What Buyers Want from Photographers


Photoshelter, an online portfolio site, has been asking clients the question that’s always on photographers’ minds: what do they want from us? The company’s fifth annual survey of photo buyers, a collaboration with Agency Access, a photography marketing company, has recently been released — and it throws up a number of surprises.

The survey covered more than 1,000 image buyers who commission and license photography worldwide. Forty percent of respondents worked at advertising agencies, 15 percent at design agencies and another 15 percent at editorial publications. Their most common job titles were “Art Director” or “Creative Director” although respondents also included designers, copywriters and photo editors.

Asked about the mistakes photographers were making as they try to make sales and land bookings, the buyers offered up a mixture of old errors and new tricks. Buyers still prefer to see websites that are easy to browse, free of slow-loading Flash and have clear contact information so that they don’t have to waste time searching for ways to buy a license or commission the photographer. Mixing content from different specialties — showing sports photography alongside wedding photography, for example — on the same site was also a bad idea, they said.

“It’s one thing to show off your range, but another to position yourself as a ‘jack of all trades,’” explains Andrew Fingerman, Photoshelter’s CEO. “Instead be seen as a specialist and the buyer will have an easier time mentally and physically categorizing you for future work.”

Those complaints aren’t new although it is remarkable that photographers are still slowing their website with unnecessary extras and failing to market themselves clearly. A new trend though has also been raising the hackles of photo buyers: the habit among some photographers of sending a marketing email to a buyer with an email whose subject line begins “re:”. The aim is to dupe the buyer into believing that the message is part of an ongoing exchange. It’s a tactic straight out of the spammer’s handbook — and the messages are treated with the same contempt.

The Power of Email

That photographers are using email for direct marketing was also surprising. Asked where they turn when they need a photographer, 66 percent of the survey’s respondents said they ask a colleague for a recommendation. But the next most popular places to look were emails from photographers, photography representatives and agencies, and photography websites.

Nearly half of the respondents, in fact, said that when they need a photographer, they turn to their inbox.

Those high figures may be the result of survey bias. Agency Access, whose database of buyers was used to conduct the survey, specializes in email marketing. The recipients of its emails are used to receiving marketing messages and acting on them. A broader survey might have produced a lower figure but the willingness with which buyers accept photographers who turn to them directly and without solicitation is encouraging — but only if they do it right. That means targeting each pitch to the buyer and explaining why you’d make a match for their magazine or agency.

“Again and again, buyers told us that they often receive pitches from photographers who have clearly never looked into who they are or what kind of photography they commission or license,” says Andrew Fingerman. “The photo editor at Scuba Diving Magazine summed this up perfectly in saying, ‘Photographers need to take the time to research who they are sending their work to. I am the photo editor for Scuba Diving Magazine. I have no need for fashion photography.’”

Social Media Is Not a First Stop, It’s a Constant Source

But while email marketing has proved surprisingly effective, social media, despite its hype, is not a popular place for image buyers — at least not as a place for first contact. Only 9 percent of respondents said that they turn to a social media platform when they want to hire a photographer.

Those that do use social media though, use it in different ways and have found it remarkably effective.

Flickr remains popular with book publishers, despite the rise of Instagram, but buyers in other industries now focus on Facebook. LinkedIn, which was the most popular social media platform among buyers in 2011, is now in third place after Facebook and Pinterest.

But while fewer than one buyer in ten will turn to social media as their first stop when they need a photographer, nearly one in four respondents overall said that they had discovered a new photographer on a social media site, with more than half finding them on Mark Zuckerberg’s platform. Broken down by category, 59 percent of buyers from advertising agencies, 72 percent from editorial publications and 63 percent from design agencies said that they had discovered photography talent through Facebook.

According to  Andrew Fingerman, the difference between the reluctance to search for a photographer on Facebook and the success buyers are having on the site can be explained by the way buyers are using the service.

“Anecdotally, we hear that while social media may not be the first resource a buyer will use to find new talent, social media for many buyers is a powerful platform for keeping tabs on the photographers they’ve worked with. With this in mind, maintaining a freshness of posts – regularly sharing your own work and other valuable content – will pay off because it keeps you on the radar of former contacts and clients.”

Photographers need to make sure that their websites are simple to navigate, non-Flash, fast and have clear contact information.

If they’re not already pitching for jobs by email, they should be considering it and writing pitches that are targeted to the buyer and explain why they’re the right person for that agency or publication.

And they should be active on social media, and especially Facebook, updating their status regularly so that buyers can see who they are and keep track of what they’re doing.

And they should do all of these things because of what may be the most important statistic in the whole survey. Asked what was happening with their buying budgets, 78 percent of respondents said that the money they had available had either stayed the same or grown in comparison to 2011.

Figuring out what buyers want from photographers might be difficult. But it’s not hard to know what photographers want from buyers.

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