saying, of course, that you actually have to have
something very constructive to say. You can't lie your way into this using
clever dialog (as my example intentionally avoided). You'll be discovered
right away. So, you must actually have the experience you say you have,
and that you do have business advice to share on the subject from
those past experiences. This all ties with some of the initial axioms
discussed in Photography and Business Sense: you have to shoot what you know. Knowing the
business behind the subject of your photography is far more critical to
your success than the mere ability to shoot good pictures. Walking into
an industry without any pre-existing knowledge or experience (whether
you're a photographer or anything else), will not likely get you very far
unless and until you gain that kind of "insider" experience.
The most influential aspect of any person or product is "brand recognition."
If you have a good name and reputation, you're way ahead of the game.
That's an obvious observation, but the deeper analysis is judging your
proximity to others. Those with more or less name recognition than you can
be either a benefit or a hindrance, depending on various contexts.
First, let's examine the basics of this phenomenon and see how it ties
in with your positioning efforts.
I call your attention to a very public and painful lesson learned by
the Coca Cola company in the 1980s. Taste tests among consumers showed
consistently, and by a wide margin, that people preferred Pepsi over Coke.
Pepsi had its studies showing this, and marketed it as "The Pepsi
Challenge." While the ad campaign was highly visible, the study itself
didn't get much notice outside of the academic circles and industry
insiders. This, until Coke themselves did the same study and found the
same results. In fact, repeated studies from independent groups in many
countries showed that when people were not aware of which brand they were
drinking, Pepsi was always the preferred drink. As a result, Coke launched
an entirely new product called "New Coke," shocking the industry with the
revelation that it had changed it's secret formula of well over 100 years.
A multi-million dollar ad campaign featuring Bill Cosby declared that
Coke now tasted better than the old Coke. Indeed, it did, too. Even
follow-up studies, also by independent groups, had data supporting this.
Yet, despite this concrete evidence, it was perhaps even more shocking to
witness the enormous backlash from around the world against Coke after
the announcement. People were just as viscerally adamant that the old
Coke did, in fact, taste better. After a few long months of terrible
press, the company was forced to go back to its old formula under the
new brand name "Coke Classic."
The event was so monumental, that the word "classic" had gained its own
marketing appeal; since then, products have been introduced ad nauseum
with the word "classic" appended to it. "Classic Rock," referring to
the music of the 70s, was born shortly after the Coke fiasco.
So, what happened? Why did people like Coke so much, even though they
didn't like it when they didn't know they were drinking it? Massive
speculation and psychological pontification was dedicated on this
subject for twenty years, but many people refused to acknowledge what
was the only plausible explanation: brand recognition. That is, people
liked Coke because they liked the brand name. But, can it truly be that
simplistic? Can one actually change one's own perception of taste without
being aware of it, simply because they are loyal to a brand name? The
notion that a chemical response in the brain to alter one's perception
of taste was so unthinkable, that no one was prepared to accept this as
"the" explanation. The only way to surely tell is to design an experiment
that objectively tests for these brain functions.
Fast-forward to 2003 and a high school student with a spare MRI machine
at her disposal. In a report from NPR titled,
Neuromarketing: The New Horizon,
the results from the Pepsi challenge can actually be visually examined.
In the experiment, "active MRI" scans of people's brains were done to
gauge their reactions to Pepsi vs. Coke in blind and control group taste
tests. People were first given a blind sampling of Pepsi and Coke, and
their brains were analyzed to see how they reacted to each. When they
tasted Pepsi, the brain activity in areas known to be responsive to
"pleasure" and "reward" spiked up. When given Coke, nothing happened at
all. No pleasure, no reward. Simply no change. However, when the subjects
knew what they were drinking ahead of time, the results were surprising:
while the reaction to Pepsi didn't change (high spikes in the stimulation
part of the brain), the reaction to Coke spiked even higher than Pepsi,
and even stimulated areas of the brain that neither had reacted to before.
Testing the Pepsi Challenge teaches several lessons:
Familiarity and a positive brand perception not only affects
decision-making, but it can actually have a more stimulating effect
on the human brain than the actual product itself. (Similar to the
"placebo effect.") We see evidence of this all the timemusical
groups release a new record, and fans love it, despite a later
critical fiasco. Movies and actors benefit from the same effect.
And yes, even photographers who achieve a certain degree of fame
seem to "do no wrong" in the eyes of many.
