Unsolicited guest post from:
Deborah Dragon, Deputy Photo Editor at Rolling Stone.

The other day I received a “follow up” phone call from a photographer thanking me for checking out their site and mentioning that they were really interested in working with the magazine and since I was “interested” in their work, could we set up a meeting. I thought “did I click on something” or sometimes I see work that I like and send an email saying so and to let me know when they update their site again. This was not the case, so I googled their name, went on their site and couldn’t understand what happened, because this persons work was completely inappropriate for the magazine.

So, what ever happened to people sending or emailing appropriate mailers to magazines? I would think with the capability of tracking emails and clicks on sites, there would be the possibility of organizing these things better. I get about 150 emails a day from photographers and reps, yes, 150 emails JUST FROM PHOTOG’S and REPS, 50% of them are lifestyle and food. My goal is to visit EACH ONE…HMMM I can’t imagine why photo editors aren’t seeing peoples work. Maybe if the photographers all got together and agreed to STOP loading PE’s email boxes with giant attachments and/or links to images that are not suitable for the publication I could actually achieve my goal. Save your valuable time and figure out what magazines you really want to shoot for, then start shooting.

And, most importantly if you ask me, if I see your work, I like it, and I like it for the magazine… believe me, you will know it and I will contact you. You don’t need to follow up with my clicking on your website.

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  1. Rob-

    Have all your photo ed buddies forward all the promo emails to you – and then you do all the work to post them – it would really be interesting to see the numbers. and quality and appropriateness etc.

  2. Wonder how much trouble I’d get in for doing that? Don’t think people want their email spam posted for the world to see.

  3. Please think of me, Deborah, as one of those 150 people, at the back of the crowd, hanging my head in shame knowing I’m there, but sheepishly waving my work around with the faint hope of being noticed.

    We, well at least I, don’t mean to be a pain in the ass, but it’s sort of unavoidable when using email tactics, I guess. I certainly don’t track my emails, though!

  4. Rob – IMO the e-mail, like a letter, is your property once they send it to you. Besides, if they’re spamming already, they’ll probably appreciate the additional exposure.

  5. My contact list is targeted enough that I do not need to send email blasts. There is this bullshit idea of “casting a wide net” that is pushed hard by the companies that sell the blasting service and the consultants who are partnered with them, but it really harms the community as a whole. If your style is so undefined that you need to send 3000 emails at a time, then something is really wrong.

  6. Thanks Deborah for being honest. I like that.

  7. I agree that it is inappropriate to call someone just because they took a look at your site. Experience should tell you that if they are interested, they will contact you…often by email as well for the first round.

    As for sending different work as in interiors,products etc instead to a rock star photo to Rolling Stone …well…sometimes good editors and ADs see something else besides the obvious like how you see things, light things, or maybe a situation pops up where one would need that photographer even if he has never shot a “star” before.

    Emails are just today’s promo..it could be worse, like 200 calls a day..or 300 drop offs to sift through…

    How about a quick link to a new site or section and you are done?

    matthew pace

  8. Targeted tracking only makes sense if the work is appropriate. We (photographers) need to be honest with ourselves. If one is “good enough”
    for RS mag then one should have the visual vocabulary to know what type of work the client might use. At the end of the day, all tactics aside, if your work is great you will be noticed.

  9. If I wanted an interior photographer I’d call Dwell rather than plow through a pile of promos.

    I think people are willing to look at hundreds of daily email promos because it’s efficient but that may no long be the case in 6 months.

  10. You’d never get this to work unless Fidel was running the country, but I could see some kind of Master Database, similar to the Do Not Call Registry, and the AAAA ad agencies and the magazines, (and whoever else) could sign up for it. Each AD would designate the style of promos that they’re interested in seeing, ie, “rock star”, or “cars”, or “interiors”, or “office buildings”, or “still life”.

    Companies like Agency Access would have to abide by the preferences set up by these ADs, and could not “shotgun blast” into the email Inboxes a type of promo that the AD did not want to see. I agree with Rob, at some point, these ADs are just going to say “fuck it”, and block Everything; they’ll simply get overwhelmed. I can’t imagine doing my regular job, and then wading thru 50 or so promos per day, as well.

