The Business of Commercial Photography: The Survival Guide

 

Lesson Info

Marketing

Marketing. This is part of your brand, part of the brand experience, and marketing covers a multitude of areas, anything from pricing to distribution to your advertising. This was written by Thomas Smith in in Successful Advertising and it's shockingly relevant and accurate, even today, despite how much time has gone by. This is specific, he's talking about advertising, but I think, again, in the way, one thing that has changed now is that advertising is not the only way that you are reaching your clients. This is, again, the entire brand experience. We're not talking specifically about an ad. This could be, again, someone referring to you, someone else worked with you and how they spoke about you to someone else, it could be an image that someone saw in an award annual or one of your jobs. There's all different kinds of ways. But basically, the first time people look at any given ad, they don't even see it. The second time, they don't notice it. The third time, they're aware that it'...

s there. The fourth time, they have a fleeting sense that they've seen it somewhere before. The fifth time, they actually read the ad. I've seen this constantly when I've been marketing and advertising myself to customers and I'll go do a portfolio review and someone, I hear this all the time, like, oh my gosh, I've seen this picture somewhere. Or this picture is so familiar. And it's not my job to figure out where that's been but that's good, they recognize it. They're kind of on the fourth time, maybe. They have a fleeting sense that they've seen it somewhere before. But it hasn't been enough to really make them do much about it. And then it goes on and on. The ninth time, they start to wonder if they're missing out on something. The 12th time, they start to think it must be a good product. The 13th time, they start to feel that the product has value. And then the 20th time, they see the ad, they buy what it's offering. This, I think, explains also if you ever buy a car, used or a new car, and you're driving it home from the lot, you see that car everywhere. This happens, I think, for a lot of other purchases but cars specifically because you're around more of that product on the way home. And it's not that you, it's not that everyone else just bought that same car right when you did and they're all driving it home. That car has been there the whole time. You just weren't as aware of it. It took all these different interactions and instances to start to think about that car, then you actually had a need for a car, and even then you're like, which car should I buy? And then finally, you bought it and now you are completely aware of that product and it's on your mind. That's exactly how it works when it comes to marketing. It takes time, it takes building a brand, it takes consistency and trust for people to see and be aware of you in different places. That's not something that's gonna happen overnight. For this, for this particular section, when we're talking about marketing, it's really important to understand this is longterm. Nothing that you can do is probably going to result in anything immediately. And one thing I meant to say earlier is even if you have visual identity, logo, whatever for your brand and you think it's awesome and you're set with it, I would just encourage everyone for the sake of learning and for this course, put everything on the table, nothing is sacred. Just be willing and be open to change anything that might come up and be willing to look back and be like, okay, why is it this way? Is it because I'm scared or afraid of changing it because it might be expensive or I don't want to take the time? You've got to get past that and start think critically about these kinds of things. Big picture, long term. The rhythms of this job can drive you mad if don't believe in the process. There's gonna be so many times where you put a lot of effort into something and you send it out and you get no response. That will never change in some ways. But you have to just think of it in terms of you're building up those interaction points, you're building up those memories. And even then, it doesn't guarantee that the 20th time, like, okay, I sent out 20 postcards, here we go! It's not, it doesn't work like that. There still has to be a need on the other person's part. There are so many factors that go into it. But it's really, really important to trust the process, especially something like this that we've seen hasn't really changed much in the last 125 years. That process is still human nature. As much as our society and technology has changed, human nature is still very similar to what it was back then in that respect. In that same sense, this is exactly why you should not stop marketing to someone just because you haven't heard from them in a couple of years, or even a few years. If you know this is someone that you want to work with, unless they've said please do not contact me again, you're freaking me out, or whatever, do not write me anymore. Unless there's been clear communication that this is unwanted, it doesn't mean that you should stop sharing your work with people that you want to be working with. Hopefully, again, in tactful, appropriate ways, being just general decent human being rules apply to marketing. That would be a good caveat to put around all of this. Don't stop marketing to people just because you haven't heard from them. Remember that great work usually will get through. Oftentimes you will hear people talking a lot about tips and tricks of how to get your work in front of people. And I talked at the beginning of this lesson about the fact that I don't think that there are or should be any secrets. If you need tips and tricks to get someone to look at your work, if you need to trick someone to look at your work, you're work's probably not that great. I'd rather have people look at your work because they want to, because they're compelled to see it. It doesn't mean you might not have to kind of put it in front of them from time to time but we're not worrying about tips and tricks here. Remember, as much as we're talking about process, your work is a huge part of your marketing effort. And it goes back to personal work. You've got to be putting that in. That's probably the number one priority out of all