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Breaking Into New Markets as an Illustrator or Photographer

Question: I want to break into new markets, but I need a plan. What do I need to break into new business – new work, reworked images, etc.?

Make a list of all the things you wish to achieve by entering new markets. When your list is as extensive as you can make it, take each entry and ask yourself “why?” And keep asking yourself until you have a full understanding of why entering that new market is important to your business’ health.

Do you want to create new work and find a market for it? Or are you thinking of finding a market and creating new work as a way of entry? Why?

Approaching New Markets

By account:

This approach requires second-guessing the marketplace. Unless you have an inside tip, the chances are you’ll be wrong. Reps, photographers and illustrators may identify account prospects by going through magazines and clipping what’s been done. If they seem to do similar work, they’ll identify the art director and pursue.

This is often a poor strategy. By the time a rep, photographer or illustrator figures out what’s going on, the account may be planning to do something different. Perhaps the campaign is successful and has won many awards, and your approach is that you could do it just like the present artist – so, why would they give you the job? Or perhaps you’ll tell the art director and art buyer you could do the work better, and wind up insulting your prospect.

By agency:

Some believe that blitzing an agency with telephone calls and promotions will get them work. But they know little about the people they’re calling. They discover very quickly that no one is returning their calls.

Cold calling takes practice. Some artists are afraid to do it, so they avoid it completely. But it works – if you have the aptitude to develop this skill. Part of this skill set is learning how to leave effective voicemail messages.

By category:

Perhaps you’re a still-life photographer with a portfolio filled with leather goods. How did that happen? Was leather a passion? Did you get a shoe account somewhere along the way that got you another shoe account, which begat a suitcase account, which…

Here’s an exaggerated true story: A student graduates from photography school with a portfolio filled with everything. She has food shots, product shots, portraits, lifestyle shots, action sports images, and class assignments. There are photojournalistic images and examples of how adept she is at photo manipulation, with multiple styles in each category. She hopes the marketplace will help sort out her passions.

Fate intervenes and our photographer obtains a face-to-face meeting with an art director. He goes through her portfolio quickly.

“I have a super-rush layout on my desk that requires the most succulent hamburger shot ever,” he says. “Think you can do it?”

She does the shot from her heart. It’s used in a national ad. Her telephone begins to ring. Twenty years go by as she develops a career in fast food photography. She’s damn good at it. But she yearns to get back to what made her choose photography in the first place – she’s earned a decent income, but lost her dream.

By building relationships with the people who can give you what you want:

This is the most effective approach to the marketplace. Art directors and art buyers are people, too, and reps, illustrators and photographers who use this approach find it most rewarding.

It requires intensive research. It’s important to know everything you possibly can about the people you’re approaching before you approach them. If you’ve done your homework, you can make the sale about them. You can share their dreams. You can create a heart-to-heart sale. And if you have a relationship with an art director, it doesn’t matter where he or she works: You’ll still be in a relationship, and you’ll be included when it’s appropriate.

Ian Summers

Ian offers teleconferences, workshops and career coaching to a wide range of artists. He’s created a new 2-day offering called The Heartstorming Career Redirection Workshop, which is based on the concept that our passions remain more or less the same throughout our careers, however, it is vital to take new actions to bring them into being.

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