HOW TO SEE 100 MAGAZINE & ADVERTISING AGENCIES
IN NEW YORK IN 10 DAYS
New York is called the "Big Apple" because it beckons you to come there and take a big
bite. Like the song says,"If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere." To many,
New York City is the capitol of where everything happens. Ask anyone who lives and
works in Manhattan.
My studio is in Tampa, Florida, an unknown city until 1976 when the NFL opened a franchise football team there called the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Football put Tampa on the map because the Bucs, as they are affectionately called, were on TV every Sunday during the season playing the great NFL teams. Even though they lost 27 games straight, it didn.'t matter. In fact it brought even more attention to Tampa which helped me.
My determination was not forthcoming overnight. I carefully planned my attack on New York. Actually it was a five year plan that I worked backwards. My goal was to be known in the New York photography circles in five years. So what did I have to do in the fifth year, the fourth year, the third year, the second year, the first year, in six months, in one month, and to get started to achieve my goal? You might cause yourself a heart attack by giving yourself a goal to be famous overnight in New York. There are just a few people ahead of you.
Look Magazine had just closed which put 50 top photographers on the street, and National Geographic downsized to about six staffers and the rest of their photography was going to be done by contract photographers in order to drastically reduce their overhead. I made up my mind I was as good as these guys, and I was going to New York anyway. Maybe I was a fool rushing in where angels fear to tread, but I was determined, and that is half the battle. It is very important to totally believe in yourself and your ability. Know your strong points, and know what you are not good at. Perseverance in the face of adversity is a key to success. Expect to hear many ''no's", but also there are many "yes's" out there to reap. Think of your prospective clients as friends, it made it a lot easier for me thinking I was going to New York to see many of my friends.
Build at least two dynamic portfolios of your best photographs. Try to make the portfolio itself unique. I chose glove leather for mine with black suede inside, folded out to cover the Art Director's desk which is usually cluttered with work. I've seen some great looking portfolios in Photo District News made out of metal and wood that were not too expensive. You must spend money to make money. Another business axiom is to make a plan and work the plan. These are rules for success. If you haven't noticed, the top Art Directors don't call you at your studio or home because they know you don't have work. Success breeds success. My philosophy is to hire someone who is busy because they know how to get the work done on time, under budget with no excuses. All the Art Directors that I know will hire someone that has done a shot just like the shot they need. There is no time to experiment with a new kid. This is the pros. Their job is on the line and everyone is on a short deadline. I don't know why, but the photo assignment seems to be always the last thing done. Then it is rush, rush, rush, need high quality under pressure, short deadlines, and get the film to New York the same day by Delta Dash. There is no room for error or a reshoot. You must bat a 1000 every time when you get an assignment. One screw up and that Art Director will never hire you again. Fulfill their fantasy and you can count on repeat business. You don't want one shot.. .a kiss and then run. You want repeat business. That is where the money is. It takes a lot of money and energy to get an Art Director or Photo Editor to use you. Develop a friendship that will last for years.
Always be nice to Assistant Art Directors because they will someday be in charge. In your two portfolios, put six to eight of your best photos of the kind of work you want, not photos of what you may have done in the past. Think up fake assignments and pretend they are real. Always do your very best...always. I try to win an award with every assignment. Of course I don't, but it's that attitude of greatness that makes great pictures. Do not show a bunch of photographs, You will only have about five to ten minutes with an Art Director. They are very busy. Expect to be interrupted several times with people coming in and out of their office and phone calls. Practice your presentation so that you can stop and start it anywhere because of these interruptions.
One portfolio is to hand carry to the Art Directors, and the other portfolio is to be dropped off to those Art Directors who only look at books and do not see photographers. It is OK if they don't see you as long as they see your book that day and give it back to you so you can take it to another Art Director that day. You never want your portfolio to be one of those piles of portfolios by the elevator or under their desk which are there to look at when they get time. They never get time. Refuse to leave your portfolio more than half a day with anyone. It has to be circulating not stagnate. It doesn't do anybody any good if it is sitting in a pile for weeks.
