Hello! Welcome to this month’s Portfolio Event Diary, where our heroes Craig Oppenheimer and Wesley Kays-Henry (that’s me!) travel to the Motor City of Detroit to share photography portfolios. We had a lot of ground to cover, with six meetings scheduled in two days. Although we didn’t make it to Canada (spoiler alert!), we had a blast seeing the current and former beauty that is Detroit. It’s a city that doesn’t have the option of sugar coating the truth, and I find serenity in that.
Craig and I rolled into Detroit with about 30 portfolios late on a Tuesday night. Although our hotel was in the heart of city, there wasn’t a soul in sight. Empty streets and steaming sewer grates gave off the surreal feeling of a zombie apocalypse, or a dream sequence—Vanilla Sky anyone? Shrugging the eerie aside, we hit the hay, knowing we had two very long days ahead.
The next morning we arose to a bustling city filled with amazing art deco, neo-gothic and neoclassical architecture. Even the suburbs are old and beautiful. I surveyed the scenery while Craig drove us to AutoWeek, a Crain Communications publication. AutoWeek’s offices feature a lovely atrium-lobby. After some amazing glamor shots in front of yours truly, we headed in to meet with the creative director.
It was no surprise that their CD wanted to check out automotive work. Most of our local guys had shot for, or were at least on the radar of AutoWeek—including Jeremy Deputat and Roy Ritchie. But, surprisingly, the CD asked to see some fashion work as well. We weren’t expecting this, but luckily had George Kamper‘s portfolio on hand. Together the CD and photo editor looked through his book and kept talking about models leaning on cars, or replacing the models with cars entirely, but keeping the high gloss/fashion feel to the images. They said that they tend to shoot about two assignments per issue, and enjoy shooting outside of the city whenever possible. After our brief meeting, we packed up for our next review at SMZ in Troy, MI.
SMZ is a medium-sized agency with clients all over Detroit. These include The Lottery, The Tigers, and The Michigan Dental Association. We discussed how the automotive photography world works, stock backgrounds, CGI cars, and more. They also have a lot of lifestyle clients, so we tried to switch it up from the typical Detroit automotive pitch. Stacy Zarin-Goldberg‘s work was a definite favorite—particularly her photos featuring pets.
Next, we headed further out of Detroit to a town called Clarkston, home of Union Adworks, an agency with Chrysler, Kellogg’s Brand and Scott Shuptrine Interiors as clients. Union is located in a suburban neighborhood, which backs up to a small lake. The old building they occupy was originally a schoolhouse that Henry Ford bought in 1913 to sew Jeep interiors.
Inside, we set up in the hearth of the business. Their Creative Director looked at all the books (quite a feat I assure you!), and chatted with us about their recent move into the building, their clients, and again, using backgrounds for CGI with automotive ads. The manufacturers do so many redesigns, they would rather have the option of switching it out last minute than holding off the ad. As creatives wandered in and out, they checked out the work of Tim Klein, Janko Williams and more.
Eventually, we packed up and headed to meet with some of our photographers at Bookie’s Bar for happy hour. We talked with Joe Vaughn and Roy Ritchie, along with their wives and CJ Benninger about the spirit of Detroit photography, and checked out CJ’s new book (totally awesome, by the way.)
Detroit photographer happy hour. From right: Roy Ritchie, Craig, Joe Vaughn, C.J. Benninger, Amber Ritchie and Cari Vaughn
On a grey and drizzly morning last week, Kayleen and I hit the road for another thrilling day of New York meetings. After a long car ride through steady rain, we finally made it to HGTV Magazine. We were fortunate to meet with Photo Director Barbara Ovrutsky, who doesn’t normally take portfolio meetings. She made an exception though, and was able to squeeze us in. Barbara was a lot of fun to chat with, and already somewhat familiar with our site. She hadn’t used the newer search function, but I walked her through the interface and she was happy with how quickly she could find shooters in smaller markets. Barbara was especially impressed with Jon Roemer, Alise O’Brien, Ashley Giesking, and Stacy Zarin Goldberg, whose promo she absolutely adored.
After HGTV, we headed downtown to the beautiful offices of Baron & Baron, a fashion branding and design firm, where we met with two art producers and shared the work of 10 fashion/beauty shooters. They especially enjoyed the stylish work of Joshua Pestka, Pamela Lopez Grant and Martin Bauendahl. They also shared insight into how they hire photographers; while most of their still life is shot in New York or Paris, they shoot fashion all over the world for clients like Calvin Klein, Burberry and Tod’s. They also let us know that their creative director, Fabien Baron, is the editorial director at Interview Magazine. So working with Interview is a great way to get your foot in the door with Baron & Baron!
