Ask Anything – Pay-To-Play?

- - Ask Anything

Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.

QUESTION:

The other day I received my second invitation to participate in AtEdge. I’m really flattered, but the price tag of almost $8K is a bit steep for me. The photography industry is very competitive and it’s about getting your images out there and seen. What are the best options for promoting your work and getting it seen? Resource guides, Workbook, Blackbook. Premium websites such as Photoserve, Dripbook. Direct mail, email blast (I’ve spoken to AD’s and they say they receive 50-100 emails a day and have stopped looking at them). Entering contests…  All these services have pro’s and con’s, but they all cost. Seems if you want to take your photography career up to the next level, you have to pay to play. How do you get the most bang for the buck? Where do creatives look for photographers?

ANSWERS:

ART PRODUCER 1:

It’s not an event, it’s a process.

Marketing yourself as a photographer is no different than any other advertiser promoting their product. There are many “channels” for doing this, including conventional media like print, to newer media like email blasts and social media. As you mention, the idea is to get your work seen. Because there are as many different ways that people prefer to look at work as there are ways to show it, it’s necessary to do a little of everything. Just like advertisers do.

How to get the biggest bang for your buck? Do your homework!!

Taking a shotgun approach of blasting out promos to anyone and everyone can be quite expensive. With a little sweat equity, you can reduce the cost while putting out a more effective marketing campaign. So, presuming that your portfolio/website are ready to be seen in public, here’s a simplistic overview:

STEP ONE
Determine WHO you want to work with/market to and what kind of work you want to do. Annual reports? Event photography? The agency for L’Oreal hair color? Use resources such as Workbook and Agency Compile (much of it for free!) to research accounts you’d like to work on and who does the work. Create a written contact list or use a list service to pull one for you.

STEP TWO
Develop a marketing plan which includes promoting in a variety of media in a way that is relevant to your target market. For example, if you want to work in healthcare, don’t include images of cars in your promotions. Don’t edit your list, just chart out all the possibilities and throw in a timetable. The editing will come as you determine how much time and how many resources you have available to you. Include promotions that are reminders (postcards, emails) and also longer term promotions such as “keeper” pieces that are more substantial, like printed books or “stuff.” Contests are actually the cheapest way to get maximum exposure. If you had to pay for your own promotions with the same reach as an award show, it would be in the thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.

STEP THREE
Determine a budget. Based on your short list, determine how much you have to spend. $50? Then you may have only enough to send out a few special promos to a few key people. $500? then you can afford either repeat promotions or a more special promotion to a few more people, plus a couple of contests.

STEP FOUR
Stick with it! It will take about 2 years to make an impact. You may luck out and get work sooner, but it’s hard to leave a lasting impression in less time than that. If you let up during that time and cease marketing, the clock starts over. If you’re getting zero response in the first 6 months, you may want to consider investing in a reputable consultant to evaluate your marketing tools (portfolio/website/promotions) to give you an honest opinion.

ART PRODUCER 2:

It’s quite a commitment, you have to do your research and find out what people prefer and which markets are the best fit. You have to look into the accounts at each agency, so you’re sure to know who’s doing what. Work with someone to edit your work in your book and website. Presentation is key.

In addition to promos, do agency visits/showings. As much as it sucks to feel like you have to provide food at the showings to get people to show, it works. And, don’t forget to provide leave behinds, that way they’ll have something to remember you by.

Finally, do award shows/contests. Creatives still use them as a reference and it’s hell of a lot cheaper than paying $8000 to get lost in the shuffle.

To Summarize:
Many clients swear by their AtEdge ads work for them and other’s swear by Photoserve and even their ASMP findaphotographer.org list – while other’s focus solely on their email and direct mail marketing. We believe that you have to do your research first and see what options you have. Figure out your target market, your budget and do an equation that works for you (we prefer you at least start with 3 approaches – so that not all your eggs are in one basket). It doesn’t happen overnight, so find a plan you can build and grow over a couple of years – but it should be consistent and strong.

Call To Action:
Target market? Budget? Calculate!

If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.”

There Are 16 Comments On This Article.

