Expert Advice: Making the Most of Prospect Mailing Lists
Wednesday March 2nd, 2011
by Maria Luci
Most photographers will tell you they’d like to be busier. And even busy photographers would like to have bigger and better clients. But how do you make that happen? One good way is to create and follow an effective marketing plan. Your listing on Wonderful Machine is certainly a valuable part of that plan. By pooling the talents and resources of many photographers, we have the wherewithal to attract the attention of nearly every significant prospect around the world – making it easy for those clients to find you. But it’s just as important for you to research and target a hand-full of appropriate clients – and contact them. That combination of broad/passive marketing and narrow/active marketing will give you the best chance to get where you want to go. The fastest way to research client contact information is to license a mailing list. We like using Agency Access because they offer the most extensive list of prospects from around the world. Plus, they provide discounted pricing to Wonderful Machine photographers.
What’s a prospect mailing list? It’s a company that tracks down prospective clients and compiles and updates a directory of names, titles and addresses for thousands of buyers and creatives who are in a position to hire photographers. List services gather and organize this data much more reliably and cost effectively than any one photographer ever could. But that doesn’t mean you can simply send everyone on that list an email promotion every month, then wait for the assignments to pour in. In a world where anyone can send an email, everyone does. So it’s important that what you send out resonates with that specific recipient. Rather than sending out loads of emails indiscriminately, it’s much more effective to pick out a relatively small number of carefully chosen prospects and customize your promotions to appeal to them individually. Not only does this make sense for you, but it also makes sense for the industry at large. If every photographer is sending out mailers to every client, then it makes it that much harder for clients to pay attention to any photographer.
How do you narrow down that list of prospects? A list service is going show tens of thousands of clients that might appeal to lots of different photographers. It’s your job to pull out the ones that are likely to be good prospects for you. First, think about what you’re good at, what you like to do, and what clients are going to want to hire you for. Where those three areas overlap is where you’re going to find the most success. Take a realistic look at the work that you’re showing, then look for clients that use that type of work. A good list service will provide lots of different ways to sort clients. The main ways are by geographic region (city, state, country), type (ad agency, magazine, corporation), subject (automotive, business, fashion, lifestyle), brand, and by hiring frequency. Using these filters will allow you to narrow the field dramatically. Then it’s a matter of looking at companies one by one, seeing their websites and looking for hints about whether they’re likely to appreciate what you do.
How big should my list be? If you’re doing the research yourself, I recommend that you build your own personal prospect list one client at a time, making sure that each client you add to your list is a good match for you. Create a routine for yourself where you do some research, send out some promos, then follow up. Then repeat, building your list as you go. As your list expands, you may want to create a smaller “A” list that you can give more personal attention to, and a larger “B” list that you might just send mailers to without following up. If you’re working with a photo consultant to help you build a list, you’ll probably want them to build it to a certain size. For most photographers, 1000 prospects is broad enough to capture a range of possibilities and narrow enough to tackle in a reasonable amount of time. Ask for a “top 100″ list as well.
Emailers or print mailers? Individual art buyers will have different preferences of what they like to get from photographers. Some like emails so they can easily bookmark your website. Others like to keep files of print mailers so they can categorize photographers by specialty or location. Clients get fewer print mailers than emailers, so a print mailer will stand out more. But it’s easier for them to reply to an email or click through to a website from an email. And of course, if you’re just beginning to get serious about marketing, emails will allow you to cover a lot more ground more quickly and cheaply than printed mailers. You just have to experiment to see what suits your work and the types clients you’re interested in. Whatever you do, send something that will pique their interest and show very clearly the kind (and level) of work you do. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. One beautiful photo and a few choice words is all you need to make your point.
What should I write in the promo? The more you can personalize your correspondence, the more likely the client is going to pay attention to it. For starters, you have to address the recipient by name. But if you can go a step further by relating something about their company and the work they do back to you and your work, you’re much more likely to make a good impression. Can you point to any of their projects and explain how you might be a good fit for them? They’ll appreciate that you understand their concerns and you’re interested in helping them find solutions to their challenges. Naturally, all this takes time, so you have to choose your battles. The better the prospect is suited to you, the more time and money you can justify connecting with them.
What should I say when following up? Whenever possible, you’re objective when following up should be to get a meeting. Unless you have two heads, a client is much more likely to hire you if they’ve met you. (All things being equal, you will be much more memorable than all the photographers they haven’t met. And everyone wants to work with people who really want to work with them – which you will if you’re going to spend the time to see them.) The problem is that art buyers are inundated with photographers. Every client will have a different philosophy about talking to or seeing photographers. Some just want to deal with reps. Some want to hear directly from photographers. Some will have a portfolio “drop-off” policy. Others will be more willing to see you in person. And of course, any of these policies are subject to a sliding scale of who you are, how good your work is, who you know and how persuasive you are. Timing is critical too. If an art director really busy – forget about it. But if they happen to have a project coming up that fits your skills, you’re going to have a lot easier time getting your foot in the door.
If a client is too far away to meet with in person, you’re going to have to walk the fine line of showing an interest in them without pestering them. Your individual charm (assuming your work is appropriate) will determine how successful your emails and or phone calls will be at getting a conversation or correspondence going. In all cases, be respectful of people’s time and understand that you’re not the only one trying to reach them. And keep in mind that no matter how perfect you are for a particular client, there are many factors beyond your control which will affect who that client hires. In fact, the odds of connecting on any given occasion are quite slim for the vast majority of us. But with a little finesse, and by learning from your experiences, the process will work enough to be worthwhile. (As one practical matter, don’t put people on the spot by asking if they remember your mailer. It’s not reasonable to expect them to remember it even if they just saw it that morning. And it makes an awkward start to a conversation.)
What should I keep track of? Many mailing list services have an interface that allows you to keep notes on your interaction with clients. It’s good to keep a record of your promotions so you don’t send the same person the same mailer twice. And it’s good to keep track of conversations, meetings or other client-specific information that might come in handy the next time you talk with them.
Once my list grows, how do I send out lots of emails at once? Many prospect list services provide integrated email broadcasting services as well. That will allow you to track open and click rates so you can monitor the effectiveness of your campaigns and so you can make targeted follow-up calls.