-Shocking Blue, Send Me A Postcard
"You've got mail!"
As a freelance artist, I've always found it a challenge figuring out the most effective as well as the most cost-effective way to promote myself in this crazy business, especially when the rest of the creative world is competing for attention by continually screaming at the top of their lungs.
Anyone who's researched marketing and promotion - and if you're at all serious about your art and career, you owe it to yourself to do so - quickly learns that the sheer amount of information and advice out there on the subject almost instantly sucks you up into a vortex of insanity, attempts to tear you apart and then blast you out into a thousand different possible directions, each one claiming they are the true key to success.
When the dust finally settles, one thing that nearly everyone can agree on is this: in this digital and social media day and age, if you don't spend a lot of time - some will say most of your time - on networking and marketing yourself, you probably don't stand a chance...
what to do? what to do? what to do? what to do?
Let me start with the obvious. At this point in my career - finally returning to working full-time last year after quite a few years of not having that simple luxury - I found I needed to completely reinvent myself and the way I do business. And a large part of that involves reaching out in some way, shape, or form, to potential clients and customers.
Now, exactly what types of mailing lists you need to assemble, the best ways to acquire names and contact information of those you want to reach, and of course, how to eventually communicate with these people, is a matter each individual needs to decide and work out for themselves.
Marketing trends come and go, and as I said above, most everyone you ask will seem to have a different opinion as to what exactly works best, the two main options being variations on snail mail and email (phone calls you make at your own risk).
My goal here is not to tell you what I think you should be doing, but rather to simply show you what I've decided to do.
Oh, and just to be clear, this particular mailing is to promote my commercial fashion and portrait work. Future mailings drawing attention to my fine art photography will use very different images.
After doing a fair amount of research, mostly through art marketing books, but also paying close attention to a very good webinar workshop given by ASMP - the American Society of Media Photographers last year, I decided to go with an upscale physical mailing that included a heavy stock post card (with an impactful image), see-through frosted envelopes, graphic custom-printed stickers for the backs that featured my company name and web site, custom-printed return labels with the same image as the post card, and finally, whimsical postage stamps instead of generic metered or computer-printed postage.
Most importantly, I took the advice of those experts who said a very small, hightly targeted mailing list is often better than trying to send out a mass mailing to nearly everyone even remotely connected to the industry. In my case, it was also a money issue, as sending out such a high-quality mailing with all these little touches and flourishes to a large group would have gotten very expensive.
Not an option...
It should go without saying (but I'll say it anyway) that any mailing you decide to send out, be it digital or physical mail, should showcase your best work. If it's something that's very memorable as well, all the better. After all, that's the very reason for sending out these mailings, isn't it?
I'd like to think the photo I choose is both...
The shot, model Lisa Fuhr in a sort of Snow White/Sleeping Beauty fantasy costume - please no calls or letters, I am no Disney expert - was originally B-Roll footage I took during a break while making a behind-the-scenes video for photographer Kareen Rashelle.
At the time, none of us thought anything of it. We were just clowning around, me with a hand-held camera equipped with a wide angle lens getting precariously close to Lisa lying on the ground, and she having the presence-of-mind to feign shock and fright, gasping aloud before breaking into a great laugh. Just good fun.
As it turned out, the footage was blooper gold, and it not only found its way into the project I was shooting for Kareen, but the screenshot also became a natural branding element for my business and web site. It has a fun, surreal comedic horror vibe that nicely fits The Photo Asylum.
Btw, unless you arrived here for the first time via a direct link to this page, you have already seen Lisa as part of the video loop on this site's entrance page, an image in the slide show on the home page, and featured on the portrait portfolio page.
The 5x7 post cards, understandably the costliest item on my list, were beautifully custom printed by online printing service MOO. I'm not here to act as a salesperson for the company, only to mention that I have tried other sites, and so far my experience with Moo has been the best.
Their site is farily easy to navigate, and it's also pretty simple to create designs for a wide variety of printed products, by either formatting their provided templates or uploading your own designs (which is what I did). Their prices seem very reasonable, and even their budget products have a very nice look and feel to them.
After the post cards, the second biggest expense for me was the envelopes, but as I was looking for something very specific, it was worth paying a bit more to get what I really wanted.
More than one self-promotion workshop I've taken part in recommended post cards in see through envelopes to present your prospective client with an example of your work they can see instantly before they even open the envelope. This tends to give you a bit of an advantage when your piece is mixed in with all the other mail from all the other photographers.
Return labels are one of those mailing afterthoughts that in most cases do not really make much of a difference. At least from a design stand point. Their function is to be informative. But for my mailing, especially considering everyone in this first phase was getting promotional mail from me for the first time, I figured why not?, and decided to spend just a little bit extra to get custom-designed return address labels from online custom merchandise giant Zazzle.
The only creative feature I added was the same image of Lisa that was on the post cards. That's called reinforcement, in this case very similar to a trademark or logo, and I figured even if it was hardly noticable, it would still draw a little bit of attention to itself.
Lisa, I cannot thank you enough!
Well no, not really. Another one of what seems like a gazillion products offered by Zazzle, these 1 1/2 inch custom-designed stickers were not really too terribly expensive.
I decided to create two sets of stickers, one for The Photo Asylum, the other for Photo Aslyum Moving Pictures. Both used artwork I already had for promotional t-shirts and a host of other Photo Asylum merchandise on Zazzle.
The stickers were definitely a bit of a flourish. Razzle dazzle if you will - or in this case, razzle Zazzle. I used them in a traditional manner to "seal" the backs of the envelopes. Think of it like a bow on a present.
Once again...reinforcement of my brand.
I'm not about to get into any discussions over whether what postage stamp you use for your mailings makes any difference at all in the mailing's chances of success. I sincerely doubt it does.
Unless, of course...it's Wonder Woman!
Seriously, my last-second decision to use bright, colorful postage stamps in place of generic or metered mail - let alone choose someone as cool and trendy now as Wonder Woman - was purely based on adding a bit of fun to the whole process, for me as well as the recipient. And as Dudley Moore so aptly put it in the movie Arthur, "Isn't fun the best thing to have?"
If I get any feedback on how people reacted to the stamps, I'll let you know...
Finally assembling all the pieces and getting everything tucked, closed, sealed, stamped, and stickered, I can only imagine what families must go through sending out wedding invitations. Phew!
One big difference, however, is that this can be much like casting notes in bottles into the ocean, as most of the individuals on my first mailing list are people I have yet to meet. You hope - make that pray - that the card even gets to them, let alone that they read it and respond.
Time will tell...
Have you promoted your photography or art business by sending out mailings? What did you do, and how has it worked out? Feel free to share any details or experiences in the comments section below. Thanks!
You can follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Vimeo, YouTube, and Pinterest! Social media icons are at the bottom of each page.
As always, your comments and suggestions are more than welcome!
All photos and original content ©Steven Paul Hlavac. All rights reserved.