Tony Blei has a background as a photojournalist working for the Associated Press, and has the opportunity to shoot multiple seated presidents – with his camera, I should say. He now adds that ‘in the moment’ style to his portrait and location photography. Tony has been in the photography business long enough to forge through the many changes the industry has experienced over the past several years; from the switch from film to digital, to the ebb and flow of our economy.
Tony recently posted an article on his blog that offered some shrewd marketing advise that can be applied to not only photography, but any one who is trying to attract attention to their business. Tony draws the correlation between successful dating techniques and successful marketing techniques. A funny and insightful article, the post has also brought Tony some national attention, he has been asked to speak at the next PMA conference.
Here’s the deal: My friend wrote me on Friday and told me he was depressed and getting ready to crawl inside of a bottle of hard liquor. He was down in the dumps over some personal issues that are compounded by declining business during a depressed economy.
…He said that he had “tried to strike up a conversation with some ad designers at the coffee shop today and got the major stiff arm.” He also said, “Got a contact I was given on [fill in your own blank here] and got brushed off.” Captain Morgan and I are old friends, but he’s a solution, not psychologist. The only thing found at the bottom of a bottle is a worm. It is not your friend.
I seem to be seeing things like this more than I like. I, and several of my friends are displaced photojournalists who are reinventing their careers. Some have never had to deal with marketing and generating business. My friend, trying to attract clients, is the proverbial fat kid tryin’ to pick up chicks at the singles bar. Of course he got “the major stiff arm.” What I’ve learned is that it’s all about relationship. You need to be in this for the long haul.
…Just because you’ve got a nice portfolio doesn’t mean the art directors at the coffee shop are automatically interested — You’re a stranger. Besides, I doubt they were thinking, “I think I’ll go down to the coffee shop and meet a new photographer today. I wonder if Bob wants to go too.” They’re there because they want coffee — maybe to have an informal meeting. Few people will POSITIVELY react to you saying, “Hey babe, why don’t we jump in the back of your Gremlin and get our rocks off.”
Several years and lonely nights later, I became known at my little singles bar. I played pool, danced and had fun and bought drinks when appropriate. And then one day it was as if I had been sprinkled with magic dust. I had the ability to talk to every girl in the joint. Suddenly I could dance and laugh and carry-on all night long. People were buyin’ me drinks! I think because the girls knew who I was they were able to see that I wasn’t there to take advantage of them. I just wanted to have fun. In the end, I had to learn how to be interesting.
…So why am I talking to photographers about past nights of debauchery? Because I see parallels. You and I both know that your talent is the very reason why you should be hired to shoot a project, but you and I also know that “birds of a feather flock together.” People want to work with people with similar interests and personalities; people they know and like. It makes things flow better. It’s fun to work with your friends.
Here is what I suggest: stop chasing. Go to the coffee shops and social gathering places. Be cool and casual. Be interesting as you meet the people who will eventually hire you. Hand them a card, talk to them, be genuinely friendly. Let them lead the conversation and don’t talk about the day you photographed Keith Richards unless it’s a natural part of the conversation. Leave your agenda in the car (it’s probably not working for you anyway). As you take their card, ask if you could call in a couple of days. Tell them that have a new portfolio that I’d like to show. Chances are, they’ll agree to a phone call.