Selina Maitreya called me up the other day to tell me about a new mp3 series she developed for photographers called “The View From Here.” I’ve heard good things from photographers who’ve worked with Selina so I checked it out. It all sounded very well done and informative but I thought it might be better for all of you if I just asked her a few questions, so you can gauge for yourself if you like where she’s coming from. You can learn more about the series (here) and Selina gave me this code: FOSAPE that will get you the whole thing for $99 instead of the advertised $199. I get nothing from the transaction just in case you were curious if I did that kind of thing. Just so you know, I don’t.
Here’s what Selina and I talked about:
APE: Where should we start?
I thought that Art Buyer interview you posted recently was interesting because it told me that essentially nothing has changed over the years. The way buyers assign has been tweaked, but the process is basically he same. As far back as I can remember when an Art Director would have a job they’d call in a photographer they knew to sit down and shoot the breeze, maybe they’d get on the phone if they didn’t have the time, but they’d sit down and discuss the whole project. And 9 times out of 10 they were hiring someone they knew first before they would decide to outsource to somebody that was new. I remember 30 years ago being in lots of meetings as an agent and the project was discussed before you got hired and you’d spend an hour or two, maybe have lunch and then you’d most likely get the assignment. Sometimes they might shop it around.
APE: Yeah so I’ve heard this common complaint about the personality test and even brought it up in that Art Buyer post: what does the photographers ability to communicate with the Art Director have to do with taking pictures?
Tons, this is still a creative process. On one hand, photographers want people to hire them and make it personal, on the other hand they say that they don’t want their personality considered. The business has shifted in terms of the way relationships are developed and the time and place where the relationship comes into the sell is now different. But what is the same is that relationships are still important and personalities are important. Think about it, who want’s to hire somebody that they don’t have an understanding with. It’s not just about the visual. The visual is the front end sell now and it used to be the personality and the relationship was the front end sell but those are now what seal’s the deal. Photographers will point to budgets being the front end piece but budgets get discussed after books are called in. It’s the visual that gets the initial attention.
APE: It seems to me this is the difference between photography as a business and a hobby. As a business all the normal rules of doing business apply. Customer service, marketing, competition, it’s not just about the pictures there’s so much more that goes into making a sale and making it successful.
Absolutely, and now without the visuals, which is the front end sell, you will never get to the business end of it. Conversely, if you have the vision and you haven’t spent time working out the business end of the deal then you’ve only got part of the equation. Again, everything is the same as it’s been for the last 30 years. The sequence may be different and things are named differently but it’s all the same stuff: vision, professionalism, savvy marketing skills, personality and service.
APE: I hear from a lot of young photographers that what’s holding them back is that Art Directors and Producers are not branching out and seeking new talent. They’re relying on relationships and things that are familiar to them. Do you believe that?
Relationships are always important, I think that it makes sense if you’re a buyer and you have somebody that’s done a really good job for you then you can trust them. Trust is huge in this business, so much of the business side equates to it. Lots of money is at stake and so are jobs for Art Buyer and Art Directors. But, because each project is so branded and each one has a different message there’s also more chance that a different type of visual will be needed. Because the front end buyers are the Art Buyers not the Art Directors, you have someone that’s hiring for lots of different accounts. Each of those accounts has a different style attached to it based on the message that’s going on in the ad and campaign, so there’s less chance they’re going to hire the same photographer over and over. So, there are many photographers who will tell you quite the opposite, that they’d love to be hired back and the client retention is lower than it ever was. Clients were more loyal in the past.
APE: Tell me about the new mp3 series and how that came about?
It came about because I was really concerned about the state of photography. I was lecturing around the country and I was getting emails and photographers were panicking.
APE: More than usual?
Yes, more so than ever. I have an email list that goes out 8000 photographers who’ve signed up for my articles and last spring I wrote an article entitled “Survive? Think, Thrive!” This was an article that laid out how photographers could build a business today that would thrive in the future. The response was overwhelming, so I responded by giving out my time to try and help people. I gave out 30 hours in April and May. I’m booked solid so I had to make extra time for this. Working with photographers for free inspired me to make something for people who couldn’t afford my $300/hour consultant fee.
I talked to photographers who said they wanted something they could listen to. I wanted to create a learning tool that was informative and inspirational plus I wanted it to be organized so people could easily go to the topics that spoke to their immediate needs. Two of my industry friends helped me source the equipment and within days I discovered my sound engineer who just happened to show up with an LA based client. So, I recorded every day for July and August and got over 100 hours of audio that then became the finished 12 chapter 9 hour program.
