Self Promotion Voodoo

Let's face it. We'd all love to have the problem of having too many ideal, high-paying clients.  However most of us don't. Most of us have to toil away week after week trying to get people to notice us. I was talking to a friend a couple of weeks ago and he said he was amazed that people weren't knocking down my door. I assured him that it just doesn't happen.  I love when I see old timer photographrs speak and they always have a story that's a variation on "I got off the bus from Kansas with the clothes on my back and a showbox full of pictures. So I walked right into LIFE magazines offices and the head of the photo dept gave me an assignment on the spot.  Of course I had to borrow his camera to do it!"  However in today's climate, being good isn't enough.  You have to be good AND get people to notice you. Just try to walk into Conde Nast with a shoebox full of your pictures and see how far you get. I'm admittedly terrible at this, well at least in some ways.  I got the web 2.0 side of things down. I've got a blog and twitter and facebook and all that.  And I try to constantly give my followers content which I hope they find interesting and share with their friends who in turn share it with theirs.  I'm also fine with the personal interaction.  I adore meeting new people and can talk to just about anybody.

With this in mind it may surprise you, but I don't like self-promotion. I love lecturing about my work in front of a couple hundred people, telling the stories behind the pictures and how I ended up with a particular shot. But cold calling one person is enough to give me the sweats. I'm not exactly sure why, but I think a big part if it is a fear of being one of those people who get people to notice them and yet they're not good enough to back it up with their work.  Even though I'm not that guy, my fear of being that guy or even being perceived as that guy is paralysing to me. Some people are shameless about this stuff and will hand a postcard to every person they meet. I'm not that guy, I find it obnoxious and I'm constantly trying to find the middle ground on getting noticed and remaining human. The funny thing is that though I find it arrogant for someone to constantly sell themselves and expect people to care, however my friend Beth pointed out that it's just as arrogant to expect people to know who you are without telling them.

So you've got to get your name out there. Where do you start?

Some people send emails out to try to get people over to their site.  This is good because it's cheap and relatively painless, except for the fact that you can easily slip into the spammer category. You buy addresses of people in the advertising, magazine, and graphic deisgn industries by subscribing to a service that keeps track of them, and except for the fact that it costs around $1000 per year, you'd think that this was ideal.  However in my experience, most if not a great majority of the people on the list have asked NOT to receive emails.  I can understand this from the point of view that they're busy people who are trying to get work done without their inbox filled with links to 50 photographers sites. And even the ones who do accept emails, your 'click through rate' is usually in the area of 1%. So if not email, then how?

The old school version of email was postcards and mailers. My good friend Randy talked me into sending out postcards lately. Not too many, two targeted sets of 60 cards alternating every couple of weeks. So one person will get a card per month from me. It's about building a brand awareness for me.  That they see new work and my logo. Hopefully they'll think, "This guy is legit, we should call him".  And cards are different from looking at a website because they're a physical object which can be held and pinned to the wall. Humans are tactile by nature. The problem with cards is that they're not cheap.  About $1 a pop to print at Moo (higher quality and lower count runs) as well as the 29 cent stamps and the labels to be printed. So that's a couple hundred bucks a month, so call it $2400 a year. Plus the $1000 to buy the addresses in the first place. Not pocket change. However, here too there is a campaign of designers who hate cards. There are sites showing piles of them in the corners of creative's offices, and even the other day I got an email about a site called First-Stop which will post your work, as long as you promise to stop sending out cards because of the environmental waste involved. You can't win.  Some people like cards, some people like emails, some people like both, some people like neither.  No approach is right.

Over the past few decades, getting your stuff in the numerous semi-annual books was the way to go. You give them thousands of dollars for a page or two in a 2 inch thick glossy magazine the size of the old Sears catalog. The idea was that buyers would flip through that to browse photographers for a particular job. If you're not in the book, you don't exist. But with a number of books going in and out of fashion with people, who knows where your money is best spent. Plus it always felt like something more for fashion photographers anyway. Too glitzy, too much glamour. Not to mention too expensive.

And of course I know you all have your own portfolio website, mine is at http://www.billwadman.com for example. However how many other sites is your work on? Behance, The Creative Finder, FoundFolios, LeBook,  Taproll, Workbook, One Eyeland, even Flickr.  And those are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head.  Most are free with paid premium upgrades. You know, paid features like "showing up in search results". Thanks, that's great.  But each of these is hundreds if not thousands of dollars to join, with no analytics or idea of how many influential people they have looking in the first place.  Great, I just spend $300 to get my site looked at by two creatives in India and one in Poland. That's just super, and a fantastic use of my limited promotional funds. And how are you supposed to keep your portfolio up to date on 15 different sites anyway?  I thought that was the whole point of having your own site in the first place.

So if everyone you ask has a different opinion on what recipe of these options is your best bet, then personally I think you've got to go with your gut.  Sad, but true.  Personally I can't afford to spend $10,000 a year on promotion, so pages in those books and premiere memberships to those sites are outside my budget.  But then I think, well maybe if I splurged on getting highlighted on FoundFolios, I'd get enough work that the return on investment would be positive.  However, it's all a gamble right?  I might just end up with a couple of grand on my Amex card.