Self-Promo Round Table (Part 3 of 3)

It's the last of my three part series on what creatives love and hate when it comes to photographers' self promos. Hope you have found it helpful so far. Today we get the dish from people in the marketing and advertising world. If you missed the previous installments please check them out. Monday was editorial and Tuesday was entertainment.

Today's panelists are:

Sandy Boss Febbo, Executive Art Producer, Carmichael Lynch

I receive dozens of mail promos and an average of one hundred email promos daily.  For me, it's all about the image.  Period.  It's that simple, and that hard.  The image must be compelling enough to get my attention and with the vast talent producing and promoting their work - standing out is a big deal.  But they do.  It can be as simple as a postcard with a single strong image or an email blast with a similarly simple format - that's all it takes.  I've received more elaborate pieces from photographers that feature a strong body of work - a published book, set of postcards, blurb book, etc., as well as a several pieces recently from agents and artist collectives that are stunning.

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Of these Just Add Water and Giant are certainly worth mentioning.  The first was a great collection of folded posters with a range of work from each of their artists and the latter a bound book with again a range of work from each of their artists. In both cases, again, the quality of the imagery was the hook.

My only pet peeve is overly designed promotions. It's about the image, not the package, the extras, or investment.  I would rather see a simple promo than one where the imagery becomes secondary or lost.  I also cringe when a promo isn't recyclable.

Just Add Water promo specs:

designer - Rinse Off Wallace

printer - Capitol Press (

quantity - 1500

Giant Artists specs:

Designers: Megan Steinman & Eric Roinestad

Printer: Oceanic Graphic Printing

Quantity Mailed Out:1,000

Elise Robins, Senior Print Producer, Publicis West The type of self promos that I have kept and generally hold onto for longer periods of time are ones that are beautifully printed and have something very unique about them.  The images selected to be show cased on the piece are obviously extremely important, but almost as important is the presentation.   The promo piece does not have to be particularly expensive, but it needs to stand out.

This can be done with "show stopping" photography that is unusual or dramatic.  But it can also be done by formatting the piece differently.  I believe that the presentation of the piece also shows the originality of the photographer and I particularly like those pieces that are cut differently, folded differently, printed on a unique stock or with a unique technique. I also like to see more than one image displayed in these pieces so that I can get a sense of the photographer's style which is not always easy from one shot.  The key takeaway is an emotionally moving picture on a unique platform.

I have no real pet peeves when it comes to photographers marketing themselves other than the frequency of their communications.  I think hearing from a photographer 3-4 times per year is adequate.  Having my mailbox cluttered with promotional pieces each week and sometimes the same promotional piece is overwhelming and not appreciated.  I realize that in a digital age, this is a weird thing to say, but I actually prefer to receive promos in the printed form versus electronic.  Printed pieces seem to have more impact and evoke more emotion than an email.

I think the only place for more elaborate promos is during a portfolio showing.  I definitely gravitate toward well made books and ones that are more unique.  One photographer showcased his work using a scrapbook theme which allowed him to show a variety of work in an unusual way that stuck with me.  Along with books, the leave behinds at portfolio shows are usually more elaborate and that feels good to me, as if I am part of a select audience that is important enough to get those special promo pieces.

Prentice Howe, SVP, Executive Creative Director, Door Number 3

I get bombarded by photographers' mailers. Most of them are postcards or simple fold-out pieces. With so many hitting my desk, it's hard to tell them apart. Honestly, most go straight to the recycling bin. The ones that really stand out? They have a killer image that just begs to be stared at.

I love when photographers pick an interesting topic and then deliver a photographic narrative around that. The more interesting the topic, the better. Rather than just sending beautiful shots from a scenic coastline, they're actually digging in and telling a story through their shots and showing many different sides of their skill sets along the way. It shows creativity and the ability to tell a story through the lens. Those kinds of pieces get passed around the creative department the most.