Once the meeting came to a close, we grabbed some delicious tea from Bosie tea parlor, before hoofing it a few soggy blocks down the street to our final meeting at the marketing communications agency, Havas Worldwide (formerly known as Euro RSCG Worldwide).
Space was a bit tight at Havas, since they’re in the process of moving offices, but we had a great meeting with art buyer Julie Rosenoff. She was familiar with Wonderful Machine, but mostly thought of us as a place to find editorial photographers, particularly reportage shooters. We came prepared with a selection of impressive books and I think she came away with a better understanding of the variety and quality that our members have to offer. She recognized and loved Dana Neibert‘s portfolio, and was also taken with the work of Claire Benoist, Saverio Truglia and Scott Witter. We spoke for a while about international productions, and their growing demand for photographers in Uruguay and Chile (they apparently have several clients there). She also brought up the consistent need for “over the shoulder” still shooters for video productions. Kayleen and I let her know about the stock services Wonderful Machine offers clients, and we received our first request from Havas before the end of the week!
The last stop of the day was at Adorama, for a panel discussion moderated by our pal Louisa Curtis. My fellow panelists included Julie Grahame, assistant director at Clampart and editor of the popular blog aCurator, Manuela Oprea, photo editor of Bloomberg Markets, Megan Re, director of photography at Food Network, Patricia Cortese, director of creative operations at Rosetta, and Meggan Reinhardt, deputy photo editor at WWE. Not a bad crew! I enjoyed meeting this broad range of art buyers and editors and hearing how they work with photographers. I thought one of the best lines of the night came from Patricia, encouraging photographers to be more careful with proofreading and design of their materials: “If you don’t care about your brand, why should anyone else?” The most fiery speech came from Julie, waving around a mailer that so offended her, she had been carrying it around for three months, showing it to everyone as an example of what NOT to do. Several panelists mentioned the importance of sustaining relationships after you’ve gotten your first assignment, through continued marketing and social media. They pointed out that editors and art buyers tend to move around, and if they remember you as a great person to work with, you might just get to come with them!
Sean shares his two cents.
Afterwards, we had the chance to say a quick hello to WMers Giovanni Savino and Brook Pifer before hitting the road and heading back to Philadelphia—another successful New York adventure behind us.
The start of the year always brings about changes and new beginnings. Here at Wonderful Machine, the New Year means lots of requests from photographers wanting to work on their portfolios, website edits and marketing materials. I also see a big spike in photographers traveling and showing their work to prospective clients. One of the most popular marketing consulting services we offer is setting up portfolio meetings for photographers with art buyers, photo editors, art directors and designers. On average, I work with 2-5 photographers a month scheduling meetings in various cities. New York is certainly one of the most popular cities to visit, and since we’re there frequently for our own portfolio meetings, we’ve made tons of connections. So, when Nashville photographer Robby Klein contacted me about a round of meetings in the Big Apple, I was happy to help!
Robby’s no stranger to our consulting services. He’s worked with us on various projects ranging from marketing to estimating. Robby knew the meeting drill and sent me his list of priority clients, including lots of entertainment and music companies. We ask photographers to send us a priority list of so that we can get a better understanding of what types of clients they’d like to meet with. We then add additional prospects that we feel are appropriate and comparable to that group. Typically, we reach out to 40-50 prospects per round, which takes about six hours. The number of meetings we’re able to secure depends on client availability, so we’re not able to guarantee meetings, but it’s very rare that we’re not able to set up at least one. On average, we set up three meetings per six-hour session, but have scheduled up to eight in one go.
After I had Robby’s prospect list built, I began contacting creatives via phone and email. I find that an email is a good way to start a dialogue. I’ve also heard creatives say that they prefer to look at work online before they agree to a face-to-face meeting; so I’ll be sure to include a link to the photographer’s website. As a general rule of thumb, I avoid sending emails/making phone calls on Mondays. I tend to get better responses mid-week. In Robby’s case, timing was a tricky because he was coming to New York the week after New Year’s. I’d normally reach out to creatives the week before a photographer’s in town—giving them enough notice to book a meeting, but not enough time to forget—but the holiday interfered. So for this round of meetings, I waited until much later in the week, after the holiday, to start reaching out.
Here’s an example of an email I used:
I sent out my emails over a couple days, and as creatives started trickling back into their offices, I was able to get a hold of people on the phone. After some crafty scheduling, I booked 3 meetings for Robby from his priority list.
