Here’s an email conversation I had with a reader about cold calling I thought you might be interested in.

Reader: I was reading over one of your past posts => “Photo Editor And Art Buyer Survey” => and noticed that calling potential clients is a bad idea! However, all the agents, ADBASE writers and others really push this as a successful way to get future work. ADBASE constantly posts blogs that really push this as a great way to follow up email promo campaigns. Send out your promo, check back to see who opened your promo and then follow up with that person via a phone call. I was speaking with [redacted] at an LA APA event and she was promoting calling and asking to be put through to voice mail. That way, you don’t bother the person with an awkward phone call. My feeling is that I don’t want to cold call either; on the other hand, I do want to generate business. So what is the right approach? I’m new to the game and I don’t want to come out sucking.

APE: Ok, so tell me what you will say to the person when they pick up the phone?

Reader: I have a partial script worked out. But truth be known, I’d rather not call. It’s as much of a problem for me as it seems to be for them. However, if it’s necessary to get hired then I’m willing to try. My confusion lies in all the things I read online, in mags and listen to at the photo lectures. There seems to be contradicting viewpoints. Which is correct? I don’t want to misstep and come out creating a bad first impression. For example, I have been collecting a database of people that have been showing interest in my ADBASE email promo campaign. The data is tallied from the last six months. Anyone that has opened my email more than 50% of the time (whether they just open the email, click directly to my website or both) seem like a potential candidate to call. I was planning on doing this today for the first time. I was constructing what to say based on various blogs. Then I came across your survey and changed my mind. I then remembered the APA event at Chiat Day. Both the AD & AB said they hate calls. If calling is taboo, then the real question becomes: How do you get hired? Are email promos and direct mailers enough (coupled with all the FB’s and Tweets of course)? After all the emails and mailings, should I just sit back and wait for the right ad campaign or editorial story to pop up in my favor? In essence wait for my phone to ring?

APE: What I’m trying to get at, is do you have a reason for calling them other than they looked at your work? Obviously if they liked it and had a job they would call you. What are you going to say on the call that will move things forward?

Reader: Good point. I guess nothing.

APE: This is how those calls went on my end.

caller: Have you been receiving the promos I’ve been sending you?

me: yes.

caller: do you have any questions?

me: no



“can I have a job”

The better way to do this is call and ask if you can send in or show your portfolio. If that’s not a possibility you need to produce some targeted promos that will grab their attention. There were plenty of times when the first time I ever talked to a photographer was when I called them up to give them a job. Of course waiting for the phone to ring is a ridiculous proposition so you’ve got to get things under their nose in mail, email, magazines they read, blogs they check out contests they follow that will get them interested.

Reader: Thank you for the advice. Makes sense. What you’re saying is kinda what I was/am planning. I just figured that the “Follow Up” call was a necessary, yet unsavory element to the marketing process. I’m actually relieved that I don’t have do this.

I’d love to hear from anyone who advocates cold calling since this is my very myopic point of view. NOTE: I checked out the readers work and it’s good stuff so those “opens” are real interest and this is not just someone clawing at the wind.

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  1. I’ve had almost no success with cold calling. In fact, I can’t shake the feeling like it’s a really bad first date, and both of us want the awkwardness to end and get back to what we were doing.

  2. Interesting. As a commercial shooter who is trying to get back into “the game” after a long layoff, I cannot imagine getting work without a “face to face” with an AD at some point. I figure even with mailings and email, that would have to come from a cold call. Now, of course, I’m re-thinking that whole idea. And as, like many, it is something I tend to dread, perhaps it is time to embrace these new methods…

  3. I’m interested in seeing what experiences of others as to how successful they are with it. I’ve considered doing it but have yet to, mainly because I live in Asia so have a 12-15 hour time difference with my editorial list contacts I’ve created on Adbase. Thus far I’ve been doing emailers only, and have a direct mail one in planning stages, but am unsure about cold calls as well.

  4. I did an 8-week intro to agencies…

    Week 1: mail intro letter w/ promo piece
    Week 2: email photo
    Week 3: phone call
    Week 4: email photo
    Week 5: email photo
    Week 6: postcard
    Week 7: email photo
    Week 8: meeting or drop off “mini book”

    For the phone call you have to be prepared for different scenarios. My goal was to get a meeting to “show my work and find out more about your agency.” Even better say something like, “I shoot healthcare and I know ____ Hospital is one of your clients. I’d love to show some of my images in case you have a client for whom I would be a good fit.” (Note: say “whom” as much as possible. It makes you sound super-smart. (That is a joke.))

