Why I Chose an E-Mail Marketing Service to Boost My Photography Business

To help market my photography business in 2010, I decided to try an e-mail database and distribution service called Adbase. This post shares my reasons for choosing a service like Adbase (there are similar ones out there, such as Agency Access), along with my initial experiences. In future posts, I plan to share the results of my e-mail marketing program.

Prior to this year, I had created my own e-mail lists of potential clients by researching publications and ad agencies. This was “free” — but ultimately very time consuming. I decided it would be better to spend more time shooting and less time building lists from scratch.

Benefits and Reservations

I saw four main benefits in an e-mail list service:

  • it would save me time on researching potential clients;
  • it would provide a larger list of potential clients than I could possibly create on my own;
  • it would make it easier to create and send marketing e-mails and print promos; and
  • it would provide more up-to-date, accurate lists than I could maintain.

But I also saw two potential drawbacks in such a service:

  • I did not want to join the ranks of e-mail spammers; and
  • I was concerned about the costs.

After researching Adbase, I became less worried about being considered a spammer, because the company only sends e-mails to willing contacts, and the e-mails are relevant to the jobs of the recipients. I thought about it and realized that I did not mind advertisers e-mailing me, as long as their content was related to photography.

As for my second reservation, Adbase provided the best deal of the services I reviewed: a one-year contract with 6,000 e-mails and access to all their North American contacts for $99 a month — a price I was able to reduce with my ASMP discount. Of course, I’ll just have to wait and see if I generate a return that justifies Adbase’s prices.

Getting Set Up

The initial setup for Adbase took much longer than I would have liked. The very fact that Adbase offers a voluminous database of potential clients (over 32,000 for photographers) makes it time consuming to create a well-targeted list.

While I suppose I could just send an e-mail to everyone, that would be more expensive to do, guaranteed to produce spam, and would result in lower click-through and e-mail open rates. In other words, I’d get a lower return on my investment — and tick a lot of people off in the process.

To create well-targeted lists, I had to choose from a variety of options, including geographic region, industry type (advertising, editorial, etc), job position, what types of promos the contacts want to receive, and more. Then, once I had a base list, I had to refine it further by looking at each contact and removing redundancies or contacts I did not want to work for. Finally, I had to add my personal contacts that were not in the Adbase system.

All told, I’ve spent eight hours on this process so far, and I’m not quite finished yet. I’ve developed seven lists, four for e-mail and three for printed promos. I made a regional and a national list and then subdivided these lists based on types of photography (food, travel, lifestyle, etc.).

For me, the most time-consuming part of list building was deleting companies that I did not believe would be a good fit for my work. This is because it required visiting lots of company Web sites to learn what they were about and what they were looking for.

I assume that now that my lists are largely set up, I won’t need to spend nearly as much time on Adbase — that my main activities will be creating e-mails and choosing which lists to send them to. Stay tuned.

13 Responses to “Why I Chose an E-Mail Marketing Service to Boost My Photography Business”

  1. Timely post for me as I've been considering something similar. The main thing holding me back at the moment is that I live in Asia and have yet to find a recommended database covering this region. If any readers know of any, I'm all ears.

  2. Hey Gordon,

    Good post for me as I'm looking for a way to mass market my photography as I'm close to launching it properly.

    What sort of thing will you be including in an marketing email? I have often thought about doing it but wouldn't really know what to put in it!


  3. I assume it's just US only, if it was in the UK too I might have a look at it in more depth, looks good though.

  4. We signed up for a years worth of e-mails from Adbase. The year is just concluding and frankly, we can't point to a single response. Hope your results are much better, but we're of the opinion that their lists are rather tired.

  5. Best of luck, and I hope it works for you.

    My experience with these services over a four year period has been quite lukewarm.

    But, then, if spam didn't work, people wouldn't send it. I did get jobs from Adbase and AgencyAccess, but in retrospect, I would have probably gotten more jobs, or at least more attention, from using the $1200/year for custom portfolios mailed to my targets or flying my books out to people for in-person reviews.

    Everyone and his brother is (ab)using these systems now and I find it really, really hard to believe that any editors or ADs are paying attention to emails from unknowns anymore.

    I'm going the other way on email marketing to new clients (of course I'll email the people I have relationships with); and I'm not alone:



    As for the "once the lists are set up" theory...probably not. People change jobs in this business as often as most people change underwear. Especially with constant layoffs and closures.

    Plain and simple, the easy part of this job is making pictures and conversation at the bar. The hard part is finding clients worth having. Especially now.

    Really, the means qualify the message. If I see my work as being fit to mass-mail to hundreds or thousands of potential clients, what do I think of my work? Probably not as much as if I have an on-demand magazine or other portfolio book printed and sent to them. At least, that's how the client may see it.

    I'm sure others have had different experiences, and I hope you do too.

    Hopefully one job will pay for the service, and the second will come to make it a profitable decision.

  6. Interesting post. I'm always interesting in these topics, because my email does a good job of capture spam and I wonder how these companies manage to get past a spam filter. Good luck with the service. Looking forward to future posts.

  7. In response to Craig Ferguson (@cfimages):
    I wouldn't look for targeting a geographic market, but rather target the subject market. You have a great location, which needs to be known to the people who want to license your images. With the internet and a good website, you can sell to anyone from anywhere. For example at PhotoShelter.com where I have my website, they have international direct download sales & payment capability. Location is no longer limiting!

  8. Thanks Margaret, that's more or less the approach I've been taking. I've also got my archives at Photoshelter but haven't really turned that into extra licenses yet.

  9. We're new to e-mail marketing as well.. one thing I do not fully understand -> how do you get OPT in e-mails?

  10. Yes. I can't get it either. Hot do you get OPT in e-mails?

  11. Hey Gordon. Can you share the results? Thanks.

  12. I agree with Thomas. I think they should be updating their database more often..

  13. Hi. I ve been searching for a while about how to get OPT in e-mails.. maybe anyone on this blog could elucidate the mistery for me and melissa?:)

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