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.