People are unaware of how their own tastes are affected by product awareness,
and they will vehemently deny that they are influenced by such factors.
I don't want to refer to photo editors and art directors out of respect
for people in my industry, so I'll just refer to talent scouts that review
bands for record companies. Or, better yet, the two-year-old that picks
up the winning rubber ducky.
Positive brand perception can make your product appear better than
the competition, even if your product is inferior. (Yes, this is brand
perception, not brand quality.) If the Pepsi Challenge isn't example
enough, how about your photography?
Real Life Example: #1
Nothing drives a point home more than seeing the results of this
phenomenon happen to yourself. The first time I experienced this was when
I entered two photo contests in my area. I submitted six photographs to
two county fairs: The Marin County Fair and the Napa County Fair (in
California). The Marin Fair, the county where I life, was the larger
of the two, and five of my six photos won ribbons ("best of show"
all the way down to "2nd place.") Only one photo didn't win anything.
I then entered the same six pictures in the Napa County fair, which is
the country north of Marin. Here, only one won a ribbon, and it happened
to be the very picture that didn't win anything in the Marin fair.
At first, one thinks it's just a matter of different judges. But then
again, I am from Marin County, and my name and work are both known in
the community. Might that have had a subconscious influence in my favor
to the judges? Might the same thing have given precedent to a photographer
from Napa country for his work?
Earlier, we discussed the value of the "perception of need," and how
people's choices are influenced by their own business objective,
supplanting what their "creative" decisions might dictate. Yet,
"brand perception" also plays a role, that can exist at many levels.
Now the question is, how do the two play off one another? Does the
phenomenon of filling a need trump the value of brand-recognition?
The Pepsi challenge can suggest not, but let's face it: Coke has a
pretty strong brand name. Most photographers don't achieve that level
of success, so we can safely say there are spectrum of each.
How can we test which can have a greater effect at any given time so
as to help guide our marketing strategy?
What we really want is a way to test the same subjects judging the
same photographs, but each in different contexts: once, when they
know the photographer, but not in the problem-solving mindset; and
again when they don't know the photographer, but in that mindset.
At issue: can one person judge the same material in two different contexts,
and not be aware that it's exactly the same material? It's hard to do
with photography because one can't do a "blind test" on the same physical
photograph. Once seen, it's judged. Or is it? Fortunately, I have had
several encounters with art directors that help to test this theory.
Real Life Example: #2
At another ASMP meeting (not the same as the one previously discussed),
art directors were discussing how they like to be approached by
photographers, how they judge portfolios, how they pick people for
assignments, and so on. It was a similar to, but broader discussion
than the previous talk.
One of the panelists was with a very well-known magazine here in California.
Getting work into this periodical was difficult, and doing so was worth
putting on your resume. Once again, the panel discussion was all the
same old stuff: what kind of prints they like to see, what's the best
way to approach them, yada yada yada. At the end of the meeting, the
panelists spent time looking at the portfolios people brought, and gave
the kind of feedback normally reserved for those lucky ones who get their
portfolios into the director's office in a normal business day. Oh, how
lucky these people were. As each person went by the desk, it was clear
that most of them had pretty impressive work, but the art director gave
them thoughtful feedback anyway regarding how the size of the prints could
be adjusted here or there, or told them not to use reflective pages
where the photos slide into sleeves, or not to put too many photos in,
to have a good variety, but not too broad, etc.
When my turn came up, I said that I didn't have a portfolio because
all my work was on my Web site (which was on the business card I gave
each panelist). The editor for the famous California magazine responded
by saying that he only looked at physical work, that he doesn't
trust what he sees online, and that he doesn't have the time to look at
everyone's Web sites. He also had serious personal doubts about the use
of the Internet as a viable platform for photographers, and he took the
opportunity to express this doubt to the entire auditorium. He didn't
take my card, so I took his instead.
About a week later, I emailed him reminding him that my Web site was as
easy to review as the email he was reading, and that if he'd just click
on the link, he could spend a lot less time than if he were to get in
a huge book of photos to wade through. He replied saying that he normally
never looks at Web pages, but seeing as I was at the ASMP meeting, and
that he'd agreed to look at portfolios, he'd make an exception in this
case. After having seen my site, he determined that, while my photography
was technically proficient, my work wasn't unique enough, that it was
too similar to everyone else's, and that I didn't have a personal vision
in my work. I thanked him anyway and moved on.
