Marketing works. But it only works when you do it.

I am constantly reminded that for marketing to work you have to send it out.

Many of you have jobs in other fields and have no interest in marketing for photographers.  I get that.  But there's a fairly big proportion of young photographers here and I thought I'd throw together a blog about the most important aspect of professional photography, marketing.

Lots of photographers and reps save up and do one or two or three big marketing blasts a year.  And they send out material or e-mails to thousands of people at a time.  I think it's kind of dumb.  When I wrote my book, Commercial Photographer's Handbook, for Amherst Media I interviewed a lot of art directors and art buyers so that I would really understand how all this works.  To a person they all had the same basic response:  "We get so much stuff it's hard to remember what someone sent last month, let alone last quarter."  

What the really means is that you've got to stay in front of people.  But no one media can do everything. All the media you can use work together to build people's awareness that you,  A.  Exist.  B.  Provide Photography.  C.  Have a style they like.  The image above was sent out as an e-mail blast to around 100 people.  Why 100?  Because if you don't get a good response you might find out that people don't really respond the image.  Isn't it better if only 100 people see a ho-hum image to start with instead of 1,000? Next,  you could call to follow up with 100 people by making ten calls a day for ten days.  That's about as many as you can follow up with and not burn out.  And finally, you can handle those numbers without having to outsource to a bulk mailer.

I sent out about 100 of these e-mails as embedded pdf's.  I got two responses one business day later with invitations to show the book.  I booked a job on the second appointment.  In the next few days 14 people e-mailed me to comment on the mailer.  While it's not a huge response it's typical of the responses I get if I choose the right images and send out the right mailer.  

I think people send out a lot of e-mailers but I think campaigns should alternate between e-mail and direct mail and other kinds of promotions.  For every e-mailer campaign I do another print campaign to balance things out.  I recently had a series of 5x7 prints made at Costco for 29 cents a piece.  I sent out three prints in one envelope.  Each print has my website address and my tagline on the front.  (I just add the type to the photo in PhotoShop...).  The most telling response I get is, "Wow.  I love getting actual mail.  These days photographers seem to rely totally on e-mail.  I get a XXX number of e-mails a day and I don't have any real way of dealing with them or filing them for later.  If I like a print I can pin it up on the wall or stick in a physical folder."

The two questions I get most from other photographers are:   1.  How do you build a mailing list?  And, 2.  How do you decide what to send out?

To answer the first question, I have two strategies.   The first is that I've been building a personal list, one contact at a time, for nearly 20 years.  I meet someone, shake their hand, talk about the photography and/or advertising business and boom! they go into my address/contact book.  That's supplemented by buying a yearly list from Freshlists.  The first list is continuity and the concept that it's easier to sell to people who've already done work with you or know you throw referrals and social intermingling.  The second list exposes me to my (potential) new customers.  It's a nice mix.  Your friends get a mailer and call to tell you that you're a genius.  The new people start to get to know you.

When it comes to what to send out I follow the path of the greatest general emotional response.  Doesn't matter if I particularly like a piece but if three art directors all tell me that a piece is a favorite I'll use it mercilessly.  There's a strange idea afloat the you need to only show the newest stuff and that everything must be constantly updated.  I find that to be total and utter bullshit.  I think you should layer in "golden oldies" along with new stuff so there's continuity of marketing.  People may not remember you name but they may remember an image.  If you send it out frequently they'll find yo and use you if they like the piece enough.  Don't get me wrong. I think constant experimentation is great.  But I also know from studying advertising that you need to let an image sit and build for a while before you change it.  It takes a while to show up on people's radar even if they've seen it in passing several times before.

Bottom line?  If you are bitching about slow business and you're not mailing and e-mailing and following up then you must not REALLY want to be in this business.  But remember,  the mailing and e-mailing is bullshit by itself.  Those media are really just an invitation.  An opening.  What you really want.....and what really closes deals.....is sitting across the table and showing your portfolio.  And also showing off WHO you are and why they should care.  Even in the age of total internet most deals are done over coffee and a handshake.  Nothing else compares.

