Selina Maitreya on Having a Product to Sell, and Marketing It With Consistency

May 7, 2017

By Holly Stuart Hughes

© Sue Huszar

Selina Maitreya. © Sue Huszar

As a consultant and educator, Selina Maitreya helps photographers develop a strategy for marketing their brand to the right clients. PDN recently asked her how she helps her clients define their brand identity, demonstrate the value of their work to clients, and create a marketing plan that works for their budget, workload and career goals.

Too often, photographers are investing in marketing before they have a product to sell, Selina Maitreya says. “Photographers need to understand what value looks like to a client.” Years ago they valued generalist photographers, but no longer. These days, “Clients across the board want a body of work built around your specific subject and seen through your very individual, visual approach,” she says.    

“Once you know your visual approach, that becomes your brand identity,” she says. “A brand isn’t a design element or a logo, it’s the true expression of your visual product.”

She notes, “Photographers think they don’t have a vision. They don’t realize that they have it within them, they just need an opportunity to bring it out.”

To help photographers define their vision, she gives her clients homework. To start, she asks them to go to a bookstore and search the Internet, and take photos of the work they love and would most want to shoot themselves. Then she makes them edit all their picks down to a handful they like the most. “I review my client choices with them image by image. We go over the reasons why they chose the images they did. I ask my clients questions to draw them out, to get them to dig deeper. I’m writing words that describe the consistent visual tools that are present in the choices. How is lighting, composition and color consistently used? What is the emotional takeaway from the images?”

Next, Maitreya and the photographer collaborate to produce a positioning statement. “It says: ‘This is my work, this is my vision, and this is what clients take away from the work I shoot for them.’” When a photographer has their positioning statement, and understanding of what they have to offer, she says, “that leads to who’s buying that type of work.”

© Emily Hagopian

Selina Maitreya worked with Emily Hagopian to reorganize her portfolio to emphasize images that capture the essence of large spaces. © Emily Hagopian

Maitreya says she worked with architectural photographer Emily Hagopian, who wanted to expand her client base and go after new clients who could offer her more creative projects. In the course of what Maitreya calls her “visual direction marketing consult,” Hagopian found that she wanted to be shooting big buildings and expansive spaces, and that she needed to incorporate more people into the images she shot for her portfolio. The short positioning statement they created said, in part: “She captures interiors and structures in a manner that exemplifies their essence and the flow of humanity within them. Emily’s photographs present the viewer with an iconic image that gives them the experience of being there.” With that statement written, they reorganized Hagopian’s portfolio to highlight the images that illustrated her positioning statement.

Once photographers know what they have to offer that’s distinct from what other photographers can provide, Maitreya focuses on three areas of marketing. “That includes traditional marketing, which I call an ‘outreach program.’” Outreach can include sending direct mail and email to a database of clients in three to five markets that can use your work. When Maitreya worked with portrait and commercial shooter Jake Armour, for example, they honed in on clients they thought could use his portrait style: in-house corporate clients in certain markets, ad agency art buyers, photo editors at relevant publications and design studios.

© Jake Armour

A look at Jake Armour’s promos. The content and timing of marketing efforts has to be customized to represent the photographer’s visual approach, says Selina Maitreya. © Jake Armour

The content and timing of the marketing, she says, has to be customized to represent the photographer’s visual approach and the message they want to send. Because it’s more expensive than email, “Often we will send direct mail to a smaller group—250 or so, four to six times a year—often as a lead into in-person visits,” she says.

The second step is in-person visits. Many photographers thought they could give up on “in-person visits when websites came up, and that was a big mistake,” she observes. She insists successful photographers should “know the power of getting their work in front of a potential buyer, and work hard to create those opportunities.” She adds, “I’m not just talking about portfolio reviews that photographers pay for, though they’re helpful in a certain way. I’m talking about getting in front of clients regularly through their efforts of calling for appointments.” To get those meetings, she says, first requires outreach marketing. “I suggest to my clients that after they have their email list developed, they look geographically for clients on their list who they could reach via car within two hours,” and approach them for meetings. She admits, “It’s truly very difficult to reach people these days and a photographer has to be really tenacious in order to get into the flow of making appointments and getting them.” She notes that Hagopian was able to network with architects through industry events.

The third piece, she says, is social media—including not only Instagram but LinkedIn. “Instagram is another strong visual social media tool, but it’s only a marketing tool if you curate your Instagram gallery with your visual positioning in mind.”

While all three marketing tools are important to raising visibility, photographers have to decide which of the three gets the most time and energy depending on their budget, time or goals. “If you’re a newer photographer, then most of your time is going to be spent on in-person meetings and social media, because there your investment is time, not money.”

At the end of a consultation, Maitreya says, her clients have set up a marketing calendar for the next six months to a year: “They have monthly and yearly goals for in-person meetings and they have a schedule for their visual email, direct mail and social media.” The plan gives them the most important ingredient of a marketing campaign: consistency. Too often, she says, photographers only think about promotion when their work slows, rather than “creating an intelligent, considered, proactive approach.”

Even if your marketing budget is small, she says, “If you have a program, and follow it consistently, you’ll gain traction. It’s a far better investment of your time and money and heart than the last minute, reactive approach that many photographers take in regards to their marketing.”

Selina Maitreya is a consultant and the author of two books, Portfolios that Sell and How to Succeed in Commercial Photography. She has lectured at events for APA, ASMP and CAPIC, and at FotoEnlace in Bogota, South America’s first photo conference.

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