This series provides answers to questions that every photographer has about marketing themselves and their work to ad agencies. Each part in the series is an interview with a different art buyer or art producer about how they find photographers and what works and what doesn’t when it comes to marketing and self-promotion. Their answers are completely candid and oftentimes surprising.
If you read the whole series you’ll find tons of useful nuggets plus some interesting differences in opinion on what many (myself included) may have assumed to have been clear cut issues. Read part one here and part two here.
Part three of this series is my conversation with Wini Alcorn, an art producer who’s worked at McCann Erickson for ten years . Our interview took place in her New York office back in April. Since the interview she’s changed positions within McCann Erickson and will be working in their broadcast department.
Seckler: What’s your typical process like for finding a photographer?
Alcorn: Typically I just get on my computer and start going through my bookmarks. Hopefully when I see a layout a photographer comes to mind. And then if none of those people fit what I’m looking for, then I really just go through my bookmarked websites. I definitely start off on the Internet and I also use my coworkers as a resource. Especially if I’m not coming up with anything that fits. If my own website searching and [coworkers] doesn’t really come to anything, then I usually will look at At-Edge. I also look at Le Book [and] Wookbook.com.
Seckler: Are Le Book, Workbook and At-Edge the three sourcebooks you go to?
Alcorn: For photography those pretty much are the ones I go to. Sometimes I’ll look at Altpick and I know I’ve also done the APA [website] recently.
Sometimes it’s easy if you’re shooting in New York or L.A., but if you need to shoot in Ohio or in Kansas, [the websitses] have a nice feature where you can type in locale. I also did do a search recently for aerial photographers, which I know nothing about, and typed in ‘aerial photography’ and it gave me a whole list of photographers.
Seckler: So, it’s good for the specialized and non-primary market based searches.
Seckler: When you are using sourcebooks do you tend to look at the print editions or do you look at them online?
Alcorn: Now I look online. If I have the print edition, I don’t even know. You see, I have a bookcase there, full of books and rarely do I get up and go look at them (Laughs).
Because online I feel like it’s more current. I think if there’s a change in an artist’s rep, it’s going to be online. [When] you’re looking in a [printed] sourcebook it’s already outdated.
Seckler: What about photographers who do one or two page ads in Archive or Communication Arts…does that have an impact on you?
Alcorn: I don’t look through those books as much. It’s not my thought to look there when I’m looking for photographers. If I’m looking at those books it’s because someone was like, ‘you should read this article about this photographer’ or ‘look at this cool ad.’ And then I get the book and I look at it but it’s not something that I think of as a resource. They don’t have to buy a $10,000 page in a sourcebook. They can just send me an e-mail and I’ll probably see it and then I’ll bookmark it.
Seckler: Are you open to working with emerging talent?
Alcorn: We want to work with the best photographer out there. But I do think there’s always some nerves in terms of production. Because I do think when you work with someone more established, you know that they’ve had the experience working with the big agency, they’ve had the experience working with the client, or they have a team who knows how to handle all the drama that comes with the big agency and the big client. So I think there’s some security [in using established photographers] but I would say, certainly if it’s the right photographer for the job, it would just be one of those conversations like ‘this may be your first or second big job, but we think you’re right.’
But there’s always the clients ‘oh, can we work with Annie Leibovitz?’ So they have these big names in their head, and it’s like, ‘there’s more photographers than that and she’s not even the right photographer for your project!’ I think sometimes clients fall in love with the idea of working with a famous photographer. But I think in this day and age, budgets are so tight, there’s more of a chance for the younger photographers because the bigger photographers may not be willing to bring their fees down.
Seckler: Has print work started to pick up a little bit recently?
Alcorn: I think it’s definitely busier here. Last year was not a great year. Everyone was very nervous. Seeing the closing of a lot of those magazines was scary. I think it’s picking back up. But I think it’s kind of this unknown. Where is this going? Where is media going? I think everyday I see more photographers sending an e-mail [with a link to] their website and they have video! I think really it’s all about digital and interactive. I think it’s all about knowing how to bring it all together. It seems to me like everyone is talking about behind-the-scenes video for the Internet. So we need to shoot the print, but we need to shoot some video, and wouldn’t it be great if the photographer knew how to do both.
Seckler: Have you or your colleagues hired photographers to do both stills and the motion?
Alcorn: I don’t know if we have here. I do know that I recently did something where there was a director that was hired. And there was discussion about having the director shoot the video, and then pulling the stills from the video. And then the more we talked about it, the more we felt that, perhaps we should also shoot some stills. The more we talked about it, we said maybe it would be better to shoot from a still camera. And the director actually shot the stills with the still camera.