About six months later, I get email from the same editor, but it was clear he
had no idea who I was:
*Dear Mr. Heller,
I came across your Web site recently while I was searching for a photograph
that we need for our front cover to illustrate a story we're doing on hiking
in Marin County. But, seeing as we're based in San Francisco, we want to
have some of the city in the background. You have such a great series on
this subject, and your Web site is so easy to navigate and well-designed,
that I'm surprised we haven't done business before. Please send me some
slides we can use for this cover shot and we'll be happy to pay your normal
I was just itching to tell this guy the whole story about our previous
exchanges! Alas, that had to be left for my own pleasure (and now yours).
Instead, I replied that I do not send physical slides, that my images are
already in print-ready digital format, and all he has to do is indicate
which one he wants, and I'll electronically transfer it to his layout
department staff. He replied again that he was so encouraged because most
photographers he deals with only use slides, are not digitally aware yet,
and that I've just made his life easier. (And this is the guy who didn't
believe that the Internet was a viable platform for photographers.)
This story is not unique, although it's the most entertaining and
poignant. I've had similar exchanges with editors who use their positions
to pontificate their opinions on portfolios or other aspects of photography,
only to find that when it comes to making business-decisions, those views
rarely apply anymore. All of this supports the lesson learned by the studies
discussed earlier in this chapter: the psychology of choosing yields
different results when one has an idea of what one is looking for, versus
when one is "just browsing." It is almost never the case that portfolios
are reviewed in the right state of mind, making the entire effort risky
Indeed, when it comes to photo editors, art directors and publishers, they
are so used to having people come to them, their shields go up. They're
not in the frame of mind to objectively view works for consideration. This
is understandable (albeit not optimal), because they get so many people
throwing themselves at their feet, that "shielding" themselves is often
the only way to deal with it.
We've alluded to the fact that the perception of who you are (or who you
aren't) has more effect on your outcome than your product itself. These
variations can be encapsulated in what I call the
A tiered hierarchy of four levels, where your ability to gain access, respect, sales, or other resources in business is affected by where you reside in that hierarchy.
As illustrated by the story about Coca Cola and its lesson with public
relations, "brand recognition" is the brass ring that everyone strives for.
If people know who you are before you even apply for a job, you've got a
big leg up. Conversely, if they don't know you, you could have a stronger
disadvantage that even a good portfolio might not recover from. And this
"notoriety" (or lack thereof) doesn't have to be wide-spread: it only applies
to the decision-maker. You could be an established asset to a particular
client, where you would be favored over a really well-known photographer
that he just doesn't happen to know. So it's important to point out
that brand recognition is subjective. And again, so is the converse.
True, there may not be any other option to apply as an "unknown," but the
point of this whole chapter is to explore methods of self-exposure and of
gaining credibility before you attempt that "cold call" to generate business.
Indirect Name Recognition
When someone else with status and influence knows you, and escorts
you through the door of opportunity, you are said to have
. Someone else gives you opportunity by letting you use his or her name, status and/or influence. This person is also called
. An individual who champions you or your products to the decision-maker. The Coach can be passive, like a fly-on-the-wall who can be your eyes and ears reporting back on what is perceived to be your strengths and weaknesses, and what or who your competition is. Or, Coaches can be active, where they overtly promote you under their wing. The Coach has no decision-making power (or he'd just hire you, in which case, he's not a Coach, and you have no "indirect" influence on the decision-maker). Instead, it is the Coach's status and perceived objectivity that is often the most powerful leverage you have.
Whether the Coach is within a client company, or is the best friend
of a woman getting married, your Coach is often the person entrusted by
the decision-maker to choose who to hire. A photo editor can be your
Coach to the art director. An art critic can be your Coach to the
museum curator. It can even be your mother-in-law. Whoever it is, the
Coach is the most used catalyst that enables an unknown photographer
to get hired.
How you meet the Coach is less a product of direct marketing, since
those efforts usually go directly to decision-makers, as they should.
Coaches don't typically champion you unless they have had a personal
"experience" with you, whether that's a face-to-face meeting, or through
informal discussions on a photo forum on the net. What all of these
have in common is that the Coach takes a personal interest in you for
semi-altruistic reasons. That is, he either wants to help his friend
or employer, or he wants to get the indirect benefits of thanks and
raising his own status by helping with a problem.
