1.23.2015

I was putting together yet another presentation for yesterday afternoon and remembering how diverse a pitch might need to be.


Die on wafer.

Last week I got a call from an advertising agency here in central Texas. I'd been recommended to them by another advertising agency and that's always a nice introduction. The new agency and client are involved in creating a new high technology market around a breakthrough process, and the machinery and attendant software to do the process. I know a decent amount about this particular area of tech and while I'm not an expert I'm pretty certain this will be amazing stuff, and the client will make lots of money. But before I get invited to play I have to pitch. 

So today I'm going to talk about the pitching process as it relates to specialties. Most of the half million or so "professional" photographers working today are working with some variation of consumer cameras, using battery operated strobes or winging it with the convenient phrase: "I am an available light specialist." Most of the people who sell work in the general photography market came up through the ranks as wedding and family photographers. Almost zero percent have worked with film, cameras with movements, or specialty lenses and lights. Even fewer come from technical backgrounds and understand technology processes.  When I go to pitch commercial clients I try to leverage my strengths against those weaknesses.

The first thing one should do when pitching a potential client is head straight to their website and read up. The reading should include all the white papers and product information. The research should go on to include everything you can find on Google and LinkedIn about the people to whom you will be presenting. Go all the way back to their college stats if you can find them. See where they've been and what their credentials are. Then go and research their competitors, if you can find them. Once you've done that then figure out where you fit in. Define all the things you can offer them and figure out the areas where you clearly excel over your own competitors. Have these features and benefits clearly in mind when you walk through the client's door.

In this particular case the client's executive team all came from high technologies industries. Their company sells physical machines that create a new technology product. But the key staff are also pure researchers who are working with light, polymers, and lots and lots of stored electricity. I knew I should lead with some pure technology to show them what I've done for previous generations of innovators so I led with things like die photos, the cover of IEEE magazine for which I shot the very first multi-core wafer created by IBM, and the image of the historic, first PowerPC device, which I shot for Motorola. I led with a dozen pure technology shots including a few from inside a .25 micron cleanroom because I knew the images would lead into a conversation that would allow me to show off my early technical education, my grasp of underlying physics and chemistry concepts driving their innovation, and my efforts to stay topically current about key areas of technology over the ensuing years. 

We were also able to share in discussions about using oil bath techniques on chip dies to eliminate certain diffraction effects when focused under the oil layer. We discussed light piping and planar staging and a few other issues having to do with 1x-5x magnification, technical photography, and I think it cemented, in their minds, that I understood the imaging challenges we'd be facing with some of their process and products. 

The next step in the presentation was to show industrial products shot in various ways, from server racks to small details. I love the red front panels on the Salient Systems servers and showed them because we could discuss the fact that the server front panels are curved in several dimensions and this created various reflections that needed to be eliminated. Walking them through that lighting process will pay off when we produce bids because the client and agency will better understand why some things take time.

I included a handful of "ghosted" images like the receiver below so the client could see an application I thought would work well for them; the ability to show off the product as a whole while highlighting interior technology that is the point of their selling proposition. 

As we did a "walk through" of their facility I asked cogent questions about the process so I could get a handle on how we might handle organizing the photographic assignments as part of a narrative to tell their story. The walk through gave me a chance to see things that might make the story better for a lay person like a procurement officer or non-technical finance director of a potential customer company.

While I showed a good proportion of product and techie images I didn't neglect the fun portraits done for the arts, or the environmental portraits of executives in a range of companies, because I know that while the client generally loves to tell the "technical" story the agency understands that people work with people and that websites and collateral need to be a balance of tech and real people from the company. I'm selfish, I want both sides. 

Finally, I asked about their proposed use of video and asked if they were interested in seeing a video presentation we'd done for another local technology company. They did so we fired it up on a 15 inch MacBook Pro and, at the end, asked me all the right questions. "How did we shoot it?" "What is my process for video projects?" "How big (read: disruptive) was my crew?" And my favorite: "Who does your scriptwriting?'

I've pitched a lot of clients over the years and I have a good feeling about this one but the presentation is just the first step. The next step will be fleshing out budgets and time tables and making sure we get fairly compensated while the client gets exactly what they need and want. I have no idea who else they are talking to but I know the cohort of people still working in the field with deeper knowledge of technology imaging is small and shrinking. This is a smart client looking for a long term relationship. They are looking for experience and track record. They'll look to their agency for the creative overlay. 

