I got a note yesterday from an acquaintance who is trying to break into the field of professional photography. He's young and has experience in photography but he admits he's not a good "self marketer" and therefore is "suffering."
It got me to thinking about my life changing experience that occurred under the same circumstances 35 years ago. I had moved from the field of photojournalism where I was fed assignments by magazines, newspapers and bureaus to a permanent studio location. I was still a "kid" by today's standards and really had very little understanding of marketing. But, who cared, I thought. I was a very good photographer and once people saw my work I was bound to be a success.
Well, a little over a year later I found that I had exhausted all my funds and while the business was growing every quarter, it was not growing fast enough for me to make a living at that moment. With no access to money to invest, I quickly determined that I needed to learn how to market – and FAST!
I had tried advertising and I knew that while it got me some name recognition and the occasional new customer it took too long and the value of it was far less than the investment. I needed to find something that would get people talking (word of mouth) and yet would not cost much. Even better, I decided I needed to stir up word of mouth for my business and get paid to do it.
As Willie Sutton the bank robber said when asked why he robbed banks, 'because that's where the money is' I took a look at the advertising of the largest local bank (and where I had two business loans) and decided I could create a promotion for them that would be better than their advertising.
I made an appointment with the president and issued a promotion that I called "Faces of The Tri-State Area." The bank was in Ohio and on the border of PA and WV – hence the tri-state area. I told him how I would go into the local business, steel mills, potteries, schools, churches – everywhere the bank's customers lived, worked and played – and I would create vivid black & white portraits of these people. I'd then enlarge, matt and frame them and we'd hang the display in the bank's main lobby. At the same time, the bank would change their print and radio advertising to bring people in to see the gallery while stressing that their customers are their most important asset – part of the theme.
He loved the idea and asked how much. I named a figure that includes the photography included building the gallery display and writing the advertising copy. It was a large number for me at the time but they went with it and the show was a hit. Of course, my name was given credit for the photography and the show which welcomed in many new customers. And, I also got to make fantastic contacts at the local businesses where I did the photography which led to more commercial business. Last, but not least, I was stopped on the street about a month into the show by the chairman of the board of the local competitive bank. He complimented me on the promotion and asked how it came to be. I told him the story and even explained how I knew I had to learn to market or starve. Later on he and son son became very influential in guiding more business my way including that of his bank and other businesses.
This story, by the way, was the genesis for my getting into marketing and sales consulting full time while gradually moving away from photography. I found I enjoyed the creativity of marketing; I was able to help more people be successful and I got to work "normal hours."
If you are a new business or one that is struggling to get to the next level, think about my story and ask yourself what you are personally doing to create marketing for your company. Do not rely on print and off line media advertising. I know it's easy to have someone create an ad and all you have to do is write the check – but it is almost always a waste of time these days. Remember – no matter what business you are in – you are first and foremost a marketer. And, do not hesitate to call a professional for some guidance to get you through that initial attention getting period.
By the way, in 1970, Willie Sutton did a television commercial to promote the New Britain, Connecticut, Bank and Trust Company's new photo credit card program. He had finally learned that it's marketing that pays – not crime.