Portfolios From The Edge; Websites As Marketing Tools

Is your website working as hard as it could as an online portfolio? I have been back and forth for years with photographers and their clients on website marketing and not everyone agrees on their value. Certainly, websites are an important marketing tool when used as advertising--they broadcast your marketing message to potential clients. But how well do they work as portfolios to showcase your work?

One of the most important developments in the website as advertisement vs. portfolio discussion has been the development of portfolio websites. I remember seeing one demonstrated at a conference in 1999. It was www.portfolios.com and after a change in ownership in 2003, veteran art director Dan Tanenbaum was appointed president of Portfolios.com. Tanenbaum spent most of '03 and '04 relaunching the website and in '05 David Katz became co-owner of the company, joining as the CEO.

All Photos © 2007, Micheal Shopa, All Rights Reserved

Though they feature all disciplines of creative services, such as illustrators and graphic designers, many photographers are also using the site as a marketing tool. Recently, Portfolios.com was selected to develop online portfolios for the Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and the online portfolio showcases for the Commercial Photographers International and the Society of Sport and Event Photographers. I talked with Katz to bring us up-to-date on the latest in online portfolios.

Shutterbug: How did Portfolios.com get started?

David Katz: When Portfolios.com started back in the '90s, it was an online source book for free-lance creative professionals serving the advertising and publishing industries.

SB: What has changed in the industry during the last 10 years?

DK: First, the industry has become far more competitive on a global scale with lower barriers to entry, leading to massive fragmentation. The mass adoption of digital photography has resulted in an early "graduation" of advanced photographers into the professional realm, rightly or wrongly. Second, search engines have become more sophisticated, making it far easier to locate and hire photographers abroad. Third, the proliferation of stock images and the accompanying pricing pressure has caused digital assets to compete with assignment services. Sure, there will always be the need for custom shoots for events, advertisements, and the like, but high-quality stock images that are extremely affordable have certainly taken their toll on a photographer's income.

SB: How does Portfolios.com work for photographers in today's marketplace full of photographers and new technology?

DK: While the website was designed to allow photographers and other professional artists exposure to those who retain their services, we found that many used the service for different purposes. For some, it was an easy way to manage a website with a unique and easy to remember URL. For others, it was the ability to e-mail post cards of their portfolio images to their clients and contacts. The common theme remains marketing, whether using the service to reach out to existing contacts or to attract new clients who frequent the site looking for the latest talent.

SB: With all of these changes, how does a photographer evaluate adding a portfolio website page to their existing website and marketing plan?

DK: Stock or no stock, assignment work is critical to making a good living as a professional photographer. The fragmentation of the industry has made it difficult for clients to compare portfolios online--there are simply too many websites to visit and no inherent quality measures when using search engines to find photographers. Using similar templates to display their work and credentials, portfolio websites create a collection of professional photographers, making side-by-side comparisons simpler for clients.

SB: How do you bring client traffic to your site to view a photographer's portfolio?

DK: We continue to promote the website and the services offered by our members through online marketing, search engine optimization, paid placements, web advertising, sponsorships and partnerships, such as the Portfolios Partner Network.