On every pitch I've ever participated in I've learned new stuff. This time around I had to scramble to put together industrial work because it's not "sexy" like beautiful people shots and movie stars. It's not the kind of stuff we routinely share on the web or stuff into portfolios but if you are pursuing work with manufacturers and inventors it's pretty critical to have proof of performance in hand. 

The next time around I'll have a more locked down system for pulling up older work and consolidating the "heroes" from current work into centralized promotional catalogs that I can dip into quickly. The final point of photographic interest to me in this process was the wide variety of cameras and lenses that was represented within the material I showed. 

The video was shot with current GH4 cameras. The server racks with the same GH4's. The D2A receiver was shot in 2004 with a Kodak DCS 760. The PowerPC processor was shot with a bellows and 120 Makro Planar on a Hasselblad film camera, while the die image at the top of the article was done with a Canon 1DS mk2 with a 50mm Olympus macro lens on a bellows---camera and stage bolted to a custom modified copy stand. I showed a few main frame computers we'd shot with 4x5 inch view cameras and transparency film. And there were ample samples from DX frame Nikons and Canons as well as some full frame Sony stuff from the a99 and a850. Funny thing? They all look uniform in an on screen presentation.  Lighting and style trump gear?

The final steps in the presentation process are: follow up with "thank you" notes to the agency and client, and the delivery of a nice gift to the agency that (once again) recommended me. 

None of this has to do with the actual process of taking photographs but I thought I'd share my thinking about the process of actually getting the work. It's a bit tougher than just prancing in, showing a leather book filled with prints of various generic images and walking out with a purchase order. But really? It's always been this way.


Rack Mount Servers.

The very first PowerPC device from the Somerset Consortium. Hello RISC.

See through product shot. D2Audio.

11 comments:

Mike Rosiak said...

Very smart.

Too late for them now, but I think some software vendors, back in my corporate life, might have done better pitching to me if they had taken the time, like you have, to understand my company and its needs, and to some extent its people.

Richard Leacock said...

Thanks for the walk through for the presentation. Some of your regular readers are also interested in the "nuts and bolts" of the business side, not just the gear (which is part of the process). Gear talk may drive the uptick on articles and website looks but we also appreciate "the sizzle and the steak". Always makes for an interesting informative quick peek into your day.

Cheers

Fred said...

Kirk,

This is the kind of very interesting and out of the ordinary post that is not seen on other photography blogs. I really like reading this type of post.

Fred

Anonymous said...

Very interesting. Thanks for posting!

Anonymous said...

+1 Thanks for this post!

David Zivic said...

WOW...I think it was Woody Allen who said "80% of success is just showing up". Obviously you take it to the other extreme. Although I didn't understand half of what you were talking about here, I also do research in my Industry when I am working a new client and feel it gives me some insight.There is more to sales than just the "TaDa".

David said...

This is the type of post that keeps me coming here. I am facinated that you are doing this work. Keep up these great posts and dont feel bad about the gear. These product shots are great.

Michael Meissner said...

I liked your article about pitching, even though I am a hobby photographer who doesn't have to pitch for jobs. I wonder how many of your contemporaries do such a thorough job in learning about the customer? As a compiler writer who has been employed by IBM for the last few years to work on the GNU GCC compiler for the PowerPC, I did like your pictures of the first PowerPC.

Fred said...

I would like to add to my comment of yesterday that these are very cool photographs. Once again, proper lighting is most important.

Rusty said...

This is exactly the type of post I referred to in my response to your question about what your readers would like on your blog. As usual, excellent read and applicable to many business applications. As a guy who writes RFP's I can tell you that your response is sure to get serious attention if not the contract.

joerawr said...

It's funny to me that those Salient servers still have the plastic key tray, that clearly says remove before use. I've racked nearly a thousand of those (they are custom Dell R700 series servers, the give away is the grill, which is just red paint over the metallic grey Dell grill). I hate those keys...

The lighting on that grill is amazing, so consistent and smooth.

BTW, your research and approach to your pitch is exactly what your should bring to any job interview. In fact I think this is a great analogy to demonstrate to prep to someone not grasping it. "Imagine you are a photographer presenting your skills to ...., "

Then again, maybe I'm just starting to think like a photographer.