Business Trends
Creative Ideas For Self Promotion In The Marketplace

For photographers, finding new ideas for self-promotion is an ongoing business issue. In today's competitive marketplace, you have to maintain a balance between what creative ideas you plan and what you can really accomplish. To help you evaluate your marketing plan for next year, I asked eight professional photographers for input on this important issue. While each has been in business different lengths of time and works in different photography markets, they all agree that becoming a master of this balancing act is essential to business success. Please keep in mind the photographers are targeting different clients for work and that single factor is an important influence on their answers! What works in one photography market will not necessarily work for every type of client. I asked two basic questions:

· What self-promotion ideas or techniques have worked the best for you?

· What advice would you give to a photographer starting in business today?

Shutterbug: What self-promotion in today's new marketplace has worked and what has you concerned for the future?

Rick Etkin: I believe in the classic marketing mix with repetition and reinforcement. I have used just about all forms of advertising and promotion over the years. Direct mail has been effective in the past but does not have the same results now. All of my marketing (including direct mail, directory ads, free listings, etc.) points potential clients to my web site ( where a lot of time and energy has been spent to make it effective. The site gets nearly 2000 unique visits every month from all over the world and last September my web site resulted in the largest project I have ever had. I estimate approximately 100 qualified buyers look at my portfolio every month, which is more than I could ever personally see. With my other online portfolios at my rep's sites (,, the potential is very high for greater response.

The downside is the anonymity of the visitors. I don't know who has looked or what they were looking for and I can't add them to a mailing list. Despite this drawback, the web site is essential to my marketing, expanding client base, and profile. The most measurably ineffective marketing has been the display advertising in the creative directories, with few calls and far fewer jobs. I can't tell how many people go to my site after seeing my display ads, but I hope the ads are creating some web site traffic.

SB: What about using a portfolio site as an option to maintaining your own site?

Ken Newman: In terms of self-promotion, I would have to say that the greatest asset available to me has been my web site at www.Nikon I was in the process of developing a site that would allow for online sales, easy uploading and updating of images, and a simple storefront. Building one from scratch turned out to be cost-prohibitive, so I decided to try it out. I have to say that it's been a godsend. As a direct result of my presence on the web, I was recently signed by an online stock agency; they found me on NikonPro's site. Additionally, I have sold numerous images online of events that I've covered (sporting, parties, festivals, etc.). The process for me is amazingly simple. I upload images to an "event" folder, assign a password, contact interested parties, and the billing, credit authorization, printing, and shipping are all handled for me. The only part I have to deal with is the "digital darkroom" work and, frankly, that's the part I love.

SB: What is the most unusual campaign you have launched?

Jeff Colburn: I started a new campaign with a desktop calendar. It was good for one month and included a 4x5 print of some pretty picture. It included a small photo album to store each month's picture in, then at the end of the year I sent out a questionnaire (just a few questions) that the client had to answer correctly by looking at my pictures they had put in the little album. All the people with correct answers received a prize (a nice pen) and those with incorrect answers also received a prize (a not as nice pen, but still good enough so the client would keep it).

SB: What has been the most successful effort you have made for getting the attention of clients?

Lucas Cichon: In November 2000 the commercial studio I worked for went out of business and I started on my own. I had limited success with post card mailings. Although I sent out post cards every other month new business wasn't coming in. Follow-up phone calls showed me that my mailings weren't creating enough of an impact to provide any name recognition. In order to get more recognition from art buyers and Art Directors I changed from post cards to an 8.5x11 cardboard clamshell box with 10 pages of prints. The images included in the box are some of my most edgy work. When I follow-up with a phone call almost everyone remembers the box and my name. At first I was skeptical of putting the more edgy work into the box promo but the reaction has been positive. My goal was to produce a promo that looked somewhat personalized and handmade yet takes limited amounts of effort to produce. I also wanted to be able to customize the images because I research the ad agency I'm sending to and include images that they would find interesting. We add two small clear labels to the box (one on the front, one inside with address and phone number) write a handwritten note, add the 10 pages and send it out.