    I’m all for capitalism, but when there’s a massive overabundance of photographers, a small number of ADs, and a shrinking economy, you just begin to wonder when these Email Blaster companies are starting to soil the sheets, and actually become more of a hindrance than an actual tool. These blaster companies actually become The Boy That Cried Wolf, and eventually get ignored completely, due to their non-targeted marketing approach.

  11. The blast companies are largely at fault for pushing the “service”, but it’s really the lazy photographers who ruin it. I signed up for Agency Access last year and spent days and days looking at every ad agencies website, and those of magazines with which I was not already familiar. “Spray and pray” or “casting a wide net” would have been easier, and is probably the route most of their members go, since email is so cheap.

    One thing companies like AA could do to help is to more accurately categorize the clients. If you generate a “fashion” list of agencies and magazines on there, only a small minority participate in what I would call fashion. They list agencies that specialize in car ads under “fashion”, which is a huge disservice not only to the agencies, but also to the non-lazy photographers who want to make an appropriate list.

    The email situation is noisy partly because the source is noisy.

  12. Wow, I didn’t know people used these mailing companies to send out their promos! I feel kind of better now, about sending out promos via email because I always do my homework first; I send promos to people that I a) want to work for and b) think might like my style… I know I have, a few times, sent my work to magazines that so clearly aren’t going to like my style; Harper’s Bazaar, I-D and Dazed & Confused… It was actually against my better judgement, but the aformentioned A overcame my consideration for B.

    But yeah, whenever I send out emails, they’re ALL personal and they’re always to magazines, ad agencies and labels I’ve researched first! But it does lead me to wonder if I’m sending promos to enough people; Chris in post #5 says 3000… I don’t know if that’s a deliberately inflated and exaggerated figure, but I’m sending out to about 20 seperate magazines, labels and agencies, altogether!


  13. Just another example of how the internet is a barrier zone between manners and common sense. Any decent, normal, right thinking individual realizes that this is a silly tactic as it both weirds out the recipient of the call/e-mail and alienates the sender from their potential target audience.

    It all comes down to the old saying….

    ….Just because you can do something does not mean you should.

  14. Though I do send promos, it usually ends up being a personal network connection that leads to most jobs.
    I’d be curious to know the ratio of hiring based on a promo connection versus a network reference. If that’s even a knowable thing.

  15. I that each Photo Editor has their own specific way of accepting communication, and whilst I completely understand and respect this, it can be difficult for photographers to customise their (often expensive and time-consuming) campaign for each individual on their list. Obviously, if I want to work with your organisation, I will take your preferences seriously, but sometimes these requests are quite outlandish and onerous.

    Also, photographers may often be sending you what you consider “inappropriate” promos not because they don’t know your magazine, but perhaps because they believe they bring a new stylistic approach, or a different way of thinking. I believe you yourself mentioned a few days ago how you enjoy reportage photographers on fashion shoots. Well, if a reportage photographer sent his promo to Vogue and landed the cover gig, you might understand the reasoning of these ‘inappropriate-mailer’ photographers.

    Another reason photographers send what you might consider ‘inappropriate’ promos is this: they might look at the magazine and see that they already have a roster of photographers that they use for a specific section, so they reason that there’s no point sending yet another promo in the style they already have covered – “if it ain’t broke, why would the magazine try to fix it?” might be their reasoning. So maybe the photographer thinks they could try sending something completely different and see if the photo editor is interested because they don’t currently have a regular contributor with that style.

    One final point, and this has occurred to me many times: magazines in a certain genre often grow or change direction, seemingly unannounced to the public. One day they might be a science magazine, the next they have high-fashion spreads or political portraits or architectural interiors, or whatever. Now if I can just get my ‘inappropriate’ promo onto the desk of the photo editor before everybody else, they might look at my work, but if I wait until they’ve already got the word out there and they have lots of other photographers just like me on their desk, my work gets buried under that pile of other promos on that desk.