    Now you’re going to ask if that worked. Well, I started off with 24 local agencies and got 6 meetings. I’d say that’s pretty successful. Don’t ask me how many jobs I’ve gotten out of that so far…

    • I had to comment here – as I loved your approach and your response rate was actually PHENOMENAL! With 24 agencies, your return on average should have been 2 meetings (10% return) and you got 25% – CONGRATS! Very impressive! Thanks for sharing and doing the work – it’s photographers like you that will continue to SUCCEED!

  5. The answer will come from personal experience. I’ve learned from all of the blogs, videos and hear-say down through the years, that you can’t really rely on any of it as fact.

    Many art buyers have publicly said they love working with new talent. Others have said they love email promos. Or direct mail. Yet the real life evidence for those statements doesn’t exist because it’s an individual preference. When is the last time you saw a virtual unknown shoot a major campaign? Pre-2008? Further back? Have you ever been sent a warm thank you note for sending an email promo? Have you ever been called with delightful squealing because of the postcard you sent? My guess is not many of us have.

    So, if they don’t want our emails, what evidence is there that they’ll want a voice call? At least the email has some visual candy. Maybe some of you have a sexier voice than I do? :)

    The extent of good fortune that I’ve had with cold calls is simply that the task is useful for finding out who to direct marketing toward (if the prospect isn’t listed in Agency Access or AdBase). Then again I’m a young photographer (6.5 years in business), so I have little name recognition.

  6. I like Zach’s approach above, and I really like the comment in the post about the reason you feel you need to call. If it’s just to ask if they’ve seen your work, it can be a waste of time, but if its to move you forward then go for it. Perhaps have thirty friends pretend to ‘cold’ call you in a single day, with awkward conversation and all, and maybe then we’d appreciate it from the other end.

    Thank you for the great post.

  7. I have learned (via the inimitable Ian Summers) that it is best to have a list of desired clients to send your work to that you have researched. While it is fine to send a mass mailing virtually or literally, it is impossible to follow up with everyone on a large scale and is a waste of time.

    The ‘know your client’ rule applies here – research your list and when or if you get that person on the line tell them you saw their work and thats why you sent that piece to them – have a question or two prepared that makes it about them – what was the casting process like for the etrade babies or how many early bird specials did they have to eat to to find the dos equis guy and just how interesting was he really?

    You show the intended target that you have done your homework and are call is not quite cold – you know something about them. Also, just because someone did great creative work for a food client but you shoot fashion doesn’t mean they won’t have a reason to use you in the future. Your ability to see the value in what they have created will help them to see yours.

    Don’t be robotic and while it is good to have a script, let your inner light shine and don’t be afraid to let your personality come through. Its corny but try having a smile on your face when talking, it actually helps!

  8. I tell everyone “be interested and be interesting.

    You have got to cold call all the time! If you feel that this is to much trouble or you just don’t “like it” go into another business. Our business is a social business that feeds on interaction and I believe it will always remain that way. The skills learned by being on the phone are invaluable in our business – even if you don’t get a job or if you get stone silence from the other side of the phone, something is always learned by the process.

    Learn something about the agency. Know their clients, what awards they’ve won, what clients they’ve lost – some nugget that you could latch onto. Secondly know something about the “local experience” with which your calling to. Yes, do a little homework.

    Come on! If you’re a stinkin bore the person your going to deal with will feel that way about you. With what’s going on in the world how could you possibly have nothing to say.

    I’m not saying it’s easy – what I am saying is make yourself approachable by being interesting. I realize that there will be uncomfortable moments – so what.
    Fact is, you must connect on some level with a client- it maybe style or substance either way it more then simply taking a great photo. It’s about connecting!

  9. I would advocate strongly in favour of cold calling and I was a little disappointed that Rob’s reader’s take home message was, “I’m actually relieved that I don’t have do this.” I think you do have to do this and I’ll start off by saying that I secured a great client via a cold call. They have subsequently hired me again twice in the space of a couple of months. That client then went on to hire me for a stills + motion project and I love working for them.

