Agencies Who No Longer Accept Printed Promos

- - Art Producer

A reader sent me the following question:

I wrote to you a while back regarding some agencies who no longer accept printed promotions from photographers. I just came across another agency who has started that policy. It’s really silly when you consider an ad agency not accepting advertising.

I reached out to Anne Maureen McKeating a Toronto-based freelance Project Manager, Art Producer and Consultant, because she worked at an agency that started such a policy. Here’s her answer:

In the spirit of “going green”, a well-meaning senior creative team at my former agency decided that we would no longer be accepting photographers’ promos. It would be a-ok if a promo came directly to me, (the art producer), but any photographer who sent multiple copies addressed to others, would be asked to come to the agency and pick them up.

So what was this new policy really about? In my opinion, it was less about “going green” and more about managing the daily onslaught of sameness. Our mailboxes were crammed full with mailers depicting frosty mixed drinks, smashed cosmetics on plexi and fit, relatable moms made even more aspirational with a sun flare. The promos were showcasing the already familiar and as a result, most ended up in the recycling bin. It was disheartening to see photographers waste their money and resources on a strategy that just wasn’t appreciated.

Agencies are complicit in the creation of the uninspired offerings that set the tone for mailer expectations. However, Art Directors don’t need a rehash of past campaigns – they need to be inspired for the next. As a result, they are turning to social spaces like Instagram, Compfight and tumblr in a hopeful pursuit of the new. Perhaps social media is the new promo?

Some printed promos do manage to achieve the illusive breakthrough. But they do so because they are targeted toward a specific audience and crafted with intelligence. Recently, Toronto-based photographer Derek Shapton sent a promo to a select group of contacts. He had shot four portraits of people sneezing and had them printed onto a box of tissue. The promo was deceptively simple conceptually: sneezing = tissue. But it was the promo’s self-referential commentary that stuck. He was remarking on the “throwaway nature of mailers and the ephemerality of promotions”. Shapton understood that his audience would appreciate his take on the promo conundrum while ensuring that he remained memorable.

I had initially found it ironic that an advertising agency was attempting to regulate the advertising of its potential suppliers. But when I really thought about it, some truths became clear. I was defending the rights of photographers to advertise, while filling the recycling bin with their efforts. I had never awarded a job based on a promo. And even if I liked a promo, it was rarely displayed because I didn’t have room.

Advertising strategies in the current market are branded, social and integrated. It’s vital that photographers also embrace this approach. While the printed promo may still occupy a place in an overall campaign, on its own, it’s passive, old technology.

My hiring practices are influenced by repeated exposure over varied platforms. I become aware of a photographer’s work if they are showing on the gallery circuit, shooting editorials, garnering blog mentions and posting regularly on social media. These multiple exposures have direct impact on my decision-making. The net-net is that yes, integrated marketing takes time, effort and patience. But it is an active strategy that will entice Art Directors and Producers to meaningfully interact with your work on an on-going basis – thereby keeping you top of mind.

Anne Maureen McKeating is a Toronto-based freelance Project Manager, Art Producer and Consultant. Her work is informed by her experience as Senior Art Producer at TAXI North America and as Photo Producer at Instil Productions. Anne Maureen is Board President for Gallery 44 Centre for Contemporary Photography and also sits on the Exhibitions, Strategy and Branding Committees. Her integrated marketing efforts are a “work in progress.”

There Are 59 Comments On This Article.

  1. Evolve or die, nothing new really. What about the agencies that do accept or want print? I believe I read a similar article about no more eMail’s. There is no master list of who likes what. No matter what avenues you choose to get yourself (“brand”) known, strong work is always key. Thanks for this article, it has identified yet another avenue for me to go down.

  2. I received an email from a catalog company saying they want to go green and don’t want any print promos from photographers or reps. That same week 4 catalogs (2 addressed to me, 2 to my wife) arrived in the mail from this same company. Even though I’ve called and requested to not receive any more catalogs, they still send them.

  3. Sarah Riley

    When I worked for Pam Hamilton @ Sparks Photographers, we did a beautiful printed promo for Anya Chibis that was directly responsible for her being booked on a couple of new projects. And when I produced/repped for Philip @ Instil, I was told repeatedly that his extremely simple signature tear sheet promo worked for Art Buyers, since it was easy to see what was new simply at a glance and not feel terrible for tossing it.