  16. @ Rob.
    That call was NOT me! you know what I mean! Thanks for the response BTW and congrats on the bit over at Mediabistro

  17. Conventional wisdom holds that for a large scale marketing campaign, you can expect a less than 5% response rate. So if you want 100 people to respond, you have to send out at least 2,000 pieces. That number was generated from targeted mail campaigns. Now with the ease of massive email drops, the impetus to target is less. In a conventional mail campaign you at least have to pay for printing, labor and postage. With email, it costs the same to send out 10 or 10,000.

    With the volume and nuisance involved in bulk email campaigns, I’m sure that the response rate has dropped significantly below 5%. So, in order to get the same number of responses, even more email must be sent out. It is a widening spiral that is generating so much meaningless noise it is hard to see how it can sustain itself.

    As I once heard at a seminar on this subject, if you are the absolute best at what you do, only 7% of the market even cares. To the rest you are irrelevant.

  18. “perhaps because they believe they bring a new stylistic approach, or a different way of thinking. ”

    they do it because they’re desperate for jobs and send their stuff ANYWHERE, regardless of the publication’s style subject etc…. I agree with Rob and Ms. Dragon.
    Stop nagging. There are HUNDREDS of photogs, most, from what I’ve seen are people with a few Model Mayhemers, an expensive camera and a website, that hit up these PEs all day.
    So I feel for the PEs. Imagine you had to look through hundreds of Flickr photos everyday and respond.
    Knock off the mass e-mails. Do your homework, legwork and personal work. You will get more respect and better clients (which BTW should be listed on your site if you have any)

  19. I can see how Deborah would be irritated by all the emails if she’s getting food and lifestyle promos. Huh?? WTF??

    Don’t photographers target their marketing?

    Let me think about who’s least likely to hire me and market them. Ahh time well spent.

  20. I think the thing is, they don’t spend any time…they just subscribe to the entire list on AdBase or Agency Access and boom…send out the whole list and see who responds. The people doing this do not care if they are being a pest, and I would guess most do not even think twice about it. It is just an email…

    To the poster earlier who stated that 3,000 might be an exaggeration; I really doubt it. If you think of the email list available on the above mentioned data bases, you could send to 35,000 in a click.

    As for me, I will keep my list of 150(magazines, agencies, corp.) that actually fit my target and go with it. Another thing to remember, with a list that actually fits you, 5% return is easily attainable…its the people that think that 5% holds true if they mass mail who are causing the trouble.

  21. Rob,

    This is a double edged sword that I can see both sides of. My inbox is crammed daily with all sorts of inappropriate and unwanted stuff. I delete it and unsubscribe wherever I can. Once in a while, I’m made aware of something I didn’t know I wanted until I saw it.

    On the other hand, from a freelance shooters perspective, marketing is tough and getting work and staying on the radar is a constant, ongoing effort that is very time consuming. As a sole proprietor, I’d love to be able to send out individually crafted, highly targeted campaigns but, given the low response rates, longs leads, low payment rates etc. I’d probably never get enough work to stay afloat.

    The targeted approach is great if you’re in that top 0.1% of shooters who have representation and everything they shoot gets noticed out of quality, content or cult following. For the rest of us 99.99%, finding work is a daily struggle. Email blasts, postcards, cold calling etc. all pay dividends. I use lists and have great success with them. I regularly send out links to slideshows of personal work in an email blast and it regularly pays off so, as a business person, it’s tough to argue with that.

    As an example, I sent out an email blast last week on a personal project shot a a travel destination that went to a list of “travel publishers”. One of those publishers was a hunting and fishing magazine that got back to me with, “it’s not for us but, do you have any…” I did, and made a stock sale. As well, I picked up an assignment from another publisher to shoot something entirely different. Right place, right time.

    While getting lots of photographer promos everyday might seem like a burden, consider what would happen if every single one stopped sending promos and emails altogether. I’d like to think that a lot of great work would go undiscovered and none of the 99.99% would ever get a chance to grow into and create the work of the .01%. Further, let’s be honest, you put yourself out there as an authority on photography and photographers through your blog so, you have to reasonably expect to hear from lots of aspiring and rising shooters seeking out advice, guidance and feedback. Tenacity and a willingness to follow up is an essential part of making it in this business. It’s not reasonable to say “I’m going to create a blog that will draw the interest of photographers seeking to make a living but, I don’t want to get any phone calls, emails or promos unless they’re specifically targeted to exactly what I’m working on today”. I’m guessing that part of a photo editor’s job is sorting through the chaff everyday in search of the wheat.

