6.29.2010

Marketing works. But it only works when you do it.

I am constantly reminded that for marketing to work you have to send it out.

Many of you have jobs in other fields and have no interest in marketing for photographers.  I get that.  But there's a fairly big proportion of young photographers here and I thought I'd throw together a blog about the most important aspect of professional photography, marketing.

Lots of photographers and reps save up and do one or two or three big marketing blasts a year.  And they send out material or e-mails to thousands of people at a time.  I think it's kind of dumb.  When I wrote my book, Commercial Photographer's Handbook, for Amherst Media I interviewed a lot of art directors and art buyers so that I would really understand how all this works.  To a person they all had the same basic response:  "We get so much stuff it's hard to remember what someone sent last month, let alone last quarter."  

What the really means is that you've got to stay in front of people.  But no one media can do everything. All the media you can use work together to build people's awareness that you,  A.  Exist.  B.  Provide Photography.  C.  Have a style they like.  The image above was sent out as an e-mail blast to around 100 people.  Why 100?  Because if you don't get a good response you might find out that people don't really respond the image.  Isn't it better if only 100 people see a ho-hum image to start with instead of 1,000? Next,  you could call to follow up with 100 people by making ten calls a day for ten days.  That's about as many as you can follow up with and not burn out.  And finally, you can handle those numbers without having to outsource to a bulk mailer.

I sent out about 100 of these e-mails as embedded pdf's.  I got two responses one business day later with invitations to show the book.  I booked a job on the second appointment.  In the next few days 14 people e-mailed me to comment on the mailer.  While it's not a huge response it's typical of the responses I get if I choose the right images and send out the right mailer.  

I think people send out a lot of e-mailers but I think campaigns should alternate between e-mail and direct mail and other kinds of promotions.  For every e-mailer campaign I do another print campaign to balance things out.  I recently had a series of 5x7 prints made at Costco for 29 cents a piece.  I sent out three prints in one envelope.  Each print has my website address and my tagline on the front.  (I just add the type to the photo in PhotoShop...).  The most telling response I get is, "Wow.  I love getting actual mail.  These days photographers seem to rely totally on e-mail.  I get a XXX number of e-mails a day and I don't have any real way of dealing with them or filing them for later.  If I like a print I can pin it up on the wall or stick in a physical folder."

The two questions I get most from other photographers are:   1.  How do you build a mailing list?  And, 2.  How do you decide what to send out?

To answer the first question, I have two strategies.   The first is that I've been building a personal list, one contact at a time, for nearly 20 years.  I meet someone, shake their hand, talk about the photography and/or advertising business and boom! they go into my address/contact book.  That's supplemented by buying a yearly list from Freshlists.  The first list is continuity and the concept that it's easier to sell to people who've already done work with you or know you throw referrals and social intermingling.  The second list exposes me to my (potential) new customers.  It's a nice mix.  Your friends get a mailer and call to tell you that you're a genius.  The new people start to get to know you.

When it comes to what to send out I follow the path of the greatest general emotional response.  Doesn't matter if I particularly like a piece but if three art directors all tell me that a piece is a favorite I'll use it mercilessly.  There's a strange idea afloat the you need to only show the newest stuff and that everything must be constantly updated.  I find that to be total and utter bullshit.  I think you should layer in "golden oldies" along with new stuff so there's continuity of marketing.  People may not remember you name but they may remember an image.  If you send it out frequently they'll find yo and use you if they like the piece enough.  Don't get me wrong. I think constant experimentation is great.  But I also know from studying advertising that you need to let an image sit and build for a while before you change it.  It takes a while to show up on people's radar even if they've seen it in passing several times before.

Bottom line?  If you are bitching about slow business and you're not mailing and e-mailing and following up then you must not REALLY want to be in this business.  But remember,  the mailing and e-mailing is bullshit by itself.  Those media are really just an invitation.  An opening.  What you really want.....and what really closes deals.....is sitting across the table and showing your portfolio.  And also showing off WHO you are and why they should care.  Even in the age of total internet most deals are done over coffee and a handshake.  Nothing else compares.

That's the end of my marketing sermon.  Now, back to our original programming......