I was recently contacted by Chris Armstrong from PhotoPolitic asking if I would answer a few question they received by a young photographer who was intent on actually making money as a photographer. He did all the right things, a lot of self-promotion, a great blog, industry events, etc. His work was technically excellent as well as very marketable and his attitude was even better. The problem was is that he was still struggling to sustain a livable income. He sent over a series of questions that Chris sent on over to me. – NM
Q: What classification of trade should I be targeting the most? Advertising agencies, in-house corporate marketing, magazines, etc?
A: All of the above but that does not necessarily mean you always send the same things to all of those groups. Each one never only hires one particular style. You can have parallel promotions that have some sort of connection to each other. It’s easier for some photographers and others have a more difficult time doing it for a variety of reasons.
Q: Should I make myself look more successful than I am? Would anyone hire me if they really knew the truth?
A: HA! Illusion works a bit as long as you don’t bullshit your potential audience. I was on a conference call the other day with one of my photographers who hasn’t been that busy lately. It was with several agency folks for a potential project. At the beginning of the call, the art buyer kept swooning over my photographer about how busy they must be as she had seen and received all these beautiful promotions from me and the photographer over the past year. I had been sending great test images, smaller projects and revisiting some older work that hand’t been shown for a long time. The work was consistent, so it all seemed like it hadn’t been seen before. It gave the illusion she had been busy all of this time. But being successful isn’t that necessary from their end. But they do want to see production value (depending on the project) and to feel that you can handle the entire production. That’s why you need to build a relation and/or discuss projects with independent producers. They want to make sure you can handle it all.
Q: What’s generally more important, a clear artistic vision and the ability to execute it or price?
A: Forget price. Never promote price. I used to get email blasts from a photographer who offered % discounts every once in while — Spring 20% off, Valentines day 50% off, and so on. It was ridiculous. Having said that, you can be open about being negotiable depending on the project. There are ways to produce a shoot cheaper or more expensive. You should suggest solutions if their budget is small.
A clear artist’s vision is great to begin with. A narrow style and not a book or site that is all over the place. Your work (especially in the beginning) should have a more pointed direction but maybe you have two or three pointed styles. It can be tricky, but it can work. It is more about how you promote and display the work on your site. If you send cards out (and you should), keep one consistent style in them for 3 or 4 in a row to the same recipients so they get to know you…and remember you. Also, keep the look the same. Branding IS important for you too, but stay away from those big logos some guys use. Choose a nice type face and stick with it on your site, book, and promo pieces.
Q: I keep hearing about bids and how to win them. I don’t even know who puts out bids. Are we talking about ad agencies, magazines, corporate art departments???? Who puts them out and how the hell do i get involved?
A: Magazines don’t bid. They usually just have an all inclusive budget or a day rate and a limited expense amount. Some have contracts and come back to you when shoots are in your area. Corporations usually have a shit load of paperwork to get you in their system as a preferred vendor. Sometimes it is easy and other times it takes weeks or months, it is crazy. I just completed getting in a third party payroll system for one of my photographers for a large Tech company. I kept getting automated emails asking for the same documents over and over and over. OY!
Ad agencies (usually from art buyers or art producers) are usually the ones sending out specs and bid requests. They frequently suggest potential photographers to their creatives and then select several to bid on the project. It is usually a triple bid situation but they don’t always choose the lowest bidder. Sometimes they have a first choice. Sometimes they tell you if that happens to be you, but it’s not always the case. Some art producers will come back to you to modify your numbers if you are too high (or sometimes too low). They also may make a selection based on your entire presentation (i.e website, estimate and if you are smart, your submitted visual treatment containing a written essay along with your images that relate to the potential project). Your vision of their project. This is very important.
How do you get invited? Well isn’t that the question? Your work, your promotions and your agent (if you have one) help grab their attention. Awards, books, directories, social and in person networking — it all helps. It is more difficult to meet buyers one-on-one these days since many are doing the job of what 2 or 3 people used to do. Word of mouth helps a lot. If you do get the chance to work with an agency, ask for them to refer you to others. If they really like you, they will do it on their own. You need to do you homework and research who these people are and what they work on. There are no easy 3 step answers here.
The questions and answers continue right here.
P.S. The one other major factors I left out of the equation is luck and timing. And there is no way to really plan and make those things happen.