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Book review – Marketing and promotion

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Book Review: The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion by Maria Piscopo

Keith Cooper reviews a guide to the business of being a photographer


Over the years Keith has written numerous articles about the business side of being a photographer – these are guided by several years previous experience in running businesses of different sizes, and also how he’s learned to adapt this to setting up and running his own commercial photography business.

Maria Piscopo has been a photographer’s representative for many years in the US and this is the fifth edition of the book, now updated with social media and web developments, along with many interview excerpts with working photographers discussing aspects of their business.

Book details
  • Title: The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion
  • Author: Maria Piscopo
  • Skyhorse Publishing | Imprint: Allworth Press
  • Pub: 17 January 2017 | Paperback
  • ISBN-139781621535478
  • Pages: 280 | 6 x 9in.

Buy the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK

The Photographer's Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion by Maria Piscopo

The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion

In my own photo business I’ve always valued all my previous business and management consultancy experience on a par with my photographic vision and technical skills. Indeed I’d say that a successful (i.e. profitable) commercial photography business needs all three working together to succeed.

The biggest area that working photographers seem to fall down on is an appreciation of marketing and sales (equating the two being a popular failing).

Part of the title of the book could in itself make some uneasy – SELF PROMOTION

In reality, if you’re not going to do it then who is? (actually Chapter 4 discusses aspects of getting someone else to do it for you)

Although written from a US perspective I found surprisingly little that couldn’t readily be equated with working in the UK – most of this comes in chapter 2 ‘Getting started in business’, where many aspects of US business regulation have no counterpart here in the UK. Personally I’d suggest looking at the Federation of Small Businesses http://www.fsb.org.uk or similar.

Chapter 1 dives in with the big questions you need to ask and answer. The distinction between work on the business and work on paying jobs can easily be unclear, along with time management concerns. All of this can easily make for quite a stressful work environment.

The other thing to consider is what your clients actually want (see ‘Are you of value to clients‘ for some of my own thoughts). I like the way that dealing with awkward clients is part of the ‘Ethics’ chapter (3), including a number of ways of telling people wanting free photography where to go… I know from experience that it takes quite a bit of willpower to say no (see an example of mine: “Turning down work“)

The book is organised into six sections, which take you through pretty much all of the various issues and considerations you should give thought to. I found it mildly irksome that these sections have no titles or description – they seem to be slightly arbitrary containers for chapters, but the book does flow quite well.

Section 2 (Chs 4-9) goes into marketing and being sure what your message is, and who it is addressed to. The differences between commercial and consumer clients is addressed, so there is just as much in this book for an architectural photographer like myself as there is for a wedding photographer.

Using the internet and all its whistles and bells is a key element of your marketing mix these days, so it’s covered in more than enough detail for it to become part of your marketing plans – I found some of the case study interviews fascinating in the way people described their different approaches and just as importantly, how things were changing.

The Social Media chapter (9) is perhaps a little light given how much you’ll read about how ‘vital’ your social media campaigns are. In fact I think it gives just the prominence it deserves in the totality of your photography business – too many photographers seem to position social media activity as their ‘marketing’ output, when it should actually be a considered part of your business message. Remember that half an hour a day on Twitter that gets you one new client in a year is not necessarily the best use of your marketing time budget. Used well it can be a real boon, used badly it just wastes your number one resource…

Section 3 (Chs 10-14) moves into the area that’s much less comfortable to many photographers – selling. There are sound reasons for having scripts when making sales calls – they can keep you on message and avoid deflection. My own problem with the concept of scripts comes from having suffered too many time wasting sales calls, where you can almost hear the paragraph breaks and punctuation in the script. However it doesn’t need to be this formalised – outline scripts let you move towards your desired outcome and sell your benefits.

Of course you need to know what it is you are selling and have clear proposals to make – once again planning and preparation is what counts – again, some thoughtful interview comments help put many of the concepts into perspective.

Advertising is covered in Section 4 Chs 15-17, where it’s usefully noted that direct mail and printed samples have not gone out of fashion just because of email newsletters. Advertising is a marketing tool that needs to fit with your whole marketing outlook.

The book is quite densely written for its 280 odd pages and has its pictures in blocks of pages, giving a superficial impression that it doesn’t have many images – not so … it has many good examples of marketing, promotional and advertising materials shown. Good quality images with clear levels of detail, showing nicely the quality of print and design of the originals.

In section 5 (Chs 18-21) we move to actual promotion of your work, whether by portfolios or promotional pieces of work. There are some important notes on just what to include in a portfolio and they should ‘target the level you want to work at, not what you are working at’. As a photographer who photographs some pretty dull looking buildings, I’m acutely aware of the fact that even the greatest shots of what is in effect a grey box on an industrial site will impress only a limited range of potential clients.

This section includes perhaps the one major area I disagree on. I’ll preface this by reminding you that the book is written for a US audience so YMMV as they say. Joining professional photography organisations is considered so obvious it’s a ‘necessity of business’ – well, in the UK I disagree, there is not one of the Professional Photographers’ Clubs I’d consider worthwhile for my business. I’m a member of several business organisations, which offer many of the business benefits (insurance, legal advice) and have other members who are potential clients too. If asked I don’t tell people -not- to join such photo groups, just be careful to find out what -real- benefits they offer for the money. Also, are they run for profit or for the benefit of members?

The book rounds off with one of the most important chapters (22/23) which is about writing your business marketing plan – you can read as many books like this one as you like, but if you don’t actually do something about it it will count for nothing.

Take time to follow the whole process – it’s how all this stuff fits together which will make the difference to your photo business.

Reading this book uncovered several areas of our own business needing improvement – now comes the tricky bit, doing something about it…

Book description from the publishers:

Veteran photographer’s rep Maria Piscopo turns theory into practical, easy-to-understand advice about building a marketing plan that incorporates self-promotion, advertising, direct marketing, public relations, and the Internet.
This fifth edition has been thoroughly revised to include the most up-to-date coverage of social media and website development, and includes thirty-seven interviews with top photographers.  Readers will learn how to:

  • Create a business plan
  • Identify a marketing message
  • Find reps and agents
  • Hire a marketing coordinator
  • Deal with ethical issues
  • Work with commercial and consumer clients
  • Plan a budget
  • Create an effective portfolio
  • Write press releases

About the author

Maria Piscopo has been a photographer’s representative for more than twenty-five years. She has consulted, lectured, and written extensively about the business of selling photography. She works with artists, designers, and photographers, speaks at industry conferences, conducts professional seminars and conference workshops, and teaches courses at various colleges, including the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Orange Coast College, and Laguna College of Art and Design. The author of The Graphic Designer’s and Illustrator’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion, she has had articles published in many industry magazines, such as HOW, Digital Output, Petersen’s PHOTOgraphic, Rangefinder, Step-By-Step, Shutterbug, and Communication Arts. She lives in Costa Mesa, California. [Web site]

Buying the book: Amazon US | Amazon UK  (e-book version available)

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