You can’t teach everything about developing a vision or marketing, so I wanted to take what I felt were key concepts–knowing photographers as well as I do and being in the business as long as I have–and address where photographers make mistakes. I wanted it to be created for any photographer at any level. There’s a whole chapter on agents because that’s one of the questions I get the most from photographers.
APE: Really, I used to get that as well, but answered it recently so not so much anymore.
I started as an agent and I’ve trained over 200 agents.
Yes, people used to come to me because I had a comprehensive training program for agents. I had a 12 week 48 hour rep training program. I’ve also worked with experienced agents over the years. Many have come to me and ask that I not tell anyone about our work because they seem to feel that they should know everything but I say, “listen, working with a consultant is a good thing for your clients, because it shows how much you care,” but some people are not comfortable with that.
APE: I wanted to ask you since you’ve been in this business so long if you feel like there are more photographers and specifically more aspiring photographers than ever? Especially now that there’s so much information available for people. Maybe the barrier to entry is much lower for aspiring photographers now.
In terms of photographers coming out of schools it goes up and down, there are however programs now geared toward prosumers. There are more people trying to become photographers from the prosumer market but as far as how many of those people will make it, I don’t know. Interestingly, I would say if you go on LinkedIn or Twitter or any other social media the majority of photographers who are conversing are prosumers.
APE: Yes, but haven’t there always been a huge group of people who wish some day to make their living as a photographer and it’s just that we can see them all now thanks to the internet?
Yes, and how many of those people are doing something about it verses how many are just talking? Words without action. Photography is a field that’s competitive in numbers only. When you look at the percentage of photographers who truly take the advice that you really need to develop a vision and then will actually do the work it takes and then once they develop that vision put into the mix all the marketing tools needed (traditional and new media), go on sales calls and give it the time needed to come to fruition, that’s maybe 10% of all the photographers selling out there. Those are the people working. So, there may be a lot of prosumers coming into the market but a small percentage will actually be successful.
APE: When you say photography is competitive in numbers only. What does that mean?
It means that there are tons of people hanging out the shingle with the title photographer attached. However when you look, the number of photographers who understand the vision selling equation and have taken the time and effort to build a deep body of work based around a specific style and then have created the sales trails needed to competitively market their work and have given their effort enough time for the market to respond, the competition is slim. So, while there are many, many photographers a very small percentage are actually prepared to compete.
APE: I feel like the changes that have happened recently have made it so there’s less of a business advantage and you need to have the great vision and talent to make it happen.
None of it matters if you don’t have the vision. The reality is that just getting started in this business is just so daunting for people. If you’re a photo editor or art buyer the first tier of photographers you will hire from is always the people you’ve worked with in the past, that you’re familiar with, that you trust. Then on the second tier is the people who’ve been consistently through several sales channels marketing to you for the last 2 years. Maybe you’ve thrown them something, but they’ve been there and been in to see you, sent in their book and done the mailers. The 3rd tier is thousands of people who’ve hit you with a couple mailers or sent the book in once or stopped by the office once. That’s no man’s land and that’s where everyone starts at first. How you handle the first 2 years is going to determine if you stay in no man’s land or move up to the other level.
APE: So, you think on average it takes a couple years to start getting some traction?
Yes, and with all the people in no man’s land it’s that much harder to get seen and stand out, but the photographers who have that vision and have taken it into their direct mail, email, website, who go on sales visits, who are blogging and twittering and linking their photographs from posts and developing sales trails and doing this continuously, those are the photographers who are going to get the traction. That’s where you build that identity in the first year.
There are many more people out there who are talking photography but not any more people who are doing photography. It really does take that special person and you need the mix. My most successful photographers during the downturn have been people who have sales, traditional marketing, social networking and they work their asses off and they never stop no matter how successful they’ve become.
APE: I wanted to ask you about social networking. A common complaint among photographers is that not only do they have to take pictures, have a book, show the book, do mailers is, “now I have to facebook, linkedin and twitter?” How many hoops do we have to jump through to get a job?
My response is to stop looking at it as hoops. Stop looking at it being one big pain in the ass. Embrace it, stop complaining. So, much of this is the attitude a photographer approaches the business with. Here’s a quote from Victor Frankel, who lived through the holocaust, that I love: “The last of the human freedoms is your choice of attitude in any given situation.” So, first of all get rid of the attitude. It’s the integration of these tools. What we’re asked to do today is have an integrated marketing program that encompasses all the marketing tools.