  1. #1 rule is to know your market… that’s really it. You gotta be more specific than ‘creatives are my market’

  2. Thank you for this step-by-step guide to approaching the task of marketing. This blog post came at the perfect time in my career and provided helpful details that I haven’t read elsewhere. I feel like for my market, social media can be a helpful tool for exposure/contact as well after reading photoshelter’s post on the agents/photographer’s social media workflow. Thanks again for the insight Rob, Amanda an Suzanne!

    • @Carmen Chan, Thank you! We really appreciate our wonderful contacts that took the time to type it out for you all. Coming from the insider, it usually makes photographers listen!

  3. Thank you so much! This is very helpful, but I think the #1 way to get new work: mingle. Go to events where you know other creatives will be. Keep in touch with clients and contacts. Often they move around from company to company and if you’re in their mind when they get a new job and are able to bring in new photographers, you’ll get the job (assuming you have good work to back yourself up). Also, getting to know people face to face and developing a relationship with them counts for a lot. Remember, when people are on your set, it’s a day away from the office, they want it to be enjoyable and with an enjoyable photographer. Keep in contact with other photographer friends as well. I’ve had friends pass me jobs that is more in my specialty and vise versa. Often people think it’s super cut throat out there. It’s highly competitive, true, but having a creative community that supports you and that you support is the best way to get work.

  4. I’ve had 2 invites to At-edge; I’m not sure of the value being non-US based, however to me, they certainly have the best venue if you use only one source for promotion apart from a personal site.
    I really like their book formats, the look (just images), frequency of the micro-books, and targeted distribution which provides varied on-going promotion over the year.
    In saying that, I know people who had little result, which could be due to the images shown, a 1 year only commitment..etc, you’d have to plan long-term.
    I recently had a reply from a photographer whom I don’t think he’d mind me quoting, said ‘his ads. had paid for themselves with work, it was part of his marketing and people take notice’. I would assume your objective is the advertising market, which in itself requires a good rep. and on-going jobs to show in the At-edge email promotions where possible.
    It’s a steep ask but like all these things unless you try you’ll never know.

  5. Another point I meant to add, is that once committed, one benefit surely would be you’d become way more pro-active in the work shown there, along with other efforts to see a successful outcome and recouping of the investment made..

    • @Jon, yes, if you make the decide to commit to any type of marketing whether At-Edge or expensive promo use social media or e-promos to broadcast it. You can send something out like “Now seen on page 30!” or “check your mailbox- you know that overflowing box down the hall” with a visual of your promo. We always say take something and give it legs!

  6. Being more of the creative, impulsive type I learned the hard way that research really must be done first. I was jumping in to things without knowing what I was doing and pay for those mistakes in the long run. Be educated. The way up has a more solid foundation that way.
    Great tips. Thanks for sharing!

  7. An Art Director

    I get AtEdge and I flip through it and throw it out. Honestly. It is over saturated and unspecific to a market (ie, people, still life, etc). Beautifully produced, but doesn’t fit how I ‘shop’ for photography.

    8K is a lot of money to be included.

  8. I recall some comments from consultants about calculating a budget for marketing, using a percentage of your revenues. Definitely some very successful names in AtEdge, and no doubt most have a substantial budget. It takes time to build up to that point, unless one starts with deep pockets.

    I went into LeBook recently and I realize that it may take one or two more listings before I can judge the effectiveness of that investment. Now with a new website in the works, and meetings with a designer, there is a great deal of effort involved. I like the work I do, so I don’t mind the long days, though this seems to be a process that is continual and never-ending.

    Thanks again for sharing this information. Hope we all land in a better condition after all this effort.

  9. I’ve been reading a lot about marketing lately and this is a pretty useful post. Thanks. However, everything I have read seems to be targeted at mid-career photographers. It seems to be a “Catch-22″ if you’re just getting started. You need money to get work (marketing budget) and you need work to have that money. I completely understand that successful marketing must be a broad, consistent effort that will take years to pay off, but surviving before it does is treated like a black art that no one wants to talk about. I like this column, bought and read your book, and it would be nice to see a future post with applicable advice or discrete examples from established photographers that’s specifically directed towards photographers trying to build a business and a name. Right now, it seems like the only advice for photographers that may fit into a “Worst Case Scenario” (from your book) is “Well, you’re f—ed,…next question.”

    • @Steve R., great- we are going to do it!!!! We have both worked with emerging young photographers fresh out and have taken them to the next level. We will ask if folks will allow samples. Be back to you!!!

      Thanks so much!!!