Advertising can be good

So often the ads we see are really, well, crap. Some of the worst offenders have been political ads. Well, here’s one that’ll prove that it is possible to do great creative work even on a political campaign.

It’s important for all creatives to see work like this. The majority of creatives work for small clients in smaller markets. Often these clients function under very warped ideas of what is and is not effective in advertising. It becomes the creative’s job to (re)educate the client about what is and is not possible–what does and does not work. The more good work you can expose these clients to, the more likely your better creative ideas will get through to them. This is true whether you’re a photographer, writer, designer or whatever.

One of my favorite sites for this is Adland. I am an occasional contributor to this site (see especially the very often tongue-in-cheek “advertising tutorials�?–just stick “tutorial�? in the search box to get them). This is a great site because it exhibits global work and the people who participate are a great mix of creative pros from around the world. You’ll get new perspectives (read the comments) as well as the chance to see work you might never get to see here in the US. Buy the full “Super Adgrunt�? access (and no, I don’t get a cent for that plug).

Keep looking for great creative work and share it with others, especially your clients. It can help you get more creative work yourself.

It’s All Marketing, part 2

On the 4th, as I was swimming my laps and working on my backstroke, right above my house this appeared in the sky:
This isn’t brand new technology, but I had never seen it before. I was captivated by it. The last time I had seen a sky-writer, in that case a traditional one, was when I was in kindergarten, so this was just cool! And, since I live in San Diego and not too far from the beaches, I was perfectly located to see them target the holiday crowds on the coast using this medium for consumer advertising. Sure, we’ve all seen the planes dragging banners, ho-hum, but this “skytyping�? makes people stop and watch.

But would it be a good idea for you? Probably not, at least not if you tried it at the beach or over a football game. Most of you are not targeting consumers. However, if you did it over the convention center where the AIGA was having its annual meeting or over Cannes during the advertising competition, that’s something different. Then, it’s targeted correctly and, it’s such an unusual idea for a creative business to use, you might get quite the results.

So, while it’s all marketing, it only is good marketing if you target. The next time a client says “well trade you ad space in the magazine for the image�? look at the magazine’s demograph. Placement is something like a city mag (like Columbus Monthly or San Diego Magazine) has no value to your business. But if it’s Communication Arts, say “yes.�?
book One quick note—my new book is about to go to press. Keep stopping back for details and information about how to purchase it.

That’s my job

This is my horoscope today:

If you see something wrong today, do whatever you can to make it right. This applies to everything, from something as trivial as pointing out a stranger’s untied shoelace to something as major as preventing a traffic accident. Don’t be shy when you see something awry. Your keen observations can save other people money, time and stress. Your energy is stronger than ever right now, and you can add a lot of value to anything you touch.

Nice reinforcement. But then again, I’m going to do this anyway because that’s my job.

Still it is important for me to know that the advice I give is sound and helpful, even when it isn’t easy. And that leads me to this email comment (below) I received this morning from Dave Shafer, a very talented shooter in Texas, with whom I have worked. I think it should serve all of us on many points–the lowest does not always (often, even, for the good projects) win; it is worthwhile to stand up to the bullies and bad guys; you are not alone in the fears and frustrations of estimating, and integrity is a good thing to have.

Thanks Dave for letting me publish this email. (link added by me, btw)

I just wanted to drop you a note of thanks for your writing and response
in the PDN forum this past week. The subject as you well know was “lowballing”.

I do not write into that forum, I am a reader and a yeller at my computer

You did so well, and without any four letter words that I would have used.

A side note that pertains to the subject. I learned this week that I did not win an assignment, (I emailed you about it while I was preparing my estimate)
Well I was up against Gregory Heisler and some others, Greg was awarded the assignment.

My biggest fear was that I would come in to the budget, either way too low
or somehow way too high. When I spoke to the Creative Director he told me it was purely creative decision, but that I was 3000 below Heisler–
127000.00 to 124000.00. Now, I did not win that assignment, I will have hotdogs tomorrow not steak, but I feel my chances next time have greatly improved with this client. I presented a legitimate estimate, a educated estimate. We can only hope.

Leslie, when we talked and I mentioned that the business has changed and I get so confused with the process of bidding…Well… That whole exchange at PDN has put the spot light clearly focused on some of the problems.
I believe you will not get through to that knucklehead, but I do hope that
the others who read that thread WILL GET IT!!

Thanks so much for being a clear voice for us photographers and artist who
have integrity and still believe that good triumphs over bad!

Have a great 4th.

Your friend in Texas,

PS. Love the BLOG!

Why we do this

Believe it or not, most consultants are not in it for the money. Seriously. Yes, we need to make a living, of course, but we are not going to get rich from telling creatives how to improve their businesses. Not even close. Each of us could make much more money (and have yummy benefits) working for agencies or in corporate marketing departments. We do this because we love it and, more importantly, we want to help creatives be successful.

Why am I telling you this? Because there seems to be a certain group of creatives who think otherwise and it’s been a tough week dealing with some of those people. So, I just wanted to put it out there.

