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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

I'm No Picasso, But Do You Like It?

Annie Ross, the manager of Art Services for the ad agency RPA (think Honda), is holding a ruler. I'm responding with my Catholic school instincts and hiding my hands under my thighs. She holds the ruler vertical on the desk and points to the number five. This is the height of the pile of promos she receives every day. Across town, Jigisha Bouverat from Chiat/Day (think “Think Different”) is looking at a similarly sized pile that has just arrived on her desk. During the course of the day, two of the most busy art buyers in the industry will take the time to look at each and every one of the promos in their respective piles. Many of the mages won't survive the brief audition—and I mean brief. But those that do will end up in a file waiting for a job that matches the style of the photographer. The exceptional ones will end up on hallowed ground—on the wall of the art buyer's office.

I walked into an art buyer's office for a meeting once and saw one of my promos on her wall. I was thrilled. In some ways it was more exciting than seeing one of my photos in a national magazine. Oddly, the design was about as simple as it gets—an image, my logo and my Web address. After years of taking designer friends for cocktails and asking them to produce a promo for me, the one that made it on the wall is the one that took me an hour to bang out in Photoshop. I asked my interviewees: What makes a great promo?

The universal answer is good work. Ultimately, the decision of the art buyer or art director to hold onto your piece is subjective. There's no magic design that will give your promo sticking power. That said, consistently utilizing a memorable piece of graphic design to frame your photography can be especially effective in creating some familiarity. One of the art directors to whom I spoke said that one of her favorite shooters has been using the same promo layout for years. She likes it because she recognizes it and she always looks forward to seeing his latest work.

Showing multiple images in a promo was also well liked, “especially if it's a campaign of photos.” It shows that you're consistent in your work. And if you decide to assign yourself a series and then use it as a promo, you'll deliver the message that you're good and can handle shooting an entire ad campaign. Just don't make your promo jam-packed; it's a fine line between informative and crowded.

I'm A Fabulous Photographer

Avoid the urge to convert magazine covers or previous ads into a promo. No one in this industry will be impressed that you've shot an ad before. Moreover, if an art director hates the design surrounding your image, you may be in danger of guilt by association. If your photography is strong, they know you can shoot. Keep it all about you.

Just for the record, I come from an editorial background. When I started segueing into commercial agency work, I used magazine covers as my promos all the time. I called it the “Aren't I Fabulous?” phase. I never got one call. Fortunately, no one looked at the promo long enough to remember my name. And as much as I want to tell you that switching to just straight images was a conscious decision, it wasn't. I just ran out of covers to show.

I'll Get Better, I Swear

One of the fears I had when I started out was the process of evolving. My skill and style were always getting better. What I loved yesterday, I hated today—that's the nature of being a photographer. So I was always concerned about the work I sent out in promo pieces. There were days when I wanted to call everyone on my mailing list and tell them I was so much better than that tired piece of rag I sent them last week. The truth is that no one cares. If it sucks, it will be thrown out so quickly that no one will even notice the name on it—unless, of course, the image is truly retarded, at which point your promo will be handed around the office as a joke. If you're worried that you're that bad, I suggest a career reevaluation.


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