How To Effectively Pitch to Photography Clients

There is a certain art form to a successful pitch.  But it can be broken down into three basic steps.

Disclaimer: Before you read this article be warned that I am going to give you some powerful tips that could be turned to the dark side.  If you think that you might be tempted to dabble in the Dark Arts, remember:

“With great power comes great responsibility”.
Stan Lee via Uncle Ben

Responsible SpidermanImage Credit: Ztephenx on Deviantart – Creative Commons

In a previous article, we explored how to identify and target profitable photography clients.

Then, we laid the groundwork for an effective internet marketing strategy for photographers along with three key internet marketing tips for your photography business.

Now that we have some specific photography clients in mind and the foundation for an effective internet marketing strategy in place – the next step is the pitch.

The Pitch – Step 1 – Get Past the Gatekeeper

The gatekeeper is someone or something that blocks you from having direct communication with your target client, such as an administrative assistant (previously known as a secretary), or a managed email screening system.

Grumpy Secretary

(In case you were wondering – this is what you get if you search for a stock photo of a “grumpy secretary”.  There are a lot more very happy, very attractive secretaries to choose from.)

When you talk to the gatekeeper, I suggest this script:

“I am Vinz, Vinz Clortho, Keymaster of Gozer…Volguus Zildrohoar, Lord of the Seboullia.  Are you the Gatekeeper?”

Don’t think that will work?  Well, here are a couple other approaches that have about the same chance of success:

“Contact Us” Email Inbox of Oblivion

Never send email to a general “contact us” mailbox.  Unless you are contacting a very small company, the chances that someone will actually read an email sent to “[email protected]”, let alone care enough to forward it on to the appropriate person are slim to none.

How May I Direct Your Call?

Similarly, never call a general office phone number – or even worse a toll free number – and ask for “the person in charge of hiring photographers”.

Strategies to Bypass The Gatekeeper

Start by finding out the exact name, position, department, office location etc. of the person you want to contact (see the section on Who Actually Hires Photographers? here).

You can bypass the gatekeeper all together by finding out the direct personal email and/or phone number of the person you want to contact.

This is a lot harder than you might think – this kind of information does not typically come up on an everyday Google search.  A lot of the decision makers, managers or executive type people that you will want to talk to don’t readily advertise their personal email address or direct line phone number, precisely because they don’t want to talk to people like you all day long.

The Educated Guess Email Address

To start, try to figure out what nomenclature structure an organization uses for their email.

For example, many companies use a first initial and then the last name for everyone – such as [email protected] and [email protected]

Based on a defined email structure, and the person’s name, you can often guess their personal email – and if you don’t get it right the first time, try a few different combinations.

Twitter Stalking

Another technique to bypass the gatekeeper is Twitter stalking.  We’re starting to get into slightly creepy territory here – remember to keep this strictly business.

If you can find out the name of specific people that you want to get in touch with, you can probably find them on social media.  I don’t mean a company account, I mean their personal social media accounts.

With a little bit of effort, you can get to know your target and over time build up a bit of a rapport with them.

Then, when the time is right to contact them, they are already familiar with who you are and what you do.

The Dark Arts

I am going to give you a huge tip for finding someone’s personal email and phone number, but you have to promise to use it only for good and not evil.  This is a tip so powerful, with such potential for misuse, I contemplated leaving it out.

There is a website called Jigsaw.  With Jigsaw you can find out the name, position and direct contact info for almost anyone that works for any substantial corporation.  The information is not always 100% accurate, but once you have someone’s name and position, you can default to guessing their email address and Twitter stalking.

There you go – please use responsibly.

The Pitch – Step 2 – Give Your Mark A Reason To Talk To You

Another thing that I learned from our friendly neighborhood internet business guru Ramit Sethi, is that the people you are sending your pitch to don’t care about you.  They don’t care about what you do and they definantly don’t have the time or the will to do anything for you just because you send them an unsolicoted email.

You can’t just send them an email with a link and ask them to take a look at your portfolio.

To get your foot in the door, you have to do something for them.

Never, ever ask your target client to do something for you in your initial contact.  If they ask you to do something, cool – but the goal for your initial contact is just to introduce yourself and what you do.

Be genuine – be yourself, but be confident.  Do your homework so that you know what you’re talking about.

Now days we’re all used to so many smarmy sales calls and spam email, if your initial contact has even a hint of a sales job – forget about it.

On the other hand, if you come across as an honest real person, with a genuine, informed interest in your potential client’s business, you’ll get a response.

And don’t forget that a little flattery never hurt anyone.

The Pitch – Step 3 – Follow Up

If all goes well, you’re now on a first name basis with the person in charge of hiring photographers for the types of gigs that you want.  You have their personal phone number, email address and a solid understanding of what they do and what they want.  Hopefully you have also gotten a positive response to your work, but really, it’s your personality that is more important at this stage.

Now is the time to gently hint about doing work for them.  Send them examples of recent shoots that might be of interest to them (in low resolution – nobody wants a 30 megapixel RAW file clogging up their inbox).

Be casual, be light, no strings, just a friendly hello:

“Hey Mark, I just wrapped up this shoot with Sexy Yoga Wear Inc., I thought you might be interested in seeing a few of our production shots.  They are attached below.”

Which can be followed up by:

“Hey Mark, I have a few openings in my calendar next month.  I’m wondering if you might have a campaign coming up soon that we could collaborate on?”

Speaking of Sexy Yoga Wear Inc., be mindful of your target’s age, gender, cultural sensitivities etc.

Beach Volleyball JP Danko blurMEDIA Toronto Commercial Photographer

Middle Age Woman Running JP Danko blurMEDIA Toronto Commercial Photographer

For example, I have used both of these photos to pitch agencies that specialize in trendy athletic wear – but although very similar in a lot of ways, each photo would obviously be quite a bit more appealing to very different demographics.

Good Luck With Your Photography Pitches

The three step photography pitch strategy above should give you a good start to successfully approach new photography clients.

But, by far the most important strategy is to just be you.

Of course, at some point you will have to deliver, but initially your personality and the relationships that you are building are much more important than your photography.

And if you crash and burn (which you will), try again until you succeed.

Rock Climbing Sport Photography JP Danko blurMEDIA Toronto Commercial Photographer

This photo is from a recent gig that I cold pitched to Gripped Magazine for an article on how to use a GoPro.  I had previously failed several times with the same pitch to other similar magazines before Gripped picked it up.

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