Bernard Mendoza: As far as new marketing strategies are concerned, I decided that every photographer and his mother were sending out post card mailers and using display ads in source books. I think all this does, with few exceptions, is keep the name in front of people. More often than not, the cards are filed away in some drawer (or trash basket) never to see daylight again. Normally I would print 1000 cards four to five times a year. The cost of postage, especially as 1/3 of those cards were going abroad, was becoming exorbitant. Now I am using more selective marketing and using the computer to produce 10-12 handmade little portfolio books each month. I select and send these out only to those clients whose work I like and whom I think would relate to my style and kind of photography. Instead of spending time sticking labels and stamps on post cards I spend time thoroughly researching potential clients. I have also become very specialized so clients know exactly what I do. This translates into having a very strong portfolio. I shoot black and white only, people only, and on location only. My work has a very strong reportage style. Clients know that and call me only for that kind of work. In the past I was much more a general practitioner than a specialist.

Michael Sedge: Many photographers, like many small businesses, got caught up in the web craze of the last '90s, developing elaborate web sites without giving consideration to the fact that these are merely "digital brochures" in most cases. After such a site is created, one must then do a heavy market push to draw potential clients to the site. In the end, it was only successful to a handful of photographers because after spending money on web development, they had none left over for the required marketing to get clients to the site.

I think the key to self-promotion is getting one's foot in the door. Once there, you must absorb as much information as possible to target the client's needs. I utilized this technique to break into Discovery Channel as well as many other companies--Earth Watch, Time-Life. Here it is:

· Set up a meeting with an Art Director, marketing manager, or editor.

· Find out what the company's long-term goals are, what projects are in the works, and how you might fit in.

· Don't pitch your services immediately, but always have material to leave with the person you met.

· Then, after you have given some consideration as to how you could fit into their projects and provide a benefit, approach them with a written proposal.
Photographers put too little effort into marketing strategy and it can pay off big time. It took me seven or eight months to get involved in a Discovery Channel project. Once I did, however, it turned into a $15,000 contact and future business. The key is to ask, "What can I do to increase or make my business better?"

Finally, here's a list of suggestions and advice from our professionals dedicated to the photographer starting in business today. Because each photography business is different, you are looking at a range of answers, from the practical to the sublime!

Rick Etkin: Keep flexible, keep your overhead low and keep a web site portfolio presence online. Also, with diminishing assignment budgets in a tight economy you have to find a way to set yourself apart from everyone else.

Ken Newman: My advice to a photographer starting in business today is to, first of all, make the move to digital. I know there is still some debate on whether digital is really ready for all applications. Some pros claim it's still a few years away. But from my experience, magazines and newspapers have been very responsive to all my digital offerings, (even some that were shot on "consumer" level cameras). I also believe that a web presence is absolutely essential to a photographer. I know, personally, that my recent successes would not have been possible without one.

Geo D. Oliver: Stay true to your dreams and yourself. Don't find yourself brainwashed by lectures that anchors one's creativity into a world where you are chasing the money, rather than The Shot. Freedom of expression is what it is all about. Freedom from the norm gives you the freedom to explore and the freedom to create your own photo world.

Christine Burgoyne: Since you most likely have the skills and creativity to take photographs, your next move would be to have a business plan. Take business and marketing courses and check out the Small Business Administra-tion. Join a group like the American Society of Media Photog- raphers who are great partners in support, laws, copyright, education, etc. Create your marketing materials depending on whom you want to target--are they modest, middle, or high end? Keep it simple unless you have someone to help you. Use that creative side of your brain to market yourself in a unique man-ner or hire someone if you can't do that yourself.

Bernard Mendoza: Do not regard yourself as a photographer but rather see yourself as a can of baked beans on a supermarket shelf and ask the question--how would I go about marketing and selling those baked beans? How would I design and package them and what price can I afford to sell them at? And just as importantly, what am I going to include in the contents? Do not try and emulate someone else--be true to yourself. There could be nothing worse than failing because you tried to be something you are not and never knowing if you could have made it being who you truly are. At all times be professional, understand that we all have a responsibility to raise the bar and be proud that you have something special to offer--and don't give it away!

joshmurray's picture

Every strategy that you can make should be unique and something that would applause the market of your creative idea and marketing plans. It is where they can treat you the best player in business. Creative ideas including, branding, naming your company and how to name a product are the valuable tips that surely encourage potential client.