I found this Fast Company article titled, Mayhem on Madison Avenue, to be a fascinating read. As a former ad industry creative, this really came as no surprise to me as I had realized that most of the creatives at the ad agency I worked several years ago had no idea about digital much less had experience with blogging, SEO, social media, etc… Such was the case at the other places I worked at following that agency. The sad part was that no one figured their career path might be going extinct. Well that day is has already arrived according to this article.
The article cites agencies struggling to price work in the digital era because clients want more work but are willing to pay less for the work. Various business models have popped up in the meantime including crowd-sourcing ad creative. The “race to the bottom” if you will. Ten years ago when all media spend was limited to print, broadcast and radio it was easy to work in the industry because reaching people was rather formulaic and several large holding companies owned all the advertising spend. No longer. There are a million different ways to reach the consumer now and for the consumer to receive content. “Competition” is popping up in all sorts of places that never existed previously.
Sound familiar? Yes. The photography industry has already been heading down this path for ten years now as you already know. You can literally swap out the words ad agency for Getty / Corbis and photographers and write the same story.
Having only been a photographer during the internet-era, however, I feel there has never been a more exciting time to be a creative person because of all these reasons. My photography website for example reaches tens of thousands of visitors per month and I have about 1,000 more people that I reach on a daily basis via the social media sites I’m on. Had the internet not been around when I started photography, I probably never would have even bothered to try sharing my work much less talk about it because what audience would I have – family, local camera club, a stock photo agent, and a few clients? There’s not a lot of people where I live that are into outdoors and the type of photography I do.
Had this been 15 years ago, I’d probably have a few photos hanging on display in the local library, setting up a booth at weekend farmer’s markets and art fairs, be on the phone all day cold-calling and maybe consider running some print ads in advertising award annuals with no guarantee of success but a lot of money out of my pocket. But this is 2010 and here are two sites I have had an opportunity to be featured on in the past week:
Pro Nature Photographer – a website about the business of nature photography written by long-time industry vet, Charlie Borland.
The Rogue’s Gallery – an art website for current and former ad industry professionals curated by Steffan Postaer (ad god and creator of the Altoids ad campaign).
Who knows if I’ll get any direct benefit from getting my work on these sites but I know who reads these sites and those are the types of people I’m looking to reach. When you simplify the new technology down to that level, basic marketing principles have not changed at all. It is actually easier than ever to reach people and obtain any sort of metric you could imagine that was never available previously. You can cut it up so many different ways from checking referrer sites in your web analytics and tying that to geographic data, to seeing who comments on the sites, to which organic search terms people found your site via the search engines, to seeing Quantcast demographic info about any site out there. Any webmaster in the world can create a media kit and sell to advertisers now. You could create a media kit so detailed that it would bore even the most anal media buyer. This is powerful stuff at our disposal.
After just a few years in the advertising industry, Nashville, Tennessee-based art director Kaleena Tucker has already received accolades from the ADDY’s, One Show Student Competition and the Young Guns International Ad Competition. Find out what she has to say about photography.
How to get your book seen by ad agency art buyers is a source of endless debate amongst professional photographers. So set the record straight by telling us what methods a photographer can do to get your attention and keep it?
I’ve always been amazed at how many photography samples the average Art Director receives on a daily basis. Whether postcard-size, full-page prints, or booklets, most samples get thrown in the trash. Many without a second look. And it’s not because it’s bad photography. Most of the time it’s beautiful. The problem is, where do you put all of these postcards and work samples? It’s like getting coupons in the mail. They may be useful, but after so many, you just start trashing them. The 5% that get kept are the ones that use non-traditional methods and do something really cool. For example, I like to put cool stuff up on my office wall, so… if I get something fun in the mail from a photographer, it goes on my wall. As far as what works, I’d have to say that cold calling works. I know it sucks. But, a photography/illustration rep was able to set up a 30-minute showcase in our creative department just by giving me a call one morning. Emails easily get ignored. Mail mostly gets trashed. But, most phone calls get answered. I’d say that’s the way to go.
What has been your process for choosing a photographer to work with?
Most of the time, I go to the agency’s print production department, tell them what kind of style I’m looking for and ask them for any suggestions. In addition to that, I scour the Internet, and go through photography books to look for someone whose style fits what I’m looking for. Do they do a lot of indoor shooting? Are they good at lighting? Etc…
Where do you typically go when looking for stock photos? Do you ever look for photos on Flickr or Google?
No, Flickr and Google are only good if you’re looking for reference materials. In my experience, if you’re looking for something to actually use, it’s a complete waste of time. An agency’s clients have to be able to buy the image. Most of the images on Google and Flickr are a hassle to figure out ownership/rights. I use the big stock sites: Getty, Corbis, JupiterImages, etc. I know that I can usually find something useable.
Would there be occasional exceptions to this, say if the photographer had a website that was set-up for e-commerce licensing transactions similar to a Getty or Corbis, or if their bio listed a slew of big-name publishing credits such as National Geographic, Time, Ogilvy & Mather, etc…?
Yes it’s definitely possible that while you’re searching for reference materials/images, you may stumble across a photographer’s site who’s done some cool stuff and offers great stock photography. But honestly, I rarely seek out individual photographers that provide these services. It’s like, if you’re trying to meet someone to date. Your chances of finding someone at the company party, or at a bar is greater than running into someone on the street. It’s a numbers game. That’s what’s great about the big stock houses. It’s like a big online bar of drunken photographers waiting to be taken home.
(Alcohol. Does a body good.)
When you are doing a stock photo search, does it make a difference to you whether or not the image is rights-managed or royalty-free?
Absolutely! That is the number one question I ask my Account Manager. What kind of budget do we have? Do we have to get something royalty-free, or can we afford rights-managed? Again, no need to waste time finding a great image that the client can’t afford. Money matters. Budgets are real. Especially to smaller clients.
Aside from art direction reasons, what type of photography do you enjoy looking at the most?
I like a lot of classic black and white photography with simple imagery. I find that I’m much more captivated by a single subject, rather than photography with a lot going on.
I’d like to thank Kaleena for her time and insightful responses to these questions. Hopefully you’ve found this information to be useful for your own photo business.