Do we have all the answers? Any of us consultants? Hell no. Anyone who says otherwise is lying. But we do have loads of experience and we spend a lot of our time doing research so that our info is as accurate as possible. For example, with help from the fine folks at ADBASE, I am currently doing a survey of creatives and Art Buyers about some of their likes and dislikes when it comes to photographers’ marketing. I’m collecting real-world data and learning new things (all of which will be written up in an article shortly).

Consultants do more than just give concrete advice like “don’t include that image, it’s not right for you�? or “you need to put a skip button on that Flash intro you have.�? In the process of looking at your work and talking with you, quite often we help the creative to see his/her work in an entirely new way and we often can help the client learn to believe more in her/his work (and its value) so that making those hard choices about taking a bad gig or not becomes much easier (don’t take it).

As someone on the APAnet forum said (and I’m paraphrasing here), a consultant can be a bit of a shrink, a coach, a mother/father, a nag, a cheerleader, a teacher, a shoulder to cry on and about 100 other things. The one thing we are not is an oracle. But we do the best we can and we do help lots of folks.

Just don’t accuse us of not being in it for the love of the creative work, the creative process, and the desire to help.

The difference between what is and can be

I had rather a heated debate with someone on EP this morning. Part of what he kept saying was that things are a certain way–you know, “Editorial IS low paying�? etc. Me, I kept talking about what it can be–that is, if photographers work at it together, it can be better paying.

The other debater seemed to have a very hard time grasping this. He was just locked in the past as the definition of the present and me, I see the present as what it is, and the future is ours to shape.

Okay, that may sound a bit fluffy, but trust me, I’m not generally a “it’ll all work out for the best, la-ti-da�? kind of person. I’m not saying that we’ll just wake up one day and editorial rates will have radically improved and production charges will not get questioned. What I am saying is that if we, especially the leaders of our professional groups, inspire and encourage our constituencies to work (note: WORK) together, we can make the future better than the present.

It’s actually a pretty simple concept–the leaders of our professional groups should tell their members to do things–not just sit back and manage. For example, in the case of editorial clients not being willing to pay more than $250 for an assistant, the leaders should state that photographers should tell prospective clients that their assistants will be billed at $300 (or whatever it really is–no lying–but do include your mark-up in that charge). If the client says “we only pay $250�? then the photographer should say “I’m sorry, but I can’t do business that way.�? If the client won’t budge, do not work for that client. That will force the client to find someone else. And if that someone else does the same thing, that client will have to try again. Clients do not have the time nor do they want to try over and over to find someone for their projects. They will learn, after a while, that they are no longer in the driver’s seat and may not dictate how a photographer runs her/his business.

Yes, this will be hard. Photographers will lose money in the short term. Yes, there will be some scum-sucking lowballer who will do it for less, but the work will not be as good (almost always). If enough of the editorial photographers all follow this script, the publications will change.

But, the only way this and similar changes will even have a chance of happening is for the leaders of the photo community to lead. Get off your butts and call people to action already. Stop whining and do something!

To me it’s the difference between living and working from a place of victimhood (“things are as they are and we can’t do anything about it, woe is us�?) and taking responsibility for our current problems and working (together) to change for the better.

It’s All Marketing, part 1

Everything your do in your business life that in any way reaches other people is marketing. There are the obvious bits, like promos and your website, but there are loads of less obvious bits that, added up, are pretty damn important.

Take your clothes. The way you dress for any sort of interaction with a client says a lot about who you are and what your business is like. I’m not saying that in a creative industry you have to be wearing Armani suits (though it wouldn’t hurt), but you should be aware of your appearance. Even if you are dressing casually, like on a outdoor shoot in summer, wear good pieces. And great shoes–always great shoes.

And don’t forget about general grooming, too. Keep your hair cut and your nails clean and trimmed. Make sure you smell good and, if you wear make-up, make sure it looks good–not too flashy. Same for jewelry.

Creative people are supposed to be at the spear-point of trends, so we do get to experiment more than many professionals, but that also implies a certain responsibility. It is the balance of trendiness with professionalism that we need to be aware of. For example, I met a vendor to the photo industry at an event. Just about everyone there was in jeans–typical group of photographers at one of their professional group events. He, however, was in an outstanding tailored dark suit with a crisply starched white shirt and no tie–collar just unbuttoned (but not open down his front). Peeking out from his immaculately pressed french cuffs, with classy cufflinks, was a hint of a tattoo that, I’m betting, was full-sleeve. More ink was noticeable on the back of his neck. His earrings were classic studs. His hair was cut very short and looked as if it had just been trimmed that day. His hands may have been manicured–if so, it was done well so that you just noticed how nice they were. He wore expensive cologne, and just enough to notice if you were standing close to him–not overpowering. His shoes were perfectly shined and just at the edge of trendy over classic, but not too far. He held his head up, shoulders back, and led with a free and natural handshake–not smarmy, but rather sincere and with a warm smile. Overall, he got the balance just about perfect.