    To your point about phone calls etc. As a community, photographers are getting mixed messages. Call me, don’t call me. Send in your book, don’t send in a book, just email us. Don’t send postcards, we only toss them. Send only postcards, please don’t email us. Etc. Etc. ad nauseam. The methods of successful marketing are as numerous as the number of potential buyers out there. There’s no one successful way and, it seems, you can’t please everyone. I think the days of mass marketing are here to stay and the highly targeted stuff is the sweet spot in all the noise. Those who try to be successful and build their business by being aggressive and “asking for a shot” should never be ashamed of their efforts. Those who sit on the sidelines waiting to be picked probably should be.

    And finally, what about those of us who don’t specialize? I pride myself on being versatile and frankly, the fact that I shoot everything from editorial to corporate reports to industrial work to travel stock is, to me, what I love about my job. In my market you can’t make a living by specializing in one narrow style and, being able to shoot a wide variety of things enable me to get more work.

    This month’s slideshow promo might not be at all suitable to whatever you’re working on but, it should show a competence in the trade and an artistic sensibility that, in digging deeper into the work, would demonstrate that I might be right for something you’re working on in the future no?

  22. @ 21: I’m wondering when it doesn’t work anymore. 150 emails a day seems like too much.

    Here’s a good post from an art buyer talking about the paradox of email/don’t email, call/don’t call etc..

  23. Do photographers have to resort to blast email promos? Personally, I would prefer to do the research and specifically target the clients I want to work with rather than make that first impression as described. I imagine the question that would go something like “do they even know what we do?” when an email blast is opened to show food rather than sports, fashion rather than food, rafting rather than news.

    It’s convenient and probably efficient to subscribe to/buy a mailing list, but if a photographer is going to spend time and energy (and probably money) crafting a promo (print or email), shouldn’t that same effort also go into where those promos are being sent?

    Are photographers getting lazy or is it the newbies not knowing what they’re doing and the list providers taking advantage so they can make more dough, at the expense of everyone?

    It really sounds like SPAM to me.

  24. Rob- it may cause a ton of trouble but I like the idea of organizing a repository of A Photo Editor’s Email Inbox. If no one was singled out, if it contained say every promotional email (maybe not including viagra and luxury watches,) it would be a valuable social study. A snapshot of communications in 2008 – or forever long you could keep it going.

    Imagine, if you will, that it also helped ease the congestion in Deborah’s email. You’d have them all signing up to forward you their email. Or maybe not. Maybe it would only raise the caliber of the promo email knowing that so many competitors would be watching. Or maybe not.

    Actually now that I think about it, it would be the kind of project that would end up in the Whitney Biennial – but you’d have to include the viagra and luxury watches to give it the conceptual bulk of a museum piece.

  25. It would love to have PE’s & AB’s weigh in on HOW they want to be reached.

    Everyone is different and if I had a better idea of art buyers likes and dislikes, this would clear up a lot of things. Some like postcards over email, and I think that everyone hates the phone.

    I want to be good at keeping in touch and not a pest. It would be great to hear about of how PE’s & AB’s want to be approached by photographers.

    They could do this anonymously, but I think it’s more useful to know who the person is. It could greatly help in marketing efforts and hopefully result in less pestering on the other end.

    Keep up the great work Rob!


  26. Maybe these photographer’s should read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, I quote, “Just because you have someone’s email address or phone number doesn’t mean that they want to hear from you!”

    It’s called permission marketing and it’s hard to do right without offending the person you’re contacting…

  27. it feels to me like most ab’s and pe’s are receptive to email and printed promos…it’s more the promo itself and who it’s from.

    i think most of the “noise” – whether it’s printed noise or electronic noise – is photog’s they’d rather not hear from at all…unfortunately, they’re going to hear from all of us anyway…so the best we can do is target promotions and try to make sure we aren’t one of those that they don’t wanna be hearing from in the first place.

