Five Ways to Build a Relationship with a Small Agency

How do you catch the eye of an agency art director with an attention span of 3.5 seconds and no time to look at your work?

Like many small creative agencies, my company sees, hears from, and works with photographers every day. Only a handful, however, have captured and maintained our attention to the point where we collaborate regularly. Why? More than anything, talent drives business. But over the years, we’ve noticed a few promotional and relationship-building tactics that are consistently effective for photographers trying to stand out from the crowd.

Here are five tips to getting (and staying) on the radar of a small agency:

1. Be persistent. In the agency business, we like to call this “top of mind awareness.” You never know when a designer is going to need custom photography. And we probably won’t remember you from the promo piece you sent nine months ago. Find a cost-effective way to stay on our desks. Postcards are simple, cheap, and effective. Send one a month. Show what you’re proud of. Send something that might inspire a designer to show a co-worker, or that they’d hang next to their desk. Print it on archival paper (if your budget allows), and we’ll keep it around as art.

2. Have an effective Web site. We need to find your portfolio quickly. We don’t have time to watch a 1990s Flash intro. We don’t care for a soundtrack. We need to see your work. Ideally, we’d like a site that would allow us to link to individual pieces of your work. This lets us send sample shots to our client — which is important, because we need to convince our client that you’re the best photographer for the project.

3. Build friendships. Once we’ve worked together, keep us in your head — so you’ll stay in ours. E-mail us a link to a story on an industry issue we might want to know about. Share a really cool idea that you saw. This can’t be forced; it’s got to be genuine. The point here is that you want to foster regular communications that aren’t sales calls. We want to work with our friends. Become one, and you’re in.

4. Be collaborative. We love it when you’re part of the creative process, rather than an order-taker. When we call with a specific need, share your ideas. What if we did this? What if we did that? If you’re good at ideas, you’re an asset. You make us look better to our clients. Next time, when we’re stuck, or need something fresh, we’ll call you for input.

5. Do your research. Not all design studios use photographers. Find out whom you’re dealing with. There are plenty of firms that do lots of custom work. Others only use stock. Don’t waste your valuable promotional budget sending mailers to an agency that only hires a photographer once a year.

That’s our top five. What’s worked for you?

2 Responses to “Five Ways to Build a Relationship with a Small Agency”

  1. Darryl - Thanks for the post, it may not be earth shattering news, but it's still very helpful to be reminded of the basic truths especially coming from a qualified person.

    One thing I would add that has worked for me, not with agencies (yet), but for other substantial assignment and stock work is to be the the only guy with fresh content covering a niche subject. It sure is nice when the photo buyers come to us because we are THE source for a certain image.

  2. Hi Darryl:
    Your five tips are helpful to a photographer faced with thousands of new shooters since the digital cameras all but eliminate skill. Appreciate it.

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