One of the more surprising results in Photoshelter’s Buyer Survey was the number of buyers who reported looking for new photographers in their mailboxes. No less than 44 percent of the survey’s respondents said that they turned to email pitches they’ve received from photographers when they’re looking for someone to commission. That’s the same percentage that use agents and agencies, and a method that came second only to asking a colleague for a personal recommendation. It is a figure, though, that might have been skewed by the survey pool. Photoshelter teamed up with AgencyAccess to query photo buyers, a marketing company that supplies promotional services, including email marketing, to photographers, illustrators and other creative workers. But the willingness of the respondents to receive unsolicited pitches is revealing about a promotional strategy that many photographers choose to ignore.
AgencyAccess is used by about 1,600 photographers who are able to build targeted lists of around 90,000 potential clients, including 16,000 art buyers. Most of those photographers are established full-timers although some are “‘new’ or up-and-coming professionals.” They work in fields that range from lifestyle and food to fashion and editorial. The company supplies photographers with a variety of services that start with the ability to draw up a list of potential buyers, such as magazine editors and ad agency art buyers who work in a particular field or in a particular region, and send them a marketing pitch. But photographers can also manage their entire email campaign through the site, purchase design services, hire a campaign manager and put together a direct marketing mail campaign as well.
The results are fairly typical, and perhaps even a little low, for email marketing. According to Christine Andrews of Agency Access, photographers who send email pitches to buyers on the company’s lists can expect their messages to receive open rates of between 15 and 20 percent, and clickthrough rates of between 3 and 5 percent. That compares to open rate averages across different industries of 24.8 percent at the end of 2011 and click rates of 5.2 percent.
A Marketing Message is Part of a Plan
Photographers though don’t need to have giant clickthrough rates because they don’t need to have giant client lists. Each commission may be worth several thousand dollars, generate repeat offers and win the kind of personal recommendations that buyers use the most. A single commission would be more than enough to justify the expense and the time involved in creating the campaign.
While AgencyAccess has the contact lists though, the addresses themselves are only a small part of a successful email campaign.
“We find, and advise, that having a plan for your marketing campaign is the best way to achieve these rates,” says Christine Andrews. “It’s all about consistency and taking the time to out to market your professional work in a professional manner.”
That professional manner might begin with a targeted list but it should also include a professional-looking template email, an awareness of seasons and holidays, as well as eye-catching subject lines and copy that can appeal to a buyer. An email campaign shouldn’t be a one-off but should be part of a strategy aimed at a particular group of buyers who are impressed by an image and click through to see a website that’s easy to browse, filled with a portfolio showing a style of photography they can use, of subjects they need, and containing a contact page that’s responsive and quick to find.
Mostly though, successful email marketing is about the picture.
Call the Clicks
Amanda Sosa Stone, for example, is a creative consultant who works with photographers to help them improve their portfolios and enhance their marketing efforts. On AgencyAccess’s blog, she listed a number of very simple emails — messages that consisted of little more than an image and contact details — which resulted in job offers from recipients. Coolife, a studio in Manhattan, picked up a cover for Bloomberg Businessweek with a quirky take on Yves Saint Laurent’s Opium perfume. Craig Mitchelldyer won a shoot from Barron’s with an emailed image of a chief executive.
And even failure to win a job directly can still win opportunities too. Gregory Costanzo implemented the second part of his email marketing plan when he followed up an mailshot by checking his email clicks. He identified which of his recipients had clicked through to his website but failed to contact him, and used Agency Access’s telemarketing service to make phone pitches to people who had already shown an interest. According to Sosa Stone, he won three meetings each of which led to potential jobs or bid requests.
But those stories may be exceptional. Even a 5 percent clickthrough rate is not the same as a 5 percent conversion rate and with 1,600 photographers appealing to the same group of buyers, photographers will need exceptional images and websites to stand out. They’ll need to choose their images and their targets carefully and follow up their pitches.
“Photography is a business,” explains Christine Andrews. “It’s having the ability to execute your client’s vision, but it’s also about forming and maintaining relationships with your clients. That is of course where personality AND marketing come into play. You wouldn’t want a client to go with another photographer because you sent one email and one mail card to keep in touch while your competitor sent emails quarterly and followed up with mail and/or a phone call.”
All of that, of course, costs money. AgencyAccess’s services start at $82 per month for access to a list and rise to $395 for complete campaigns with statistical analysis of results. You’ll also need to add on the costs of any follow-up calls, as well as the time involved in creating the marketing copy. In return for that investment though, you do get access to a giant database of leading photography buyers.
Alternatively, you could use your website to build up your own email list, make sure that your website can be found by search engines, and go straight for the most popular way that buyers find clients — ask satisfied customers to pass your name around.