There’s direct mail and email, sales calls, your website, blog and social networks. So, you look at each of those and say, ok I need to integrate all of this. Look at it this way, you go on a sales visit and you can talk to them and see where they are on social networks and you can follow them on twitter and connect on LinkedIn. Then you see who they’re LinkedIn with and if you want an introduction to another art buyer you ask them for that and you start using it. Use the LinkedIn page to leave your latest shot and an address that goes to your blog that goes to your website. You create sales trails for the people that you’ve seen in person and hopefully they will go there. You send out a tweet about it so you’re creating this other level of opportunity for the people that you’ve seen in person and the people who haven’t met yet to start to see your work.
Is it effort? Yes, it is but if you integrate your meetings with your social online efforts and you do it thoughtfully you’re creating this online trail for people to follow and there’s a purpose to it. You don’t have to do all of them but you have to pick from each of the categories and start to integrate them together so that there’s an intelligent plan.
APE: Right, so what is that plan?
Photographers need to have an understanding how each tool works individually and then together. Visual emails and direct mail create initial visibility. Sales meetings to researched key contacts provide the opportunity for your personality to be known. A blog can show work and tell more about you as a creative person. A website is a wonderful outreach marketing too. Social networking provides another layer of visual and personality refresh. Once you choose which tools you will use, create a schedule and stick to it.
I get really concerned when photographers hear a specific buyer talk about their marketing preferences and then assume that the buyer’s opinion represents everyone’s opinion. If that buyer doesn’t like email, suddenly they assume that no one looks at email. The truth is different buyers come through different channels. It’s the mix between selling and marketing. There are more ways than ever to market but there’s only one way to sell and that’s to go get your tush in a chair in front of somebody. Because, there are so many more people out there, the early stage is where photographers get discouraged. When Nike came out with just do it they didn’t just do tv, or print, or tshirts on road races, or web or radio they did it all. Photographers need to look at their time and budget and work with an assistant or marketing expert and decide what channels to use then commit to 2-4 years of doing it. I’m very clear with photographers that it takes a long time before you’re going to feel like your efforts are consistently generating enough funding so you feel like it’s worth it.
I moderated a panel of art buyers in New England that had a range of people from a designer at a small local studio up to an Art Buyer at a huge agency and what was interesting was when we asked what works for you, every single one of them had different ways they wanted to be reached and every one of them agreed that just because they start with websites doesn’t mean they don’t pay attention to direct mail or email. Every one of them said the same thing which was you gotta hit me in several different ways and you have to do it continuously because my memory is really short. From the small agency to the large one the only difference was that when it came to print portfolios only the small agency said they buy off the web. Everyone else wanted print portfolios. 6 different companies all saying the same thing, hit me in different ways. It’s not enough to get an email, it’s not enough to do direct mail. You need to sell, market and participate in social networking.
APE: It just seems like, and you can tell me compared to 30 years ago, that you need to put more effort and more time into marketing than ever?
It’s is true but isn’t life like that. Don’t we have a President who’s saying roll up your sleeves america and get back to work.
APE: It’s just too bad then, is that what it is?
Life is busy and life is fabulous, but if you take the attitude that life is a fucking pain in the ass, well hello welcome to the world you’ve created. Yes, we have to work harder than ever before but you know what? When I became an agent I had 6 months of photography school under my belt and I loved photography but didn’t have the money to continue, so I was selling my Firebird to pay for the rest and my friend wrapped it around a tree the night before it was to be delivered to the buyer. So, I became a waitress instead. Then some photographer came into the restaurant and wanted someone to take his book around, so I did it in purple tights and a black dance skirt, walking into advertising agencies not knowing a thing. It’s all about how we approach and embrace life and that’s a big piece of my message too. There are a few photographers in 30 years that I was unable to help and it was grounded in the fact that they believed it wasn’t going to work because life stinks. How can you help someone like that? You can’t, that negativity is toxic.
APE: What does the future look like?
People ask me all the time if photography is dying. I feel like the role of photographer is shifting and it always has been shifting. The photographer who is invested in developing the visual craft; is willing to show up and do the work; is committed to going through life with a positive attitude; is able to see the shifts, is willing to embrace them and move with them; is the photographer that’s going to continue to thrive.