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One photographer who always sends beautiful, well designed mailers is Dana Neibert. He sent an incredible book a while back, printed on very tactile paper with hand stitched binding.

Dana designed his book himself. Printed by Neyenesch in San Diego. Quantity 7,500 (!)

Jon Setzen, Creative Director, Something Massive LA

The best promo pieces for me are always the most simple. When you get numerous promo pieces a week the last thing you want to do is follow instructions to see a photographer's work. I once had to do a paint by numbers sort of exercise to see a photograph of NYC at dusk. I also never understood the corporate gift sort of promos - matchbooks, calendars etc. I understand why it's nice to have something to use and reuse, but for me I only ever saved things I thought were well designed. Recently I have kept promos from Amanda Marsalis (samples of newest promo below), Jim Franco and Kang Kim.

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I always open envelopes and when you have to open an envelope your attention is always fully given to what is inside. When sending out my own promo pieces in the past I've always hand-written the addresses. People will generally open a hand-written envelope before a machine printed one. If you put a postcard with a short hand-written note in an envelope, it will get looked at and read. I would argue that your website (which hopefully appears prominently on the back of the card) will most likely be visited.

This definitely requires more work, but it's better to spend the time writing the note and addressing the envelope then it is trying to figure out which photo will look best on the mass-produced journal you're thinking about sending out. Work with a designer to think about layout and typography on the back of your card. If you have a logo (which you really should) have a custom stamp made and use that as your return address. Custom stamps cost about $30. It makes you look organized and invested in yourself and your brand.

Blair Thompson, Creative Director, Believe in

Being in the position of hiring photographers for projects, I am contacted fairly regularly. This can manifest itself in many forms. No particular medium has a better chance of attracting my attention. The main, and most obvious, distinction between those that succeed and those that fail is that they understand our visual direction and approach. We should be targeted because the photographer feels there is a 'good fit' and that their creativity 'mirrors' ours. Failing to understand this and subjecting me to irrelevant and unconsidered marketing is wasting both or time and money.

Ultimately we are most impressed by the work. That speaks loudest. Your capabilities and experience are all important but nothing speaks more loudly that the pictures! How it is presented is not necessarily the issue as long as it is confident and resonates with us. Usually this is most likely if the photographer is creative and resourceful and is not afraid to take risks — much like ourselves.

Focusing on particular mediums of delivery — here are my thoughts:

Digital Brilliant on the side of the photographer in terms of tracking and monitoring click throughs etc. But easy on the side of the recipient to ignore or intend to revisit — and never does. This approach requires considered design and imagery, working in harmony to cut above the sheer level of mail an average recipient gets on a daily basis and create an impression. Clicking through is step one. Having a site which then fully satisfies the users interest is what will make the biggest difference of all.

I am also a fan of the 'this is what I've been up to' email route. It's honest and allows the recipient to feel a privileged view into the photographers world. A bit like a blog but less frequent and again highly considered. It definitely provides a strong opportunity for building positive brand awareness. Don't overdo it though — there are still limits which border on annoying. About every 6 weeks is good.

Print A simple and creative approach works best here. Don't spend fortunes on elaborate brochures. Go with something which is cost effective and easy to replace with newer or targeted content. Think about what your customer is likely to best respond to. Also think responsibly in terms of the materials you print on and the lifespan of your materials. Beautiful images and design will stand a greater chance of being retained for longer — or even passed on, which is ultimately what you are looking for.

General Show your best work and try not to show everything and anything. Focus on what you do best or what you want to do more of. You will appear confident and professional and more likely to command a decent fee as a result.

Contributor Bios

Sandy Boss Febbo is the Executive Art Producer at Carmichael Lynch in Minneapolis where she has produced for a great range of clients for over fourteen years. Sandy has a degree in Art History and English Literature. Her background includes time with the Minnesota State Arts Board and she has volunteered as a docent at the Walker Art Center for over fifteen years.