    But, like Rob pointed out you have to have a reason for calling. Here are a couple of reasons I have for calling:

    1. Hi, I’m going to be in [City] next week and I would love to pop by and introduce myself with my book.

    2. Hi, I am ringing to introduce myself and let you know how much I enjoy your work, especially the campaign you did for X (be specific).

    An idle cold call is going to be like a bad first blind date as someone said above. But if you have purpose, do a little research, keep things brief, light and full of happy energy then I think cold calling is a powerful tool in your marketing toolbox. And most importantly cold calling has to fit into a broader array of marketing assets. Those being mailers, emailers, awards, blogs, in person meetings etc etc.

    This may be a little cheesy but as Zen philosophy teaches us: “When presented with two paths always choose the more difficult route”. If you hate doing it it’s probably because it is difficult but also extremely worthwhile.

  10. I like Zach and Nicks approach as this is a necessary evil. Promo cards can sit there but paired with a letter or an email or a voicemail can increase name recognition, which in turn increases your chances for a job. Tread carefully not to blow your first call with a client as it will leave a bad taste. And do not ask for anything except the chance to meet. Do not add them on facebook after one phone call. Respect their privacy and your demeanor will get you in.

  11. I’m sitting at a coffee shop right now in Cleveland Ohio after a book showing I got from a cold call and about to head to another book showing while I’m here in cleveland because of a cold call I made. Bottom line its getting my work infront of buys and getting my face/personality in there head as well.

    I just started a cold calling plan a few weeks back and I dont plan to stop making cold calls anytime soon.


    • Update,

      I’m now quoting a job from that second meeting.

  12. I have been shooting professionally for about twenty years now. When I first started out cold calling was the only way I could really make contact with someone. I would spend five to eight hours a day once a week making cold calls. Did I have a script? Yes I did, but I became so good at repeating who I was and what my intentions were to the other person on the phone that it became second nature. Did I enjoy it? Hell no! Again in my opinion it was the thing to do as far as a first impression and introduction to the person I was calling. Did I have rejection? Hell yeah I did. At the same time I also received meetings which lead to jobs.

    In this day and age of Facebook, Linked In, Blogging and email (which all is in use in my marketing) I believe its way to easy for photographers or for that fact anyone trying to do business with another person or company to sit and hide behind their computer hoping they will get a digital response to their query. I believe at the end of the day you have to have the balls to pick up the phone and make human contact. That being said (again in my opinion) there is nothing like putting a face with a name and hand shake like the old days. Do I think you have to cold call? No I don’t, but I do know that what is lacking in today’s world is human interaction. I will continue to pick up the phone knowing there will be good and bad calls, but at the end of the day any rejection received from the calls will weigh out with the positive feed back and meetings that will come from this effort. Again all of this is just my opinion and what works for me… Now where is that damn phone book?


  13. I did cold-calls at the beginning of my career, although I HATED it. And still do on occasion, though I hate it less now- a bit of confidence/experience and name-recognition has helped. Anyway, the goal is a portfolio show. And I try to make them as not-cold as possible- need to find an *in* of some sort- Jane told me to call you, we both worked with Joe, I heard we went to the same school, I’m going to be in your city next week, etc. If I had a good in, and they were decent, not crazily over-worked people, then yes, I got in for shows. Many simply never answered the phone or returned a single call, even if to say no thanks. Huh surprise, but I rarely hear from those people even today, and when I do, it’s never fun. Or led to a real job. The ones that were open to shows and friendly have become my best clients.

  14. I JUST finished a round of cold calling last week to about 50 art buyers here in NYC. Of the 50, I actually spoke with about 10 of them and booked 7 face-to-face meetings all scheduled in the next few weeks. When I called, I just left a quick voicemail stating that I liked their work with so-and-so and that I had a lot of new work I would like to show them…then I mentioned I would follow up with an email with my website link. I received about 25% replies stating they liked the work or something like that and then the others wanted to have me in for a meeting. Of all the other ways I have sent out promos, I have yet to get actual meetings the way I did from the calls.

  15. @Dan That is awesome mate! And exactly why cold calling has GOT to be in your marketing mix. I hope the meetings go well sir. Nice one.

  16. I hate hate hate cold calling but I do it. I hate the feeling that I’m interupting someones day for a short uncomfortable call. I do the hi my name is x I shoot x and I would the chance to show you my book call. I call ten or so people a week, I get to talk to maybe three of them and I almost always get a meeting with one of them. I also send out emails, postcards, tweets, etc… But the only thing that seems to get meetings is the cold calls when I actually get to talk to someone. I wis it was different but it isn’t. For me at least.