Through the many emails and phone calls I made, I received a lot of typical responses like “too busy to meet,” “I’ll keep his work on file,” and “let me know next time he’s in town.” It’s important to mark these notes down for the photographer so they know who actually responded and who to try to connect with next time around. To keep everything straight, I made an Excel spreadsheet for Robby with everyone I contacted, and notes about each one that responded. When the project was completed, I gave him a spreadsheet to keep for his records that listed who I contacted and the result.
Here’s a portion of the spreadsheet I sent to Robby:
Robby was pleased with the meetings booked and said that they went well!
After four meetings that took us from Raleigh to Greensboro, Kayleen and I ended our second day in North Carolina at Lewbowski’s Grill in Charlotte. There, we met with some of our Charlotte crew—Dhanraj Emanuel, Peter Taylor, James Quantz Jr, Liz Nemeth and Tibor Nemeth—and threw back a couple of cold ones. Unfortunately, I couldn’t convince anyone to try Lewbowski’s specialty drink, the white Russian—but we had a blast anyway, chatting about photography, studios, stuffed foxes and just about everything in between. Eventually, Kayleen and I, tired from a day full of meetings, had to bid farewell and go get a good night’s sleep.
Charlotte happy hour.
Our last day in North Carolina began early. Refreshed and ready for another busy day, we made our way into Luquire George Andrews (LGA), an advertising agency whose clients include North Carolina Tourism, Carolina Panthers, and American Tire Distributors. We took some photos with their ginormous Christmas tree before heading into the meeting. Bearing gifts of danishes and coffee, we laid out around 15 portfolios and called the LGAers in. Several creatives were mesmerized by Cade Martin‘s ethereal photos while others praised James Quantz Jr.’s composite work. Our retoucher Janko Williams was once again a hit while anyone with dog photos was an instant favorite.
“You can never go wrong with cute kids or puppies on a promo,” one creative told us as we packed up our things. I made a mental note of this and said goodbye. For the first time on our trip, we found ourselves with free time before our next meeting. So we drove into Charlotte and gave ourselves a mini tour, eventually parking at Hearst Tower to grab some coffee and check our email. Hearst boasted an even bigger tree than LGA’s, so we continued our photo project before heading to our next meeting at BooneOakley.
Outside of BooneOakley
You may recall BooneOakley from AMC’s The Pitch, or seen them listed as Ad Age‘s 2009 Small Agency of the Year. This small shop boasts big clients like Bojangle’s, Ruby Tuesday, Carmax, and more. Of course, another Christmas tree awaited in their office, this one of the silver variety. After snapping a photo, we laid out the books and coffee cake and waited for the BO creatives. Soon a friendly and chatty group arrived and began paging through books. Leah Perry‘s beauty/fashion work was well received as was Cheyne Gallarde‘s vintage style. The meeting was fun, with lots of laughs. We also had a lively discussion on using animals in photo shoots, including one with a skittish serval.
After finishing up the BO review, we left for our last meeting: WrayWard. WrayWard is a creative marketing and advertising agency with a spacious office just outside downtown Charlotte. We finished our Christmas tree series in their lobby before spreading out books in an airy, window-lit conference room.
The WrayWard creatives told us they were most interested in home/garden work at the moment, and Cheryl Zibkisky‘s interiors stole the show. However, other favorites included Robb Scharetg and Calvin Lockwood for their portrait and food work respectively. The group was also pleased to hear about our stock and production services.
Once the meeting came to a close, Kayleen and I packed up our bags for the last time and headed to the airport. There, we happily handed over our giant cases of books to be checked. Relieved of that heavy burden and with plenty of time before our flight, we sat down for a couple well-deserved margaritas and toasted to North Carolina!
Thanks for being so inviting, North Carolinians!
Our Christmas tree project! From top left to bottom right: LGA, WrayWard, BooneOakley and Hearst Tower
One-on-one portfolio reviews should be an essential part of any photographer’s marketing plan. It’s a great opportunity to get your work literally under the noses of decision makers at ad agencies, magazines and design firms. We’ve found that creatives are more likely to work with photographers they know, and meetings are a great way to solidify those relationships. It’s your opportunity to present your brand, your work and yourself. However, many photographers find the idea of setting up meetings to be somewhat daunting, so I’ve put together a step-by-step guide to securing and preparing for your own portfolio reviews:
Consider whether an iPad portfolio is appropriate for you. Print portfolios still get more attention from clients at our portfolio events than iPads do. But tablets are essential if you shoot motion and they’re also a nice supplement to show recent projects and to go into greater depth on a particular subject.
