Ask an Art Buyer: Email Promos

by Heather on October 7, 2009

Wednesday is Ask an Art Buyer day. Send your questions to with the subject line Ask an Art Buyer. I’ll answer as many as I can every Wednesday.

Today’s question comes from Ally Godfrey, a rep with a nice little stable of shooters. Here’s something simple (yet complex):

© JonPaul Douglass

© JonPaul Douglass

Ally asks:

More and more I am noticing that art buyers/art producers at agencies are with holding their email addresses from AdBase and other source sites such as Agency Access and Workbook. I understand that they get A LOT of emailers….but isn’t that part of their job to know who is out there and be aware of what is going on in the market? Direct mail can be cost prohibitive, especially to a new photographer and source books don’t tell the whole story. It seems to me counter intuitive not to be willing to receive emailers. What are your thoughts?

Before I weigh in on this, I’m going to ask you go immediately to the Stockland Martel blog, and read Kristina Feliciano’s reports from a recent gathering of reps in NYC. There are many, many good nuggets in this post, including a discussion of exactly this issue: email vs. printed promos. C’mon, I’ll wait while you read it…

While emailers sounded like a good idea several years ago, they are now little better then spam. Most of the work I get is not appropriate to any need I might possibly have, and lots of it just isn’t good at all. Plus, if the image isn’t displaying in my email window and fast, I’m on to the next one. On the other hand, when I receive a printed promo, at the very least, I look at the image(s). I also notice your attention to detail in your paper and design choice. Most often, email promos feel templated and generic, hence the agency opt-outs.

But there are exceptions. Let’s have a look at a few email blasts I appreciate. I mention Jonathan Saunders every time we talk about this because his emails are as well conceived as can be. Go here and here to see some examples and read up on Jonathan’s approach.

Wonderful Machine
sends me emails that look a bit like this (but bigger, this one had four photographers featured). Click to see it size-as.


I like how this is laid out: lots of images and a little bit of text to give me a hint of the photog’s personality, done in a semi-clever way. It looks nice. My only issue with promos from these guys? As I looked through my archive to find an example, I notice that I’m getting these, on average, every week for the last month. Through the spring and the summer it was much less- one per month or so. Why the ramp-up? This might be too much of a good thing. Turns out this was a glitch in the system. All good.

Glasshouse Images is also getting it right. This is an excerpt from their monthly (that seems reasonable) missive:


I like that they are giving me some content to ponder. It makes them seem smart and committed to photography and the community at large. In all of these cases, the emails project a really solid, professional image of their shooters. The images are quality too- as per my angry rant last week, the importance of this goes without saying.

But to get back to the crux of your question- how do you get noticed? Three strategies:

1. Send the portfolio. You’re right, it’s their job to see who’s out there and portfolios are rarely declined (a meeting might be but a book drop shouldn’t be). Given your point about the difficulty of getting emails through to some agencies, going back to the book (as an important introduction to your work) might be most appropriate.

2. Email blasts. But good ones, with a nice design, and some copy for context. Definitely strong images, and make sure I can see them as soon as I open the email.

3. Print promos. Targeted, lovingly printed ones are fantastic and shouldn’t have to break the bank. Look back at our recent discussion on the leave-behind portfolio idea for more ideas on this

I will freely admit, it can be tricky for a young photographer to negotiate this Catch-22 scenario. Hope this advice helps.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Mark Harmel October 7, 2009 at 11:40 am

Are people not researching and targeting their messages? I work hard to refine my printed promo list because sending every card costs me $1 to produce. I then only send my emails to the same audience.

I’m noticing that I’m getting email from photographers. I don’t know why they would think that a photographer would buy photography.

Jonathan Saunders October 7, 2009 at 12:28 pm

Hi Heather,

Thanks for the mention….

Promotion is such an odd beast. I remember the first time I went to Ogilvy as a student on a tour and they wheeled out a shopping cart, literally a shopping cart of mailed promo’s most of which were unopened. It was wonderful, we got to pick and choose and keep, a friend grabbed a big thick Hans Neleman promo still shrink wrapped… All I could think of then is how he would feel knowing they just wheeled out out a cart and gave students free reign over promos never looked at. So much $ that thing must of been. I think it shifted and then shifted back again…. as it will again soon.

As usual, the best answer to all this seems to do the best with what you can. The right piece at the right time seems key above all else, do hard mailers, do emails – make it all as interesting as you can. The rest ain’t up to us (photographers).


Neil/Wonderful Machine October 8, 2009 at 4:26 pm

Hi Heather – I’m glad that you enjoy our email promos’ clean layout and bio info. And unfortunately, you caught the one error in our mailing list out of the entire year!

We don’t send promos to the same recipients once a week, but accidentally did to you in September. Good catch. We are very conscientious about not being overbearing to art buyers in our promotions, in-person portfolio breakfasts, etc.

Heather October 8, 2009 at 5:36 pm

Oh Neil, I’m happy to be your glitch. I’ll fix the post to reflect this.

robert gallagher October 14, 2009 at 1:50 pm

Hey Heather,
Thanks for the in- advertent advertising via the Wonderful Machine email promo mention. Great blog post by the way, very insightful. thanks.

Margaret Lindsay Holton October 16, 2009 at 2:27 pm

I’ve just done my FIRST ever ‘bulk’ email ‘newsletter promo’ primarily cuz my personal-private list is getting a bit overwhelming & unmanageable at just over 1000.

My ‘target’ market is a bit more ‘general’ then just photography (I’m a ‘mid-career’ multi-disciplined artist/author), so I wanted to reflect that in my ‘eflyer’. I tried to make it a good blend of ‘personal & professional’ for those who might be interested in what and how I do things … I also announced three shows coming up in the fall, and gave a link to the ‘Canadian Copyright eConsultation’ that was VERY active during the summer.

Intellectual Property Rights, especially with the advent of infinite digital replication, are transforming the dynamics between creators & consumers. I was very vocal in that symposium …

The results were surprisingly good. First, before sending, I edited out those I KNEW were not appropriate and/or simply don’t like them. This got me to a ‘start up’ of 730.

I sent the flyer on Sept 23rd and was still getting ‘traffic’ by October 10th, which kind of surprised me, in that, it seems people ‘held on to it’ and read it later. Kind of a good thing to know.

Overall, and thus far, 55% of the total mailout viewed the mail-out, ‘direct hits’ to my blog touched 130, and only 13 from the total list ‘unsubscribed’. The unknown ‘gray zone’ of 45% lwho didn’t register in the ‘trackback’ probably equal half who dumped and half who viewed without opening the graphics – so say my email ‘experts’. (I’ve done this myself with stuff I get, so this seems likely.)

So, all in all, I THINK thems fairly good stats.

I have decided I WILL be doing it again, and have even also added a ‘subscribe to my newsletter’ widget on my blog. It will be interesting to see how that pans out over the next year or two. ‘ I intend to do a mail-out 3x’s per year. For now.

If the number of ‘opened’ starts to fall off dramatically, I will stop.

Thought I’d put this out there for others to compare.

Great blog Heather.

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