Okay, it’s not all marketing

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in our work that we forget that it isn’t the whole world. People with kids tend to be a bit more aware of this (though occasionally they get stuck in their own “life with kids” world, but that’s another story), but for creatives especially, it is often hard to stop the hyper-focusing.

Then something in life rears up and slaps you in the face.
We had this happen overnight when serious illness struck a family member. A 1AM phone call gets your attention fast. All that worrying about which paper to use for a portfolio or whether the Flash loads fast enough suddenly goes, quite simply, poof.

It is hard for creatives to keep the balance between working hard at their businesses and the rest of their lives. Long hours happen more often than any of us would care to admit and the family members often have to simply accept that your repeated absences are just a part of who you are. But that is not a good thing.

Like anything in life, there are times where you just have to work your butt off–extra hours, etc. But for many of us, those times are not as often as we make them. Our priorities get screwed up. For example, if your significant other is saying that the relationship is in trouble, you might want to consider taking some time off to deal with that…now. Or if you haven’t been out to a movie or dinner or something in weeks, do it. Or gone to a museum or played with the kids or spent a day in bed with your significant other…make the time to do these things.

Today is Friday–the weekend is upon us and often that means if not work-work, then home projects. Consider taking some time to relax and just live instead. That’s your “assignment” for this weekend–live.

The work will always be there. Life, not so sure.

Oh, and in case you were wondering: the relative is hospitalized, but it seems that the proverbial bullet has been dodged and we are hopeful for a good recovery.

Stay active

Just a couple of important blurbs and links today. They deal with being active in your industry and all that that entails.

First off is the new Metadata Manifesto by the Stock Artists Alliance. As digital has changed the creative industries so has it opened up opportunities to improve trackability, etc., of images. This plan makes some wise suggestions.

The SAA’s site overall has lots of useful information. If you create stock work, you really should be a member.

The second is another reminder to get on your elected representatives about the Orphan Works bill. It is still out there and still a significant threat to creatives’ control and recompense. The Illustrators’ Partnership has really been the leader on this issue and their site has loads of outstanding information.

And lastly, if you think getting involved isn’t worth the effort, think again. Maria Piscopo has a good column in CA and on its site about how being active in a creative community has benefits you might not have thought about. So, by being active you not only build good karma, you can build your business. Most of you know that has worked for me. I participate on several forums and have ben active in creative pro groups in my own location (and beyond) for years. The payoff has been more business and a larger circle of friends and knowledge.

Can’t beat that with a stick!


A quote from an AD when I asked “What is the one piece of advice or warning you would give a photographer?�?

Client services–I may be their client, but my client is paying the bill. Don’t expect my client, me and my crew to come in from out of town and not have a decent breakfast when we arrive at the studio. I’m not expecting gourmet food, but something other than stale cereal and hard bagels, carbs may be back but are not for all. And lunch, don’t start ordering at lunch time, think ahead. And also get the client’s input on what genre of food they would like. Hungry and cranky clients do not make for a happy set. Especially if were all traveling away from the comforts of home and family. Make it and enjoyable experience for us to want to come back to. One of my favorite out of town shooters has different themed snacks in the afternoon, s’mores and hot chocolate on cold days, root beer floats and cookies on warm days.

Do you make your clients feel special? Do you go out of your way to give great (not just good) service on shoots? Is your studio clean (especially the bathrooms!) and climate-controlled?

What is the one thing you do with your clients that the other guy doesn’t? There are a lot of good shooters out there, sometimes the service you provide is the deciding factor in whether you get a project…or eternal voicemail.

Sex sells…

…not as much as you may think.

I recently surveyed buyers of photography (art buyers, art directors, etc.) about some of the marketing tools photographers use. The main results of that survey will be published elsewhere, but there was one unexpected thing I came across in the answers: people are sick of sex as a selling tool.

There were several questions that gave the respondents the chance to offer comments and, repeatedly, in those comments I read things like “enough with using sex�? and “[I like] an arresting photo that doesn’t use sex to sell.�? The fact that it happened, unasked, is important. Are you listening to your targets?

One part of it may be that a large number of art buyers are heterosexual women and most of them aren’t supermodels. That’s not saying anything against these women–I’m just like them and certainly no supermodel myself! As such, I can tell you that I get tired of looking at perfect female bodies in ultra-sexy images. We get hit enough with these in our everyday lives.

Because of that potential pre-disposition towards negative feelings with those images, it becomes very easy to start looking for faults more in those images than in others. And that is not good if you’re trying to sell to these people.

What to do? While you don’t have to get rid of all your sexy woman images (and, by the way, if you are a fashion shooter, none of this applies to you), you might want to keep them to a minimum and not use them prominently in your marketing. Pick more realistic people for your promos. In general, think about who it is that you are selling to and find what will connect with them. If you can make that connection, you’re golden.

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.