In the business
Kevin O'Connor Interviewed for Canon EOS Magazine
IN A WORLD CLUTTERED WITH STILL AND MOVING IMAGES, HOW DO YOU STAND OUT FROM THE CROWD? THE ANSWER, ACCORDING TO KEVIN O’CONNOR, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE LONDON PHOTOGRAPHIC ASSOCIATION, IS NOT JUST ABOUT CREATING GREAT WORK – YOU ALSO HAVE TO TELL PEOPLE ABOUT IT IN A WAY THAT HELPS TO BUILD YOUR BUSINESS.
“We’re not interested in what colour pants you’re wearing,” Kevin O’Connor advised a packed lecture room at last October’s Canon Pro Photo Solutions show in London. The interest in his seminar that day was a testament to both the man himself and the subject on which he spoke – and no, it wasn’t about the latest high street underwear fashions. ‘Lost in space? The importance of marketing yourself in the digital age’ was a quick guide to getting yourself noticed as a photographer and keeping your work under the noses of potential buyers.
His foray into the usefulness, or otherwise, to photographers of social networking was just part of a slew of marketing advice that O’Connor believes passionately can be the difference between success and failure. “Marketing yourself has always been important as a photographer but is even more so now because there’s so much clutter and so many people calling themselves photographers.” Likewise, he says, there are also so many people calling themselves art buyers or photo commissioners who have only a very rudimentary knowledge of photography. “There are very few photographers these days who can simply let their images do the talking,” he insists. So the question is, how do you get noticed and stay noticed?
If anyone knows the answer it’s Kevin O’Connor. Steeped in the art (and effort) of promotion, he has been a master printer, run his own post-production studio and, in 1997, launched the London Photographic Awards (LPA). He then very quickly realised that something much bigger was happening to the photographic industry – digital technology was about to catapult it into a new age, one that would be full of both opportunities and pitfalls. The word ‘Awards’ was changed to ‘Association’ and the new LPA opened for business in 2001 as a website and platform for commercial, fine art and documentary photographers to market their portfolios and hold exhibitions.
“Get the basics right,” is O’Connor’s answer to the question of how to market your business. He is convinced that a significant proportion of photographers are missing out on potential business simply by not following elementary marketing guidelines. “A search engine can’t distinguish between a good photo and bad photo, so it’s important to have a professional, well-written profile telling people in the first sentence what you do. And don’t forget to tell people you are looking for business – it’s amazing how many photographers don’t.”
The days of being commissioned to document a community in Outer Mongolia have gone, he says. If you really want to go down that route you’ll have to fund it yourself, work with a good writer and sell the package later – another reason why marketing yourself and your work is vital. “First impressions count. Doing a filmed interview of yourself can look very professional and can be very effective. And link to it from your email signature,” he advises.
Latterly, the LPA has been moving into the video market. He feels that the photographic industry is still experiencing and reacting to the “tsunami of moving images” that began a few years ago. This is, and will continue to change the roll of stills photography and it will eventually need to find "its own place". “I’m not sure what that is, to be honest, but the still image is not going to disappear – that’s for sure,” he says.
However, right now, he feels that video is the number one opportunity for photographers. O’Connor says that the whole world is desperate for all kinds of filmed content, especially high quality videos, as publishers (“and we are all publishers now”) are beginning to construct pay walls. “Advertisers looking at their still ads will say ‘why isn’t my ad moving?’.”
The inclusion of an HD video function in DSLR cameras such as the EOS 5D Mark II has opened up this new market to stills photographers in a way that was out of their reach, financially, just three years ago. “And you don’t have to make a full length feature film. If you can make a beautifully lit, 30-second film of how to boil the perfect egg, and add some really interesting music, it will sell,” he insists.
However, tapping into this market will require a change of culture, O’Connor says. “For many photographers these days, making a good living purely by selling still images is becoming very difficult. But making videos means they will have to learn to work in collaboration with other people – editors, actors, sound artists…and for some this just isn’t going to happen.” However, he advises those photographers who do make the move into video to continue to cover the same areas that interest them in still images. “You don’t have to move somewhere else – stick with what you know and like.”
And what about the usefulness of social media as a marketing tool, and that temptation to tell people what colour pants you’re wearing? “You can waste a lot of time on social media so you have to be very disciplined,” he warns. “Whatever you do it should always link to your work or an article about you – it shouldn’t be just chit chat.” But O’Connor is convinced of the value of using social media and the LPA has invested time and money in jumping on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon. “In the end there’s no point in having an exhibition or a book published if you’re not going to tell people about it.”Tips on marketing yourself as a photographer
Get a well-written profile for your website. It should be no more than about 250 words. Some people find it difficult to write, or promote themselves in words, so it might be worth paying to have it written. It should tell the reader in the first sentence what you do.
News is important. People need to know what you’re doing. If you’re planning an exhibition or assignment, tease readers about it a long time in advance.
Write a regular blog and link it to your work. It’s important to get people moving around your website.
Show a gallery of about 20 images that’s an overview of your work and refresh it regularly – about once a month. If you have hundreds of images create a separate library.
Place links in your email signature to your website, social media pages or interviews you’ve done. This is a great way of effortlessly reminding people of your work.
Use social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, but make sure they link to your work and any articles about you. Don’t spend time pushing out unnecessary information – make sure it’s about your business. And each time you update your website tell people what you’ve done.
Consider having a filmed interview made – if it’s well done it can make a very good impression, and first impressions count in such a busy marketplace.
Digitally printed, paperback books can be great for ‘leaving behind’ with potential buyers. A well-printed portfolio also still has a cachet with clients.
Don’t forget traditional ways of marketing yourself. Phone calls and face-to-face contact with people are still very important – perhaps more than ever these days.
Published in Canon EOS Issue 6 Magazine March 2011