Direct Mail from Photographers Is Making a Comeback — at Least on My Desk

Not long ago, e-mail marketing in the form of e-bulletins and HTML-based solicitations appeared to be a better choice for photographers than printed direct mail. After all, they were comparatively inexpensive to send, and they arrived right where your prospects would be sure to see them: on their computer screens.

Lost Amid the Spam

Unfortunately, too much of a good thing ends up not being so good — and unsolicited marketing e-mails now account for about 95 percent of all e-mails sent, thanks to spammers who blast out automated messages by the millions. That means that as well thought out as your e-bulletin might be, there’s a high likelihood that’s it’s getting lost amid the spam.

I’ve just gone into my computer’s junk folder, for example, and it’s full of e-bulletins from photographers and their agents. Indeed, the vast majority of unsolicited e-bulletins I receive are caught by my spam filter.

Of the e-bulletins that do make it to my inbox, none display photographic images unless I click the “Download pictures” button — which I might do, but if deadlines are looming I might also hit “delete” in my elusive quest for a tidy inbox. That would seem to be particularly concerning for photographers, whose images are their key selling point.

I’m not suggesting that photographers shouldn’t send e-bulletins. On the contrary, if you are tracking your results and they are working for you, go for it. But I suspect that this marketing tactic isn’t nearly as effective as it once was.

Back to the Future with Direct Mail

Old-fashioned direct mail, by contrast, may be making a comeback. I, at least, have noticed more of it lately.

My reaction to, and interaction with, direct mail from photographers is very different from my quick dismissal of most e-mails. At the very least, I see — and often notice — the sender’s photographs. I also may take note of the photographer’s attention to detail, choice of paper and the print quality of the mailing. It tells me a lot more about the sender than an e-mail would.

In fact, on my desk as I write this, I have four pieces of print from photographers. The first is a relatively simple card, showing three images from the photographer’s portfolio on one side. The unusual element is the card’s panoramic, 297mm x 99mm format.

The second is an invitation to an exhibition, printed in two-colors on very heavy kraft board with no photography at all.

The third is a small A5-sized booklet of photographs housed in a paper slipcase.

The final one is a small A5 photographic print on wonderfully heavy paper, signed and numbered on the front with the contact details on the reverse.

Marketing That Worked — on Me

I liked each of these contrasting mailings for different reasons. All have remained on my desk because I noticed them and they made an impact on me.

And most importantly for the photographers who sent them, they worked. I’ve already commissioned a couple of the photographers for assignments.

So if your e-mail campaign isn’t working for you, consider direct mail as an alternative. And if your e-mail campaign is working for you, consider it as an addition to the mix.

5 Responses to “Direct Mail from Photographers Is Making a Comeback — at Least on My Desk”

  1. Thanks Wayne, it's invaluable to hear it from the other side. You've also pointed out to me that the first thing a photographer should do is find out if their prospective 'new client'aka Art Director has a Blog and if so then drill down into it.


  2. I like sending print promos. From the buyers side, does fact that print mailers cost more money to produce must provide some 'edit' as to the quality of the photographer sendin you work?

  3. Interesting. Just heard Louie Palu say the same thing in London at Rhubarb Cultivate! Everyone likes opening up mail that isn't bills!

  4. My inbox is bombarded daily with emails from other photographers, vendors… not to mention Facebook and Twitter that it can become so overwhelming I can’t hit delete fast enough. Receiving something in the mail is so more personal.

  5. Wayne,

    Seems that what was out of vogue is making a comeback. These days about the only thing good about email marketing is that it is cheap. Cheap to produce, cheap to distribute, all while producing results that seem to be in line with the up front cost.

    Looking to market on the cheap? Don't expect stellar results either.

    There is lots of data to suggest that direct mail generates more revenue and creates better customer relationships.

    Do you think your mom would rather receive a nice hand written birthday card, or an email greeting?


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