Persuasive Promos

Anyone outside the photographic industry may assume that all photographers simply have a line of clients waiting for their time. But we know that beyond the location scouts, production meetings, gear rentals and shoots themselves are hours spent working on self-promotion. In addition to social media, e-newsletters and events is a niche realm entirely unto itself: the physical promotional mailer. Some photographers take the extra effort to develop original packages that stand out amongst the crowd by showing inspiration, innovation and investment. We caught up with several photographers who gave us insight into their most recent creative promotions.

Dan Bannister

www.danbannister.com

Dan Bannister is an advertising and fashion photographer based in Toronto, Canada. His career began in editorial travel, where he shot for clients such as Rough Guides, Penguin Publishing, Pearson and The New York Times. Over time, his work has evolved to focus exclusively on lifestyle, advertising and fashion for consumer brands and advertising agencies. Known for his mastery of natural lighting, Dan and his crew take great pride in being able to light subjects and scenes in a way that appears natural and effortless.

How do you define your style?
I shoot mostly lifestyle, fashion and portraits for retail brands, consumer goods and advertising agencies. My style is mostly fun, upbeat people enjoying life mixed in with some complex, more moody lighting for fashion. I show two books at most meetings, one for "dark" work, one for "light" work.

What’s the latest unique physical promo material you’ve sent out to potential clients? What inspired the promo concept/design?

I’m in the middle of doing the next version of my book promo titled "The Assistants." It’s basically a sketchbook for designer friends and clients that I do every year. The theme is "The Assistants" because the book contains a bunch of image pairs of light tests with assistants paired with the final finished image that we were actually shooting for the client. It’s an interesting juxtaposition.

An art director friend had suggested a sketchbook as a cool promo idea to me a while back, and I was looking for a theme for the first one when I decided it might be a nice way to say thanks to the crew of people who make it possible for me to get my work done. I approached my friend, designer Dave Deibert, about doing the design for it, and he was able to take it from concept to something that resonated really quickly. The first one was a huge success as a result. When we did the second one the following year, I made the decision to keep the theme the same and make it an annual thing. Now I get calls every year from designers and art directors reminding me to make sure they’re on the list to get one.

How often do you send out promotional material?

I do "The Assistants" sketchbook every year, which is a pretty significant expense, but it’s pretty highly targeted. On top of that, I do regular email blasts, as well as personal emails to clients I know well or to people I know casually whose work I really love or admire. On top of that, my rep, Pam Hamilton, does regular emailers, blogging and portfolio meetings.

Have you found that the time, effort and expense of the promo have paid off?

I can’t say that people have called me up and said, "We saw your sketchbook promo and loved it, so here’s a big-budget campaign we want you to shoot." But it does get a lot of recognition, and because I’m selective about who gets them, it has developed a bit of a cult following, which is really nice. It’s like any advertising in the sense that you can’t really draw a straight line from the promo to a job. "The Assistants" fits my "brand" in the sense that I’m an easy-going person to work with and I like to have a little fun while making sure everyone who contributes gets to share in the success.

What other marketing tools do you utilize?

I’m working on a gallery show right now to showcase a personal project I’ve been working on for a while, which is portraits of blacksmiths. I’m also thinking of doing a book at some point, and I just finished a mini-documentary about one blacksmith that’s in post right now, so we’ll see where that goes. As for social media, Instagram is one thing I really love (@bannisterphoto). I usually try to curate what I show on Instagram, and I’ve built a really great following, so I enjoy interacting with other visually minded people there. It’s fun to post behind-the-scenes shots from shoots along with finished images and the occasional shot of my dog asleep on the couch in the studio.

Natasha Lee

www.bynatasha.net

Natasha Lee is a travel and lifestyle photographer whose effortless and relaxed images of people and places evoke a sense of wanderlust. An avid traveler herself, she has found inspiration in many corners of the world, from Kaikoura, New Zealand, to Brittany, France, to Luang Prabang, Laos. Also a filmmaker, Natasha’s passion for directing and cinematography showcase her use of light and color to create an immersive experience in every image. Clients and brands include HGTV, AOL, T-Mobile, Acuvue, Evian, Coastal Living Magazine, Cooking Light Magazine, The Nest and Zooey Magazine, among others.

How do you define your style?

My style embraces imperfection to the point of perfection, evoking luxurious necessity in a healthy and inviting way and rustic and sensual charm.

What’s the latest unique physical promo material you’ve sent out to potential clients? What inspired the promo concept/design?

