After a morning swim what's on tap for a slow day? Well, marketing, of course!

At the Breakers in West Palm Beach.

If I was smart enough to be retired I'd like to think I'd end up somewhere like the locale in the photo above. Next to a beautiful, clean pool which is itself next to a beautifully manicured beach, sitting in a comfortable chair daydreaming as the sun sets and the sky glows impressionistically, and the waiter approaches with my light snack of foie gras on whimsical crackers and my evening bottle of Louis Roerderer Brut Champagne; chilled but not too cold...

Instead I am sitting in my small office watching the heat waves waft over the asphalt on the road outside and wondering why work always slows down in the early part of Summer and how I can compensate for the trickle of engagements with an increase in the frequency and scope of my marketing.

I've found a nice, thick printing paper that works well in my crusty Canon ink jet printer. It's Moab Lasal and it's a matte surface stock in a heavy, 235 GSM weight. I've been getting it in boxes of 13 x19 inches to make large prints for my portfolio and also in boxes of 5 x 7 inches which I use to make small, custom prints for specific clients and potential clients.

It's getting rare to show an actual printed portfolio anymore. It's just not a very efficient path. If you have a great "book" and you can get an appointment with an art director, you'll have a really good chance of nailing down some work but it's a labor intensive proposition and cold calling reminds me lately of Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's play, Death of a Salesman. I maintain the printed portfolio for all those times when agencies or clients call in multiple portfolios from two or three other photographers in order to drill down and decide with whom they'd like to work. Or when someone calls and asks to see work in a different way than via a website.

The marketing that seems most productive to me is to make small prints of beautiful subjects, be they portraits, products, architecture or industrial scenes, writing notes on the reverse side and sending them in hand addressed envelopes to carefully selected people. I've sent along a few downtown shots today to various principals at an architecture firm and I've sent along a few shots of people working on an assembly line to an art director at an agency that just won a similar account.

I try to maintain a list (ever evolving) of 100 people (not companies) that I'd like to work with and, once I put someone on the list I like to mail to them at least four times a year. I intersperse physical mailings with e-mails that show off recent jobs that I think will resonate with the recipients. I also send out letters on stationery to announce things like recent awards, and the addition of new services (different types of imaging or different levels of video production).

Invariably the personal letters work best. Each one is unique because they are written directly to one person. No boilerplate. No over-arching template. When you engage a person directly, and they know it, they appreciate the time and energy you've taken to reach out. You might not nail down a job immediately but the good will accrues over time.

Once, in an unusual moment of despair, I asked my all knowing spouse why no one was calling to book me (this was about ten years ago). Was I over the hill? Had photography vanished as a form of profitably business? Would I ever work again?

She sat me down and was very patient. She reminded me that she had worked for large ad agencies as an art director for nearly 20 years at that point. She pointed out that a lot of "creative" agency work is repetitive, not very creative and, and sometimes built around stock photography or illustration. She remarked that she had the opportunity to generate about 4 or 5 jobs per year that required high end photography services. If I got the five jobs from her in a given year that was about all I could count on. It wouldn't matter if I sent along an extra hundred mailers or blasted her e-mail way too often. The number of jobs just wouldn't change.

Her message was clear: You can't depend on a small handful of loyal clients. There might not be enough work from them to make your bank account happy for the year. You have to remind former clients you still exist and are working well. You need to find new opportunities and start the long process of reeling in new clients (sticking with our literary theme) like Hemmingway's, The Old Man in the Sea, reeling in the big fish and hoping to hold onto it long enough to land it.

It's a matter of providing both a personalized engagement with your current clients and a constant outreach to new clients that makes any business work. Different prints for different purposes.

So, I'll set a goal to knock out ten individualized marketing pieces in a given day. Once I've done that I allow myself to escape the office and work on something that makes me happy. It usually works...

And...yes. I've learned by know that the first few weeks of June are when many people take vacations. I should put this knowledge into next year's calendar and do the same myself.


Anonymous said...

Next June maybe a little vacation trip Down Under Kirk? Broaden your photographically horizons. And try some kangaroo and superb coffee...


MikeR said...

Kirk, this post is one of the things I value about your blog. It's not just cameras, not just lighting, it's the business side of things, that which keeps the money flowing.

A colleague, through whom I subcontract to provide businesses IT support, nurtures every contact he has, even the vast number of which I would never bother with, because they seem unlikely. He doesn't prejudge. He keeps himself visible. And every so often, it pays off. Although he himself is excellent in a variety of programming languages and systems, it's his doggedness in marketing that has allowed him, over the years, to have a nice house, and a vacation house, and a succession of nice cars. He's registered as an LLC, just like me, but way better at the biz side of it.

Kudos to you for your dogged persistence, and your insightful methods.