    If you reach out to agencies to find out what their policies are, you can craft your promos to reach them, and if you’re worried your promo will end up in the trash then spend a little more time on its execution.

    The key here is that you should always be doing your homework and that great ideas are still king.

  4. @Jeffrey: I wouldn’t sweat it. Every ad agency, design firm, magazine, and corporation (and their individual employees) have different ways of finding new talent. Just like a consumer in the retail market, they consume and react to advertising in different ways.

    Anne herself says, “My hiring practices are influenced by repeated exposure over varied platforms.”

    To me, the print promo remains one of those platforms. Even if she didn’t keep the print promos, or necessarily hire someone from that promo, someone in her position could still have been reminded of the photographer’s name — at least. And the repeated exposure is something that even an art buyer is not always aware of. They just suddenly “notice” that photographer after the 10th time they’ve seen the name or art work.

    Anne also says “While the printed promo may still occupy a place in an overall campaign, on its own, it’s passive, old technology.” But she still acknowledges that it can be part of an OVERALL campaign.

    Obviously, if a company or individual asks you to ONLY send email promos, then try to be respectful. But I think it’s good to use all of the OLD tools (email, print, phone, meeting), PLUS the NEW tools (blog, social media, SEO) of marketing. If that wasn’t the case, then why do established brands like Apple and Coke continue to use everything at their disposal?

    Anne has some great ideas, too, especially about using images that inspire — not just what’s expected.

  5. Anne Mo has always been a smart cookie, however this has taken a twist since our favorite AB’s have moved out of the agencies.

    What now? AD’s just keep using their favorite shooters? Do you have to push harder and harder to try and get something in front of them to prove your worth? Or do the AD’s simply give the monsters a call every time and keep them alive?

    When designing or conceptualizing a promo for photographers (Yes I do ours, haha), the first question I’ve always asked, is “what will they (The AD) want to keep on their desk, in their home, or on them at all times?”. “what will they use?” . “Whats too cool to throw away?” and then go from there…

  6. How many times are we going to have the same conversation?

    AD1: I hate email promos, send me a mailer.

    AD2: I hate mailers, send me email.

    AD3: I hate email and mailers, send me telepathic 3d hologram mind transmissions!

    I hear there a digital vs film debate going on somewhere too.

    • I cannot help but echo Jeff’s statements because they prove a point – There is no concrete industry standard and what is effective in terms of promoting ones work changes based on each viewer and each photographers work, so trying to apply an industry wide template to it is a discussion that just leaves one running in place. Much better to focus on getting to know those you want to market to and market to them in appropriate, relevant, and useful ways,.

      While this rejection of paper promos it is an interesting phenomena there are many who still want or prefer them – I thought first-stop.org had an interesting take on the situation for a while, but that resource has seemed rather inactive as of late.

  7. What a hypocritical bunch of BS. They don’t want you to SPAM them with emails, they don’t want printed promos yet those same agencies are filling every print magazine from Vogue to Car & Driver with their ill-conceived ads.

    This is nothing more than some agency trying to improve their corporate image by claiming to go GREEN. Give me a break! You’re not fooling anyone.

    • Donnor Party

      If you want the work, you do what they want. In reality, if they like you and you delivered the goods in the past, they will take a promo from you in any form.

      Its not a Whole Foods style “Going Green” corporate marketing issue. The people who receive promos, mostly from shooters they’ve never heard of, are genuinly concerned with recycling and waste. The amount of trash is enormous. And yes, many printed promo pieces are treated as waste after a glance.

  8. “Our mailboxes were crammed full with mailers depicting frosty mixed drinks, smashed cosmetics on plexi and fit, relatable moms made even more aspirational with a sun flare.”

    Sounds like Agencies are “seeking” something new and fresh?

    My recent experience at Integer Group/Denver … six iPads crashed or were hard to navigate … Art Producer and Art Directors LOVED the three 17 inch printed portfolios and RAVED about the print quality and large images. DON’T BELIEVE THE HYPE – PRINT is NOT dead.