My latest physical promo is an "Escape Kit." It’s basically a vacation in a box. The contents were placed in a birch wood box, custom-sized and hand-assembled by me, and laser-cut with my logo and the title "Escape Kit." Inside, the recipients find a booklet with an "itinerary" of a perfect day of rest and relaxation, told through my images and corresponding copy. To complete the "Escape," there are destination postcards to send home, juniper-scented soap, Sencha tea and a starfish souvenir.

My photographic style and the types of projects I’d like to shoot more of were the basis of the idea. Through the "itinerary" in the book, it was also a way to share a bit of myself with potential clients—my love of travel, yoga and wellness. The "Escape" narrative was inspired by my travels, especially a yoga retreat I attended earlier this year. The promo was a way to incorporate various images from my specialities—travel, lifestyle and environments—to create a cohesive sensory experience.

It was also important to me that the promo was something the recipients could use, whether it’s a cup of tea or a simple reminder to take a breather during their busy day. Many clients I’ve met with say flipping through my portfolio makes them want to go on vacation, and I wanted to evoke that sentiment for other art buyers and photo editors, to bring the vacation to them if they’re too busy to escape their desks.

How often do you send out promotional material?

I send an eblast
every other month and promotional mailings two to three times a year, which vary from hand-printed postcards to a more involved piece like the "Escape Kit."

Have you found that the time, effort and expense of the promo have paid off?

Definitely. The promo was a great way to capture the attention of a handful of selected art buyers and photo editors, and the reaction has been overwhelmingly positive. It ties into my portfolio presentation, so when I’m in meetings, there’s a clear sense of my style and who I am. It has been key in building on some important relationships as I continue this creative journey.

What other marketing tools do you utilize?

I use Instagram and Twitter (@talktonatasha) to share new projects and shoots as they’re happening. I go out and attend different events when I can. I like to attend events in other fields to introduce myself and build relationships with potential new clients. It’s definitely an effort, but can be invaluable when the right paths cross. In addition to eblasts, I also send out personal emails to art buyers and photo editors who I’ve met in person, from time to time, about new campaigns or projects. Portfolio reviews are important, as well. I attended the Palm Springs Photo Festival this year and plan on attending again next year.

Chip Kalback

www.chipkalback.com

Chip Kalback is a professional photographer based in Denver, Colorado. What began as photographing his friends snowboarding and skiing has turned into shooting commercial and editorial photography for clients such as Target, Rolling Stone, Land Rover and ESPN, among others.

How do you define your style?

Most of my work focuses around lifestyle sports and environmental portraits, showing people in their element from an intriguing perspective while, hopefully, keeping it authentic.

What’s the latest unique physical promo material you’ve sent out to potential clients? What inspired the promo concept/design?

The latest promo I sent was a postcard pack full of images from a social-media campaign I shot for Land Rover. The campaign was centered about the hashtag #GoSomewhereRare, celebrating July being National Parks Month and encouraging people to get out there and explore. Land Rover chose four photographers throughout the U.S. and gave each of us a car to visit a national park. I drove a 2014 Range Rover Sport throughout Rocky Mountain National Park, shooting images of the park, as well as the vehicle in its surroundings. The images were retweeted, liked, shared, etc., via Land Rover’s social-media channels using the hashtag #GoSomewhereRare.

I felt like the idea of road-tripping in a Range Rover through a national park went hand in hand with the campy, outdoorsy vibe that attracts so many visitors to Colorado in the first place. Therefore, it only made sense that the promo images should be a set of postcards printed on thick, 100% recycled card stock made by Denver’s Artifact Uprising, kind of a nod to the "Wish You Were Here" postcards we all see in touristy gift shops. The images on the cards were a mix of landscape shots with and without the vehicle in them. The first postcard in the pack included a brief description about the project, and the last postcard had all of my contact info in case the recipient wanted to see more images from the series.

I wanted the experience of the promo to be as close to the experience of being in Rocky Mountain National Park as possible, so I used a tin can that was printed to look like a real log, which I used to store the postcard pack. I used a brown/green recycled packing material I found to keep in theme with the outdoorsy feel. The outcome was that the recipient of the promo opens the box and all they see is a log, so it sets the tone from the start, and from there they get to open it up and flip through the series, hopefully dropping a couple of the postcards in the mail, too.

How often do you send out promotional material?

Somewhat often, but mostly it’s electronic and not a physical mailer. I’ve never believed in the shotgun approach of a physical mailer campaign. I’d rather be super-focused and creative with what I’m sending and who I’m sending it to. Quality over quantity.