  17. Hire one of those guys that dance in the streets with signs to sell gold. Get a sign with your name on it and have the person dance in front of the agency for half a day….


    Rent a chicken suit and run like a mo-fo through their office throwing handfuls of business cards up in the air like pretty confetti.


    Don’t fee bad about making calls. The job of the art buyer is to buy art. If they don’t like buying art they should consider other jobs. Find the creatives that inspire you, call them and tell them that. Nothing wrong with calling and telling them how campaign X you just saw in CA inspires you and you would like to show them your work in hopes of collaborating in the future.

    Or you could just get the chicken suit..

  18. When I was an assistant, cold calling was part of the job to help get more jobs. Now that I’m a photographer, cold calling is still part of the marketing scheme, and it’s just part of being in the business of photography.
    Fortunately from these cold calls I’ve landed numerous meetings with PEs, ABs, ADs, which from time to time leads to an eventual job. Which of course is the main goal.

  19. Although I can’t think of a single person that likes cold calling, I have finally come to terms with the fact that this needs to be a part of my marketing plan. The majority of my recent business has come from making cold calls and asking if I could show them my portfolio. I’m respectful of their time and keep my call short and to the point. Most of the time I’m talking to a machine anyway, so I follow up the call with a personal email rather than rambling on the phone for a few minutes.

    I target my calls to great prospects and people I really want to work with. Typically those two go hand in hand. Many have been very receptive to meeting me and seeing my work and some not so much. I am of the mindset that if someone doesn’t even want to take the time to look at my work then they’re probably not someone I want to work with anyway. We’re all busy and we’re all just trying to do our jobs.

  20. Check out these dialogs uploaded to Agency Access’s Blog: The Lab – I hope they help you in all scenarios:

    In Person Meeting:

    Electronic Portfolio Requests:

    Travel Meeting:

    GOOD LUCK! I know it’s not fun (for 99% of you) but it’s worth the investment.

  21. I have gotten many acouNts from cold calls infacteven from voice mail sometimes you just call at the right time it is just the law of averaes being bad at spelling helps if call I will give you a pep talk 212 683 3131

  22. Cold calling can be awkward, but this can be off set by being ready to promote who you are, what you have done and the type of work the client needs. I have some scripts in my head when I do cold calls as it can really help when the person goes ‘well, tell me about yourself and what you do’.

    There is no secret formula for getting new work. Some people do email; some people do promo’s; some people do portfolio drop off’s; some people do links to web sites, etc.. The likes and dislikes of people hiring is endless and you can’t guess what they do and don’t like promotion wise, if you have never spoken to them.

    I think it is a mistake to think ‘don’t cold call’ because the person may not like it. Don’t guess. Do the cold call, have a script and ask them what their preferred method of being updated on your work is at the end of the conversation. They will tell you.

  23. So I’m an assistant and I’ve interned for Ad photogs before and I was doing the cold calling.

    The biggest take home is, If you live in the same city as the agency, they wont care as much because they could get a hold of you any time they’d like. If you’re from out of town, they will feel much more inclined to meet with you. Also, don’t call unless, as mentioned, you want to show a book or have some other purpose.

    And lastly,
    I called a lot of agencies in this busy town in California with no luck. The photographer is from the mid-west and when he went home I called agencies for him there (his home town), I got him 3 appointments in an hour. I think there is something to be said about local culture and value of time. NY and CA are so hustle and bustle where the rest of the country seems like they can afford time to meet you. Not saying that those other cities aren’t a factor, but when you walk down the street in LA or NY, guarantee you don’t say hi to the person walking by. If it was Salt Lake City, you would exchange salutations.

  24. I think if you have ever done cold calling in another field you will understand that it is for the most part not the greatest investment of time. From my past experience your are lucky if you are able to move forward in the relationship for 1 out of 200+ calls. In this industry if you are trying to work on a regional level that kills all of the potential clients pretty quick.

    APE make one critical point, what do you really want to say. If you are going to sell your self you better have a great product to put in front of them before you call. That means a promo package that stands out and gives you the opportunity to talk about the needs of the AB, AD, PE, etc…

    Cold calling is about closing the deal not setting an appointment.