Now the warnings: Coaches can be gold mines or disasters, depending on
their status. If your contact doesn't have the status you thought, or
his clout is not as strong as he lead you to believe, you could end
up peddling in first gear for a long time. I once had a contact at a
company that I thought was my Coach, when I learned over the course of
a year of no business, that he was demoted from management due to a
poor recommendation he'd made before. He was hoping to use me as his
redeeming act, but they never gave him the chance. Indirectly, I never
got that chance either.
Anyway, understand that The Coach is a double-edged sword, and both
parties have to be cognizant of this. You are at a disadvantage because
of your lower status in the organization, so you are entrusting your
Coach to work on your behalf. But if it doesn't work out, only you
bear the responsibility of the consequences. Directing your misfortunes
on someone else makes for good sob stories, but it doesn't help
Someone with "Status Potential" is one that has no name recognition,
and no Coach, but enough tangible experience, skill, and ingenuity, to
get work anyway. This is the most noble of all forms of accomplishments
loaded with romantic overtones, since this person was discovered for the
"right" reasons (his talent). If you can do this, great for you. Often,
it's because of this that you find a Coach, or gain the attention of
Going it Alone?
Many artists reject the tutelage of the Coach because they feel they're
cheating the system, or that it would discredit their status. ("Oh, John's
mother pulled strings and got his work accepted at the museum.") That's
your personal decision, which, from a business or financial standpoint,
is dreadful. One's sense of accomplishment and success isn't always
about making "good business decisions," which may be important to you.
If your goals are beyond financial in nature, and you're strictly a
purist, go for it, baby.
At the same time, those who succeed based on their own merits fall into
the trap of thinking that it was all about them. There is that lottery
(randomness) factor that should never be forgotten; far more people have
merit than there are positions for them, so, if you gain access because
of your merits, don't assume that you can always rely on merit alone.
Your lottery ticket can be pulled as randomly as it was picked, if you
don't work diligently to establish your name recognition, which
minimizes the randomness factor. In other words, you still need to
apply smart marketing strategies, and use analysis tools outlined
in this chapter. Remembering this not only helps you maintain perspective
that will keep your head in the business realm, but the quality of
"humility" has great personal benefits as well.
Raise your hand if you have just been ignored completely by a photo
editor or art director, despite repeated emails, phone calls and other
nice attempts at contact. Raise it higher you have had a photo editor
treat you condescendingly. Put your other hand up if she said it wasn't
because of anything you did, but because of her having to deal with
whiny photographers that can't take 'no' for an answer. Yes, even those
with status may run into indifference and down-right rudeness from anyone,
ranging from other photographers to potential clients. We're all familiar
with the phenomenon. (Ok, you can all lower your hands now.)
Everyone starting out asks, "how do you get yourself known?" It's
the age-old dilemma, and a circular dependency, to boot. If you are
continually overlooked because no one knows who you are, how do you get
noticed in the first place? Asking this question is putting the cart
before the horse; status is what you gain while you're busy building
your career in other areas. You shouldn't strive for status; instead,
it is a by-product of having done everything else right.
Technically, one should never even be at "The Bottom", and if you are,
one or more of these conditions might apply:
You may have launched your photo career pre-maturely in the first place.
You are focusing on the wrong market segment.
You are not leveraging other resources you have.
You are simply poor at managing your marketing skills.
If you are just getting started, you should enter from a background where
you have some experience and expertise, as discussed in Photography and Business Sense,
because those are your assets. Remember, your contribution as a
photographer doesn't start and end with "taking pictures." You're part
of a the team addressing broader business problems. Your marketing
strategy is all about focusing on whatever those assets are.
If you have none of these "assets," marketing won't do anything for you.
If you feel you need to crawl up the ladder, that's ok. But, that doesn't
have to imply clawing your way up either. There's nothing smart or
admirable about going at it "the hard way" if more intelligent approaches
are available to you. If you're at "The Bottom," and can't get out,
you have other areas to address before your marketing plan can be put
Photographers are usually at the short end of "status" stick because the
supply exceeds the demand. (See Truism #1 in the Photography Business.)