  9. Anne Maureen McKeating

    There is nothing so beautiful and compelling as the presentation of a printed portfolio. And don’t get me wrong, I am not proclaiming the death of print. I am only suggesting that a range of participation in the community at large is a more effective marketing strategy. It has always been this way, we just have a wider variety of tools at hand. Here is Derek’s blog post on his Kleenex mailer: http://www.derekshapton.com/planet_shapton/?p=1266

  10. 26 year on for me in this business and the questions (and answers) are pretty much the same. Yes there have been new additions, first websites and then social media. But I still love seeing printed pieces in addition to emails and I feel we all should be open to viewing everything (both good and bad work can inspire) . Use green as an excuse if you really feel it, but please be genuine and don’t use it as an excuse to shut off those who are promoting themselves exactly like you do for your clients.

  11. Seriously this excuse of “going green” seems so contrived and arrogant. If you really and truly wanted to be green your office probably wouldn’t even exist! Think of all the wasteful things that an office already does that is not environmentally sound. This is just an arrogant stick your nose up in the air and I am holier than thou BS.

    • Contrived and arrogant…total agreed!
      For the vast amount of paper used, it is made from harvested trees.
      Planted just like corn, just for the purpose of making paper, not old growth trees.
      And then after these trees are harvested new trees are planted in their place. While they are growing, the young trees produce lots of oxygen, and provide great habitat for deer, quail, turkeys and other wildlife.
      Green…give me a break, total BS. But I’m sure they all feel righteous.

    • Donnor Party

      Our building is LEEDS certified.

      There is a “Green” component, but its an effort to cut down on crap coming through the door on a constant basis.

  12. Anne Maureen McKeating

    Well, I used the word “ironic” re the agency’s policy, but perhaps I should have said “ridiculous”, which is closer to the truth. However it doesn’t change the net result.

  13. scott rex Ely

    So does discussing the need for posting on a social media site qualify as posting on a social media site?

  14. scott rex Ely

    I’m fascinated by the formulaic approach that seems necessary for people’s happiness. I do appreciate immensely the opportunities Rob provides for people to view the other side of the green curtain.
    However, to come out and promote a notion, or fact apparently, that is really nothing more than a subjective trend, a self fulfilling prophesy of what makes the client’s life easier trend, is really just making advertising photography as much of a cliche as photography is a commodity.

    Good editing is not a passive technology.

  15. I work in Toronto and I can tell you its a hard city to get work in with ” certain ” agencies like Taxi who only want to work with the people they party with and the people who write stories about them on their blogs … ( come on down West Side ) Don’t get me wrong.. they have some great photographers and they do a good job with publicity but the question we should be asking ourselves is … ( hello art directors and creative directors…. ) why not cut someone new a break sometime? It is part of your job to meet new photographers and find the ones that will inspire you. If you only want to work with the same people all the time what good is that to our industry? So next time I call you and you tell me to email you a promo… and then when I email you a promo you tell me to not email you… but send a mailer… and next time I send you a mailer and you tell me you don’t accept mailers what am i suppose to do?

    • Donnor Party

      The simple answer is that there is too much money on the line to go with an unknown shooter, in most cases. If the shit hits the fan the AD gets blamed, is fired from the account, and gets all sulky. The same goes for good campaigns. No one wants to take a risk.

      Small campaigns with interesting clients, where the monetary value is low, and the clients sign on to a shooter because they love the shooter’s work, that is how new talent comes in, at least that is one path. But note, these “new shooters” aren’t “new”, they are new to commercial. Some agencies working with the right client can do really interesting work. Greys and DirectTV come to mind, but this is rare.

      • I have not worked for Taxi in the longest time, but its not only about who you party with, it is about comfort level with both you as a person and your skill as a photographer. Ann Maureen is one of the best proponents of photography in Toronto. She’s not only a proponent, she’s an active photographer who is also involved with the photo community. She can be a strong help if she likes your book. So, instead of mailing out and emails, call her and go see her.

        I do have an issue when an advertising agency tells me not to advertise. Its not only ironic, but a little insulting. When Taxi stops making ads, I will stop emailing and my direct mail pieces will come to a halt. Oh and please do not put web banners up advertising for your clients when I am surfing or reading an email from my mom.

