By Heather Elder
Image by Ron Berg
Last year, I wrote a very short blog post for The Workbook about a phone call I received from a photographer. In light of a flurry of recent calls, I thought it was a good time to resurrect the post and expand on it.
We receive calls and emails from emerging photographers looking for representation all the time. I am always amazed at how many of them start off the conversation, “ Hi, my name is Joe Smith and I am looking for a rep. Are you adding talent to your roster?” If we are not adding talent at the time of the call, I immediately say no. It is an easy conversation and over quickly.
I always think it is unfortunate that he didn’t say something like, “Hi. I am Joe. I am looking for someone I can share my work with. I thought of you because I like the photographers you represent. Do you ever review photographer’s work that you don’t represent?” Indeed my answer would have varied based on how busy I was. But, at the very least I would have suggested to him to send his website. Who knows, I may have liked it and started to look out for his name and his work.
If you want to get our attention, we are sorry to say, it is long before the phone call. Here are a few tips on how to reach out to a rep and get noticed.
First and foremost, before an agent can seriously consider you for their roster, there is one criteria that is a given. Without it, a commercial photography agency will not be able to partner with you to increase your business.
The criteria is this: Your work must be marketable.
This is the most important step to getting through the door. We are commercial photography agents that show your work to top creative agencies, photo editors and designers. It is important that your work be creatively relevant. The majority of the time nude photos of your girlfriend are not commercially relevant. An image that a client can easily recognize their product or brand in is an image that will get our attention.
Now, assuming that your work is commercially relevant, the following tips (in no particular order) will help you to begin a relationship with a rep and ultimately partner with one.
#1) You need to be your own rep first.
There are 3 reasons that this is important:
The first is so that you understand what is required of a rep. You need to know how hard it is to get an appointment or to get someone to check out your website. And, you need to struggle a bit with the awkwardness of sales so that you can appreciate the effort required to build strong relationships.
The second reason is so that you hear first hand what people think about your work. You need to recognize that if you ask 10 people about your work you will get 12 different answers. Having these conversations on your own will help you to define what the common thread of your work is, see what isn’t working and ultimately develop a brand identity for your business.
The third reason is that it is no longer ok to think once you have a rep, you can cross marketing off of your to do list. Nowadays we require all of our photographers – no matter how successful they are – to get out there themselves to share what they have been up to lately. No rep can replace the power of the photographer connection.
#2) You need to be able to support yourself
We appreciate the photographer that comes to our group already working. This not only shows that clients trust them but it gives us some breathing room. It takes a long time to get a new photographer up and running. We like to set expectations and say that from the date your images are first up on our website, it takes a full year to get your work around the country. A photographer that already has some clients will be more patient with this process.
It is important to note that this source of work does not need to be commercial projects. We have represented photographers that have connections in the retail, editorial, stock, retouching and fine art worlds that have kept them going while their commercial careers got started.
#3) You need to have money to spend.
Any good rep will require you to market your work. Marketing your work will cost money. Source books, websites, portfolio renovations, direct mail and emailers all cost money. If you cannot afford to market yourself on a high end level than it may still be time to market yourself.
#4) You need to do your homework
Please do not send us a basic email asking us to represent you. The web makes it very easy now to get to know an agent, see how they market, learn the type of work that appeals to them. When you contact us, please show us that you did your homework and explain why we should look at your work and why you would be a good fit for us. We cant expect someone to hire one of our photographers just because I sent them an email blast. That would be nice but it rarely happens. We need to do the necessary leg work for them to get to know our photographers first.
#5) You need to be patient.
It will take time to find a rep that is the right fit for you. Timing is everything so spend your time wisely. Know that any time invested in getting to know a rep and having a rep get to know you will pay off in dividends later. Maybe they will represent you, maybe they will refer you to another rep. Regardless of the outcome, if you are able to connect with a rep my guess is there will be advice, friendship and partnership that will help you all along the way.
It is rare when we make changes in our group but when we do, the first people we consider are the ones we have had a relationship with over the years.
#6) Be creative
We still have promos from photographers that we thought were well done and stood out amongst the others. While we are not representing them, we have referred them for a job or two. When a solicitation stands out to us, we feel compelled to connect. We try our hardest to respond to those promos that are well thought out, relevant and creative. If someone spent the time to get to know us and target us specifically, we want to make sure they know they were heard.
#7) Be a good person
This really should be #1 or even up there with the Marketing Relevancy criteria. And, it really should go without saying. Be nice, be respectful and be a good person. And, we hope you would expect the same from us.
#8) You need to tailor your marketing to reps
We are neither art buyers nor an art directors. We are neither clients nor photo editors. We are a agents. For us it is not about just about the image or even the story behind the image. For us, it is all about the above points. If you are going to reach out to us, please take into account all that we will take into account when considering you and your work. Address all of our questions up front and sell us on why we should consider you. Recognize that we may have a need in our group and offer a way to fill it.
We recently received a promo from a photographer that included a bullet point note that outlined everything he was doing for his marketing, who his current clients were and which clients he would like to work for some day. This letter showed us that he had a handle on how we worked. His work conflicted with another one of our photographers and we are not currently looking BUT we still reached out and let him know we were impressed. We now know his name and will keep an eye open for his work. You just never know.
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