Promos We Kept: Collaborations Between Rep Agencies and their Artists

August 2, 2017

By Sharon Ber

Business is usually at the heart of the symbiotic relationship between photographers and their agents. But the photographer/agent relationship can also be a creative collaboration. This month we talked with reps—John Sharpe of  Sharpe + Associates, Jen Jenkins of Giant Artists, John Kenney and Ed Varites of JK& and Laura McClintock of Redux Pictures—about how they work with their photographers to create successful promos for their group. They explained why they think print promotions are still so important to a marketing strategy.

Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>

Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN.

Sharpe + Associates

John Sharpe takes pride in his agency’s “boutique” approach, built “with conceptual, stylized work . . . defined more by a ‘look’ than specific subject matter.” Having represented commercial artists for more than 30 years, Sharpe believes that because he works with artists with a specific style, he can create promotional pieces that work well for the agency, and for individual artists. “Each individual’s work is unique, but complementary to the group.”

Recently, Sharpe and his team, with the help of designer Brian Gunderson of the design firm StoutSF and illustrator Alyssa Tobias, created a coloring book for adults. “We wanted to send something to our current and prospective clients that, first and foremost, would stand out from the other mailers they receive, plus capitalize on the coloring book fad and showcase our artists’ work in a unique way.” Photographers Zachary ScottEva Kolenko and creative production studio Electric Art chose the photographs to be reinterpreted as black-and-white line art, which Tobias then drew freehand. The 8.5 x 11-inch, 28-page coloring book includes a gate-fold on the front and back covers that shows images from the artists in their original full color.

Sharpe + Associates (S+A) do one big mailing per year, and produce 2,500 pieces; of that, approximately 2,000 are mailed to ad agency art directors, creative directors and art producers. S+A has also increased their targeting to client-side creative departments. The rest of the promos are used as leave-behinds after appointments.

The budget for the promo was $15,000, which included the design, illustration, printing and mailing. The costs were split equally between S+A and the artists.

Despite what’s available in “low- to no-cost digital promotion platforms,” Sharpe still believes “printed mailers have the ability to deliver much more impact than digital messaging.” Mailers are tactile objects that require the recipient to focus on opening and interacting with them he says. “The concept, the design, the materials—all create an impression on the viewer that hopefully complements the imagery and our branding.”

However, Sharpe doesn’t underestimate the usefulness of social media. He encourages his artists to develop their own social media audiences. “As a rep, I really appreciate the flexibility of digital portfolios, and as a marketer, I appreciate what the various social platforms offer—but I tend to want to move in the opposite direction than the herd when it comes to mailers.”  The fewer people sending printed pieces, “the more value there is for those that are able to do [them], which is why we do put a significant amount of effort into [printed mailers].”

To compliment the promo mailing, S+A, one of five agencies in a collaboration called mergecoordinated an interactive pop-up exhibit. Together, the agencies in merge create events that showcase work from each of their rosters and raise money for charity in the process. The coloring books were included in gift bags given out at the events, and large posters of the line drawings were hung on the walls of the gallery space, to be colored in by attendees. Images of the colored posters produced at the exhibit were used via social media to further promote the agency and the artists.

Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>. © João Canziani (left) and Justin Fantl (right)

Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN. © João Canziani (left) and Justin Fantl (right).

Giant Artists

“I place a great deal of importance on well-designed, printed promos,” says Jen Jenkins, founder of Giant Artists,which represents 15 photographers and one wardrobe stylist. “I often hold onto ones I find either have an interesting subject matter (highlighting a personal series, for example) or a quality design format that I want to reference in the future.”

At the beginning of each year, Giant mails promos to 2,000 individuals at ad agencies and client companies. The piece, Jenkins says, serves as “a quick reference to our photographers and stylist—one image per artist.” In the past, that promo has always been a two-sided, 9 x 12-inch card. “This year I wanted to push the format,” she says. “A two-sided card did not allow enough space for images to breathe, especially as the roster grew, and I envisioned a larger fold-out or booklet.” Designer George McCalman, who had previously designed individual promos for several artists on Giant’s roster, came up with the new “menu-style folded piece.”

Jenkins made the initial selection of images to be included in the promo. “George and I worked in tandem to find a grouping of images that complimented each other and showed the best of each artist at a glance.” The images for the full-bleed, front and back covers had to allow for enough negative space to accommodate Giant’s logo. “Justin Fantl had recently shot the fish and flower still life, so we were excited to showcase that work, which felt like a fresh new direction for him. Plus, it made for a striking cover image, with enough space for our logo.” João Canziani’s Nike athlete was chosen for the back cover. “I felt all the images in this promo represented the best of each artist at this moment in time,” Jenkins says.