of this. Because you can't really market your brand very well if you don't have work, your product, essentially, to be showing to people. There was a time when, years ago, I hired a consultant when I wanted to first get into editorial and commercial photography and we were doing weddings. And again, how do you do that? I had no idea. I was looking for answers for a long time. And I had a friend, or a mutual, someone I knew, an acquaintance that they had hired a consultant who really helped them break into the commercial photography industry. And so I thought if that worked for them, that could work for me. We hired this person and we learned a lot. She gave us a lot of really great insight and tools to start making steps and one of the things that she had us do was put together postcards. We were going to put together a postcard and then send it out to people. And then shortly after I was gonna go to New York for the first time and I was gonna do a round of meetings, I was gonna try to set up meetings with people that I had sent this postcard to. I put together my first postcard, it was expensive, it took a lot of time, marketing efforts are, they require a lot from you. And I was nervous because I'd never done it before and this was a big deal. And I think I also had a little bit of that mindset of this has to count, this has to, this is, I didn't understand the long game at that time. I sent the postcard out and then about a week later I read this article online and it said something along the lines of postcards are dead and I was like, whoa, what? And so I read the article and it was written by a photo editor who receives a lot of postcards. And people that we want to work with, they do, they receive a lot of, we're talking about how to get in front of them, there's a lot of people doing this, so they receive a lot of emails and postcards and it can be frustrating. I get that. But they went on and on and talked about how postcards are obnoxious and it's archaic, people shouldn't be sending physical things anymore, we're in a technological era and email is fine. And on and on and on and I was like, oh my goodness, what have I done, my career is over before it started. I've, I'm on the blacklist, I was convinced there was a blacklist and I'm on it. And so then, anyway, I was already going on this trip to New York and I was like, oh my gosh, I'd never met with potential clients before, this was my first time meeting with magazines, and I had no idea what to expect. And I went in there and I was shocked to find out that after about 10 meetings, seven of the people met with had my postcard on their wall. And not to generalize, I generally, generally think generalizations are bad, but in New York space is very valuable. People are usually in smaller cubicles and I don't think in a generalization people in New York are gonna go out of their way to make you feel good about yourself. They're just gonna be honest and so I felt like it was pretty safe to say that these people didn't put the postcard up because they wanted me to feel good about myself. They put it up because for a number of reasons. Maybe they wanted to remember the work and maybe think about working with me sometime. It was a celebrity on the postcard so maybe they just liked the celebrity and they just liked the image and that was that. But that still reflects on me, that's still a brand impression so I'll take that, too. Whatever the reason was, they put it up and I think if I said space is limited, they're not gonna put it up. They have maybe max room for 10 postcards on the wall so that space is valuable. What I learned from them when I came back was I realized that person, they were talking about postcards are dead but what I think they were saying was they're tired of bad postcards. There's a lot of people that aren't intentional about what they're doing. They're just like, hey, I'm a food photographer, I'm just gonna send a postcard to everybody and hope something sticks. And so there's people at a magazine, People magazine or something, and they're doing primarily portraits, they don't run pictures of food. That's a waste. It doesn't really make, it's like when you get a cold call from someone and they're like, hello person, would you like to learn? No, I don't want to learn, you don't even know who you're calling. Just think about those kinds of basic etiquette when you're marketing. And remember, your work is really important and good work does get through. Not all the time, but if you're doing great work and you're connecting with people, you don't have to worry so much about tricking them to look at it or something. And even if you are tricking them, the last thing I'll say about this, let's just say you get them to look at it, if it's not appropriate or doesn't connect, it's not helpful anyway. Hopefully that comes through as be intentional over and over again in all things that we do. Another way of saying this essentially is be in control of your brand by starting the conversation. Make sure that you're talking about things that you actually want to be talking about. And I use this analogy of talking in your voice a lot but what this means, essentially, is again, show people work that you want to be creating. If you let someone else start the conversation and they're showing you work that they want and you're trying to fit into that, you're on a path you don't want to be on. Again, you're creating something that's not gonna be fulfilling to you. But more specifically, when it comes to commercial photography, what I said earlier, clients want to see exactly what it is, they will hire you to shoot what you show, not something else. And they will be very, very specific about that. They want to know what you can do, not what you might want to do and that's also why I talked about with directing, I had to make those videos myself to show them not only can I make videos but what kind of videos. They need literal proof. This is one example. This on the left was an editorial shoot that I did and this was my first foray into set building. I worked with a set builder and I was able to convince my photo editor why I thought this portrait would be so cool if we built it out this way. And I knew that I wanted to do more of that. This is when I started realizing I had something I wanted to say and create ideas as opposed to just document