2.10.2011

The Emotional Need for Radical Change. No thanks.

Looking for an honest (photo) marketing person.

I blame myself for staring in fascination at the car wreck that appears in front of me on my computer every morning.  The car wreck is the frothing, churning, anxiety stricken paroxysm of marketing hysteria being foisted on unhappy photographers and then being regurgitated as unassailable fact by these same practitioners looking for any life buoy in a treacherous economic sea.

Their names have gone viral.  Selena, Susan, Deborah  and so many more.  But really,  do they know more about marketing than anyone else or are they mixing in all the anecdotal stuff that's ricocheting around the web, mixing it with a big dose of "Seth Godin" and stirring in a mix of Web 3.0 Koolaide?

If you are one of the hundreds of thousands of photographers chasing after the 5,000 bonafide art buyers in the U.S. for the one or two projects a month a particular agency might assign photography for then I guess their "magic mix" might work to get your book called in.  But I doubt it.

Here are two things to consider:  1.  The markets didn't dissolve because advertising become outmoded this decade and they didn't wrench to a stop in 2008, 2009 and most of 2010 because all of a sudden no one could find a photographer by conventional means.  No.  People stopped buying photography (and so many other non-life supporting goods and services) because they ran out of money and they cut their budgets to the bone and they made the choice to keep the lights on and the heat functional so they could turn out product.  If they did paid advertising they used current materials to save money.  No "pixie dust" marketing is going to turn around a shipwrecked economy just because you want to believe in the power of web-boosted social marketing.  Good marketers offered more services to more people to cope with the downturn.  And they positioned themselves for the market to return.

2.  If you want to sell thousands of days of  photography you could go to Groupon and do a coupon offer for $20 bucks a day, day rate including all rights.  You'll fill up your calendar with all kinds of social-net-saavy-entrepreneurial-cloudhappy-new social order buyers.  But you'll go broke in no time.  Yes the net works for mass market goods and commodities.  At the end of the day it's good to remember that professional photography is not mass manufacturing.  It's a wonderful combination of art and commerce and science.  We're selling our time and licensing our vision.  And the more unique and precious we make it the more money we can charge for it. We are not infinitely scalable.  Remember that when you get into a discussion about quantity versus quality.  Or pennies versus kilo-dollars.

And that leads to the reality of every market from time share condominiums, to annuities, to art, to food, and just about any other non-commodity item or service you can think of.......people want to work and buy from people they know.  Never has it been more important to identify the people you want to work for and to physically place yourself in front of them and wow them.  Wow them not only with the products of what you do but also to wow them with who you are and how you can help them.

My business tagline is this:  "We translate your marketing genius into visual art."  I want to work with smart people.  But I want to work with smart people who sign checks.  I'm not looking to shoot 10,000 widgets on a white background.  I'm looking to shoot one great portrait at a time.  And that's the best way to find your clients.  One at a time.

What's the real magic bullet?  Surprise.  There isn't one.  I'm blogging not to reach clients for my photography biz but because I like to write and I think if you like my writing, and you get samples here, you might be disposed to buy and read my books.  I tweet for the same reason.  And I'm opinionated and like to share my opinions.  But none NONE of my clients regularly reads my blog.  They are not photographers.  They have busy lives doing the things that drive their businesses.  And they don't look at the same tweets that we photographers do.

If I want to reach them I have to think the way they think.  I don't market pretty pictures I provide marketing tools and sticky content.  They open their snail mail but they've learned to filter their e-mail.  Have you tried to text people ads?  I bet you'll never work for them again......  Next time you feel compelled to roll the dice and put all your efforts into internet marketing take a moment to reflect about tossing your "great" photography ideas into an unguided marketing pit with 60 million other creative professionals and 200 million other businesses, all clamoring to sell to the same core market = people with money, and ask yourself, "What the hell am I doing?"

Then get out your client list, send out some really nice, well targeted print pieces.  Make some appointments to drop by and show some great content on your new iPad and then ask your existing clients for some referrals.  If they like you and value what you do you'll get some good names and some new leads.  If they don't like you you're already screwed.

P.S.  I am not arguing against the need for a great website,  fun digital technology, good online communications or running water.  I just think it's time to sound a "hyperbole alert".....

22 comments:

Andrew Karre said...

Ah Seth Godin . . . . Is there a creative field where he isn't causing needless turmoil?

Another good post. Applicable in many ways to books as well as photography.

Wally Brooks said...

