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Marketing & Self-Promotion – Part One

How should I market my work? How do I promote myself? Where should I advertise? How do I build client relationships?

Age-old questions. Classics. Questions that every photographer has asked at one point in their career. Questions also that never seem to have a definitive answer. Why? The answer is a matter of opinion; everyone’s different. Plus, a constant stream of new software and tech toys keep broadening the self-promotional tools that are out there.

With this in mind I thought it would be interesting to take the pulse of the industry right now. Hear what people who matter have to say about what works and what doesn’t. So, I reached out to a handful of art buyers and art producers and spoke with them at length about their views on marketing and self-promotion. Their answers were completely candid and oftentimes surprising. I think everyone from seasoned pros to those just starting out will learn a great deal from these interviews.

I’ll be publishing this series over the next few weeks. What follows is the first interview in this series, a conversation with Kristina Hicks, an art producer who’s worked on several major print and interactive campaigns during her five years at Saatchi & Saatchi.

Seckler: Please explain your process for hiring photographers.

Hicks: I meet with our creative team to learn the directives of the campaign. It always helps to determine exactly what they have in mind. I usually get layouts or I talk with them to get an idea of the campaign’s emotion, color palette, texture, and where they want to go with it. And then I start searching. Much of that search is done online, so I’ll go through my bookmarks and see if I have anybody who immediately comes to mind. If that fails, which happens occasionally, I’ll reach out to reps.

Seckler: Besides searching within the community of people you know, in what other ways do you search for photographers? Do you use sourcebooks for example?

Hicks: I use sourcebooks from time to time, though mostly when I’m searching for illustrators.  However, every once in a while when I want to work with new photographers, I’ll open a sourcebook for inspiration. I’m looking for emotion. I’m looking for somebody who can convey what the art director is looking for in a particular image. It helps to locate an image that closely correlates to what the art directors are looking for. Literal translation is a great place to start, if you can.

Seckler: Which sourcebooks do you prefer and do you use the print or the online versions?

Hicks: I primarily use Workbook. Sometimes I’ll page through art magazines. I also look at BlackBook and At-Edge. I almost always look at the book itself because everything else is done virtually; sometimes I need to look at a printed copy.

Seckler: What about photographers who pay big bucks to advertise in industry mags like Archive…do those ads have an impact on you?

Hicks: Absolutely. I think advertising is always a good idea because it just gets your name and images out there. People need to see your work. But I also think that it’s important to meet with galleries and ad agencies in person. For instance, if I have a chance to meet a photographer, and he or she seems talented, I feel better about trusting him or her with the production. It definitely gives a photographer a leg up if he or she comes in and meets with us. I would say we’re more likely to hire photographers we meet in person versus those we come across in sourcebooks. Conference calls say a lot too.

Seckler: Photographers often have the impression that they can’t walk into agencies and show their work. Do you often meet with people with whom you’ve never worked?

Hicks: It’s more challenging now. I think it has to do with the economic downturn. People have less time; they are working more. However, if you’re an ad photographer and you do your research and go to the agencies that apply to you, and you’re personable and you build a relationship with an art producer, they will likely meet with you.

It actually just happened to us with this one photographer. We’d heard of her, but we hadn’t ever worked with her, and she just happened to have the look and feel we wanted. We showed one art director, and he was like, ‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for, assuming that the job gets approved.’ Sometimes it’s about timing; you never know. I’m always happy to meet with people.

Seckler: What do you think of e-mail promos? What do you like? What works?

Hicks: I like them. It’s another avenue for me to see your work. What I don’t like is when photographers make it seem like it’s a personal message when I have no idea who they are. Don’t talk to me like I’m your best friend because I’m not. And a lot of us feel that way. It’s overkill; I prefer, ‘Hey, check out my work.’

Seckler: Do you look at all the e-mail promos you get?

Hicks: I look at about 90 percent of the digital promos I get, but I may or may not click through to look at the photographer’s website. It depends on how relevant they are for me at the moment. They don’t have to be famous for me to click on them. Just because I haven’t heard of them doesn’t mean I’m not going to explore them.

Seckler: What about print promos?

Hicks: I prefer e-mail, as do many art producers because they are environmentally responsible. But if the print promo is nice, then I actually keep it. I definitely like digital promos because I can hold more in my computer versus filling another file cabinet.

Seckler: What print promos have grabbed your attention?

Hicks: I like little books. It’s always nice to receive those. However if you aren’t a photographer who shoots images conducive to storytelling, then I wouldn’t encourage it. We get all sorts of things. It’s nice to receive print promos that are fun, but I wouldn’t suggest spending extra money on it. If you’re going to send a book, be conscious of your paper stock and printing. If you’re going to do it, do it right. Otherwise, just send e-mail.

Seckler: If you were a photographer, how would you promote yourself? What would your strategy be?

Hicks: It depends on the type of photographer you are. It seems expensive to have a book, but exposure is key. Self-promotion is about building relationships and getting exposure. You have to be smart and target your market well. The problem is that many photographers are not great business folk. That’s okay; that’s why you have a rep. Targeting your market is important because for all the photographers who want to have meetings here, many of them didn’t do their research to learn that we don’t shoot babies or clothing. Just do a little research. If you can, take time to build a relationship with an art producer and then come in. Most of them will bring you in right away, but if not, e-mail back and forth a few times, and then pop by and say that you happen to be passing through on another job. Good personal skills are vital. It’s like any relationship: If you are friendly, enthusiastic, and excited about sharing your work, it’s contagious.

Seckler: What about working with photographers who don’t have representation?

Hicks: It doesn’t deter me.  Obviously we like to work with reps because they understand the business. They are accommodating and quick. Sometimes we need rapid turnarounds with estimates, so if you’re working on another job, and not getting a number to us quickly, then you might not get hired. If you are on your own and don’t have a rep, it’s fine, as long as you can be prompt.

Seckler: Do photographers with a long list of industry awards stand a greater chance of catching your attention?

Hicks: I wouldn’t say it helps get you hired. I don’t think it makes a difference. Getting hired is based on your qualifications. If there’s a producer who’s worked with you before, and that producer has also worked with other photographers, for example, but said something good about you, then that has impact.

Seckler: How meaningful are recommendations from colleagues?

Hicks: It’s a bonus. Art producers talk. And when we work with someone good—whether he or she is a stylist, producer or a photographer—we keep lists that we share with each other. I’m a big connector. I like to bring talented, competent people together. Whether it be helping photographers find a rep that would be a good fit or putting together solid production teams. At the end of the day, I am grateful if the job went well and all teams and clients are happy. And, it’s always nice to have a friend to thank for helping to get the job done right.

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Zack Seckler

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