And he was constantly surrounded by his potential clients. People wanted to talk to him, and not just because of his product. They were drawn to him. Oh, and to be clear, he was not some gorgeous model-type. Just an average man who, by taking the time and effort to groom himself for the event, got the chance to talk to many more potential clients than he would have otherwise. He was as classy-but-trendy, forward-thinking, and successful-appearing as he wanted his product to be perceived. That’s good marketing.

Friday Bits & Pieces

In the constant search for productivity tools, I’ve come across a couple of items worth checking out.

Backpack. An organizational tool, or suite of tools you could say. Web-based and with a free version (though you’ll probably have to upgrade to one of the pay versions for work use). I suggest setting up a page for each new project you have. Also has reminders that can be emailed or texted.

Tadalist. A very simple to do list organizer, from the makers of Bapckpack. Free. There’s a Mac widget for it as well. You can make lists for work and for home, and share them with whomever you need to.

Oh Don’t Forget. This is a very simple web-based reminder that you can use for yourself or for anyone with text messaging. Free, and you can set reminders months in advance. Always forgetting to buy the significant other’s birthday present before her/his actual birthday? This’ll help. Good for reminding you to check in with clients, too.

And, just for fun, something organizationally unrelated (and pretty close to useless). People ask me all the time about my business’ name, but as odd as it is, it sure beats lots of these.

Have a great weekend!

Service. How’s yours?

AOL has got to be cringing–there is audio going around of one of their now-former customers trying to cancel his account. The customer service person, apparently oxymoronically named in this case, does everything he can not to service the customer. Ouch.

And yesterday my husband came home from Best Buy without the new tablet PC he wanted to buy. They had a couple of models on sale, but when he asked about their return policy (these were open-box items), he was told that there would be a 15% restocking fee on any return–even if the item was broken/defective. Being a smart guy, he thought that taking a $150 gamble (15% of $1000) was too big of a risk in this case.

In both of these cases, the companies customer service ensured that their companies would lose money. In AOL’s case, they are going to lose more customers because of this publicity and in Best Buy’s, well, they didn’t get $1000 from us and I’m sure others will pass on that purchase as well.

What is your company’s customer service really like? Do you have policies that push away potential clients rather than encouraging them to buy? While it is important to have sound policies to protect your financial interests, they need to be flexible. For example, if Best Buy had said that the 15% policy would be waived if the machine was defective, they’d have our money now. Or, if you lose a client for some reason, do it with grace–you never know when the contact person will go to another company and if you part kindly, you may get business from him/her down the road.

Brief flashes of brilliance and stuff

A few brief links…..

A good reason to make sure you don’t give rights to “all media, now known and unknown” because new media is arriving every day. For example, Blade Runner is now:

A good article on licensing photography, both for buyers and photographers, appears in Communication Arts.

Design is becoming more and more recognized as not just a part of business, but a crucial part. There’s even a foundation to promote design in business.

HOW magazine has an article about what skills a good designer needs. The info transfers over (mostly) to any creative discipline. And you may have heard me say just about the same things, from time to time.

You’re on the edge, here’s the push

Are you doing the same thing you’ve been doing since your started your business? Seriously, take a second to think about it–is it pretty much the same as it was last year, and 5 years ago, and 10 years ago? Besides going digital (if you’re a photographer), have you made any significant changes? Are you producing work that looks pretty much the same as when you started? And what about your marketing? Same old same-old?

Is it a safe place, where you are? You have regular clients who bring in regular work and you know ahead of time what you’re going to be doing for them and how much it’ll bring in and what they will and will not accept from you creatively (“but that’s okay–they’re bread-and-butter clients�? you tell yourself).

Is that what you want? Is that what you imagined your business would be when you launched it? Shooting or designing safe catalogues or brochures for conservative clients who demand Black, Latino/a, Asian and white models in ALL the “happy office�? images or who want yet another farkle on that techno-whatsits or an exclamation point after the third “free�? in their (client-supplied) copy (bold AND italics too, please)? If your answer is “no,�? then what are you doing to change it? I’ll bet the answer is “nothing.�?

I don’t work with everyone who comes to me. Why? Because some people do not want to be challenged. If you’re one of those kind of people, stop reading this now and go do something else. You’re not going to want to read what follows. Go. Now.

Okay, for the rest of you, if you’re not having the business you want, change it. You made it the way it is and you have the power to make it something else. It takes guts and being open to new ideas, but you can do it. Here’s an interesting example of an old, stodgy creative company that needed an “intervention�? to change. It got it, and things are starting to happen. Good things.

But look at the risks it took! Though I am utterly disapproving of the fact it did a ton of work totally as spec, there are still great lessons to be learned here–creative for creativity’s sake results in practical applications of the creativity; going beyond their past boundaries results in new business, better clients, happier work; risk=reward.

When was the last time you took a big risk with your business? Tried a crazy promo idea, told a client “no�? when they asked for something mind-numbingly blah, told a client to “use someone else�? when they said they wanted the same work for 50% less–and why not?

Safe isn’t. You’re at the edge of your business cliff. I’m here to push you off.

So you can fly.