        I do understand that as an advertiser, I should come up with something new that intrigues and commands attention. And like my contemporaries at advertising agencies, that is what I strive to do.

        If you are going to have a policy of no promo’s, create an opportunity for us to connect. Have a portfolio night, or day. Have a day once every two months that allows face to face interactions. I could bring cookies and treats, but I’ll be there to discuss photography.

  16. james waaramaa

    I do not send any thing not even emails any more.My photography is a nice thing I like to do. I gave up at looking at mags and fashion stuff I use to like to look at .A pic holds my interest for 1 sec.sorry I turned out just like creative peps in the industry.

  17. @tony et al,

    You’re right that agency AD’s typically work only with people they party with and Toronto is no exception, every city in North America has become that way. It used to be you got hired for the “big jobs” because you were reliable, experienced, good at what you did and delivered on the brief. Things that come with years of experience. Digital made it possible for “20 somethings” to become “professional photographers” without having to do any of that boring stuff like assisting, learning to light, learning the business side of things etc. etc. The net result is that if you’re over 40 and spent the first 5 years of your career assisting and learning the business, you’re probably getting your lunch eaten by one or a few of the thousands of young people who take pictures for money because “instagram is cool”, have had an email address since grade 1 and have never actually seen a roll of film unless it was associated with some sort of ironic side project.

    Photography has come a long way and there is some really stunning stuff out there to be sure but, when it comes to advertising specifically, it’s my opinion that we’ve never had it worse. I’d like to think this is because they’re not hiring me instead of their drinking buddies but, the truth is, for the most part, it’s iStock’s fault.

    It used to be that agencies would pitch their clients on a campaign idea with mock ups of concepts, hand drawn sketches that tell the story. Now, they show them mock ups of crap taken off iStock that fit the concept and instead of the client saying “great idea, let’s shoot it” they say “great, how much is this image in the mock up?” “50 bucks” “50 bucks! buy that one, we’re using it instead of doing a custom shoot”. Worse still, clients are going into creative meetings and dictating to creatives that they only use stuff shot in house that’s in the clients library or they’re telling the agency to use iStock ’cause it’s so cheap. The result is, there’s an awful lot of bad visual advertising out there these days and if you talk to 20 AD’s (like you can get one on the phone) 18 will tell you they long for an opportunity to do just one interesting photo shoot a month like they used to.

    This is the root of the problem. There’s 75% less custom photography going on at agencies now and 500% more photographers out there trying to get that work. It’s time to move on folks, supply has vastly outstripped demand.

    The fact that Getty sold itself to the Carlyle group recently for $3.3 BILLION and Shutterstock went public a month or so ago and has a market value of almost 3/4 of a BILLION dollars (!) and yet only pays contributors a few dollars per sale at most should tell you the following:

    1. Stock contributors are being royally fleeced in multiple ways by the owners of stock agencies who are lighting their Cubans with $100 bills on Wall Street while they churn millions of images a month out to buyers who formally paid for custom photography and now pay $50 or a $100.

    2. That these Stock agencies continue to sprout up and announce “millions of images available” should tell you that there are way too many people chasing the “stock millionaire” myth that results in the tsunami of images available

    3. That there is simply too many people trying to be “professional photographers” and the barrier to entry is so low now that I cringe at parties and social functions when I answer the question “what do you do for a living?” because I know someone else in the group will pipe up with “Oh, my cousin, uncle etc. is a photographer too” when what they really mean is “my cousin has an expensive camera and no real job so he takes pictures of dogs, cats, babies, weddings etc for about 1/100th of what you charge because he still lives in his mothers garage and has no overhead but, when he gets his shit together, he’ll go back to dental school and leave a HUGE hole in the photography industry that can only be filled by another wannabe with no overhead because he spent two years stinking up the market before he figured out you can’t actually make a living at those rates”. Trust me, this did not and could not happen in the film days.

    The bottom line is, most art buyers are not doing nearly as much photography as you think they are and when they do, there is so much noise and so many places to turn to for photography that the choice is paralyzing. 90% of us should be heading for the exits immediately.

    • Great post. Film days was when photography was, on reflection, real work; not that I don’t appreciate digital.. when did I last use a meter ? And stock and its effect on assignments, well everyone, take a bow and exit stage left before frustration with what was a real fine way to make a living is overrun by any(every)one toting a phone camera.. I’m over it, but truth is I still want to shoot for a living.