The promo was printed by AW Litho. Jenkins says her budget for a mailing ranges from about $2,000 to $6,000 depending on the design of the piece and how many promos are printed.

While a printed promo or portfolio shows a certain professionalism, Jenkins says, she also sees the value in digital. “The bonus of an email campaign or social media [is] not only the ‘likes’ and responses we get—it’s much easier to respond in these digital formats—but [it’s also] the analytics. We gain a lot of information and to some effect skew our marketing efforts based on who’s opening our e-newsletters, the number of click-throughs, etc. It’s valuable information that we’re not able to gain from a mailer.”

Jenkins says she uses print and digital in tandem to get the work noticed. “I’m certain that our printed promos, in partnership with our online marketing, personal relationships, etc. lead to jobs. Step one is putting together a strong roster of artists who make stellar work. Step two is getting that work out in the world.”

Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>. © Marc Tule (left) and Maxine Helfman (right).

Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN. © Marc Tule (left) and Maxine Helfman (right).


“In the digital world in which everyone seems to be constantly staring at a screen on either their computer or phone, a well-designed, cool magazine can be inspiring,” say John Kenney and Ed Varites of JK&. “It’s a gift. It’s something that took thought, time and craft to produce and represents the artist that created it.”

JK& have made six versions of their magazine, titled &. Each issue showcases work from their roster of nine photographers and directors. “It’s a collaborative effort with the artists, our designer and us,” they say. “We are always looking for the newest and most original work to use in the magazine. The images drive it—they need to be powerful, current and relevant to the overall work of each artist. The magazine is a quick reference of the entire group, so the best of the best work needs to be showcased.”

Kenney and Varites say working with a designer is “a must.” For their last four magazines, as well as their current and previous website, they’ve used David Heasty from Triboro Design. “He’s an amazing designer who created an identity for us.” It was Heasty who suggested that the magazine be printed with a fifth metallic spot color. “When he first introduced the silver color, we were unsure it would work with the photographers’ images. David insisted and he was right. The silver spot color combined with the black and white was beautiful and unique and custom designed for our company. We have used the silver in the past four magazines we produced. When you hire a designer, which is a must, let him do what he does best—design.”

The company produces 4,000 magazines each year and sends them to select clients. They focus on advertising agencies, but also send them to corporate, design, broadcast and editorial clients. They print enough to also hand out at portfolio reviews and meetings. “We know that if an art director, art producer or broadcast producer leaves with the magazine, they leave with a sample of each of our artists.” Aside from their magazine, all of JK&’s artists send out individual printed promos “that are unique to them, and expresses who they are individually,” say Kenney and Varites.

Kenney and Varites say they “love all forms of promotion, and while email campaigns and social media have a more instant effect and response, the printed promo is still an art form.” In this digital world, “the magazine, the printed promo, is another tool in the marketing toolbox. We try to use them all.”

Photo by Sharon Ber for <i>PDN</i>. © Mattia Zoppellaro

Photo by Sharon Ber for PDN. © Mattia Zoppellaro

Redux Pictures

Every year Redux Pictures sends out between one and three printed promos that showcase the agency as a whole, says editorial director Laura McClintock. Redux manages photographers from all over the world, so their agency promos need to show the range of work in their archive as well as the photographers they represent for assignment. “We wanted to send something that was useful and would almost guarantee that the receiver would hold onto the promo piece for a longer time,” she says. They decided to reprise a notepad project that had been successful five years ago.

Astral Studios had created the first notepad five years ago and were brought back to design this new 6-inch square one, which included a total of 100 images. “It’s a lot of work to compile this many images,” McClintock says. “It took three full staff meetings to look at designs, two designers, hundreds and hundreds of images and hours of work. It probably took nine months from planning to printing and involved a lot of people over that time.” Brilliant Graphics, which Redux has been using for years, printed 2,000 of the notebooks. Redux sent them to editors, ad agencies and graphic designers.

The project ended up being more expensive than initially planned. Because the notepad was heavy, the postage per item added to the cost. “We probably spent two years’ promo budget instead of one, but it was a really impactful piece that we don’t do every year. This is more of an every five years kind of project,” McClintock says.

While she doesn’t always get  feedback about their promos, McClintock says most of the time she’ll receive at least one “call or email to say how much they liked the work or that they would like to hire someone based on the promo they just received.”

McClintock says, “Email promos are great because they’re immediate. They also allow you to link to the artist’s portfolio. You can also have gifs, video and other moving parts that you miss out on in a printed piece.” But she sees them more as a quick update or reminder of where a photographer is based. “A printed promo is a tangible thing, and if done well, there are plenty of editors who keep promo pieces and that’s what we want. Whether it’s the next day or a year later, we want to inspire editors to work with our artists and so creating something memorable—hopefully enough that they would want to keep it—is our goal.”