You must present yourself in a business-like manner. They respect that. Your letters to the Art Directors must be typed perfectly with no mistakes. A misspelling will cost you the job. I have heard a Photo Editor say, "Look, he can't spell, how is he going to handle our $50,000 assignment? Don't hire him." It is the truth. It is the tiny detail that makes great pictures or ruins them. Have someone proofread your letters or have a typist do them. Make sure they are perfect and positive.
The content of your initial correspondence should be short. Blow your own horn because no one else will, Put your best foot forward. You only have one chance to make a first impression. Inform each Art Director of the exact dates that you will be in New York and available to see him and that you would like fifteen minutes of his time to show your portfolio. Promise the Art Director that he or she will not be disappointed. Mail the letters one month prior to going to New York. Ten days after the letters have gone out, start calling them to make your appointments from 7:30am to 9:30pm every hour. That will allow you about ten interviews a day and I did it for ten days straight.
I saw 100 Art Directors in ten days and my portfolio saw 20 Art Directors. I came home with over $40,000 in photography business. You can too if you are determined enough. Remember, everyone isn't going to give you an assignment that day, but they may call you in a month or two.
Follow up your visit with another perfect professionally written letter thanking them for their time, and stating that you look forward to working with them in the near future. During your visit be sure to ask them if there is something they are working on now that you could help them with. You are there to service them, they are not there to give you a job. Always ask for the photo assignment. It never hurts. Be forceful, but polite. You are there to get work, not to just show them your pretty pictures in New York at great expense and then fly home. If you see a layout with a space for a picture in it, ask if one of your images is right for that layout. Be eager; be energetic. Ask for work. Those who ask, get. If you don't ask, they'll say thanks for coming by.
Have your business cards with you and if possible a promotional leave behind for them to remember you from all the hundreds of other photographers. Of course your photographs must be memorable, but a memorable gift doesn't hurt. This year I gave out gold medallion paper weights. All recipients appreciated something to help them do their work and keep their dusty desk organized.
Every Art Director that I contacted liked the professional way that I approached them because it showed respect. Drop off one portfolio at 7am at the first Art Director that only sees portfolios. Pick it up at noon and deliver it to the next Art Director who also only sees portfolios, and pick it up at 6:30pm or prior to 7am the next day. Arrive early to appointments to those Art Directors with whom you have personal appointments and only take ten minutes of their time. This gives you approximately 45 minutes to get to your next appointment. Out of 100 people, plan that someone might have an appointment change. I left Friday for those who needed to reschedule.
In New York Saturday and Sunday are regular work days to some magazines and advertising agencies. Sports Illustrated goes to press Tuesday because they cover all the weekend games and Monday night football.
There are approximately 45 magazines in the Time Life Building and 35 in the CBS Building. The ad agencies are all over Manhattan. Get a map and plot your appointments and try , if possible, to gang appointments in areas on certain days. The Art Directors that I visited were great. They usually gave me two or three times that they had open and let me pick what was best for me.
You find the names of magazines' Photo Editors in the masthead in the front of every magazine. Go to newsstands and libraries and make your hit list. All ad agencies are in the "Red Book" at your local library. The listing will include all the Art Directors that work at each agency. Be sure to call every place that you intend to write and visit to verify the names and that they still work there. Make sure their names are spelled correctly and find out how to pronounce their names. Everybody likes their name spelled correctly and pronounced right. Don't you?
You are marketing yourself. Look sharp, be sharp! The days of the hippy-dippy poor starving photographers are gone. They want to hire a pro that is successful. You must make them feel confident in hiring you, and that you are the best for that particular assignment. Know your pricing and know your product very well, but it is OK to get back to them when they want you to quote something. You might make a mistake to give a price of a shoot on the spur of the moment. Ask them what the budget is for the shoot. Remember they will be testing you with every question.
Plan your wardrobe, your taxi trips and your meals so that you are always neat, clean, and on time. Take only the cash that you need for that day. Keep all your other money in travelers' checks and cash them as you need money. They can be replaced, cash cannot. Also carry a little bottle of cologne with you. Nobody likes to do business with smelly people, and you are going to be running around New York for days. Good luck!