  18. Maybe the policy at this example agency has changed, is subjective in application, or they just toss the promos now days. I personally delivered printed promos to the agency last week. Handed them to a smiling receptionist, and so far no call to come pick-up my tree wasting promos. Maybe it was the receptionist checking my site the next day. Love analytics.

    No matter what you produce, green vs non green, or how you send it. Promoting your work has always been a guessing game. Always will be.

    Peter.
    100% true. Over the years on two ends of the earth I have experienced everything you said. It has always been a who you know, flavour of the month, how cheap can we get it game here. It is only advertising. You may be wound a bit too tight mate. Relax. It will only make your hair fall out.

    • I have been thinking about making the leap into the commercial world for many years now. a few kids delayed my entrance, but I am on the doorstep again. This is all so depressing. And, Peter, I am just as frustrated as you are. How can anyone tell you to relax when we are all watching our industry fade away? And by that I mean, yes, photography is still a necessary medium in advertising, but making a living at it, this is an opportunity that is few and far between. I am one of those 40 somethings that spent years assisting, producing and now the past 9 years shooting. I have stuck with the ‘baby’ market while I had my own babies, which has trained me well. I feel I am a seasoned photographer with a lot of skills and creativity, but I am hesitant to start a new promo (which I put on hold this summer) and spend thousands of $$$$ on something that will be thrown in the trash. I just don’t have that kind of money. Remember, I am a photographer.

  19. As an art director for a global ad agency, I get so many emails every day from agents/photographers and ignore most! It’s so refreshing to get a piece of printed material particularly with some personal work…. especially if it’s creatively and professional thought out and well put together!

    • I agree Steve. Another thing email has done is make those printed pieces look so much better. The money being used to get email addresses is not for the most part, being used to make printed work. When someone does spend the money on printed work it tends to be better thought out, better targeted and better all around. Plus there is less competition for desk space now as there are fewer mailers.

      Will agree with Anne Mau though. Unique is still the winner. Outside, creative thinking backed by solid work.

      Though it was not a photographers promo piece Brooks Running just sent out packages to certain people it was targeting/influencing. In the package was a large nicely wrapped chocolate egg. Inside that egg was a pair of their new xxxx shoe. It not only showed creativity but it also showed off how light and flexible the shoe was. It also showed some pretty big appreciation for the person who received it. The social reward for Brooks was also big as ppl were tweeting their finds.

      Another fine example: I received a large’ish gold painted real safe at my desk one afternoon. All that it had attached to it was a twitter handle. In order for me to get inside I had to figure out the code. In order to get that I had to ‘Wow WTF is this’ on twitter. A reply came with the digits to get in. Inside was the new product – Red Bull Zero. The point here is interaction. My curiosity was peaked. I needed to get inside (maybe it was a body part!) I had to ‘get’ social. I got a reply and a reward which was the new product. Twitter was alive that day with clients/media/athletes/ looking for this code.

      Sure most shooters do not have Red Bull or Brooks marketing budget but there is take home from these two examples. Interaction and Appreciation. Creativity and curiosity. And if an AD or CD is tweeting about your promo it is a big win for you.

      Like your work your promotion should stand apart from the rest of the crowd.

      • Myles Myles Myles…. First of all, it been a while. So, En Garde!

        You’re confusing clever, smart, and interactive marketing with effective marketing.

        Clever and smart may win an award to two, be memorable enough to write about in a blog post and even create a certain buzz for a while, but effective marketing lands jobs. Granted, creating effective marketing is elusive – as ad agencies are keenly aware of.

        Highly memorable rarely translates into highly effective.

    • Refreshing to hear Steve, it’s my perception too.
      Thousands of emails, they are free after all, how many actually arrive at a buyers screen and actually get opened?
      If one does a well designed and printed mailer it will at least get seen before being tossed into the bin…

      Might even get saved.

