Business Trends
How To Find Commercial Clients

Many consumer (wedding/portrait) photographers look at commercial photography projects and ask--is that for me? The answer is yes, but only if you are willing to do some homework. Unlike the consumer market where you wait for the photo client to call from an ad or a referral, you can search for and call on the commercial market client.

Basically defined, commercial photography is whenever the photo buyer is a business. This business can be an individual professional decorating their lobby or offices (corporate fine art) or a major corporation (ads, annual reports)--and everything in between!

Do Your Homework
The quality of your research is critical to your success. Whether you are looking for new commercial clients or making a transition to commercial work, you will want to work with the best quality research. This means that while some resources list a client simply because they exist, others list clients that are more actively buying photography. For maximum return of your investment of money, time, and energy, you want the latter.

Before we look at this research, remember to start with your local market. Being the "neighborhood" photographer is good for all kinds of commercial work. It may not be glamorous advertising work but it will get you started or help pay the bills. Opportunities surround you; you just have to dig them out. Start with your location. If you own or rent a studio in an office or industrial park, check the tenant's directory for leads. If you have a studio in your home, check with your local realtor for businesses in the area (realtors know everything about a neighborhood). You may even end up working with the realtor on their photo needs!

Next, check both your city and your county Chamber of Commerce for "local" photography needs. Any size company that joins a Chamber of Commerce is actively seeking to promote their products and services. You can use this to your advantage because commercial photography is not about the photos; it is about what your photos are going to do for the client's marketing and promotion effort. Some photographers have even taken on cooperative ventures with graphic designers or printers to reach out to these smaller, local clients in order to provide a "full service" package of design, photography, and printing needs.

Defining Some Potential Clients
When you have your commercial portfolio and promotional materials pulled together, you can then start serious research. The best way to approach your search is to first define what kind of commercial client you are seeking. The top choices usually are:
· Advertising Agencies
· Graphic Design Firms
· Corporate (also called Client-Direct)
· Editorial
· Corporate Fine Art
When looking for advertising photography assignments, you are selling to an advertising agency based on the type of clients they represent, such as selling food photography to an agency with food clients. Even subject categories as broad as people or product photography can be broken down into specific client types. For leads on people photography you will look at ad agencies that have "service" sector clients such as healthcare, financial, or insurance. For product photography, look at agencies with "manufacturing" clients such as computers or electronics. True, you do see people in computer advertising, but when doing this kind of primary research you are taking your best guess at the most likely leads for commercial photo assignments.

Design firms are wonderful clients for photographers! Like ad agencies, they work with the projects (including buying the photography) that a company feels an outside creative firm can best handle. Like editorial clients, they work collaboratively with their photographers, often asking for the photographer's perspective. Their photography projects often have extensive shot lists, such as an annual report or a web site. Sometimes their photo needs are regular and seasonal, such as catalogs. Though more difficult to research and less visible than an ad agency, they are very good clients for repeat business.

Direct Buyers
Companies that buy photography directly (client-direct) are usually in the area of corporate communications photography. The most visible of these projects is the annual report (if it is done in-house) but there are many other photography needs in this area. There are dozens of directories that list the names of companies to develop into photography leads. Watch for the more highly qualified information, such as membership in an industry association directory. The value of this level of information is that it "weeds" out the companies marketing less aggressively and leaves you with firms that are actively promoting their products and services. What can you guess from this qualification? You can guess they are probably doing more promotion and therefore need more photography!

Editorial photography is usually assignment work for a magazine that needs photos to illustrate the articles in each issue. Though the photo fee rates are usually fixed by the publication at a low-end "page rate," many photographers pursue editorial because of: the credibility of having published work and creative freedom to pursue their personal style. Be sure when you pursue editorial clients you have thoroughly read and reviewed copies of the magazine so that you are familiar with their own style--what they call their "focus." This will give you many clues to the direction of their photography needs. Some are cutting edge; some are conservative--know who you are selling to before you knock on their door.

Corporate fine art is a wonderful area of photography for stock sales and pursuing your personal style. This is a client that buys (usually large) prints for their company. Commercial clients like this use your work for both the public (e.g., lobby) and private (e.g., CEO office) in a building. The projects range from prints for the corporate headquarters to all the branch offices. It also includes photography as decor used in the healthcare industry for hospitals and the hospitality industry for hotels and restaurants. Your clients are widespread in this area and include the corporate facilities planning managers, interior designers, and fine art reps.

Partial List Of Resources For Research

For Advertising Agencies:
Adweek Directory

Agency ComPile

Agency Access

For Graphic Design Firms:
The Workbook Directory

For Corporate (Client-Direct):
RedBooks Advertisers and Agencies

Business Journal in each city lists Top
25 companies "Book of Lists"

Encyclopedia of Associations, one of
many directories from The Gale Group

For Editorial:
Standard Rates & Data Services (SRDS)
for both editorial leads and the editorial

For Corporate Fine Art:
Writer's Digest