Valuable tools for doing business as a photographer.

I'm a big believer in marketing. My years chained to a desk at an advertising agency taught me that you just can't talk to current and prospective clients often enough; and with as many methods as you'd like. One of my marketing goals is to reach out to my existing clients with some sort of message at least once a month. I don't always hit the goal, sometimes life gets in the way, but when I know I'm banking business for the future.

Many photographers and creative people make the mistake of trusting too much to e-mail blasts. I'm not sure if they know it but many people have their e-mails set up to NOT load images. Messages with photos are often a trigger for provider's spam filters as well. So, unless you are only e-mailing to people who already know and love you (Mom? Family? Your girlfriend) you may not be anywhere near hitting the targets you think you are with your messaging intact. The best method for e-mail might be making sure your written message and attendant graphics are compelling and then providing a link to see the actual images online. I like to provide links to tightly curated web galleries aimed at specific industries. But even with the best methodologies you'll still have to contend with many, many people who have not yet given you permission to send them advertising. People who could add profits to your business. And, at some point you need to confront the reality of having get your foot in their door (metaphorically).

My experiences in advertising and marketing, spending media money for clients, showed me that direct mail is an extremely powerful way to get in touch with new prospects. It can also be a crucial way to cut through the daily clutter and stay connected to people you've worked with in the past and want to work with again. There are several reasons I think direct (physical) mailers are effective. First, you will find that while people's e-mail boxes are crammed full of mostly unwanted messages about everything from high powered flash lights to penis enlargement. Few busy marketing professionals have the time to wade through unknown and unsolicited e-mails to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Friends who are on the art direction side of the desk tell me that they still receive between 50 and 100 spam e-mails per day. And if you are sending e-mails to a blind list you are basically spamming. Not a nice way to start a relationship. By contrast, most of my agency friends tell me that printed postcards or folded mailers, sent directly to them via U.S. post, have fallen off in numbers every year to the point where they may be receiving only one or two per week. That's a much less competitive and crowded "pond" in which to fish. Right?

While it costs time and money to make and send good post cards there is a benefit to your investment.  Your clients probably do the same kind of marketing and understand the commitment you've made to reach them. They now understand that you have real "skin" in the game as opposed to the hordes of mouse clickers who have the mindset that they can blanket the landscape with electronic messages because, well, their messages are essentially free.

A third benefit is in the longevity of a printed card or mailer. The recipient of an e-mail might open an   e-mail and take cursory look. They might invest five seconds to quell their curiosity. Then the e-mail is closed, never to be seen again, and automatically gets tossed in the trash with all the other orphaned electrons. By contrast the mailer gets delivered to the client's desk, usually in a stack of correspondence and bills. Each piece is examined. They hold the card in their hands. They have a tactile sensation that creates a sense of the piece being more real. On some level the client understands that we've spent maybe one dollar in printing costs, per large card (we're printing these in small batches on an inkjet printer using premium Hahnemuhle card stock) and another half dollar in postage. We've made a material investment in order to reach them. It may be subliminal but it serves to separate  you from the pack.

Finally, if the content of the card is superior and resonates in some way with the recipient it might end up being pinned to the wall of a cubicle or to a cork board in an office. Now your work has real legs. And everyone who visits that office and sees the work also understands that the creative person they are visiting has curated the work and chosen it to be displayed. In a way, it has their stamp of approval. 

We could print a thousand cards at a time and realize a huge savings on printing and production and I've done that in the past but I've come to realize that my potential markets have become more and more specialized and granular. I'm now carefully choosing and sending out small batches of 10 to 20 cards with a particular image that is aimed directly at the niche the prospective client serves.

I have a list of 30-40 clients who are in healthcare. I send them images related to healthcare and patient experience. I have a couple dozen clients involved in the food service industry and they love to see food and food styling. Another group are large law practices and I faithfully send them my best portraits as cards, since their need is generally  for great portraits as content for their websites and other marketing.

Sending shots of cute, twenty-something models to forty year old marketing professionals who service industrial, construction or technology clients is worse than just a waste of money, it's a quick way to show that you have no idea of what these clients do and what they need from photographers.

My favorite lens might be a new G series 70-200mm for my full frame Sony. Great lens and it allows me to work quickly and with high quality results. It costs $1500. But it won't get me in a single door to bid on a job. Not like that $1.50, 5.8 by 8.4 inch, lustre surface postcard. While it's more fun for most of us to talk about the gear it's most fun to get those purchase orders from clients who were reminded about how much fun you are to work with by a succession of targeted, mailed cards that have come across their desks over the course of several months.

Just a few marketing thoughts to chew on. I sent out ten cards to law firms last week. I booked a day of work from one of the firms yesterday. Only a ten percent response (so far) but I'll take a day of billing from a $15 investment any time it's offered.

Next up we might want to consider just how important cumulative impressions are to making a marketing campaign work.


Fred said...


First let me say that I like the picture of the pictures at the top of this post. It is a very interesting composition that has me seeing more things in it the more I look at it.

Secondly, I enjoy reading these posts about the business of photography even though I don't plan on going into business for myself anytime soon. I found it to be quite interesting and fun to read.


Butch said...

Classic. Immediately "liked" it on Stumbleupon - hope it will bring you new subscribers. Breaking it down to the tight client niches, with numbers for a large and busy practice, takes it out of the realm of imaginary large numbers (and costs). A wonderful article - many thanks for this.

Jim Waite said...

Great little bit of advertising genius. I have used post cards as a lead generator for many many years. I also send postcards as a thank you note. They go out the day the check comes in. Really focusing the image to the prospects needs is a great idea. Why didn't I think of that.

I'm in the electrical contracting business, but I do know my way around a camera set up. I now have a photo project.

Thanks, Jim

P.S. Haven't seen as many theater production shots lately. I love them.

Dave Jenkins said...

Very valuable info. Wish I had done more of it.

Ron Greer said...

Nice Post!