Have an appropriate leave-behind ready to go. A simple postcard can work. However, you’ll score extra points for something unique like a small booklet or even your own app (like Tony Burns’ Shooting The World). Whenever possible your leave-behind should be memorable, inventive and reflective of your brand.
Make sure your website is up to date and working properly. Nobody is going to make an appointment with you without first checking out your site. Make sure it’s solid (see Paul’s Expert Advice: Website Dos and Don’ts.)
Whether you’re traveling across the country or just across town, you’ll need to do some research to make sure you’re barking up the right trees. Check out each client’s website to make sure that your photography matches up with their needs, so you don’t waste your time or theirs. Start close to home and then branch out from there. You will only be able to meet with a relatively small number of prospects over the course of your career, so you have to make each appointment count.
Put together a list of 40-50 clients that you can tackle. List services are a great place to start finding appropriate clients and building prospect lists. When we’re setting up meetings for a photographer, we’ll first search for prospects in our internal database. Then we’ll visit Agency Access for additional names. As useful as list services are, nothing is more valuable than personal networking. When you find one client who really responds to your work, ask them if they know any others who might be a good match for you.
After you have your list of prospects complied, start reaching out. We’ve found that contacting people roughly a week before you’d like to meet is a good rule of thumb. Do it too far in advance and you risk having them forget about the meeting or cancel on you. Too little notice may find them already booked up. Start with a casual email that includes:
The prospect’s name.
A little about how your skills and interests might match up with their needs.
A link to your site.
The dates and times you’re available.
Don’t attach images to your email. I find that this increases the chance of your email getting stuck in spam filters.
Give the impression that you’re going to be in town for other meetings (even if you haven’t set up any others yet). You don’t want anyone to feel pressure that you’re making a special trip for them.
Don’t ask for too much time. “A few minutes” is what you should ask for. If get more than that, great. Here’s a basic template:
After a day or two, if you don’t get a reply, follow up with a phone call. Yes, this can be scary, but it’s good to be proactive. Don’t create an awkward moment by saying, “I was just calling to follow up on an email I sent you…” They will probably not remember your email among the other 100 they got that day. Simply reiterate that you’re going to be in town next week and you were wondering if they might have a few minutes to take a look at your book. Keep it friendly, short and to the point.
Sometimes it’s helpful to write out a script and practice it so you’re comfortable with what you’re going to say. You might have to practice it a few hundred times so you don’t sound like a robot. But creating a really succinct message that you can deliver in a relaxed way, will give you the best chance of success. Creating an alternate script for voice mails is a good idea, too.
Be assertive, but don’t be a pest. If you send someone an email and you leave a message and they still don’t respond, you should take that to mean that they don’t want to meet with you at this time. There are plenty of fish in the sea. Don’t get hung up on any one client. Just move on to the next one.
Once you start booking meetings, make sure you give yourself enough time for each meeting and time to get to the next one. If you’re going to New York, try to book as many meetings as possible within walking distance so you can maximize your time. If you have to drive from one meeting to the next, account for the time it takes to get your car out of the parking garage and then find parking at the next place. Give yourself enough time for meetings to run long. It’s not unusually for a meeting with one person to turn into a meeting with two or three people.
Build an itinerary for yourself including time of meetings, contact’s name, phone number, email address, physical address. Plan ahead how you’ll be getting around. (By the way, TripIt is a great (free) app for keeping track of meetings.)
Now that you’ve booked your meetings, it wouldn’t hurt to do a little additional research on those clients. Check out their blog and social media sites in addition to their website. You’ll want to demonstrate that you know their business and you’ll want to have enough to talk about. If you’re meeting with an agency because you think you’d be a great fit for their client, make sure they still have that client.
Once you’ve arrived at your meeting, it’s time to turn on the charm! Be relaxed but energetic. Start with a little small talk. Then walk them through your portfolio, explaining your creative process and telling interesting stories about your experiences. Listen. Speak. Listen. Speak.
Don’t ask clients to critique your photography or your presentation. That’s not their job and it will make you seem like an amateur. Just guide them through your work, then express an interest in their projects. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing, but no hard sell.
Don’t expect to get an assignment on the spot. The purpose of these meetings is for creatives to get to know you and to hopefully build a comfort level so that they will ask you for a bid when an appropriate project comes up.
After your meeting, it doesn’t hurt to send a hand-written thank-you note. If you have any “swag” (t-shirts, mugs, notebooks, etc.) or other promo pieces, that would be a good time to send something! From there, an occasional email or print promo update is appropriate (every few months).
If you need a hand building a client list or setting up meetings, please call us. Or you can visit our consulting page to learn more.