What if Everything You’ve Been Taught About the Marketing of Creative Services is Wrong?

Eleven Industry Myths Demythified!

It is ineffective to do the same thing
or even the same thing differently.
It is vital to innovate; to do something new and different.

The Time is Ripe!

Please see and hear a recording of  my Webinar on this subject at liveBooks.

Photographers must make drastic and far-reaching changes in their ways of thinking and behaving.

The world of commercial photography, as we have known it, has changed. The industry needs to focus on severing ties with the past and to invent innovative ways to find and proclaim a new vision – institutionally and individually. We all know there is something wrong. We have experienced the devaluation of services provided by commercial photographers. We have tried to fix things by focusing on copyright, usage, and branding. All important, but not enough.

It is my observation that many members of the commercial photography community are coming from victim mentality. Many feel oppressed and are placing blame on others. These are conditions that are symptoms of resistance to change and growth. We need to develop far reaching change in ways of thinking and behaving – more of a cultural and social change than an overthrowing of authority.

Is photography a calling for you? Are you resisting your calling? Is you career based upon your passion and beliefs or are you second guessing the marketplace and doing it just for others and for the money? If so, is it working? The more scared we are of a calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.

Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore, the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That’s why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.

The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch. He or she takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself or herself. Is she scared? Hell, yes. She’s petrified.

So if you’re paralyzed with fear, it’s a good sign. It shows you what you have to do.
Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

But first we need to look at some myths:

Myth One: No one is earning a respectable income in today’s marketplace with the exception of the superstars and they are feeling the pain too.

Hundreds of commercial photographers earned more money in 2008 than any other year in their career.

What are the differences between their paths and yours? I have clients in small markets who are maintaining staffs of 15 or more people. Their clients often travel 3000 miles to work with them. They are not competing with lower fees. These photographers are demonstrating vision, the multiple ways they see and the quality of their products and services.

Myth Two: If I go to more seminars and read more how-to books, it ought to sink in and improve my business.

You already know everything you need to know to be successful. In fact, I believe there is way too much information available that keeps people diverted from putting what they already know into action. Self help is the fastest growing section of most bookstores. Some readers have become self help junkies. They spend more time reading the next book and the next and the… they don’t create the time to put what they have learned into action.

Clarity of vision is essential. What most of us need is a way to stay committed to our vision.

Be who you is,
Not who you ain’t.
’cause if you ain’t who you is,
then you is who you ain’t.

Myth Three: Everyone suffers from end of the year meltdown.

This is especially true when you fixate on what was missing in 2008 that kept you from making critical steps forward. With that thought comes a tiny pang of guilt at what we didn’t make happen in 2008. You know … all those big plans that felt good last January but disappeared somewhere by Spring? You can probably find that list of goals you worked on when you were reading that how-to book on how to set goals, if you looked hard enough. It has probably fallen under your top desk drawer.

In my coaching sessions and workshops we do not emphasize goals. Goals are not ends in themselves. Instead we deal with heart’s desires and passions. Goals often are shoulds. They are often about someone else’s goals. And if you are filling a well meaning caretakers goals like parents, some teachers, others you will likely come up empty.

Goals are necessary as measurement tools. I often ask my clients ‘How’s business?’ Great or it sucks or… I ask, ‘How do you know?’ I would bet that less than 10% of photographers and reps whom I know, have sales goals. Goals are valuable in helping us manifest our dreams.

Myth Four: This business just isn’t fun anymore.

Make it fun. And if it still isn’t fun, don’t do it. Relieve your own suffering by removing the suffering of others. If you can bring a smile to someone’s face you are halfway there and prospects are more open to buy.

Be Outrageous!

Safe, conventional work is a ticket to oblivion.
George Lois

Myth Five: You have to decide on one category of photography and do it for the rest of your career.

Some photography consultants and some art buyers have recommended that their clients choose between this OR that! Photographers have been told they need to do one thing, get known for it and to do it well. This has served many photographers very well.

Did you come into this business to shoot one subject more or less the same way for 40 years? Do you think art directors and the like came into this business to work on one account or on one type of account for their entire career? Hopefully they chose their profession because they loved it and for the varieties of ways they will express their passions over the length of their careers. And you?

It is possible to be this AND that and that and that… It is possible to be a still life, life style, and portrait photographer. Why not? It is possible for a photographer to shoot cars, architecture, corporate annual reports, promotional literature and national ads. Why not? Perhaps your survival demands diversity.

In order to make choose diversity and to sell it, it is important to understand a major paradigm shift. Don’t sell the content of your photographs, Sell the ways that you see. Find the thread that connects all of your passions together. Sell the thread; not the subject matter. I call that the Thread of Vision.

Myth Six: All I need to do is to figure out what they need and give it to them at a fair price.

To paraphrase from Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: A hack is a photographer who second-guesses his audience. When the hack sits down to work, he or she doesn’t ask what’s in their heart. They ask what the market is looking for.

