Start at the Top

Interested in lucrative commercial assignments?  You can drum up your own profitable gigs if you learn “the right way” to do it.

Tom Carroll long ago figured out that success in the stock photography business is not just a case of being able to produce a quality photograph. Rather, it’s about being able to creatively market your talent so that you spend as little time as possible on the nitty-gritty of promoting and administration and as much time as possible on the adventure of taking photographs, enjoying travel and sharing your knowledge with promising photographers who are either starting out or starting over.

This is not to say that Tom developed his marketing techniques in an overnight dream or that photographers don’t have to put effort into discovering their own specific pathways to marketing success.

“But I’m still puzzled,” Tom said, “to see that many photographers are willing to spend endless hours, even weeks, developing clients that will lead nowhere. Once they reach a dead-end, they employ the same marketing procedure again and go down the same road with another client that comes to a dead end.”


“Do your homework,” Tom advised. “Start at the top and work down to art directors and middle-management. These middle-managers don’t have the authority to say yes. Committee meetings will only hold you up. Instead, go right to the top.”

That’s easily expressed, but how do you actually do it? I asked Tom his method to successfully reach the top person in a company if you’re trying to land a client in the corporate commercial world.

“Obviously you have to have a portfolio to start out. But since everyone has one, the next step is to get your foot in the CEO’s door, or better still, his ear on the phone or his attention on the Internet.”

“You have to have quality pictures, but the CEO is not really interested in your portfolio,” Tom said. “He just checks it to see if you own something better than a smart phone. He’s interested mainly in your access.”

“Access?” I asked. “What’s that and how so?”

“Fortune 500 companies and other major corporations would love to have photos of their products in use in foreign countries or inaccessible places, such as the Tappan Zee Bridge in New York or on a construction project in Mexico,” Tom said. “The problem is, try as they might, these companies are usually refused permission to send one of their staff photographers.”

“You mean you have a way of getting access to those kind of places and a Fortune 500 company cannot?”  I asked.

“Yes,” Tom said.  “Take the case of a mining operation in Chile.  There are probably five or six or more various products (heavy equipment, computers, helicopters, earth movers, etc.) that can be photographed in action on the job. If I get an assignment from each of the companies that manufacture those products, I have some leverage when I go to a foreign government official to get permission to access the area. They’d much prefer to make arrangements one time with one photographer than five or six or more different company officials. And presto! The foreign officials throw out the red carpet for me, even suggests other related sites and products I should photograph.”

“When I complete the multiple assignment, I reward the mining company’s CEO and government officials with complimentary images paid for by the companies who manufacture the products photographed. This is beneficial to me in two ways. I get paid for the extra prints (usually a $1200 value), plus my contact people are eager to invite me back for future shoots.”

Once returning from a trip, Tom could add the photos to his extensive stock photo file. When his work load got too heavy he could reach out to the half a dozen photographers he had arrangements with to handle overflow from his more than 100 access places around the world.

Not surprisingly, later in his career Tom found most of his jobs on the Internet.  Let’s say he surfed the net to find information about a NATO project going on in Turkey and found seven companies that had products being used there. Without leaving the comforts of his Capastrano Beach home, Tom could assemble a plan and send queries out — to whom?

That’s right, to each CEO. The CEO knows he can always use a photo of his product in action in an exotic location. Once Tom secured the job, he could schedule one of his joint venture photographers to complete the assignment.


Tom’s creative approach to marketing didn’t end with his well-oiled approach. He also figured out how to creatively use the Internet to locate free public domain photos that he could turn around and sell for $875. He actually gave the photo away for free, but billed the client $875 for his time and expertise in locating and digitally refining the photo for publication use. The photos were usually low-res, but he figured out a way to enlarge them to 300 dpi corporate quality, a method he called “Reverse Fractal Compression.”

Take note that Tom Carroll was not a newbie hot shot on the photo scene; he died a decade ago, but he was in the business for fifty years. He’s an inspiration to silver-haired seniors of today who thought the Digital Age was too much for them. Tom has proven that the Digital Age is for the ageless.

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