This is especially true for those trying to break into the business,
who cannot seem to talk to the right people, make contacts, or succeed in
their marketing efforts. There is an indirect negative effect of the pull
of this population because, even though these inexperienced photographers
may be inert, they are a "mass with gravity" nonetheless, meaning that
those who hire photographers have to deal with them. It's sort of like
having a store full of people that never buy anything: it's hard for the
merchant to deal with the "real" customers simply because they have to
deal with the distractions of the "masses." The one reason the "masses"
hurt professional photographers is because the client's perception of
"most" photographers falls to the lowest common denominator. Here, you
have to try harder or be more compelling than you'd otherwise need
to be, just to rise above the fray. This challenge means that sometimes
you can't just depend on raising your status on your own merits. It may
have to be raised some other way to get recognition. Here, one often
resorts to the risky method of the
. This is the act of changing the perception of your status, either by "creative accolades of yourself," feigning intellect, bloating success stories, blatant lying, or, the riskiest tactic of them all: lowering the status of the other guy (so as to make you look bigger in comparison).
Sometimes, these tactics actually work. Don't pretend to be surprised with
that look of shock and horror at my suggestion! How many of you have
"enhanced" your resume by glamorizing the success of a previous
job or assignment? Hmmm? Or by citing an award you got that appears
to be much more worthwhile than it actually was. One photographer who
applied for an assistant job for me said he won "best of class" at a
prestigious photo competition. But, when I looked into it, his was the
only entry because the designer who made the entry form failed to add
that class into the competition, so no one else entered it.
There's no question that fabrication of successes and other status-raising
tactics are used in self-promotional materials, interviews and general
discussion. But, as you can guess, there are risks with this. Failed
attempts to raise status are usually the result of a misconception of
the photography business, or by a social faux pas, intentionally or
unintentionally committed. Several examples follow:
As discussed in Photo Careers, money does not hold the "high status"
for photo buyers or agents. It definitely won't get your foot in the
door ahead of more seasoned pros. In fact, most photo buyers want to
work with photographers who are "hungry," because there is a sense
they are more ambitious, they'll work harder, and they have more to
offer creatively. If anything, a photo editor or art directory doesn't
want to be up-staged by the photographer, especially one that makes
his financial status so conspicuous. Sure, editors want to pay very
little for images or assignments, maybe even get someone to work for
"free"after all, business is business. But, at the same time, these
people know the difference between getting a good deal from a bona fide
pro photographer and getting a white elephant.
The main problem with "name-dropping" in general is that most people
perceive it to be pretentious and immature. At lest, unprofessional.
There are several forms of name-dropping, including the obvious:
feigning or exaggerating your relationship with someone else with
higher status. This is a fool's way to pretend you have an inside Coach.
As noted in the earlier discussion, the Coach is either actively
involvedin which case, you don't need to name-dropor quietly and
passively acting as your inside secret agentin which case, you don't
want to name-drop. If you have a relationship with someone of status,
you shouldn't be name-dropping; you should be actively and intelligently
utilizing this person to your benefit. If this person is uncooperative,
there's either a good reason for it (so you wouldn't want to use him),
or he's just not going to be the effective advocate that you think.
Another form of name-dropping is to identify a high-status school you
attended, or a client you worked with, if neither has anything to do with
photography or the business into which you're entering. For example, if
you want to break into news photo-journalism, and went to Northwestern
University, a school with a great journalism department, but it turns
out you majored in computer science, then you'll get dinged for that.
Using myself as an example, I've have a photo published in National
Geographic. Twice! But I don't use them in my resume because all the
magazine did was license a couple of dumb pictures from my Web site,
and they weren't even used in major articles. It's not like I got an
assignment from the magazine. If I had, I'd have highlighted them! But,
as it is, I already have great references; if I padded it with irrelevant
citations like National Geographic that didn't really use an important
image, how would I look if I were ever questioned on it? Using quality
references is good, but keep them relevant. If it's obvious when you're
trying to pump yourself up dishonorably, it suggests that there really
is no substance under the hood.
Social Status is not Transferable
If you happen to be famous for something other than photography, don't
assume it's transferable to the photo community. Status is established
very differently here, because the industry is very insular and incestuous.
If you're a well-known microbiologist who found the cure for a rare
toe fungus, you may bring the house down with your keynote speech at a
pediatrics conference in Des Moines, but you're not likely to get Travel
and Leisure to publish your vacation photos.
Having achieved a level personal success is a double-edged sword.
If you feel you have status for whatever reason, and the other party
doesn't acknowledge it, the relationship usually fails to materialize.
