Business Trends
What Clients Want What Clients Need

Most photographers think that selling their work is all about images--but that is not the case, especially in today's commercial photography marketplace. But if you are not selling images, what is the client buying? We asked a handful of commercial photography clients two tough questions to find out what clients want and what
they need.

· What should photographers do and not do when planning commercial photography self-promotion?
· What kind of self-promotion materials from a photographer work best from the client's experience and point of view?

The most important thing to do is keep an open mind! Look carefully at their responses, as sometimes they agree and sometimes they disagree. This is an abbreviated version of our survey, but there were three things almost every client said about a photographer's self-promotion:
1. Don't call and ask them about your direct mail campaign because sales calls and direct mail are separate and parallel marketing efforts.
2. Do develop better websites.
3. Do investigate how to do really good e-mail marketing.

Shutterbug: What should photographers do and not do when planning commercial photography self-promotion?

Mary LaFleur, 1Health Communications: I am always really busy so I really dislike being contacted by telephone. It is awkward for me to try to respond without being rude. I like to receive good direct mail. I also prefer to speak to the photographer very early in the process of getting acquainted. Since I will be spending a lot of time in the studio/location with the photographer, developing some kind of early bond makes my choice of photographer easier.

Marcus Wesson, Mendelsohn Zien Advertising: There are hundreds of photographers out there sending promo pieces. So when you get a call from one of them asking if you've received their post card or whatever, it's like asking someone if you've received a credit card application in the mail recently. Creatives get so much junk mail that it usually just ends up in the garbage. Photographers now are finding new ways to tap Art Directors, like websites and e-mail. Be creative. Send the creatives a funny piece. Sending an e-mail with a link to a website works best for me. Websites can always be bookmarked.

Ginnie Kingsbury, Rubin Postaer & Associates: When you are calling to introduce yourself, do immediately qualify the work, such as fashion, lifestyle, tabletop, automotive, etc. When you are meeting with me for the first time in person, do ask for input specifically regarding the potential your work has with my accounts/clients.

When you are presenting your portfolio, don't over-explain the work. Make short and simple statements of special interest (not necessarily for every shot) that serve to draw me into the work. For example, "That was in Australia during the worst windstorm in 100 years," or, "We shot this using a new rig we designed." It opens the door for more conversation if I'm interested and it adds value to the review process by adding depth to the visuals.

Jigisha Bouverat, TBWA CHIAT DAY Advertising, Inc.: Do keep the promotional work at a reasonable size (preferably no larger than 8x10, 4x5, or 5x7 works best). Do try to present 2-6 images in the promotional piece. This allows us to see the consistency and range of the photographer. Do include name, contact information, and website on all promotional pieces. I believe that promotional mailers are a very effective way to make the initial contact. Websites might also be appropriate depending on the situation but I prefer to go to the website from the promotional piece if I like the work.

Jessica Hoffman, Crispin Porter + Bogusky: Be polite, considerate, and mindful; we are your potential client. Those flaunting an arrogant demeanor are filed as swiftly as possible (directly into the trash can). There are an incredible number of talented people in the world who are nice and fun to work with. Share your accomplishments--if you've won an award, were featured in an article, or even published for the very first time, that's a great reason to send out notice! By doing this you introduce yourself or remind me of who you are in a more significant way.

Rob Sexton, S2 Design: As a designer I face the same self-promotion situation. Because of the shortness of time and the reduction of budgets, designers are averse to using an untried photographer. Having case studies stressing problem-solving skills will suggest that your portfolio strength may be in solving clients' visual communication challenges. If you can document how you solved a difficult assignment using your photography skills, you can demonstrate that you are a person who has the ability to solve other communication problems.

SB: What kind of self-promotion materials (websites, print portfolios, direct mail, etc.) from a commercial photographer work best from your point of view?

Mary LaFleur, 1Health Communications: I have always liked "good" direct mail but I am getting really comfortable with websites. As far as direct mail is concerned, I dislike single post cards [too little information and usually poor choice of single imagery] and I like photographers who try something a little different [individual loose single pages, small booklets, etc.]. The reason that I like websites is because I usually have filing challenges so I cannot keep every sample that I receive. Also, websites allow me: to bookmark the site so that I don't lose it, see a lot of images that can sometimes be updated regularly, forward the site to clients and other members of my team, and get lots of information including images, bio, and studio description with directions, etc.

Amanda Sosa Stone, Foote Cone & Belding: My personal favorite type of e-mail promotion is e-collateral/e-promos. They are inexpensive to make, they are easy to view (no mail to open), and they can give me a direct link to someone's website.

Jigisha Bouverat, TBWA CHIAT DAY Advertising, Inc.: I think each of all of the promotional tools for photographers has its specific use. Direct mail is the best for initial contact and keeping the industry abreast of new work. Websites are great to show a wider range of commercial and personal work--we often use them to show Art Directors a photographer's work before we commit to calling in the book. Both promotional mailers and websites are valuable reference tools at the research phase of a project. Print portfolios are best once a photographer is being considered for the project. Art buyers and Art Directors are able to see a full range of work in a tangible manner. In almost every situation, our Art Directors do not make a decision on choice of photographers until they have seen the portfolio books a number of times.

Chris Keefe, Pacific Communications: Whatever you do don't send a post card! Everyone sends them and they end up in the trash. (Sorry.) The best direct mail promo I received recently was in a mailing tube and it included a sample photo with a "giveaway" item in the tube that related to the photo. It was unique and got me to take a look at the work. The next, and best, way to get work is to go to ad agencies with or without a rep and meet with the Art Directors. It is the best way to get people to actually look at the work and for them to get to know you; most people want to work with someone who is a good artist as well as a good person and personality.

Jessica Hoffman, Crispin Porter + Bogusky: The best self-promotion materials I think are a photo credit of any ads being celebrated in any awards. Book or trade publications, source books such as Workbook, Alternative Pick, and Blackbook are still very much relied upon. Pick the one that suits you best. Show more than one photo. Do make websites easy to maneuver through and, although this may sound picky, time is a commodity. Huge watermarks over every image simply annoy me. Find another way to alert me to your copyright terms. No long loading times and I like being able to click on an image and see it larger size. Show either more or less images than what's represented in your portfolio, not the same exact stuff.

Printed pieces are excellent tangible reminders and work well in a spur of the moment meeting because they are something in hand to throw up on a wall for consideration. Ship printed pieces every three months or so. Make sure your name is on the outside of the piece and include your web address. Reasonably-sized pieces, original in content and well executed equals "a keeper" for me. Multiple images are better than one and folded accordion style or a few cards in a clear envelope works well for me, but, don't send posters! Have wonderful portfolios. They remind us of the art within this wonderful craft. We all get to slow down for a minute and study. Take pride and care in creating one. I have to be able to present something to my client that speaks not only for the style and capabilities of the photographer, but their professionalism or originality as well.