Guest post by Kristina Feliciano
I’ve been doing this a while and been in the industry in all forms—PA, driver, photo assistant, shooter. From my experience and from talking with my peers, most work is not gotten by that “lucky break” but rather from some relationship that turned someone on to your work. My peers and I are a little older—30s/40s—so we have been around and know the industry and are really good at what we do, and are just good people, but we are not “sexy.” We all do promos and calls and emails, but how do we get the photo editor/art buyer/art director/in-house photo producer/etc. to actually consider taking the time to seriously look at our work or, better yet, meet with us? I am realizing no one has that answer. —Alex Palombo, palombophotography.com
Thanks for writing me, Alex. If I’m hearing you right, you want to know how someone who’s got experience, knows what they’re doing, and promotes themselves gets photo editors and art buyers to pay attention and give them work. And you say no one has the answer, which suggests that it’s an unanswerable question. And I totally get that it feels that way.
But we need to look a little more closely at the premise that you and the colleagues you mention are all doing the things you’re supposed to do and still coming up short. How consistent, well designed, and targeted are the promo efforts you’re talking about? How clear is your brand and—jargon alert—value proposition? Is your website well edited and easy to navigate? Does it clearly support your identity and vision? How’s your social presence? Number of followers notwithstanding, are your IG and/or FB pages genuinely compelling, illuminating, funny, or…?
I think by now, most photographers know that they need to market themselves, but I’m not positive they really know how to do it—that they need to take a big-picture view of their efforts, make an annual plan and set goals, establish a schedule, and understand how all their initiatives come together to add up to something larger and persuasive. You really have to know who you are and what you have to offer. That doesn’t mean doing only one kind of work or pigeonholing yourself, but it also doesn’t mean professing general competence and telling clients you can shoot anything—as if you have no point of view, as if you’re a blank slate waiting for someone to define your purpose for you.
Obviously, you have to be a damn good photographer, because this is an intensely competitive industry. But as a well-respected photo agent told the crowd at a recent photo talk here in Los Angeles, you also have to be a good businessperson. I know, gross. But it’s an inescapable reality.
So… I would suggest doing an honest assessment of, for example, the marketing and outreach efforts you made through 2018, as well as your website and social. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client and be mercenary in how you evaluate what you see. Make note of what works, what’s confusing, what needs to go. When I look at your site, for example, the categories are “new work,” “men,” “women,” and “personal work.” But what does a portfolio called “women” mean? When I click through on it, I see the potential makings of a sports & recreation portfolio and one on beauty. Why not break it up into two portfolios? Having descriptive portfolio names helps define you to visitors to your site. As in, “Oh, he shoots sports & rec, and I work for Eddie Bauer, so let me take a look.” (Also, unless you’re a celebrity portrait shooter, portfolio names like “men” and “women” are probably going to be too vague.) For your personal work portfolio, which contains studio portraits on white, is there a story behind the images you’re showing? They’re so different from the other work on the site; it would be helpful to have a short paragraph to introduce why you shot them and explain what you’re trying to communicate. Or consider renaming it “real people” or “portraits on white”—category names that could appeal, for instance, to pharma clients—and eliminate the first four portraits (because they appear to be about something else entirely). Otherwise, the portfolio is just a collection of disparate images, you know?
I completely agree with you that most work comes from relationships. But to spark those relationships, it helps to have your presentation and marketing efforts as on point as can be. That’s what will get you work. That and patience, because marketing and refining your presentation are two items on your to-do list that you will never be done with.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org