  28. PEs should probably only look at portfolios that are dropped off or sent in. They could have a set time every week when they looked at them.

    Get rid of the postcards, the e-mails, tri-folds, etc.. If everyone had to send out their book and wait for it to be returned they would be more selective about who they approached.

    If PEs made a hard and fast rule that they would never hire anyone from a promo the mass e-mails, postcards, and all would go away. PEs would never do that because they are afraid of missing something. Now, it is way to easy. Drop a few hundred e-mails or postcards and sometimes you get a hit. No or little money, no research, nothing, just a big ass e-mail or mail list. Make the PE do the screening of what fits and what doesn’t.

    Yep, I’m guilty of doing it sometimes. Wish there was another way but as long as a portfolio and a postcard or e-mail get the same priority by the PE it isn’t going to change.

  29. Oh, the cheek of it, a photographer calling a picture editor looking for work. Totally outrageous, after all why should an editor bother looking at a photographers work when you can get everything you need for pennies from a second rate stock agency. Perhaps it is time for you editors to get off your pedestal that you seem to have put yourselves upon and do some bloody work. I, for one, have stopped shooting editorial for magazines. I am sick to bloody death of this holier than thou attitude so many picture editors have when dealing with talented photographers, often so you can put your own second rate crap in your rag anyway. If you choose to use stock instead of building up relationships with talented photographers don’t be suprised when the good photographers no longer want to work with you. Stick to stock, I don’t care, after all it is cheaper than hiring someone and a hell of a lot easier for you. Perhaps you should be looking at what your actual magazine is- a means of selling advertising plus a couple of bits a poorly written editorial thrown in for good measure, not a prestigious art gallery, get a grasp on what it is you do and stop treating people like crap.

  30. @rph: It’s not the talented photographers that are the problem. It’s trying to sift through all the mediocre work to find people with potential. There’s only 24 hours in a day

  31. Yeah, sorry, must have got out of the wrong side of the bed this morning!

  32. …as an individual who partly feels responsible for this trend among model agencies I think it is clear to everyone hear that you have reached a time of oversaturation and marketing this way can only obscure your great work.

    You are mostly all artists and have all of the inventiveness and dynamics of the web on your side, it is time to start inventing again.

    The creativity you can bring to your marketing can sometimes obviously reflects the vigor and energy you will bring to your work as well.

    As the image makers of the world…turn it up a notch and give a new kind of picture.

  33. Alright, I give.

    The question still lingers, how DO we contact photo editors? I know we’ve covered that doing your research is pivotal. Email blasts aren’t the answer. However, once you’ve gotten your list narrowed down, you’ve done your research, and you’re ready to get your book in front of the right people, how do you contact them?

    Calls in this day and age never get answered, emails rarely get returned, and well smoke signals are just to much work. If you know that you are above the “chaff” and want your work to be seen, what is the best course of action?

  34. I would like to thank Deborah for posting this email! It is absolutely terrific that she took the time to post her breath here on all this rage. But much needed. It is a shame that there is not ONE definite answer to dealing with promoting your services.

    There are too many opinions but we as Photographers have to keep on keeping on. Perhaps PE’s and AB’s should get the chance to check new and up coming Photographer, Illustrators etc!

    Sooo busy.

  35. Perhaps PEs could publish a keyword description of the kinds of subject matter that interests them along with a form [not a contact address] that shooters could use to send a link to their portfolios.

    The page could have an advisory to the effect that those sending inappropriate material will have their contact e-mail addresses published at the click of a button for spam bot harvesting in retaliation.

    See, e-mail and the web can work FOR you if you give it half a chance.

    Take the idea a step further: Professional editorial associations could develop a standardized submission form as a service to their members. Likewise photog service organizations could plug into such a system by developing a standardized portfolio that editors can skim through efficiently. PEs could then safely ignore every other contact avenues, perusing portfolios on THEIR schedules.

  36. Muerete culero

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