Hence, fiddling with status is delicate and risky to a business
relationship. For some, the act of raising one's own status has the
unintentional and undesired effect of lowering others'. And that is
threatening to many people.
When a photo editor perceives herself to be "lower status" than a
photographer who is (or has projected himself to be) a higher status,
she may often dismiss him off the bat, or will focus on sustaining or
raising her own status. And while all this is going on, photos will
not be seen, let alone judged fairly. The lesson: do not become a threat.
Status jousting is never successful, and arrogance is a sure way to
start a fight.
We've reviewed the techniques and pitfalls of artificially raising your
status. But, there are times when you unintentionally raise your status,
or just have to deal with those potential negative situations where
having a higher status can be an albatross.
For example, if you actually are dealing with someone who isn't that
senior, or isn't that bright, or both, and you really should be dealing
with someone at a higher level, you can be in a real pickle. Often an
art director uses a junior level photo editor to "weed out" nagging
photographers. Or, it may be that smaller publications use less senior
photo editors to fill a needed position, and those editors are given
too much responsibility for their level of experience. (They are often
hired because the publication can't or doesn't want to spend the money
on more senior level people, or that they simply misunderstand the true
nature of the job and oversimplify its character: "Go find pictures! How
hard can that be?")
Here, you have no choice but to deal with these junior level people.
Some are aware of the difficult situation they are in, and some
aren't. Of those who are cognizant and accepting of their role, they can
be good partners because you can help them through some tricky aspects
of their own jobs that you may know better than they do. I've worked
with enough photo editors that it's easy to spot those who are less
experienced. Fostering a good relationship with such people can work to
your advantage. (In other words, you can be their Coach.)
In so doing, beware of those who are insecure and are more afraid of
looking bad to a clearly more experienced person. It's hard, if not
impossible, to teach or help someone who may be predisposed to
defensiveness, leaving you with no other option than just employing good
old fashioned interpersonal skills. For advice on that, I have none;
you either have it, or you don't. But please understand, whether you
think you're from Mars or from Venus, remember one thing: we're all still
here on Earth, so don't stray too far from reality in this department.
Presenting your "intellect" has the huge potential drawback of making
you appear arrogant and presumptuous. Yet, I have learned that those who
draw such conclusions are generally short-sighted themselves in how they
conduct their own businesses, and you're probably better off without them.
Those who are threatened by others with higher status often see them as
arrogant, even though they aren't. If you've achieved any level of success,
you have undoubtedly run into someone who told you that you were arrogant,
and there's nothing you can do to convince him otherwise.
My goal with this chapter has been to highlight the issues you will face so
you can choose effective marketing strategies. Historically, the Push
Marketing method was the best and only choice for most photographers,
despite its drawbacks. But, as digital imaging and the Internet allowed
for cost-effective marketing and distribution, the lure of Pull
Marketing quickly supplanted the "Push" approach. Most photographers
should prioritize their Web implementations before others, since it has
become the most ubiquitous and easily accessed form of communication
and portfolio presentation. (It doesn't have to be a full-fledged site,
just the preliminaries.) Specialty photographers with clients in the
local community may also need to focus more on regional marketing tactics,
such as newspapers, magazines, phone book ads.
Once you've decided on a set of strategies, be resourceful and find
good reference materials that help you implement them. For example,
if you've determined that a glossy portfolio is required for sending
to market directors in ad agencies, don't just pick up any old book
on "how to create a portfolio," find those that specifically target
that advertising market for your kind of imagery (fashion, consumer
products, glamor, etc.).
Most of this chapter challenges the well-accepted assumptions
of traditional marketing techniques, not to discourage their use. By
bringing attention to the effectiveness of these approaches, you can
best manage your time and sources by focusing only on those activities
that have the highest chance of success for you.
Since the ideas presented here are general issues for each person to
consider for himself and his own personal goals, it follows that
no two photographers should follow exactly the same plan. And if they
do, it will have been by happenstance if they yield the same results.
There is no predictable, reproducible formula for marketing yourself in
this business, no matter how convincingly it may be portrayed in some
book, class or workshop. To best grasp how to apply these techniques
to your specific objectives, you need to be clear in what your specific
goals are, and not spend time on tasks or processes that aren't leading
in that direction. I realize that may sound like I'm skirting the issue,
and if so, I direct you to Photography and Business Sense.