Sunday, September 28

The Professional's Challenge


NOTE: Inspired by a note on the terrific, I was moved to expand this essay from a comment I posted on Jim Talkington's blogzine.


At an early career turning point I had the choice of following the road marked “Professional Photographer.” Didn’t because it simply looked too steep, twisty, and poorly marked. Put simply, it seemed too damned hard. So for fifty years I’ve picked the low hanging fruit that amateurs get to pluck. And they have been sweet. Photography’s given me consolation, perspective, and an alternative outlet for my passions, ideas, and emotions.

But while I don’t regret my choice, I do admire just how hard successful commercial photographers in every one of the fields work for their living. Yes there are more competitors than ever. And yes technical competency is coming at a younger age when those youngsters lack family responsibilities and are stoked with an enthusiasm to work a hundred hours on projects that only pay for ten. The young wolves have always challenged the pack leaders - but it does seem as if they are coming on in larger hoards, each anxious to work for a Happy Meal at MacD’s with enough left over to buy a new lens. Subsidized by parents, they have little sense of overhead, depreciation, or profits … But many seem fixed with the edgy eye that editors, art directors, designers, brides, and gallery owners find the passion du jour.

And since they share the generational culture that buyers want to attract/distract - what they lack in capital equipment can frequently be overwhelmed by a cultural vocabulary. It’s useful to speak in the voice and language of your market.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a generational divide in the tastes of those who pull the trigger on purchases. A generation of young buyers who have been raised within a thick-walled paradigm which reflects back their self worth at ever angle… is hard for folks to crack when they are standing outside of that generational bubble.

But… all is not grim for the professional who can escape the tractor beam of the commodity force which seems to pull prices down as equipment, overhead, and life costs soar. Never before has marketing literacy been so important to commercial photographers. If price is the opiate of the new photographer, brand is its cure.

How many community photographers, for example, are Rotary members? Lions? Sertoma? Elks? How many have joined the Chambers of Commerce? How many attend every mixer and small business meeting? How many volunteer for arts organizations? For non-profits? How many have donations in every charity fund raising auction? How many hang out at the local coffee shops in the early AM where everyone knows your name? How many warm calls do you make a week? How many cards do you hand out daily? Where? I can think of a half dozen guerilla marketing techniques that are invaluable to advertising but cost nothing except sweat equity. How many do you know? Have you ever heard of guerilla marketing? Punk marketing? Why not?

How do you use free media? What is it? If you don't know, you are NOT a professional. And now I'm not just thinking of the community professional. Speaking of professional - what professional meetings do you attend? Are most of them, or all of them in your profession? WRONG! You will meet very few buyers at a seminar on "The New Wedding Techniques," or - "Follow Focus For Sports Photographers." Simple question, are you building technique or market with your spare time? What is your balance? What must it be to survive?

Have you Googled brand building? Read any books? Does the whole thing make your eyes glaze? Then you either need to find a job working for someone who has clear eyes, or sell the cameras to pay for those accounting, economic, and science credits you should have taken to get you into another career.

To the degree that the commercial photographer has been engaged over his/her years in building brand and product differentiation: To the degree that it’s been reinforced with strategic networking techniques: Then this appears to be a very good time to be a pro.

Although I still won’t swap my amateur standing with any of you.


Anonymous said...

Nice very nice both the words and your pictures (although they lack the out of the card originals) Oh but the challenge of it all. My best to you and your wife and your dog Rocco :)

The other Ted

John Roberts said...

You've summed up most of the reasons that have kept me from turning pro. Although I somehow manage to sell enough of my work to keep from having to tap into the household budget for equipment purchases, the requirements of being a real business man would overwhelm me. I just like making photographs, so it's an amateur's tag for me!