That's the end of my marketing sermon.  Now, back to our original programming......


Dave Jenkins said...

Just curious, Kirk -- how do you dress when you have a face-to-face to show your portfolio?

Daniel said...

Kirk, your statement: "It takes a while to show up on people's radar even if they've seen it in passing several times before." Really rings a bell with me. I have been noticing this as well. For lack of a better marketing plan, I have gotten the few jobs by word of mouth. My understanding and experience have come a long way. Still much further to go...I am ready to do some advertising-after I update my site, it needed to be updated 6 months ago. School, Family, Blah Blah, there really is no excuse.

Anyway, I just wanted to thank you for the ideas and inspiration from this blog post. I will be looking at my best images to choose The best mailers. Off to investigate the best way to create and automate an email list.

Bernie said...

Good stuff Kirk and I love the image.
Question: What form is your portfolio in? Are you using an ipad yet?

Anonymous said...


The first thing I do when I hop online, is check my reader for your blog. I have to tell you, I'm pissed!! (Not really.) You should keep your big mouth shut about the marketing. It's a lot easier to shine when my competition is sitting around waiting for the phone to ring, instead of being proactive.

All joking aside, this is a great post.

Steve Burns said...

Kirk: Timely sermon. Thanks! Between this blog and David duChemin's blog and some hard work I may actually get my corporate biz jump started again after a foray into the world of wedding work.

kirk tuck said...

Dave, If it's corporate (IBM, Freescale, Dell) I'll wear business casual. eg; pressed button down and khakis. If it's an agency then jeans and a nice shirt with a collar. I love the Ex Officio line of short sleeve shirts for most seasons in Texas. Can't go wrong with white. Never a tee shirt. I'll wear shorts if I already know the person and it's a casual place.

Rick Dickinson said...

Excellent marketing advice, as usual, Kirk. Mind if I throw in my two cents, as well?

Have a second person proofread work before you send it out. When I re-read something I wrote, I'll sometimes miss minor typos, missing words, and other similar errors, simply because I know what it should have said, and I'll "see" that instead of what's actually on the paper.

Case in point: your marketing piece, above, asks potential clients to "See use at www.kirktuck.com" rather than "See us at www.kirktuck.com". I suspect that you may have meant the latter....

In any case, thanks again for your excellent insights into the business of photography. I always look forward to your new posts, and I got a lot out of your Commercial Photography book, as well as your Minimalist Lighting one. I'm interested to see your new Lighting Equipment one, as well.

Dave Jenkins said...

Kirk wrote: "I'll wear business casual. eg; pressed button down and khakis."

Is that with or without tie and blazer, Kirk?

I also would like to know what form your portfolio is in. Mine is 11x14 gray boards with 8x10 and 10x10 prints mounted on them. I have a lot of different ones so I can tailor each presentation to the prospective buyer.

kirk tuck said...

Rick, You are absolutely right. And you make a very good point. I have a great proofreader in my wife but sometimes I get in such a hurry I skip that very important steeeep (just kidding, I meant "step"). But seriously, I've even seen a major company's name misspelled in their own literature. Sometimes when you see things all the time you fill in the mental blanks even when they are wrong.

kirk tuck said...

Dave, The coat and tie is usually reserved for face to face with CEO's these days. Everyone has become one notch more casual than before the "great recession". Also, I think it's regional. Here in Austin it's hot for six months out of the year and the jackets tend to be a greater burden. Wouldn't think of calling on a Northeastern client without at least a jacket....and always good shoes.

kirk tuck said...

Many have asked, mostly offline, about how I show a portfolio. I'll start by saying that I think you should be able to modify the portfolios you show to corporate and direct commercial clients to make them more fine tuned to their sectors. Advertising agency portfolios are a different beast.

My commercial portfolio is made up entirely of 12 by 18 inch prints from Costco. Say what you will but if you download their profiles and do your post production correctly they are just as beautiful as any other printer's. I'll do portfolio shows two ways. Sometimes I put the images into a custom made 12 by 18 inch museum style, clamshell case and pull out the stack and put them on the table and have the client leaf through the stack. This works well if there are multiple people in the meeting. The prints can be passed around.

