The Art of Self Promotion

As the photo editor at PDN, I get a lot of promos. For me, even a postcard with a single image, name, contact info and legible location proves successful. I look at work digitally all the time. It’s nice to have something to hang on the cubical wall. Lately I’ve seen a lot of postcard mailers – sometimes in sets of 4 or 6. I’ve also seen zines, newsletters and large-format fold-out promos.

We share a lot of the promos we receive on Instagram (@pdnonline #pdnpromos #pdnpromoswekept).

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Some photographers are known for their large promos. Take James Wojcik, for example. During his 30-plus year career he’s shot for a ton of magazines and brands, but continues to make personal work, sharing his different projects in the form of promo-mailers. He’s still remembered for a set of cards he made of alphabet shapes he had once sculpted out of cardboard and other materials, as well as this Wo-Brands series from a few years ago (he took iconic American brands and remade the logos inserting the first part of his last name).

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Wojcik raises oysters near his vacation home on Shelter Island, New York, and has shot hundreds of images of them. He even created a website for the fictional Dinah Rock Oysters Company. Fifty of the images were turned into a boxed set of postcards.

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Jason Myers, a photographer who had been formerly based in Florida with a recent relocation to Nashville, sent us a huge promo last summer. He created his own logo & design, “Fresh from Florida,” and included a branded jar of honey, a branded plastic tumbler, a few oranges, a juice squeezer, a set of promo cards and a map – which I found to be the best and most effective piece of the promo. Photo editors don’t always have the best sense of geography (myself included) or the time to Google map locations.

Jason included a map showing where he was based and the amount of time it would take him by car (or plane) to get to other places.

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Sidenote: I can’t stress enough how important it is to clearly label your location on a promo card and especially on your website. If you’re traveling, say you’re traveling or that you’ll be in X location from X date to X date, or that you’ll be available as a local in X and Y, please make some sort of mention of where you are in the world. It saves photo editors a lot of time.

One of my favorite promo/success stories has to be Marcus Smith. I met him at NYC Fotoworks a few years ago, and he had just sent out his first promo, “Crew Love,” a booklet on a local Chicago high school basketball team he documented for a year. Marcus wanted to shoot for Nike – and made work that both he loved, and hoped they would too. A carefully crafted promo goes a long way. The work got Marcus a lot of attention on social media, even grabbing the attention of his agent, as well as Nike. Soon after finishing “Crew Love,” Marcus was hired to shoot for Nike’s Jordan Brand Instagram account.

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Here are some additional self-promotion tips I’ve found to be successful in the past:

  • Hard copy mailers and email mailers are great, but it’s really important to network with clients, and even other photographers in person. Personality goes a long way.
  • Portfolio reviews – when you have new work to show, or have an idea of where you want to go with your career – are extremely beneficial. Make sure to arrive to your review fully prepared, however, or it will be a waste of time and money.
  • With any promo, figure out who your audience is. What do you hope to get from the promo? This is a reminder that you’re out there, showing off new work, rebranding and pitching to new clients.
  • Have someone else look at the promo before you send it or print it. This is important both from a photo editing standpoint, and in checking for general typos and possible misinformation.
Amy Wolff

Amy is the photo editor for PDN and co-founder of CoEdit Collection , an online photography gallery. Amy grew up in Easton, PA, and after attending Goucher College, she moved to San Francisco. Following a short stint in advertising, she worked in a national park as the staff photographer and producer of art exhibits and public programs. She photographed bands in exchange for concert tickets or free beer, and weddings that actually paid. She moved to NYC in 2007, beginning her photo-editing career at Fortune. Amy is a frequent (and honest) portfolio reviewer and judge for photography contests.

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  • Jason - 4 years ago

    The last time a promoted myself as a photographer was back in the mid 90’s when I’d call up art directors, schedule a portfolio showing, and meet face-to-face. Times were different then, so I find these posts on marketing SUPER BENEFICIAL.

    Thank you for sharing…