  25. I have done a fair amount of cold calling in a past life selling advertising. The thing about it that I learnt, both from doing it myself and also from watching and listening to some very very good salespeople is that it is not easy. If you are bad at it you will be resented. However (and here is the thing), if you are GOOD at it, the person on the other end of the phone may not even register that it is a cold call, and will buy anything you tell them to buy. But you have to be very good at it, and like anything it takes practice…

  26. Speaking as the photo editor of Bizarre magazine, phoning up is underrated in my book.
    I get hundreds of emails a day and the mailshots ( which I don’t really like by the way..) would have to be incredibly good for me to notice it and get in touch with the photographer. The best route for me to commission a photographer is for them to phone me up, introduce themselves, maybe talk about some recent shoots. They then email me a link to their websites or set of work.
    Or they can email and then phone me up.
    In this day and age, it’s easy for shooters to do group emails to all their contacts, the personal touch works much better in my book.

  27. I’m a fan of cold calling – I’m not a social-media horse, so this is a large part of marketing for me.

    I recently shot a cycling event, 100% on spec (an no, it wasn’t Le Tour). I chose to focus my efforts on getting a solid compliment of shots of several teams (as opposed to one of everyone). From there, I took the team’s sponsor list (that I found on the team website), and started cold calling. “Hi, I know you’re a sponsor for team ABC and I recently covered an event they were present and and would like to share some of the images I shot with you”.

    Out of 20 cold calls, I was able to make sales with 4 companies. A 20% return sounds good to me. I also got email responses indicating that they didn’t need anything now, but thanking me for sharing – and those folks will now go on my email list and if I create new work that is within their genera, they will get a PERSONAL email as I check in.

    I might be a newbie, and i might be still learning, but I’m not ready to abandon the phone at all. I like to talk to people, and I think a relationship that is NOT digital is far stronger.

  28. a cold call does not need to be cold. agree with APE you gotta have a reason to call. if you have researched well who you are calling and why, or how you will get this info once they pick-up, it is never going to be a cold call, but rather a conversation starter. as if an old friend is calling.

    just like cold email, does not have to be cold. my mailing list is quite limited and i know pretty well who is who on it and why i want to work with them. then i make very targeted and personalized communication with each person on the list. sometimes i get thank yous for sending updates and for making contacts. eventually the process leads to work and to long term relationships., which i have a preference for.

  29. First: I love Frank Meo and Nick Hall’s responses. I’m a big fan of the cold call. Just got into promo seriously and put together a list of 20 potential clients in one area that coincides with my work. The plan is to do this in rotation for each of my specialties, then repeat. Focus on building immediate, personal relationships instead of spray-n-pray with emails.

    With each I sent an email, then followed up with a call timed by Swingers guidelines (“Wait, two days and then a day?”) After all, this is a lot like dating – you have to show interest without conveying a drop of desperation.

    I’ve received 6 direct responses (email replies giving me a sense of if the relationship should move forward), two meetings face to face and a planned third meeting soon. Booked a shoot next day from one of the meetings.

    And now it’s back to the same process all over again…

    My theory is all jobs come from a real, tangible, personal relationship. There’s a spectrum of reality, and emails, print promos and personal calls all sit at different spots on that spectrum. Cold calling IMO creates an immediate sense in someone’s mind that you’re serious about your work and willing to stick your neck out in defense of your skills – in other words, if the prospect of cold calling is widely known as terrifying, and your confidence in your work vanquishes that terror, then that says a lot about your work.

  30. Hi.
    I´m a german architectural photographer. I bought a book like “success as a photographer” and followed the advices. Now i´m listed on page one in google (keyword: architekturfotograf köln). Unfortunately with zero profit, use, benefit (don´t know the right word) because i have only 5 to 10 visitors on my sites. i think that architects don´t use google to find a photographer. U need “vitamin B”. We call it so in germany. “B” stands for “Beziehungen” “relationship”. i send out several e-mails and get some response: “we like your work very much, but at the moment there is no project…. We call u if necassary.” I had one assignement from “xing”. they contacted me. i also e-mailed a great agency in hamburg. they told me to CALL them to make an appointment for portfolio-show.
    I think until u are known or famous (cold) call is a good think. The best way ist “vitamin B” , (“word of mouth” in english?) or PR.

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