Seckler: Right. So it happened, but instead of hiring a still photographer you hired a director…
Alcorn: A director, and he did both. I don’t know if we’ve hired a photographer yet and actually asked him to do video. Certainly I meet a lot of photographers who come in, and they show that. When they’re showing me their portfolio, they say ‘I shot this after we wrapped the shoot, I decided to do this for myself and the client really liked it, and they went and threw it up on their website.’ So I think that’s smart. I think that that’s the next thing, if you can learn to do it. It’s also kind of learning what’s good and what’s not good. For me it’s also a new aesthetic. I think it’s just a new language for all of us print people to look at.
Seckler: Circling back to the topic of promotion…does winning the major awards have an impact on if you’re considering a photographer for a job?
Alcorn: I would say no. If anything I like the PDN 30. Of the magazines that’s one I look at. And I use that magazine when I’m trying to read about new technology and photographers and what the trends are, and I think that’s a good source.
Seckler: What about the annual competitions like Communication Arts Photo Annual or the Lucie Awards?
Alcorn: I think, if anything, because they’ll do promotions for who won I’ll see it. It’s good in that sense, that if you’ve won, I’ll probably get an e-mail, and your name will be on it, and there’ll be a photo. And then I might go look at it, whereas before I might not have been drawn to you. But in terms of if I’m hiring for a job it’s still more about does it fit the concept? Is it in my budget? Does the art director feel like this photographer’s going to bring the right sensibility to the ad? Yeah, I don’t think the award trumps any of that. More, it might just be a way for them to get in front of me.
Seckler: Now, you mentioned using bookmarks a lot, about how many photographer bookmarks do you have?
Alcorn: I used to try to alphabetize them so here, let’s start at “A” and just keep going… (scrolling down for several seconds).
Seckler: That’s a lot (Laughs).
Alcorn: That’s a lot.
Seckler: How many photographers do you recommend to an art director once they’ve given you a layout?
Alcorn: I’ll look through my bookmarks for a couple hours. I usually try to narrow it down ten. And if that’s too much, five. Because I think art directors — it gets overwhelming.
Seckler: Do you like to see a very specialized look in photographers’ websites or does it throw you off if they have a few different categories?
Alcorn:: I think it’s good [to have variety], it doesn’t throw me off. I think it can throw clients off, and people who aren’t as creative. It’s confusing if you’re in a meeting and your portfolio has every other picture’s as a different style. Then people are going to be concerned about hiring you. But I think art directors like to see it because I think it gives a better impression of the artist’s vision. Either way, when I look at portfolios I think it’s nice to have two portfolios. ‘Here’s my landscape book and here’s my portrait book.’ I think it depends on your audience and how you’re trying to sell yourself.
Seckler: Do you like e-mail promos or do you find them overwhelming?
Alcorn: I find them a little overwhelming. I definitely get a lot. And honestly, it depends on how busy I am, and my mood…whether I’m going to look at them or not. I think the best e-mails have in the subject line something [specific] that makes sense. Not something vague and not something too clever. Just tell me what it is. I don’t have time to read [lots of text], if I’m interested, if I like what you send as a visual, I’ll go to your website. So you don’t need to give me all the backstory in the e-mail. Just send me a photo, and a link. But as I said, sometimes I’m busy, and I don’t open them. I’ll just delete them.
Alcorn: Which I don’t like to admit to but occasionally I will if there’s a lot. I personally like mail promos. If I like them, I keep them. I hang them on my wall, I put them up. On my door I have magnets where I hang up the ones I like the most. Some people like e-mail blasts, some people don’t. You’re never going to find the answer. I think everyone likes something different. So I would just do what you feel is your best way to show your work.
Seckler: Any pearls of wisdom for photographers out there who are looking to get in touch with the right potential clients? Advice for maybe a unique promotional idea or something?
Alcorn: The fun promos are cool, but I don’t know if they really help you get the job. People who do the theme promos, where it’s a box and there’s stuff in it. Where they spend a lot of money. Maybe that leads to work, but I don’t know if I’ve ever hired someone where I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that cool promo!’
And if you’re going to call and set up an appointment do your homework. If you want to shoot food, go to the agency that handles the food account. Don’t go to that agency and try to sell fashion and beauty. If you’re smart and say, ‘I’m going to be in town, and I know you guys handle these accounts, and I work on this kind of stuff. Would you be willing to meet with me?’ I’ll think most people are willing to meet with people.
I would also say do your homework and be considerate. And don’t inundate people with e-mails. Lots of times I’ll get the e-mails like, ‘I’m just following up to see if you got my e-mail, dot-da-da-da-da-da.’ And it’s like, I’m sure I got it. But do I remember it? I don’t know. And then you get the phone call, like, ‘I’m just calling to see…’ and it’s like, oh my God! It’s just too much. (Laughs)
You got to have some faith that it reached me. And if not, do another one in three months. We probably get thirty e-mails a day and it’s a lot. Sometimes I only remember the ones that really are applicable to what I’m working on. So it’s not because your image sucked. It’s just not pertinent to what I’m doing.