Last week, in response to the post about your portfolios, I received this question:
How do logos and branding make Art Buyers see you? Does (stuff like that) make you guys pay more attention to a book/promo?
I think that developing your brand identity is very important. As I’ve said before, you are working in an industry that is all about branding so you can assume that your audience is sensitive to these sorts of things.
Just to keep it interesting, I asked my colleague, Leila Courey, Art Buyer at Leo Burnett, Toronto what she thought:
I don’t mind if photographers want to bling out their promos for extra attention as long as the quality of the work goes along with it. What I don’t dig, is photographers spending what looks like a ton of money on business cards, expensive promos or portfolios meanwhile they really need to spend more time crafting their work.
When an artist is more established, or has been off the radar for a while, I can understand wanting to brand/re brand themselves to let it be known that they’re still available for assignment but even still, this won’t sway me. It’s all about the work. I may notice a fancy promo package poking out of my mail box or left at reception sure, but it won’t necessarily elevate my desire to shoot with the artist any more then his/her competitor. There are many photographers out there who are so talented but may not be working enough to afford extravagant promo material.
What I do place value on is how accessible they are during the bid stage, the way they present their treatments (when applicable) and their estimates. Believe it or not, sometimes estimates come in late, sloppy or with missing information which to me, is a reflection on how buttoned up (or not) they’ll be on the job.
And if artists or agents are planning their next direct mail promo: keep it simple! I have very little use for over-sized promos mainly due to space. I like to keep all promos together but when they are too large or cumbersome, they end up being filed somewhere that’s not frequently accessed.
Let’s keep Leila’s point that ultimately, “It’s all about the work” in mind as we dive into an in-depth look at emerging photographer Michael Clinard’s branding journey.
In March 2008, I attended the Photographer’s Survival Tour led by Suzanne Sease and Amanda Sosa-Stone in Seattle. The main idea I came away with it isn’t just about the photography I make, but how well I represent myself through the marriage of my images and identity—identity being anything from a logo, type treatment, or combination thereof. I also walked away knowing that I wasn’t at all interested in frou-frou colors or novelty (something like the “a” in one’s last name cleverly becoming the lens of a camera). That really isn’t me or my work.
Soon after the event, I read Elyse Weissberg’s “Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers,” Alina Wheeler’s “Designing Brand Identity” and the works of Marty Neuimeier. I also started bookmarking every design/typeface incorporated in photographer’s identities and studied how those worked with their images.
I let that information seep in until the end of 2008, when I decided to hire a designer to create my look on market. As a photographer who appreciates good design, I saw the benefit in hiring a professional to help establish something memorable and edgy to represent my style. January ’09 was a sea of meet and greets, RFPs to firms, and design referrals from colleagues. I didn’t find the right fit until late January when I stumbled across the work of Tim Lahan of Trademark-TM in NYC. He’s equal parts illustrator and designer and can balance humor and message to a “T.”
I sent him an email explaining my position: an emerging Seattle-based photographer specializing in quirky, conceptual portrait and tabletop work in need of an arresting brand identity that supported my current and future body of work. He wrote me back within the hour, and we hit it off.
I sent him tons of research and influences: the work of Nessim Higson and Alex Trochut, a folder of portrait busts and oval paintings, stills from the Hudsucker Proxy and vintage stationery/identity examples. All of these things resonated with me for their left-of-center, quirky and conceptual feel. I also pointed him toward photographers who did interesting things with their look on market: David and Lyndon Wade, Matthew Mahon, Chris Hornbecker and Tim Morris.
Tim pumped out three potential treatment directions: 1) the subtly confounded option, 2) the safe option, and 3) some tripped-out, 1950s throwback with Futura font that a small-town optometrist or pharmacist would have etched on the glass door of his office. Ultimately, the third direction became the winner, and the Office of Michael Clinard, General Photography was born.
By March of ’09, Tim and I had worked out small kinks in the trademark and started addressing the identity system (letterhead, business cards, envelopes, and printed promo pieces). We both agreed that a letterpress treatment was the way to go, so I tapped a local studio in Seattle to handle the basics. The die-cut business card features the identity on the front and an appointment card on the back. The first round of printing just wrapped a couple weeks back, and I was able to tackle the card, my letterhead and envelope. I’m still working on the finishing touches for my print promo mailers, and I’m weighing the option of adding a letterpress buckslip and greeting card/thank you card to the mix.
Rather than seeing all of this as a huge cost, I chose to see it as an important and necessary investment in my march toward offering my photography services. A well-executed identity and system that takes a year or more to construct could actually save me time in the long run. In other words, I’d hate to rush into something, put it out and get a year or two in, only to realize what I had just wasn’t representative of who I was or what I did.
Right now, I’m holding on my printed portfolio as I’ve been discussing the best way to approach my book with a couple of designers. I know I can’t wait forever, but I want to give it the same attention to detail that I’ve given every other component of the identity, including the website that’s just gone live after five months in the making: http://www.michaelclinard.com.
If I could give any advice, it would be don’t just rely on your own opinion. Lean on colleagues, friends, photographers, designers and agency pros to get their take. They’ll either confirm your gut feeling or lend advice on why things are (or aren’t) working. I’ve done this on every step of the project, and I feel it’s benefited greatly from it.
The reception I’ve been getting from the identity has been quite amazing. I confess that it’s coming mostly from my colleagues in the Seattle area, but it seems to be growing. I’m on the verge of sending out my promo mailers and an introductory “Greetings from The Office of Michael Clinard, General Photography” email introducing my work to creatives, agencies and firms.
I love what I do and am inspired by the growing community of photographers. I’m excited to see how things take shape and look forward to putting myself out there.
For more info on Michael’s journey- including pictures of his work on-press, head over to his blog.
I must add a footnote to this story to tell you that during our back and forth over the last two weeks regarding this post, Michael has been unbelievably thorough- he shot his collateral two different ways so I would have options and he knew enough about my blog to send images at exactly the right size for insertion (not necessary since wordpress does this automatically now thank the good lord, but nevertheless its the thought that counts). Plus, customizing the collateral pieces to HMAb, including a nice letter- very smart. This thorough, considerate approach is what will bring any first-time clients back for more. Maybe… if you work’s good enough… and the job’s right for you… Anyway, you get my drift.
Also, please consider all the research that Michael put into his own identity. Art Director’s love references. If Michael provided half of these back to an AD during production, he’d be well on his way to earning repeat business (see caveat above).
So, we’ve covered a lot of important things in this post. Keeping in mind that developing your vision and producing good work is of ultimate importance, I am a believer that good branding and the way you approach a project can tell me a lot about what my working experience is going to be like with you. Don’t let an opportunity to show your well-roundedness go to waste.
Thanks for sharing this Michael, all the best.