So true! A successful wedding photographer I know pays more attention to the marketing side of his business than he does to creating great art when on assignment. His specialty is photojournalist run and gun anticipate the moment with formal portraits thrown in. His office is set up to make brides want to use his services. Books of weddings past, knowledge of all the other services needed (catering, faculties, ministers etc, and who the best other vendors are. This all came about from running a small print shop and then transitioning into photography. Its all about the Benjamin, the $20.00 bills, you get from taking care of the paying customers!

Bill Beebe said...

Poor Ben...

kirk tuck said...

C'mon Bill. Three squares a day plus snacks. His own room. The latest gear. Allowance. Best school in central Texas. He should pull his weight a bit around here....

Bill Beebe said...

Waddaya mean, the latest gear?!?

Get to work, Ben!

Chris said...

"Make some appointments to drop by and show some great content on your new iPad and then ask your existing clients for some referrals."

I think the key word here is great. I see far too many people with camera creating fan pages on Facebook and calling themselves Pro's and their work makes me cringe or yawn. I'd like to have this hobby pay for itself but I'm not there yet and won't be till I've put the practice in and gain the knowledge from experience. I'll have to wait till the consistency of the quality of my work speaks for itself.

Steve Dodds said...

What’s that thing Ben is clutching? Could it be the prototype of the next bug thing in lighting? The ‘KIRKOFLO’

Frank Grygier said...

Sometimes you have to do the widgets to keep the "KIRKOFLO burning.

Archer Sully said...

This is why I have no interest in making photography a business. I enjoy it too much to try to ruin it by the petty concerns of making money.

kirk tuck said...

"petty concerns"? Every profession is assembled around the need to make money. Just because you do it as a bee keeper or a bean counter or an IT guy doesn't make your photography any more pure than anyone else's.

Frank Grygier said...

I think getting paid for doing what you love to do is the pinnacle of success. Michelangelo got paid to paint the Sistine Chapel. He would have rather been sculpting but some widgets are bigger than others.

Archer Sully said...

I wasn't trying to imply that my, or anyone's, photography is more pure than anyone else's. Its more that the pressure of trying to run a business in photography simply doesn't appeal to me at all. I tend to be sarcastic much of the time, and since Jonathan Swift never used a smiley, I don't see why I should either.

"Petty concerns" was really intended as a cut at my own meagre skills, than as any judgement of anyone's skills and productivity. I look at the work of professionals with awe, as I know that I can't make those images.

As a post-professional, I do, however, have the option of concentrating on pleasing only myself. I don't feel for an instant that this makes my work any more "pure," though, and certainly not any better. I'm still learning, and having long past the midway point of my allotted span I don't feel that I have the time to learn all of what it clearly takes to turn an enjoyable hobby into a venture that would support me. I certainly don't look down on those who do manage to consistently turn out excellent work for clients.

John Krumm said...

I just wouldn't want to ruin it with my inability to make money, if that makes any sense. Those of you who manage to actually pay bills with it and not live under cardboard seem kind of super-hero ish.

Bill Beebe said...

My petty photography skills are at the root of my inability to make money in that profession. Which is why I admire so much those who can make money in the profession of photography.

Anonymous said...

Diogenes?

Anonymous said...

Tuck is correct. Everyone else is stumbling around in the dark.

Bob Krist said...

Kirk:Great observations! Thanks for pointing out that even if the Emperor isn't completely naked, he's certainly missing a ton of clothes.

No matter how much I try to understand it, it still seems to me that a lot of that SEO, Web 3.0 marketing stuff is 21st century snakeoil.

But I've only been working in the biz since '76, and I'm just now starting to trust my instincts over the snake oil guys!

kirk tuck said...

Thank you, famous National Geographic Photographer, Bob Krist. Check out Bob's incredible blog. I put a link over on the left column with my other faves.

Bob Krist said...

Kirk: Famous? Yikes---you're very kind. If it were only true, i wouldn't have to hustle for work as much as I do!

kirk tuck said...

Bob, I think that's part of being a successful photographer.....knowing HOW to hustle these days....

Steve Salt said...

Thanks. I've only been reading your blog for about 4 months now, and you have been a voice of reason, a good balance.

Favorite line from above: ‎"At the end of the day it's good to remember that professional photography is not mass manufacturing. It's a wonderful combination of art and commerce and science."

stopkidding said...

Hey Kirk,

Your writing is great, you seems to know a thing or two about taking pictures too. I would love to see you on TV, doing an Anthony Bourdain style show about travel and photography, mostly photography!