what's in front of me. We built this set and it was all white, again, because I know I'm really into monochromatic, and we learned that with the brown example. I've also learned it doesn't have to be brown, it can be other things. But really bold, simple approaches to images is what I'm drawn to. I sent this image out on the left as a postcard and I don't know that I really heard anything from anyone. I probably didn't. But a little over a year later, I got an email from a photo editor at Wired UK and they said, hey, we got your postcard here, and I'm thinking what postcard? I haven't sent out a postcard and then as he's beginning to explain and I'm like, oh wow, that's from a long time ago. They saved it though. Again, another example. Some people in this industry, they might only hire a photographer once or twice a year. And a magazine, they may hire people two or three times a month. But if you're talking about advertising or commercial clients, it might be once or twice a year. Sometimes it doesn't matter how much they love your work, the chances of them actually having an opportunity to work with someone, let alone in your particular style, it can take a while. Again, you have to be patient. But in this particular instance, he said, hey, we have this assignment and we're wondering if you'd be interested in it, I think you'd be perfect for it. It's in Barcelona and it's photographing Ferran Adria, who, at the time, was the greatest chef in the world. He was doing these groundbreaking things with molecular gastronomy and they wanted to do a portrait for the cover of the magazine and he was going to be in his chef whites and it was gonna be on white. And so they wanted, literally, someone who they knew could handle whites and it would translate well. Now, it's easy, depending on where you're at with your photography to be like, that's ridiculous, anyone could do that. And, yeah, maybe it is a little literal but it's possible some people might overexpose or something and the whites blow out. They did need to see, hey, someone can shoot white and there's still tone and texture and that's important. And so that literally translated into why I got this job. Now, it also helped that I also had celebrity in my book and I also had portraits. I mean, so it's not just like anyone that shoots white, hey, he's a product photographer but it's all white. You have to also kind of tic off some other boxes as well. But you can see here exactly why that translated. I've also been in situations where we've had clients who have approached us for advertising jobs and I really wanted to do the job and it seemed like it was a right fit for me but I've literally had a situation where someone's like, man, we really, we think you'd be great for this, we're just working with our team and our client. There is just a little bit of concern though because people are gonna be, they have red umbrellas and we just don't see any umbrellas in your portfolio. Do you have anything with umbrellas that you can show us? And I'm like, I don't. I mean, that seems like a jump but it doesn't matter because they need, again, they won't always be that literal. That's an extreme example. But that does give you the idea of the mindset of what a client's looking for because, again, flip the script. We want to create imagery and we want to be doing these fun jobs as clients, what do they want? They want, they want someone that's gonna create something with a compelling, interesting voice but they have a goal that they want to achieve and they are not spending however much money they're spending to take a risk. They have someone that they have to report to as well and so they don't want to be in a situation where what made you think this product photographer was a good choice for this celebrity portrait? But they did white and it's white, look, and it's like that's not, they need to stack their, they need to stack all this up and make sure that they're making really, really well-informed choices. Sometimes people will ask, what's, okay, this is a lot of stuff, what's the one best thing that I can do in trying to reach people? And the answer is there is no one best thing that you can do. You really do have to take multiple approaches. You have to be specific and intentional within that but you can't just do, you can do one type of photography but when it comes to marketing, you cannot just do one thing and expect to really connect with enough people to make those 20 interactions that you need to. What does that look like? You need to learn to extend the campaign. And you need to learn to create recognition. We've already illustrated that in looking at the psychology of how people start to think they've seen something before and then they notice it and then they have heard about it. The same thing goes, more specifically, with your images. We're trying to create all these interactions with our brand but in the same way where people are like, I feel like I've seen that before. You also want people to remember your specific images, too, because those make an impact. Here, this portrait I did with Michael Bennett. I put it on my blog and then I also included it in a newsletter. And then I also included it, I put it on Twitter. And maybe sometimes I even put it on Twitter multiple times. And then I put it on Facebook. And I maybe even put it on my personal and my business page. Social media changes so I know sometimes those rules you don't want to do that and maybe you don't even want to be on Facebook anymore these days. But there's all these different ways to connect with people and you don't want to assume that just because, hey, I put it on the blog, I put it on Instagram, everybody's seen it. That's not the case. You can't assume that everyone has seen it and you definitely can't assume that everyone remembers it. You want to be consistent. And you might even want to do it on different times and days. Maybe don't do everything at Noon on Tuesday because then you've limited yourself to only the people who happen to be on one of these platforms at Noon on Tuesday. If you spread it out, you might actually put your work in front of someone, the same person, multiple times. They might be on Twitter at Noon on Tuesday and they might be on Instagram on Wednesday evening. And so now you've built up a bigger interaction so don't be too limiting in terms of how you