Elise Robins: Born and raised in the suburbs of Chicago Graduated from Illinois State University with a BA in Marketing Graduated from Depaul University with an MBA in Marketing Management Has worked in the advertising industry for about 18 years Currently lives in Seattle with her husband Interests are reading and travel

Blair Thomson is Creative Director of independent design and branding agency Believe in. Established in 1996 Believe in exist to articulate engaging, provocative and effective brand experiences driven by ideas and solid research. They push boundaries and exploit possibilities, working in partnership with ambitious clients to realize the full potential of their brands. Experience encompasses branding, identity, print, packaging, illustration, art direction, digital, advertising and environment.

Prentice Howe is the head visionary and trailblazer at Door Number 3 in Austin, responsible for leading the indie ad agency’s creative team while playing an integral part in the overall company operations. As Executive Creative Director, Prentice supervises all art direction and copywriting, while developing strategic campaigns that communicate a brand’s truth to a desired audience.

Jon Setzen is the Creative Director of Something Massive, an interactive advertising agency with offices in LA, NYC and Buenos Aires. His personal work has appeared in numerous magazines, blogs and rock posters have been exhibited worldwide including London, Tokyo, Copenhagen, NYC and LA. He lives and works in Los Angeles where he also runs the Los Angeles chapter of Creative Mornings.

Self-Promo Round Table - Part 2 of 3

Today's self-promo round table panelists are from the entertainment industry:

If you missed yesterday's post from the editorial/magazine world, please check it out.

Wednesday I'll post feedback from ad agency creatives.

Leah Overstreet, Photography Director, Spike TV

I work at a guy’s network, so its great when promos come in that are geared toward the type of work we are doing. I make sure and hold onto these for reference for upcoming shoots that we have. Its very important to make sure and tailor your work towards your client and the type of work they are doing.

I receive so many emails each day and lots of times email promos get lost in the shuffle. If you send me a promo through the mail, I am 10 times more likely to see it and hold onto it, then an email.



I love this promo by Scott McDermott because it is not a pretty portrait. It shows all of the grit and imperfections in the skin, face, and hands. The contrast of the black and white backgrounds really make it stand out. It's a 6 x 8.5" card and is printed on thicker stock paper.

I also really like a recent promo I received from EJ Camp. It is 6x8.5. This promo is made of a thicker stock paper, with a photo finish. Its a great advertising shot and right in line with the work that we do. It made me want to look at her website and see more of what she does. I usually think that one or two images per promo card should be the max, however I think this is a good example of a series that works well using more images.



Put your strongest work on your promo that will drive the potential client to your site.

Maggie Fost, Art Director, Merge Records

I am more likely to keep a single postcard than anything more elaborate because if it's an inspiring image or something that just makes me smile, I'll pin it up on my bulletin board, which spans a full wall of my office and is filled with all kinds of images and objects. That said, an email that is specifically written to me (rather than crafted for mass distribution) is probably the most compelling kind of promotion. Knowing that someone is eager to work with Merge makes me more likely to file their email in my "photographers" folder than someone sending images of their recent work every quarter. If they include their location in the subject line, it's easier for me to find when I go back looking for a photographer in a certain city or region.

Another way I learn about photographers is by asking someone whose business it is to be in the know, like Jasmine (this is the straight dope - she did not ask me to say this!) For a recent project, I needed an L.A.-based photographer who had a sun-drenched dreamy style. Rather than googling away or sifting through my e-archives, I sent a quick email to Jasmine and she pointed me directly to the perfect person. It turns out this photographer had sent me promos in the past, but I ignored them because they weren't relevant to my needs at the time.

I also learn of photographers through our bands. If they want to work with someone specific for promotional shots or an album cover, we almost always honor that. If I like the results, we are likely to use that photographer again, so making connections with the subjects photographers are interested in shooting is just as important as marketing to the client.

