While there’s lots of emphasis on skills and gear in professional photography, getting your work and name out there is equally important. You can be the best shooter in the world, with the best equipment, but if no one knows about you, you’re not going to get a lot of work.
Self-promotional mailings are one good way to get your name and work out there. There’s a lot of that done by email these days because it’s relatively easy, and there’s no printing or postage expense. But there are drawbacks. Potential clients are swamped by promotional emails, to the point where some consider them spam (which, of course, in a way, they are), and few like to open attachments on unsolicited emails.
So, despite the costs of producing the mailer and the postage, there’s something to be said for "snail" mailings rather than too easily ignored emailings. And there’s something to be said for the potential client actually holding your work in his or her hand, rather than just seeing yet another photographer’s website.
The key to successful self-promotional mailings is to get the recipient to look at them. Back in the day, when everyone used such mailings, it was really tough to grab the recipient’s attention. Because so much promotional work is done via email these days, a personal mailing stands out a bit more than in the good old days, but you must do something to make your mailing stand out. (Note: It’s good to still use your website for promotion, and you can provide a link to it in your mailing so the recipient can see more of your work and photographic philosophy if your mailing looks promising for their needs.)
Keep in mind that your mailings should match up to your would-be client—quirky for a quirky business or straight-laced for a more corporate business.
Postcards are the simplest and least costly self-promotional mailing. The client doesn’t have to open anything, and someone is guaranteed to see the content (although that may be a screening secretary or an assistant rather than the actual target).
At least one photographer’s agency sent out scratch-and-sniff promotional cards—these would be too costly (and gimmicky) for many individual photographers, but apparently were well-received.
| Here’s a short list of resources for building your self-promotional mailings.
www.bayphoto.com—prints, books, ornaments, "goodie box" items
www.magix.com—Photostory DVD software
www.noplasticsleeves.com—promotional info and ideas
www.paperchasepress.com—books, other printed matter
www.shutterfly.com—books, mugs, ornaments, magnets, plates, pillows, more
www.snapfish.com—books, mugs, "goodie box" items
blog.wonderfulmachine.com—promotional info, resources
Printed sheets containing examples of your work and brief promotional text can be effective, but they have to stand out from everyone else’s to grab the client’s attention. Even if your photos are "way better" than anyone else’s, the presentation is also important. You may get some inspiration from examples at www.noplasticsleeves.com, under IN PRINT and drag down to "Out of the Box" Concepts. (No Plastic Sleeves is also a book with good promotional information and ideas.)
Handmade "Goodie Boxes"
A handmade "goodie box" tailored to the specific client can be effective and lends a personal touch that could separate your offering from many others. You can include prints with your name and contact info, or coffee mugs or water bottles and such with an image and your name. If the client likes your print enough to hang it, or uses the mug or bottle, your name will be there longer than with a typical mass-mailing promo sheet.
Photographer Michael Clark (who blogs for sister publication Outdoor Photographer) mailed out a regular newsletter with editorials, updates on his assignments, a portfolio section, feature articles and even equipment reports (although he now does the newsletter in PDF form and emails it, plus has a link to it on his website). He points out that a newsletter is a lot of work, but it works well for him.
You can put lots of words and images on a DVD and send out those, although this means the would-be client has to put the DVD in his or her computer and play it—more work for the client than a printed mailing, but can be effective and less costly to produce.
For special would-be clients, you can self-publish a short book of your work, targeting that particular client. This involves some effort and cost, but such a personal touch can be effective with the right clients.