Do we choose to sacrifice everything to make a dollar?
There's a wedding photographer in California named Jasmine Starr. I've never met her. I've seen her work all over the place. It's no better or worse than tens of thousands of current wedding photographers who shoot "day of the wedding" stuff with Canons and Nikons and very little controlled flash. When I see her work on the web it's a style that mixes very narrow depth of field, lots of emotion and movement (which can be cool and is probably what people are happy to pay for) and very little technical wizardry. All the brides are beautiful and all the venues tasteful in a "lobby-of-the-Hyatt-Westin-JWMarriott-Ritz Carlton" way.
Consensus says that it's not Jasmine Starr's photographic work that led Photo District News to proclaim her as one of the "top ten wedding photographers" in the United States but her prowess as a marketer and her emphatic approach to reaching prospective clients. In other words, the "magic bullet" of marketing. The one every photographer in the business seems to be looking for.
Her secret? According to many articles about her and her messaging it's all about her blog. She combines false modesty with faux intimacy. Brings together pop consumer culture with a "behind the scenes" tableau of her own personal life, writ large. She is gabby and takes prospective clients into her "confidence." She is not afraid to talk about crying.
Her blogs have discussed shoe shopping (she says mentioning top brands is important = Manolo Blahnik), house hunting with hubby, what she had for dinner and which designer dresses rock. She describes every wedding she blogs about in gushing prose that makes every couple's story sound like a love epic that rivals Dr. Zhivago or Gone With the Wind. And she implies that, once swirled together by the fortunate commerce of wedding photography, she and the couple have become, and will remain fast friends for life. As in, "put on your cutest sandals and let's head to Nordstroms for some lunch and casual shopping."
Lately, web bloggers and pundits have distilled the "gold" from her marketing and are selling it to photographers at large in massive doses that include frantically twittered "top ten" lists of things to do and not do.....
And photographers, who have nothing to do with the wedding business, are on the forums (fora? forae? Chat bars? Comment sections of image sharing sites?) talking about trying to showhorn the Starr message into their businesses of shooting kids sports or shooting advertising or other commercial work.
Here's the general advice:
1. Be happy and bubbly all the time.
2. Blog a lot (I've got that covered) and only talk about successful success stories. (Crap, I missed that part....)
3. Blog about yourself in a self-deprecating and accessible fashion.
4. Breezily discuss popular status brands in cars, clothing, phones and zip codes. (What if you live in Des Moines or Waco?)
5. Gush about how great work is and how "super" you feel to be able to do it.
6. Tell stories that people can related to. Personalize your marketing. Talk to your sorority sisters.
It goes on and on. It's relentlessly positive and glossy. And, if you are a young and passably good looking person booking weddings in the environs of L.A./Santa Monica I'm going to guess that this is a superb marketing strategy. It's just important to never get old, never gain weight and never look over your shoulder......
But how does all this relate to us? To the photographers who want to do advertising work? To the photojournalists? To the editorial shooters? To commercial photographers? To the people who were born with lots and lots of visual talent but average bone structure? (No problem here, of course.) People whose primary customers are not retail? Not once in a lifetime sales? Not 18-26 year old women?
Well, there is one primary disconnection. Most clients (other than those in the market for "retail photography" which consists of weddings, portraits and weddings) don't spend time looking at photographer's blogs. But more importantly the above advice may require you to change your personality, change who you are and change what you sell.
If you do wonderfully complex still life work your clients probably value your mix of creative vision with your focused technical abilities. Trying to appear all bubbly and excited might cause them to question your technical skills or your thoughtful approach to your work. If you are a corporate photographer you are likely not selling the "fun/sizzle" of your projects as much as you are selling your ability to work under time pressure and to be as reserved and attuned to hierarchy as possible. To fit into the corp. gestalt.
If you are an advertising photographer you are likely to be prized for your ability to do big and complicated productions with many people. Another attribute might be your ability to lead. More so than your ability to share and cry. In fact, crying might be a deal killer.
But the bottom line is that the bottom line isn't the end all and be all of existence. We might prosper by changing each of our personalities but at the point when "gush" becomes a selling tool at what point do you lose your lunch and surrender the last vestiges of what made your choice of profession a good idea?
Maybe I'll succumb. I can hardly wait to go on a highway construction job site and gush about the supervisor's really cool Red Wing boots. Or his Dickies work trousers. I wonder how that would go over? Next time I'm photographing Michael Dell I might cry tears of joy at our "special moment" and see how that goes over. Fun times ahead thanks to groupthink marketing.........
But I'm not here to pillory Jasmine. That would be nuts. She's mastered her market and it's as tough a market as anyone else's. I think her basic messages are the ones I also talked about in my book, The Commercial Photography Handbook: 1. Develop good personal relationships with clients and potential clients. 2. Be like your clients as much as you can be without abandoning your own personality or values. 3. Stay in touch with your clients. And need I say it? Ask for the sale.
Rock on Jasmine.