Gail Marowitz, Creative Director, Roadrunner Records

The promos that I tend to keep are of two types:

The first promo has an image that directly speaks to what I do and my needs as a creative director for a Rock Music record label. It can have a portrait of a band in an interesting location, it can have a musician that looks comfortable and that properly telegraphs the sensibility of the recording artist. It can also be a still life or an illustrated photo collage that is dark, edgy and well executed.

The other promos that I keep are those of the extremely well designed nature. They have beautiful typography, interesting paper selection and are conceptually solid. These are the promos that assure me that the photographer has a good eye and cares about his/her work from concept to final output.

I do have pet peeves.

  • Do a little homework before blindly sending promos. If you send me still lifes of lipstick and flowers or women doing yoga, or children or beautiful fashion models, I will delete and/or throw away and not go to your website. I work for a Rock/Heavy Metal label. Try to send me appropriate work for what I do.

  • If you still go the snail mail route, make sure your promo is well designed and printed well.

  • Don't send me an email promo every week. I know there is a way for you to check if I found your promo interesting enough to look at your website. If I haven't checked your site, and you keep sending me promos (I receive approximately 20 of them a DAY), I will get annoyed. You don't want that.

What I appreciate the MOST, is when I meet a photographer who is talented, look at their book, explain my needs and in the following week or two, they have put together and sent me a body of work that captures the essence of what we talked about in our meeting.

Simon Keeping, Art Director, Kraken Opus

I receive a fair few printed promos from photographers. Its always nice to look at but in terms of referring back to them later I'm not sure I actually do. In the course of the publishing projects I work on there's alot of paper on my desk, flatplans, editorial plans, proofs, print samples etc etc so I normally lose them within that pile of paper or failing that it gets 'filed' somewhere safe which I then forget about.

I much prefer e-promo's which are easily forwarded to editors (when it comes to commissioning), other team members or even fellow designers and most of which I think represent photographers better than a printed flyer as the quality of the images is never compromised by poor printing.

One thing I find very irritating is when I take the time to click through to a site to check out a photographers work it can be at times a battle to just look at the images. A word of advice, If you direct me to your site, I don't want to see loads of flash animation and over designed navigation, I want to see the quality of your work. Keep your site clean and functional other wise people will just get frustrated and give up trying to view your work. Remember what the function of your site is: a tool for art directors (very busy people) to see your photography. I'd rather see the worlds most basic website which allowed me to quickly view your work and get a feel for your style (with easy to find up-to-date contact details) than an all singing, all dancing web extravaganza. Remember your site is often the first point of contact with clients, don't miss out on work because of it!

Contributor Bios

Gail Marowitz has been art directing and designing for the music business for nearly twenty years. She has worked for various labels including Tommy Boy Records, the Imago Recording Company, Wind-Up Records and Columbia Records where she was the Design Director for ten years collaborating with artists such as James Taylor, Patti Smith and Bette Midler. In 2006, she won a Grammy® Award for "Best Recording Package" for Aimee Mann's "The Forgotten Arm" and was nominated in the same category again in 2008 for Mann's latest release "@#%&*! Smilers". Her work has been selected for Print Magazine's Regional Design Annual and she was a recipient of a Silver Telly Award in 2008. Currently, she is the Creative Director at Roadrunner Records, a label whose stock in trade is mostly hard rock and heavy metal. You can see her personal work at

Maggie Fost is the Art Director at Merge Records, an independent record label in Durham, North Carolina.

Leah Overstreet began her career photographing for the Smithsonian National Zoo in DC. After moving to New York she worked in the photo departments of GQ, Vogue, and Men’s Journal Magazines. Leah is currently the photo director for Spike TV/TV Land and a freelance photographer.

Simon Keeping is a freelance art director, currently working with Kraken Opus who specialize in high end, limited edition books. He has recently art directed 5 titles for such luminaries as Ferrari, Deigo Maradona and Tottenham Hotspur. Influenced by music, design, illustration, fashion, photography and reading too many skateboard magazines as a teenager, he describes his style of work as ‘clean, stylish and bold’.