Marketing Tips: Breaking Into Commercial Assignments and Promo Leave-behinds

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Guest post by Kristina Feliciano

I’ve developed a large body of personal work but have never shot commercial assignments. How do I get started?

I suggest you do something that is truly unfashionable these days: Assist. Technology—digital photography, the Internet, social media—has been wonderfully democratizing, making it super easy for anyone to make and distribute work. But the low barrier to entry has also inspired people to skip steps that are essential to their education as a professional photographer. When you assist, you’re getting paid to learn while enjoying remarkable access. You’ll be watching how a pro runs their set, works with their team, collaborates with their clients, and solves problems. You can learn about lighting, directing talent, gear, logistics. You’ll also meet people, from crew members to clients. If I were you, I’d commit to assisting for at least a year. It’s a small investment of time, and you can still shoot your own work on the side. Yes, there are successful young photographers who never assisted. But behind the scenes, you sometimes hear that the producer or art director on these photographers’ shoots is actually running the show because the photographer doesn’t know how to light, what to do when the weather doesn’t cooperate, how to lead a crew. In those cases, it’s unlikely that the photographer will be hired again. To survive beyond a few lucky breaks, you need to prepare yourself, and spending a night or two asking Dr. Google for information does not count. Go the old-school route and find yourself someone to apprentice with.

I’m a portrait, entertainment, and advertising photographer planning to go on meetings with magazines, ad agencies, and movie & TV studios, and I want to print a two-sided promo card as a leave-behind. How do I choose which images to use?

The first step is acknowledging that one card for these three different audiences will not serve you well. To be effective, a promo should be relevant to the recipient. For the magazines, you want to show off your portrait capabilities but not ads or key art that you’ve shot—generally speaking, photo editors don’t want to see campaigns. So consider a card featuring two of your strongest celebrity portraits, ideally ones that either contrast each other in some notable way—serious/humorous, studio/location, natural light/stylized, a single/a group—or that work together to make a strong, consistent statement of your style. For the movie & TV studios, demonstrate your narrative and production skills. Consider showing key art on one side and a publicity image on the other. And for ad agencies, aim to inspire the art buyers and creatives to want to work with you: Show two of your strongest portraits that speak to your capabilities in terms of lighting, production, style, and uniqueness. They’re visual people and love photography as much as you do. Dazzle them; show them what makes you special. As an alternative to all of the above, if you’re presenting to a group, you could print four or five cards, each with an excellent image one one side and your branding on the other, set them out in stacks on the table, and let people choose which card/s they want as they leave. No matter which route you choose, though, make sure you’re making decisions with your audience’s needs in mind. Otherwise, all you’ll be leaving them with is the impression that you didn’t do your homework.

Kristina Feliciano is a marketing consultant based in Los Angeles and the former creative director of Stockland Martel. If you have questions about marketing send her an email and she can answer them here:

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