  20. So many great points made. I really does come back to what someone wants personally. I’ve been doing self promo for years. I’ll admit that a lot of crap went out early on. Workbook and AtEdge are still important….just as important as Facebook and a few other social media trappings. Its part of the process now. Where once you sent a mailer out and received portfolio requests you now watch google analytics to see who goes to what and from where. Its not glamorous or personal but it does work. IPads are nice when you need something fast and affordable but it does not and will never take the place of a thought out crafted portfolio. I meet with art buyers from all around the country and every time they open a book they run their hands over the cover and smile when they see a printed image. Something printed has your style stamped on it. I love apple but something crafted kicks an ipads ass every time.

    As for the mailed self promo angle. I print small “promobooks” every 1.5 years and have a nice size list. I work with a great designer who understands my work and designs to compliment it. Yes its a luxury but working as a team with someone is priceless. Our main goal has always been simple…DO NOT SEND CRAP. Give something that has visual value and offers something about yourself to whomever opens it. I have met the AB’s that do not want anything anymore. I respect that. Creatives are inundated with crap photography all the time. I see it in the trash when I go on appointments and I feel sorry for whomever sent it that they thought this is the best they could do.

    Its important to be thoughtful and personal in your direct mail. Its just as important to be thoughtful and personal in your social media dealings. Will doing this make someone open your promo? Maybe. Being consistent across the board and recognizing that its a years long process to build relationships is the most important thing.

    • Walter
      Exactly. I received an a6 size promo book of personal work from a photographer here in the uk about 10 years ago (Alex Telfer), I still cherish that lovely piece of communication!

      • Exactly! Its about personal work…about building the relationship. I have people that have my work hanging on their walls but we’ve never done a job together. Yes I need to make a living (4 kids) but I still appreciate when someone loves the work enough to live with it like they do. Shoot me an address ad I’ll send you a set of promobooks. After seeing your photography work I think you’d appreciate them.

      • Donnor Party

        Exactly. The printed promo that is authentic and heartfelt, good photography, will always be welcomed.

  21. There is a lot of hypocrisy in all of this. Unfortunately it’s a huge amount of expense and time spent for little return. But if that agency feels compelled to improve the process, maybe instead of preaching they could create An industry wide do not email or do not mail, or maybe even do not bother at all list. If you look through Agency Access, by my count about 80% of listed creatives either don’t provide an email or specify ‘dislike email promos’. So much for sending them emails instead in order to safe a tree.

    In the end everyone it he game knows that the agencies need some amount of custom photography (the stock photo argument above not withstanding), and photographers need assignments if their work is generally acceptable and applicable. But currently we only arrive there through a huge war of attrition on both sides. Almost feels like the trenches in WW1. As an industry we need to move beyond that, and put the focus on utilizing this energy to create superior imagery and campaigns, not wear each other out.

  22. Look it’s not that hard. Nobody wants spam. And printed promos are generally spam.

    If yours isn’t spam, then its fine. It’s not spam if you already have a relationship. If you don’t have a relationship – CREATE ONE by actually personally contacting whoever it is you’re interested in. And wait for them to reply. If they don’t, leave ‘em alone or try again later.

    My promo list is all of 300 people I’ve worked with over the years. And printed promos go to even fewer. If I see something or someone I want to get to know, I send them an e-mail I actually wrote myself.

    • 1/2 agree Craig. If its a well designed beautiful piece it will get looked at more than if its crap. That being said…some AB’s just trash them without looking. It can go either way.

  23. Good info in the post. My thought is to do a green promo if that is the what they like. Adding another self produced project to the inventory keeps things grocery store fresh. I wonder how many photographers use spreadsheets to track their advertising efforts. It can be a catalog of who likes what too.

    Interesting read of comments too, so many problems with the possibility of an equal amount of problem solvers.

  24. I think that agencies should accept printed promos via email. Today’s world is now living in technologies. Social media is a bridge between any two sources. So I strongly oppose this mentality of advertising agencies.

  25. matthew pace

    There is no ” Magic Pill ” nor is there only one Guru to say how it should be done. Times change and so do people’s tastes. What is true is that relying on just one method of promotion is not enough. Doing them all is exhausting and futile. Finding the right combination for your voice and being consistent is the trick and very hard one to do, especially if you allow yourself to be influenced b what some say.

  26. Regarding the column title: The grammar rule is people who, things that. So, “Agencies that…” would be the correct wording. Details matter.