share your work. And again, don't assume that people have seen it before. An example that I have is kind of in the similar story I told you earlier about sending out a postcard when I went to New York. I sent out a mailer when I was going to LA a few years back and I was planning to go meet with some agencies that I had never met with before in person. And so we made a new mailer, I don't, I think it was more of a book than a postcard in this case. But we sent it out to a bunch of different agencies and I sent it to this one particular agency that I was gonna go see. And then when I went and I had my meeting, during the meeting at several points, the same kind of thing, she's like, ah, I feel like I've seen this image before. It's like so, it seems so familiar. And we're going through and it was a good meeting and she had positive things to say about the work and then she was talking about I feel like you should really connect with a couple other of our buyers here, I feel like they would really connect with this kind of thing. And then at the end I said I have a little booklet I brought if you wouldn't mind and she's like, oh, yeah, I'd love to see it. And so I showed it to her because I could tell as she's looking at my work she maybe had seen it but there's no memory, she didn't remember it. Chances are maybe she saw that promo but it's not like she's gonna remember it necessarily so I brought it out. I took it with me to extend my chances and I gave her the promo and she was like, oh my gosh, this is awesome. And she said, do you have others? I think other people in the office would love to see these. I could pass them out for you. This is not a time to be like, well, I sent 10 last week, what happened to those? Right? You're not trying to shame them or anything like that. You have no idea what happened but you want to extend your chances and so I'm like, oh yeah, of course, that would be awesome. So you give them more and you now have an opportunity where those pieces have been distributed. From flipping the perspective. Your perspective is I sent them, what happened, what's the deal? From the other side of things, as I mentioned, people at agencies get promos all the time. They get so many emails, they get so many postcards, and books and things sent to them, and all this kind of stuff. Sometimes the agency system is all the promos get collected by the office manager and they go on the table in the kitchen and if a creative feels like going and sifting through something for inspiration, they'll go in there and do that. But they're not gonna get dumped on their desk because they have work to do and their job is not to go through all of our promos all the time. Sometimes there is a policy where we don't save promos, they go straight to the trash. And that's a bummer. I mean, I think that is, that's tough, I don't know. I mean, I can't, they can do whatever they want, it's their own business but I think that is a bit limiting on both sides in terms of being creative. And then sometimes you have a friend that you never ask to do this but they tell you, you know what, if I get a promo and it doesn't say Keatley on it, it goes straight to the trash. Sometimes that happens. Now, that has happened to me and, hey, I'll take it, but you never know. People have friends and sometimes a friend works at an agency and they have a photographer that's their friend and they do that kind of stuff. You never know, you could go on and on and on. You want to make sure that you stack your success and you increase your chances by never assuming that someone has seen a picture. And we've given you plenty of examples of how that works now. When you are in meetings and when you're marketing your work, make sure to be generous and relational. Don't just make it about you. When I first started doing portfolio reviews, again, I just had this limited understanding of what this was, what should be happening. From my understanding, here I am, look at my work, like it and hire me, right? It's the, Jerry Seinfeld has that old routine where he's talking about what kids are constantly thinking and he says, "kids are just thinking, get candy, get candy, "get candy, get candy." And I was literally thinking in a portfolio review, look at my work, look at my work, look at my work, look at my work, that's all I wanted. And so sometimes, people are looking at my book and they're like, oh, interesting. And they're like, oh, Tim Gunn, I remember, I was working for a magazine years ago and I, we worked with Tim Gunn. Who was that photographer? It was . . . And I'm thinking, stop telling me your story and look at my work! I was thinking that was all that mattered but in hindsight, what I've realized is if, one of the best things you could do in that situation is to listen to their story and to remember that it's not all about you. This is another human being that you're working with and their job is not simply to just remember everything about you and just try their hardest to find a job to hire you on. It's relational. You want to remember that they're doing good work too. Think about looking at the work that their doing and compliment them. Send them an email and be like, hey, I love what you're doing. And if you, if someone wants to look at your work, or not even look at your work but if they're gonna sit at the table and they're gonna tell you a story about something that was meaningful to them, remember that. Pay attention, don't worry about whether or not they look at it physically because we already know, again, even if they do look at it intently, they may forget about it two days later. It may take 20 more instances for them to do something. Remember what they said and what is important to them and who they are and maybe next year when you go on vacation and you go to that lake that they mentioned they did that photo shoot with so-and-so at, you can write them and be like, oh my gosh, I just went to that lake that you were telling me about. And you're right, it was incredible. We ended staying a whole week or I think I'm gonna do a photo shoot there now it's so beautiful. Those are natural, beautiful moments that will help connect you with those people over meaningful ways not just like, hey, you gonna hire me, you gonna? That's transactional. That's not fun for anybody. That stuff will happen but it happens through relationships.

