I’m not a photographer (a casual look through my family albums will offer proof of that), but I’ve been hiring photographers for corporate assignments for more than 15 years now. I’ve hired photographers while leading the corporate communications function for billion-dollar companies, heading up marketing for a tech startup I co-founded, and today, as owner/president of a boutique public relations firm.
I edit a lot of posts on this site concerning the marketing of photography businesses, so I thought it might be useful — to both photographers and clients — for me to simply list the different ways I’ve come across the corporate photographers I’ve hired over the years. So I wracked my memory and here’s what I came up with:
1. I met them somewhere. It might have been at a PRSA or IABC networking event, or a local conference where I noticed them taking pictures of the speaker, or a neighborhood block party, or because they were a friend’s brother-in-law. There’s no better way to find a photographer — or almost any vendor, for that matter — than through face-to-face contact. The lesson for photographers is to not hole up in your studio or appear aloof or unapproachable when out on assignment; get out there and meet people.
2. An employee referred them. As a VP of corporate communications, I’ve had lots of direct reports over the years. Many of them have known photographers, and I’ve acted more than once on their recommendations. I felt pretty confident in doing so, because my employees knew that the photographer’s performance would reflect on them. So photographers, if you have friends in PR or marketing departments, don’t be shy about asking them to put in a good word for you.
3. Someone in another department referred them. This is one that most photographers don’t think of. I once had, for example, my corporation’s in-house attorney come to me with a photographer’s business card to offer a detailed recommendation. The attorney did this for two reasons: (1) she had worked with the photographer in her prior job at a law firm and thought he did good work, and (2) the photographer asked her to do it. To me, that spoke well of both the photographer’s abilities — and his initiative.
4. My boss referred them. As you can imagine, this one’s pretty much a slam dunk for the photographer. I’ve actually had the CEO of a billion-dollar company tell me who he wanted to use for the company’s headshots. Photographers are wise to work all their relationships — but if you can get in good with a high-level mover and shaker, he or she might be a goose that lays golden eggs for your business.
5. I let the agency decide. When in corporate executive roles, I’ve typically managed agency relationships with a design firm, a PR firm, an advertising firm, or all of the above. Most of the photography jobs I authorized were part of larger, agency-driven projects such as annual reports or corporate brochures. In these cases, I almost always deferred to the agency when they had a photographer in mind for the project.
6. My designer was also as photographer. Today, as the owner of a small PR agency working with a lot of startups with limited budgets, I like to surround myself with people who have a variety of skills. When I’ve been able to find an independent graphic designer who can do other things — such as make code modifications to a WordPress template, or take quality photographs — I’ve jumped on those opportunities. It saves me some time in QuickBooks, and saves my clients money.
7. I got a direct-mail piece or phone call at the right time. Direct mail and phone outreach can be effective, and it has worked on me when the photographer made contact at the exact time I was looking for someone. But in general, the postcards and portfolios go in the trash and the phone call Post-it notes do, too. Direct mail is a nice volume marketing tactic to complement a photographer’s personal networking efforts — but it should never be a substitute for going out and meeting people.
8. I searched online. It doesn’t happen often, but I’ve done it. For example, a client of mine recently added a new board member from out of state, and I needed a headshot for the company Web site and press release. I didn’t know any photographers in that location, so I e-mailed some folks in my professional network to see if they did. When that tactic came up empty, I simply Googled “photographer” and the name of the city where the board member lived, and checked out the first couple of pages of results. Once I found a site where the photographer had (1) a nice portfolio; (2) a studio location; (3) prices/rates listed on the site; and (4) an easy-to-find e-mail address and phone number, I booked the job.
So that’s my story. Now let me turn it over to you. If you’re a corporate assignment photography client, what other ways have you found photographers for jobs? And if you’re a photographer, what other ways have you scored corporate work?