Hacks condescend to an audience. They think they are superior to them. The truth is they are scared to death of them or, more accurately, they’re scared of being authentic in front of them, scared of photographing what he or she really feels or believes, what he or she themself thinks is interesting. The hack’s afraid it won’t sell. So they try to anticipate what the market wants, then gives it to them.

Better to photograph for yourself and have no public,
than to photograph for the public and have no self.

Myth Seven: If I spot and follow the trends, my work will be more attractive to the market.

By the time you spot the trends, the market is usually moving on to something else. Following trends fosters mediocrity. The challenge is to have the courage to make work that becomes the next trend and to move on before it consumes you.

Only with absolute fearlessness can we
slay the dragons of mediocrity that invade our gardens.

Myth Eight: If I send out an email marketing blast, I better hire someone to handle the droves of phone calls to see my portfolio.

Postcards are generally not direct mail when sent by a photographer. Direct mail is measurable by the success of a response – an action. For example, a mailer may be seeking an order. The recipient would send back the reply card with a credit card number or check. And he or he would receive a product in return mail. Direct mail stats would tell you that a 3 -5% response rate would be excellent. But since most photographers are not asking for an order, but rather hoping to create desire, it is very difficult to measure the impact directly.

Consider this. Until the general availability of e-mail, art directors and art buyers used to receive an average of 25 solicitations a day; not all from photographers. That is 125 a week. Let’s say the art director was off on a shoot for a week. He or she came back to an overflowing mailbox filled with postcards. What do you think happened to most of those promotions unless they were different from all of the others in message, form, concept, and of course the quality of the photographs themselves. That was then.

Since e-mail has become available to everyone and photographers are buying lists of names of people whom they know little or nothing about and perhaps breaking through spam filters to some unsuspecting prospect’s inbox, it produces even more clutter and is more difficult to get seen, noticed, remembered, desired, interested, inspired, etc.

And in addition to the dozens of email solicitations each day there are still dozens of print promotions arriving on their desks. Mass e-mail is like throwing a big net over the marketplace and hoping to catch a fish. And some do catch a fish now and then. But you won’t know what kind of fish you will catch unless you know what they are feeding on and that is impossible since you really don’t know what kind of fish you want to catch.

Yes there are always exceptions. Sure some get a call immediately after sending a postcard. In fact, I remember being on a panel at Photo Plus a couple of years ago with a group of AD’s and AB’s.

The inevitable question came from the audience: “What do I need to do to get your attention?”

Panelists said, “Send me a postcard from time-to-time. If I like it, I will file it categorically and refer to it when necessary. Don’t call me. I am too busy to take everyone’s phone calls.”

I asked, “So. Where do you people work?” They looked at me as if I was crazy. It was known by all of us what agency each worked at. There was silence. I asked, “Do you work in advertising?” Eyebrows raised. “The reason I am asking is that I don’t think you believe in the power of advertising.”

Myth Nine: Follow up calls are a waste of time. You never get anyone on the telephone. You are going yo get voice mail anyway. Forget about it. I am too busy to follow up on my marketing. It must work on its own.

Marketing serves sales. Otherwise, why market? Marketing is often impotent if you don’t follow up on your hot prospects and develop relationships.

Myth Ten: If I only had a rep my life would be different. I could spend all of my time making pictures, which is what I love to do most.

The ways that photography is purchased has changed. The model that many reps apply has not. Make a list of all the things you would want from representation. You may not be able to find what you want in the existing rep pool. Run an ad on Craig’s List, for example, for someone who loves to sell as much as you love to make pictures. Find someone who is trained in sales and is looking for a product and service that excites them. Hire a coach to help the two of you to create a sales plan and to train them in your industry.

Myth Eleven: Art Directors, Designers, Art Buyers and other contact people are the final decision makers.

The industry often focuses on creative talent, holding art directors, photographers, copywriters, illustrators, designers as some kind of magicians that shape and forge the cutting edge. However, behind the glamorous surface, decisions are made by people at the top, agency owners, CEOs and VP’s of advertising or sales. They decide who will be granted the opportunity to make a difference. To what extent are you able to get the attention of risk taking business leaders? To what extent are the photographers they select risk takers? Does the concept of a photography avant-garde play a part here, or is it just a matter of the bottom line? What is the difference between supporting creativity and innovation, and just promoting fashion and trends? Is there a healthy balance between the two, and if so, what does it look like? What are the motivating forces behind the decisions about the future of photography?

These are just a few of the myths prevalent in
the commercial photography business today.
Surely we could identify a few more.
Most myths represent fears and we expand upon them — feeding them —
believing them — making them real.
And when we do that they increase in size and power.
They take over our lives. Yes. we need to slay the dragons and the dragons may be us.
I am for creating new business models that will allow more photographers to
make more money doing what matters to them.
Together we can work on dispelling these myths and to grow your business.

All growth demands change
Change requires risk
and risk entails a surrender of security