Have you found that the time, effort and expense of the promo have paid off?

I hope so! Of the people I sent it to, they either shared it on their website/Instagram, or emailed me about it, etc. I didn’t send many of them out, but those who got one seemed to enjoy getting it. I had fun putting them together, so it was worth the effort regardless!

What other marketing tools do you utilize?
I send out a quarterly newsletter with my latest work/personal projects to past clients and those I’ve met with. Other than sending out the odd promo here and there, I’m active on social media (@ChipKalback) and try to keep a healthy balance between shooting new work, sharing my recent work, pursuing personal projects, sending quarterly newsletters and meeting in person with photo editors and art directors.

Jenn Ackerman + Tim Gruber

www.ackermangruber.com

Husband-and-wife team Tim Gruber and Jenn Ackerman are based in Minneapolis, Minn. When they aren’t scheming up the next big project, you can find them being delighted by Americana, bicycles, pond hockey, snow, good food, coffee, awesome photos and Minneapolis.

How do you define your style?

We work as a collaborative team on shoots, sharing roles as director and photographer. We work seamlessly as a duo to bring one creative vision to all our shoots. We take an authentic approach to our work and specialize in providing images of real people to advertising, corporate and editorial clients. We pride ourselves in creating a narrative in every photo we take, whether it’s a single image or a series of photos. Ultimately, we strive to make photos that make you feel something.

What’s the latest unique physical promo material you’ve sent out to potential clients? What inspired the promo concept/design?

At the beginning of September, we sent out a small zine with one of our latest projects, "Blue Ribbon." The package included a 20-page, 5.5×8.5 zine of the work, which is a combination of portraiture, landscapes and still lifes. We also sent a blue ribbon to each person personalized based on their position. Those at ad agencies in Minnesota, where we’re based, received one that said "Minnesota Creative–Advertising Category–First Place" and those at magazines received one that said "Photo Editor–Magazine Category–First Place". We worked on the project throughout the state of Minnesota for three years, so we wanted to make sure we used a format that highlighted not only the long-term nature of the project, but also our ability to tell a story through a series of photos. We decided a zine would be a great way to display the project, and the blue ribbons came about later on as we discussed how we could personalize the promo and make it more being about us and the project, and make the creatives feel like they were also be
ing awarded for their creative efforts. At the fair, if the kids and animals won first place, they would receive a blue ribbon, so we thought the blue ribbon would be a wonderful extension of the photos and the promo.

How often do you send out promotional material?

We send mailers three to four times a year and email promos four to five times a year.

Have you found that the time, effort and expense of the promo have paid off?

Yes. The response to the blue ribbon promo has been amazing. We’ve been hired by three new clients based on the fair/blue ribbon promo already, and many others have emailed us or tagged us on social media about the promo and commented on how great it was.

What other marketing tools do you utilize?
We focus a little bit on social media (@ackermangruber), but try to focus most of our energy on creating new work, including long-term projects like "Blue Ribbon" that we then use for our marketing materials and portfolio. We also do meetings where we shop around our print portfolios and are able to have the art buyer/photo editor meet the faces behind the work. So, like a lot of photographers, our marketing is very multidimensional, with us relying on many avenues of outreach to get our work out there in front of creatives.

Trent Bell

www.trentbell.com

With a Masters in Architecture, Trent Bell started out his professional life as an architect, but soon found his creative energy and attention span were a much better fit to photography. His love of architecture keeps him specializing in architectural interior and exterior photography, while the freedom of portraiture, landscapes and travel have informed and encouraged the creative process back and forth between the different subjects. Clients include Condé Nast Traveler, The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, The Boston Globe Magazine and Architect Magazine, among others. When not working or with his family, he’s surfing.

How do you define your style?

Natural aesthetic, silent…?

What’s the latest unique physical promo material you’ve sent out to potential clients? What inspired the promo concept/design?

My latest unique physical promo piece is a 6×9 clipboard with six portraits of prisoners and includes a write-up of who we are, what the project is about. Back in 2013, my team was sitting in Elements coffee shop, throwing around ideas for a promotional marketing campaign that we could send out to prospective advertising agencies. It had to be attention-grabbing, as it needed to cut through the sea of promotional pieces that land on the desks of advertising’s most creative people. The idea of photographing prisoners and attaching the prints to a clipboard was one of the ideas that came up. We knew that if done right, we thought it could spark that interest we were looking for. It’s something that’s drastically different that we wanted to do to change up our common routine and give us a different challenge professionally.

