Bold full-bleed images with refined typography are used to open stories and create a visual experience that draws recipients to engage more deeply with the content than one might with a less-polished presentation.
As content creators, professional photographers are inherently well positioned to create interesting marketing materials. After all, we’re generating eye-catching images all the time. For more than 15 years, adventure sports photographer Michael Clark has taken advantage of his particularly interesting photographic niche to create a magazine-caliber newsletter that functions as an integral piece of his marketing arsenal.
It’s by no means his only effort, and in recent years it has given way to Instagram as the centerpiece of his marketing plan. But it’s still a valuable way to connect with the people who value his work and showcase his photography in a unique way. He suggests other photographers consider following in his footsteps—though they should understand what an undertaking they’re signing up for.
“It’s a full-on magazine, basically,” Clark says. “Every time I do it, I have editors call me and say, ‘How do you do this?’ I do everything. I sometimes interview people so it doesn’t seem like it’s all just about me. I did an interview once with a photo editor from National Geographic and some with other photographers—stuff like that. It’s all my images, and it’s still a promotional piece, so calling it a magazine may not have it do what I want it to do in terms of a promotional effort.”
Clark’s business has thrived through down economies and a vastly changing commercial landscape. He’s very talented, of course, and that goes a long way. But Clark’s success is at least in part because he’s a great promoter. He’s always looking for ways to get his work in front of more people and thinking about the next step in his marketing process. He’s not just a great photographer; he’s also a smart businessman. And he’s found a marketing niche that takes considerable effort but also pays worthwhile dividends.
“It takes four or five days to put the thing together,” he says. “It’s kind of a pain in the butt, but I still get jobs every time I send it out. I’m really good at getting stuff done quickly. A lot of people have tried to copy the newsletter, but they do one issue and go, ‘That’s insane.’ They try to emulate the newsletter, and most only make one or two issues and just give up on it. I have even seen one photographer copy the layout exactly, which was annoying, but they gave up on it pretty quickly as well. It’s a ton of work. I even procrastinate when it comes time to put the next one together.”
From fairly humble beginnings, Clark’s newsletter is now sent to nearly 10,000 people four times a year. In 2001, he began sending it out to a select list of editors, art buyers and photo editors.
“It was a single sheet,” he says, “printed front and back on really nice paper. It was just a way to market myself. After a while, it was like, ‘OK, this is getting expensive.’ I got the Creative Suite from Adobe and was like, ‘I can expand it into like a full magazine and send it out for free.’ So that’s what I did. And it’s been going on ever since. Pretty much from the get-go, once it became a PDF, just about every single time I sent it out I would get a job. So I kept going.”
Many photographers send periodic emails, but Clark’s PDF promo piece is fundamentally different. Out of necessity—he wanted printable quality and total design control—he discovered that he also gained a unique advantage with clients, as well as with search engines.
“Why a PDF?” Clark says. “Why not a blog or something else? Well, a PDF is different than what anyone else is doing, and people remember it. Hence, they remember my name. And one of the side benefits that I realized early on when I started doing the PDF of the newsletter is that it’s all searchable by Google. They’re all loaded on my website, so that really helps my site come up high in Google for search terms. So I do get the call from those clients looking for adventure photographers or adventure sports or anything that has to do with what I shoot.”
While it’s effective, Clark says his newsletter wouldn’t work if it was his only marketing effort. Many people sign up via his website, but he also needs to reach those who don’t.
“If somebody contacts me,” he says, “I make sure they’re on it, too,” referring to his mailing list. “It’s up to like 9,500 people right now, of which about 2,000 are photo editors and art buyers. Obviously, not all of them open it and read it, but it’s like a fifth wheel to my marketing. It’s just a way to reach out. Initially, it started out as a promo piece just to remind people that I’m still around. I have been debating lately if it’s still worth it on some levels, but I don’t think after 15 years or more that I can stop. I would get a lot of emails asking what happened.”
One Of Many Marketing Efforts
Why even consider abandoning such a successful marketing endeavor? Partly because of the work entailed and partly because of the way social media is changing marketing for photographers. Still, though, Clark hasn’t ceased sending the newsletters, and he has no plans to. Like any smart business owner, he’s simply constantly reevaluating where to focus his marketing efforts. There’s no magic bullet, and even the most successful e-newsletter wouldn’t work alone. Ultimately, marketing commercial photography is still about using multiple avenues to drive views to the website. And for that, the newsletter will always have a place.
“The website is home base,” Clark says, “like everybody else. I also do print promos. E-promos and the newsletter are my basic form of marketing. And I still think the best form of marketing is face-to-face meetings. I’m going to New York in a couple of weeks, and I’ll meet up with clients I want to work with, and those who are already clients, to show them my portfolio. I’m sure there’s other stuff I do, too.
“Instagram has become a platform that many photographers share small tidbits with their following,” Clark says, “and that’s pretty powerful. But I still have editors that see the newsletter and it sticks in their brain. I’m still getting work from it—it’s still a reach-out to art buyers and photo editors to remind them I still exist, which in large part is why and how it gets assignments.
“The Google ranking I’ve achieved partly from the newsletter cannot be overstated. I still do traditional marketing and meet face-to-face with potential clients as often as possible. In the last five years or more, as I have built my following on Instagram, the newsletter has become a way to promote photo workshops, fine art prints and e-books that I sell to other photographers. So, in effect, the newsletter has a multi-faceted impact on my income and helps diversify it as well.”
Instagram has, in fact, become an equally important—if not the most important—part of Clark’s marketing strategy. But it’s the effort, the layout and the images that make the newsletter what it is—which is something not many other photographers are doing. “It’s memorable, transportable and a keepsake that aspiring pros, photo editors and art buyers can keep if they desire,” he says.
“Make sure it’s unique and shows off your strengths,” Clark advises. “I’d suggest working with a graphic designer to make something that looks good. A lot of other newsletters I’ve seen have horrific layouts that look hastily thrown together. That isn’t going to serve the photographer well. That goes for any promo or website, too. The way it’s presented is paramount. Of course, you then have to fill it with interesting content to keep people coming back to read the thing, just like a blog. If it’s just a place to brag about your work and your life, then it will turn off a lot of people quickly. You have to give solid content, advice and information so it becomes a resource and something people look forward to when it shows up in their inbox.
“The images have to be compelling as well,” he continues, “and if you aren’t a proficient writer, then I’d say go a different route. I don’t consider myself a great writer by any means, but I can get a point across. And with judicious editing from friends, they can improve my grammar. The last thing you want to send out is a newsletter or blog post plagued with misspelled words and horrible grammar. That also won’t represent you well.”
“Ask yourself,” he adds, “would you want to read this if it was sent to you? Would you find it interesting? Would you go and download this and comb through back issues of the newsletter because it was that enticing? What would you have to do to make it enticing? I don’t make it easy for folks to read this. They have to download it (because of the file size), and that keeps a lot of folks away, but those who do are rewarded, I hope, with great information. Word of mouth really goes a long way with the newsletter.”
See more of Michael Clark’s work—and sign up for his newsletter—at michaelclarkphoto.com.