It takes time to build a successful career as a professional photographer. Even after you’ve reached the point where you feel comfortable identifying yourself as such, there is still a great deal of work involved in telling the world who you are, where you are and what you can do for them. Obviously, advertising plays a role in getting your message out. You can go the social media route, connecting with current and potential clients via one of the 157+ social media platforms that exist. In many cases the cost can be low, often limited only to the amount of time you invest in creating and maintaining your presence, but if it’s not done right, you just get lost in the crowd. There’s always the traditional media: radio, print and television, but the cost can be high and the return on investment unpredictable. With a bit of planning and socializing, however, you can make both traditional and social media work for you and have someone else do a lot of the work in the process. The advent of social media changed drastically the way that information was gathered and disseminated, but there is one thing that didn’t change: the need for content. Whether you’re a loyal follower of a tech blog, or a long-term subscriber to one or many daily newspapers, you expect that the information presented to you is current, accurate, educational and/or entertaining. Content doesn’t just write itself. Sure, Canon or Nikon can send out a media release about a new camera body or lens, often with high-res artwork for the media to use as they will. Cut-and-paste reporting however, gets boring pretty quickly, and in an industry where your very survival depends on page views, click-throughs or unique subscribers, you have to give your readers/viewers something that makes them want to come back again and again. That’s where the professional photographer comes in. You have something they want: great visuals, a passion about what you do and the desire to talk about it. You are multiple stories waiting to happen, and equally important, you’re ready and willing to talk about it. It sounds like the perfect match: people looking for content and people ready and willing to provide it. The difficult part is making the connection. You could sit and wait for it to happen, or you can do your part to expedite the process. Here is a list of seven ideas on how to make the media come looking for you.
Know who you are and how to describe what you do and what makes you different
This is, essentially, your elevator pitch, that 30-second monologue that allows you to capture why you are special and deserving of attention. Using a camera, technically, makes you a photographer. Being an accredited member of PPOC allows you to say you have earned the right to be identified as a professional photographer, but you also need to add what makes you unique within that category. This is what will make your story interesting.
Get to know the gatekeepers
Even in the realm of social media, the humans still control what sees the light of day and what ends up in the trash, virtually or otherwise. You need to get to know these people so that you become more than just a name to them. In the media world the name doesn’t just become a person, they become a source, and he or she with the most sources has the easiest life. So how do you make contact? You could try the direct approach of either picking up the phone and calling their office (old school) or sending them an email and ask if you could meet over coffee to talk about what’s new and exciting in the world of photography. Following them on Twitter doesn’t hurt either (you follow me, I follow you.) Obviously, the more people you want to connect to, the more time it will take, but you can expedite the process by going to an event where there will be a lot of media present and then work your way from one to the next. Have business cards at-the-ready and a short topic to tell them just enough about (the teaser.) They get the rest of the story over coffee or in a follow-up phone call.
Your one demand...
Up to the point where the information you provide actually becomes a part of a print story, or radio or television interview, you have asked for nothing. While you are providing the information, you should make one request and that is that you are identified in the way you prefer. It could be just your name (and spell it out, just to make sure they get it right) or it could be your name and your studio (John Smith of XYZ Images.) As I teach my Journalism students, nothing comes for free, but this is a very small and acceptable price to pay.
Stay in touch
So the meeting goes well, you’ve exchanged phone numbers and emails and maybe even participated in an interview that will become part of a story. Like any relationship, this one must be maintained. If you see something that might make a good story, pass it along. If there is a story upon which you could provide an informed comment, let that be known as well
You’ve successfully planted yourself in the memory of multiple members of the media as a reliable, accessible source of information, so you should expect to get unexpected calls from time-to-time asking for your opinion. Make sure you have one. This shouldn’t be a problem because knowing industry trends in relation to what you do is an important part of your day-to-day life.
Blow your own horn
The goal of everything to this point is for you to become more than just a name. That way, when you send out a media release, it actually gets used. Traditional media outlets are flooded every day with media releases, some deserving of attention, others not so much. If you have already established your credibility, then your release might end up better positioned than the inside column of page fifteen, below the fold.
Be prepared for the result
Very few people who set out to forge a career as a professional have the attitude that they will see each client only once. Your goal should be focused on building relationships because the cost of maintaining your current clients is almost always less than the cost of acquiring new ones. That philosophy should also be true for the relationship you build with the media. There may be a time when they reach out to you as you have reached out to them. Be prepared to take their call. It takes time and effort to build a lasting relationship with the media, but it is a relationship that can pay dividends for a long, long time. It also allows you to become a more visible and important part of your community. Once you get people to listen, you have a much better chance of getting them to understand.