Ah, the age-old question first posed by Cro-Magnon man in his early attempt and ultimate failure to survive, "How do I get my work in front of art directors?" Seriously. This has been asked so many times by so many people throughout the ages you'd think someone would have invented a machine by now to do it for us. Let's discuss.
If you've been tricky enough to obtain the email address of an art director or buyer at a large company, congratulations. Now you can send them an email. Assuming your work is in the top 100 in the world, there's about a 9% chance your email will be opened, and a .3% chance the link in your email will be clicked. If your link is clicked and your website is visited, there's a similarly tiny chance the clicker will ever reply to your email, or contact you in any way, and if they do, there's about a 90% chance it will be to tell you they'll "add you to our list" or to tell you that "Your work is terrific. Cheers." These days, most art directors get about 500 emails per hour from photography hopefuls. Some of them like it this way, because it means they have a set of select photographers they're in touch with. Most of them don't like it this way but there's no escape, because there are several curated email lists sold by photography marketing companies to millions of photographers. Some work is obtained via these email lists. But not most.
Similar to email, postcards can be sent to many potential clients like a warm summery blanket covering all at once. The difference is, postcards cost money to design, print and mail, so fewer artists send them. Also, when someone gets an email from someone they don't recognize, they delete it. No sweat. With real tangible mail, they have to use their opposable thumbs to move it from the desk to the garbage, during which time they're likely to accidentally see it. If it was pretty on the way to the trash, maybe it will go into the garbage more slowly.
3. Get a sweet decal made for your milk truck with your photos and logo on it, then park the truck in front of your target client's business for 3 days and nights.
No seriously. I heard this worked. Not doing it.
4. Portfolio websites and services
I can attest that there are designers who look at these websites; however, like the above methods, it's not a one-shot kill. Ooh, that sounds brutal. These are an expensive net to cast, but they may catch a few fish if your work is really stellar. Certainly not the low-hanging fruit.
5. Portfolio reviews
This is probably my favorite method. Unlike carpet bombing the entire United States with low-engagement contacts, you sit down with a handful of people for a significant amount of minutes and discuss your work and goals, then receive feedback. Even when you don't immediately obtain work, you do immediately obtain business relationships for when your work is up to par.
6. Who you know
This one seems to be the best one. Many of the people who tell me that they often pitch my work to clients are relatives and people I went to college with who are great designers. If I knew then what I know now...I would have chillaxed in the design department of the school schmoozing it up there. Be nice to people. Express your genuine interest in their careers. Make friends. They come in handy later.
7. Your sick website
Of all the methods I've ever tried, I've obtained the bulk of my work directly from my website. Often you can get some small jobs just by being the best dude or dudette in your local area. I've had a Chicago agency hire me to film a construction site here in Utah. I just got the job because they Googled "Utah photographers" and liked my website. I got a job from Prevention Magazine shooting a portrait because the subject of the portrait lives in Salt Lake City and...they loved the work on my website. If you don't know what SEO means, then you should probably start there before you decide to spend $2500 on an Agency Access account. Do the cheapest, most effective things FIRST, then you can reinvest in the less effective, more expensive things. Don't worry. There are always people you can give your money to. Like me, for example.
8. Social media
Now, having a Facebook page and a Twitter and such are nice, especially if you're a baby photographer or something. But if you're trying to stalk you some art directors, it's not the most effective approach. Instagram has some value there, because it's a photo app, and there's (so far) no limiter on the eyeballs that see your posts when your work is followed. Having a large following there has other benefits, like sponsorships and paid posts, which can get you free gear, exposure, and mulah by itself. But I wouldn't neglect the development of your portfolio in favor of getting some new likes.
If you're not getting the kind of work you're looking for, or as much work as you want, don't get mad. Just quit. Just kidding. You need to be honest with yourself. Try to see the big picture. There are only one or two thousand companies hiring outside talent for image production in your target market. There are about 7 billion photographers competing for that work. Most photography demand is now fulfilled by stock images. If photography is your profession and livelihood, you've chosen one of the most difficult careers to find success in that exists. So. Ask yourself these honest questions to identify where your sadness is coming from:
1. Oh great. Another list.
2. Are you the best?
If your work isn't the absolute best in your industry, it's probable that the guy who is the best is the one getting called. If you're looking for the biggest budget jobs for the coolest companies shooting the awesomest photos, you're dealing with people who are going to go with the best. So you'll have to become the best.
3. Are you doing all the things in the first list?
Sometimes, the people who are the best forget to show their work to people. Don't neglect your marketing.
4. Are you shooting the kind of work people want to buy?
Maybe your love is shooting erotic nudes, and you can't figure out why Nike isn't hiring you. Figure out who your dream clients are, and shoot what you think they will want to buy.
5. Have you asked why anyone should care?
I've often heard the advice that photography is a business and you can't neglect the business side of things. Usually that meant to me that I needed to add up my expenses and make sure they're lower than my income, but let's get dangerous here. More important than being an accountant is understanding the economy of this situation. Why should anyone care about you or the work you produce? What does it do for them? This is supply and demand. When people buy things, there's a reason they buy them. Whether you're a toilet paper company trying to sell TP, or a photographer, you need to understand what drives your customers and how your work fulfills their demand. While we might empathize with your difficult childhood or your love of erotic nudes, when it comes to buying art, nobody cares. If erotic nudes aren't going to get my customers to buy my toilet paper, then I don't need them. I don't want them. They're worthless. Are you making something your customers don't need?
In any endeavor, the more skilled and successful you plan to be at that thing, the more honed and refined you have to become. This is competition. If one day you decide to run in the Olympics and you've never been willing to be honest with yourself and make some changes to your life and habits, you're not going to win. They won't even let you on the field. Advertising photography is the big leagues. Time to hop on the treadmill. Maybe even go outside. It's nice out there this time of year.
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