I also have a leather binder with acrylic pages. I'll sequence my favorites through this and present it just like everyone else's leather portfolios.

Why do I use 12 by 18 inches? Because it's the largest size that Costco conveniently prints. (I prefer the lustre finish for my stuff. Yes, I know glossy can look sharper...). People are used to seeing stuff on screens and many photographers show smaller sizes so the 12/18 is more impressive and much more detailed. You'd be shocked at how much different a great print looks than the same image on a screen.

I thought about the iPad but the screen is too small for first time shows and group presentations. I want the impact of the big print. Even for video I think the iPad is great for casual, "hey, look at this thing I just did" presentations with established clients but if I was showing video to a new client I'd rather have them see it on a well calibrated 17 inch laptop at the bare minimum. Most marcom depts and ad agencies have a big screen TV somewhere and we call in advance to make sure we can use it.

For ad agencies I tried to devise books that are a little different. I specialize (in their eyes) in people shots. I make prints and adhere them permanently to pages of handmade paper in really nice handmade books. Every time I show a book to the same art director it's all based around one look and style applied to many projects and jobs.

I will do the 12/18 portfolio if it's a general portfolio call for drop offs as I need to be able to show enough range.

The important thing is to put the book in the potential client's hands and be ready with good story-telling about each image, if they ask.

The portfolio show is performance art. It takes practice and practice. I dread doing it but I have a sense of elation when I do it well......

I also have smaller specialty books. My favorite is a 12 by 18 inch collection in a cheap Itoya binder that is ALL medical images. When I get in to see a new practice they get it immediately. There's everything from patient greeting shots to operating room shots. There are shots of patients being examined by every kind of machine and many pictures of human warmth and kindness in stressful settings. This book, and the ability to focus the subject matter like a laser is like gold. When I show the book I get the job. No exceptions.

And medical industry clients have the budgets and the need to use you well.

Hope this answers some of the questions.

Andy said...

I know I should be doing marketing but I am still new to the biz and literally have no contacts. Any advice for a newbie who is hitting a wall with meeting the right contacts?

Michelle Jones said...

I'm interested in this as well, I'm wondering how you get the conversation around to photography and the fact that you are a photographer.

I can usually so this after a couple of meetings but I have never found a good way to do this on the first one, especially if I know that they would be a great contact to have and the pressure is added on further when I know it would be hard to impossible to meet with them again.

I don't want to come across as a pushy person, I'm not like that at all and it would be hard to just break into a conversation about plants and their diseases with 'Oh I'm a photographer by the way and can I have your details/here's mine'

There is much advice about meetings and networkings, but here in the UK and especially where I live, it's not considered the done thing to blow your own trumpet so to speak.

I look forward to your reply.
All the best,
Michelle xxx

kirk tuck said...

Hi Michelle, I'm sure it's different in every culture but here people love it when someone is genuinely interested in what you do. With that in mind I always ask a person I'm meeting for the first time, "What is it that you do?" When they give me a job label I ask them to explain. I might ask, "What's a typical day for you?"

This generally leads to them asking, "And what do you do?"

It's a lot easier if you are at a happy hour for the advertising community. Then, at least, you have a lot in common!

I rarely say, "I am a famous photographer who's written four books on the subject and worked for 80 magazines and etc." I like it better when we just trade war stories and I ask them if it would be okay to call and show them my work.

(and to all the literal readers I meant "famous photographer" to be "tongue in cheek" as I don't consider myself to be even "well known" outside my small circle of family and friends.....

Bold Photography said...

Kirk - a 'new' pro photog (<2yrs in the biz) was interviewed about how he's using his iPad to raise his sale price average when photographing seniors:

A really nice, creative approach that works for him.

Michelle Jones said...

Hi Kirk, Thanks for responding, I'll definitely keep it in mind, thanks :)