Photography: Zarko Drincic
When it comes to spreading the word about a photography business, large or small, nothing is more effective than a write-up in a newspaper or an appearance in the news. Not only do you suddenly get all of the recognition and awareness that usually costs a fortune in advertising dollars, you’re also seen by viewers as an expert and an authority. If the media are writing up your accomplishments or turning to you for a quote, it must mean that you’re the most knowledgeable person in your field. It’s an opportunity that provides a massive advantage over competitors. But winning publicity isn’t easy. Reporters don’t cover photography issues every day and they’re not interested in handing over page space to every business that asks for it. Coverage in top national publications tend to go to photographers who are already national figures. Local publicity for your photography business is available, but you still have to show that you’re willing to pay for it by delivering a story the media outlet wants to run.
One way to do that is to tell the press about changes to your business.
Two Trend Stories for the Price of One
Stait Photography, a small photography business in the UK, won a write-up in nebusiness.co.uk, a news site run by a local newspaper group. The story was simple. It described how a traditional photography business has introduced a number of new photo kiosks, a group of only three in the country, that allow people to “produce and manipulate digital pictures using environmentally-friendly technology.”
That doesn’t sound like much of a story. Few readers would be interested in hearing that a business has decided to invest in new equipment. Businesses are supposed to invest in new equipment, and they do it all the time without the media noticing. This story though won distribution for two reasons.
First, it placed the photographer in the middle of a trend. Or rather, it placed the photographer at the center of two trends. The headline
Traditional photographer embraces digital age
demonstrated the extent to which technology is changing traditional work. This isn’t a story then about Tait Photography buying some new machines. It’s a story about how every workplace is changing, a trend that is likely to affect the reader too. The content of the story also emphasized that the new machines are environmentally friendly. So it’s not just the digital world that’s changing the workplace; the green movement is too.
Together those two trends gave a story about a photographer buying new equipment a different spin.
But it helps that the story appeared on a relatively small website which accepts public submissions. The site might not run every story idea it receives, but as long as the submissions look professional enough there’s a good chance of winning some publicity.
The larger the audience though, the harder you have to work and the better the story has to be. Changes to your own business — unless you can demonstrate that they’re changes that affect the reader — are unlikely to be powerful enough to do the trick. What can work however is your own accomplishments as a photographer.
Local People Want to Read About Local People
The Marin Independent Journal, for example, recently covered the story of an exhibition of adolescents by photographer Jona Frank. The story was detailed, showed some of her images and even include a picture of the photographer herself. She was quoted throughout the piece and the reporter, Paul Liberatore, even talked to the assistant director of the museum hosting the exhibition.
There are a number of features that make a story like this interesting for the local press. First, it’s a story about an exhibition, an event taking place within the local area. Readers would no doubt see the exhibition’s publicity material and wonder what was going on. It’s the job of the local press to tell them.
But the real pull of the story is that it’s primarily about local people. Jona Frank photographed local boys playing with their skateboards. Readers would look at the story, see the pictures and wonder how similar those boys are to their kids or to the children they see skateboarding around the city center.
Both of those features are available to any photographer who wants to use them. Any photographer can choose a group of local people to photograph, whether they’re children, hairdressers, owners of mom-and-pop stores, checkout workers or the homeless. Whatever the topic, just picking one local demographic may well be enough to win interest from the local media.
And anyone can put on an exhibition too. That’s certainly going to be harder than shooting the images in the first place but if galleries aren’t interested, you can approach libraries and community centers. If they don’t have space either, you can always organize your own exhibition, putting it on in a café, a restaurant or even a private home. Strong marketing before you send out the press release to the local arts reporters will ensure that they’re already familiar with the exhibition and curious about it, while the subject should help to make them feel that they’re not just writing about art but about the town too.
It’s even possible though to win publicity by trumpeting your own accomplishments. Michigan-based The Daily Reporter, for example, gave space to news that local photographer Kenn Klein of Skywater Photography had been chosen to shoot stills for a movie that recently finished filming in Grand Rapids.
It’s not usual for the local press to cover the success of a small business, especially when it doesn’t lead to the creation of a stack of new jobs, but it helped that this job involved Hollywood, stardom and a touch of celebrity glitter. It’s not a strategy that’s always going to work for every accomplishment but even without being hired to photograph images for movies it’s still possible to turn yourself into a media star.