Whether just starting out in the commercial photography industry, or ready for a new chapter in your career, John Keatley shows you how to survive in a competitive field. Known for being innovative, creative and thinking outside the box when it comes to his photography, John applies those same skills into running his business. In this in-depth course, John shares some of the key elements that allow you to be an artist and a business owner. You’ll learn:

  • How to find your style and attract the clients you want
  • How to create a bid
  • The importance of drafting a treatment
  • Estimates and billing for your work
  • Planning and scheduling your production
  • Tips on memorable branding
  • The difference between an Art Director/Agent/Art Buyer
  • Techniques for editing your portfolio

If you’re at the start of your career or ready to expand your client list, this course will be the game changer you need to create a solid foundation for a thriving business.

 
 
 
 

Reviews

  • John & Creative Live - Thank you - Best. Class. Ever.! This is a GREAT class! If you are a photographer, this is definitely a MUST GET class, but even if you work with photographers as part of a creative team - you have to take this class. (I'm a Photo Stylist) John covers it ALL in this class - it really, truly is a Survival (Success) Guide. John is so detailed, honest, and generous in his knowledge/experience/wisdom in the commercial photography industry in helping you understand the business and really succeed (& stand out). When I see that John is teaching a class on Creative Live - I'm in! (I have his other valuable courses as well)
  • I was lucky to be part of the studio audience for this course. John is an awesome teacher and did an outstanding job of making sense of a very difficult side of photography for a creative to understand. He shared his 18+ years of experience, including the good and bad he has gone through. The "special guests" alone are worth the cost of this class. John has an amazing team working beside him behind the scenes. Their perspective on his business was priceless!
  • Thanks to John for being so open his experience in the commercial photography industry and giving us so many real world examples. I especially appreciated the contributions by the non-photographers in the second day of the course - Nichelle and Maren. Nichelle gave a good perspective on the finance and business communications side. Maren is John's agent and offered her insight on how agencies worked. I've heard photographers discuss working with agents before, but it was helpful to hear an agent answer questions directly about her experience.