How often do you send out promotional material?

We run email and postcard campaigns every two months. Once a year we design and develop a promotional mailer that goes above and beyond our typical marketing efforts and gets sent out to our dream clients. We figure if this is executed properly, it could really pay off.

Have you found that the time, effort and expense of the promo have paid off?

Yes. We’ve found there to be great value in not just the promotional piece itself, but the detailed process that goes along with designing and building a marketing piece. We made sure to document every step of the way with pictures and video so we could share our idea not only with the creatives we were sending these to, but also anyone else that might be interested. You can find the step-by-step blog post on TrentBell Photography.wordpress.com in the Marketing section. Because there’s so much content out there, we thought it was necessary to market our marketing.

What other marketing tools do you utilize?

Other than the emails and postcards, we’re constantly updating Facebook, Instagram and Twitter (@trentbell). We also keep our blog up to date with tons of fresh content.

Jason Myers

www.jasonmyersphoto.com

A Nashville, Tennessee- and South Florida-based commercial portrait photographer, Jason Myers works with advertising, editorial and corporate clients, and focuses on the brand side of endorsed personalities, athletes and celebrities. His style is often moody, but he’s not! Jason has a lot of fun on set, but takes his clients’ needs very seriously. Myers played football at the University of Florida and worked in the corporate world for 12 years prior to picking up the camera full time.

How do you define your style?

My style is pretty simple, really. I’m very organic in the way I plan, shoot and edit. I don’t use a lot of strobe light, but do seemingly incorporate strobes into most portraits I shoot. I just like to throw light around and make it do cool, fun things. Usually, I’m only using one or two lights for any setup, although I’ve used up to 12 one time. My style is a bit moody, dramatic and maybe "edgy"? I like shadows and contrast, but try to keep things looking as real as I can. There are people I truly admire—like Dan Winters, Peter Yang, Jeremy Cowart, Miller Mobley and Victoria Will—who are so good at lighting, I’m inspired daily. But I realized a while back, I have my own style and have embraced that versus trying to emulate theirs. It has made me a much happier photographer as a result.

What’s the latest unique physical promo material you’ve sent out to potential clients? What inspired the promo concept/design?

This year, I made the career- and life-altering decision to move from South Florida to Nashville. The goals were pretty clear from the beginning that I wanted to let new clients know I was moving to their area and showcase how quickly I can get to many places.

I had conversations with my great friends at HEYDAY Branding, and after months of discussion, lunches at our favorite Palm Beach County restaurant and figuring out the "why" of what I was sending, we decided on the "Fresh from Florida" theme and got to work.

I wanted this promo to feel more like a gift, more organic and not overly produced. We opted for a traditional cardboard box to house everything in and create custom stamps for the exterior. Inside the box are fresh Florida oranges, an orange juicer, fresh Florida orange blossom honey, a Tervis tumbler, prints and a map showing my new region. Agency Access was a huge asset in this process also, as they’re my go-to marketing/consultant partner; they also offer printing in-house. They did all of the print production, and my consultant Jennifer Perlmutter was very helpful in determining which images to include. I wrote a quick note on the back of each print telling a bit of the story about the image to give it a more personal touch. In all, we printed 15 different images for each package. With an emphasis on t
ravel times and distances I could cover, the map has been one of the real hits from this promo.

How often do you send out promotional material?

I send a direct mailing of about 100 to 300 about every six to eight weeks. I use Agency Access for my direct marketing efforts. I couldn’t do it without their help, consultants and Campaign Manager program.

Have you found that the time, effort and expense of the promo has paid off?

This was an investment and not an expense, in my opinion. Everyone wants to know how much it cost and if it has worked. The metric for success in this business is whatever you determine is valuable for you. For me, the cost was well worth the investment, and I plan to leverage this promo for quite a while by being the "Fresh from Florida" guy.

What other marketing tools do you utilize?

I try to network daily. I go to creative events and portfolio reviews. I’m on Instagram and Twitter (@JasonMyersPhoto), but not Facebook for my business, and let people know who I am. If they don’t know you, they won’t hire you. I can’t stress enough about getting out there and networking as a photographer. There are only a few who breathe the rare air of being so in demand, they can turn down business. I realize I’m competing with the tens of thousands of others, all vying for very few assignments in the grand scheme of things. I hope one day I’ll be breathing the clean, crisp air of being in high demand regularly.

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