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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Hustle & Flow - Self-Marketing Secrets

The art of getting a job and staying on a buyer's speed dial is as much about your photographic talent as it is about your self-promotional talent

Hustle & Flow The compulsive urge to panic while waiting for a job should be recognized as a physical condition. Many times over the last 20 years, I've found myself on the edge of a complete breakdown, spending huge money on promo campaigns, e-mails and sourcebooks as I try to figure out the magic method for getting noticed by the people with the work. There were times when resources ran low and the whole effort seemed overwhelming. Then, out of the blue, often on the day that I was using the same coffee filter for the third time, a phone call.

“Hey, Lou, I'm looking at your promo and I think you'd be perfect for this ad campaign.”

Bravado firmly restored, I confidently walked over to the blue sedan parked outside my house and told the nice gentlemen from American Express to go back to the office. I'm working again!

It's dazzling how many theories there are about what goes on behind closed doors to select photographers for the next big ad campaign. Some say voodoo, others say sex. My ex-agent says sourcebooks, phone calls and cocktails. This article is about the naked truth—what happens on the other side. Why will an art buyer suddenly pick up the phone and say, “We'd love to see your book”?

Let me establish up front that I only spoke to ad agency art buyers and art directors for this article. There were eight sources from the eastern, western and middle of the U.S., all of whom were exceptionally candid and helpful. Not once did I run into an attitude or a cross word about photographers. In fact, just the opposite was true. As you'd find in life, you find in the ad industry. If you're a good person who works hard and you have some talent, you'll get booked. If you're an ass but exceptionally talented, you'll probably still get booked, but people will talk about you and one day your luck will run out. If you're nice and exceptionally talented, you'll get booked on a consistent basis and you'll be invited to the agency's Christmas parties. Most importantly, if no one knows you exist, I'll take that cappuccino with whole milk, please.

Combined, all the industry people with whom I spoke are associated with billions of dollars of global advertising campaigns (no exaggeration here). They see the work of hundreds upon hundreds of photographers a year, and yet the possibility of getting in the door is better than you think. I asked for absolute honesty and they asked not to be directly quoted. Some of the revelations are truly surprising.

My goal here isn't to advise you on how to market yourself, but rather to provide information so you can conjure up your own strategy based on an accurate glimpse of an art buyer's office floor.


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