Blog | 76 - Marketing Matters

February 14, 2020
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   Alistair Grant 

Freelance Photographer Cambridge & London


bokeh photographic: Blog No: 76

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Marketing Matters

As a professional photographer whose workload involves Commercial Photography (i.e. any image which is used for advertising, marketing & PR purposes) I regularly work with clients and their marketing agencies. My experience is that some marketers† are (very) bad. Indeed the marketing profession seems to be facing profound challenges in that many businesses are ditching marketing agencies and going it alone. Such decisions seem to be prompted by the perception that marketers are promoting themselves more than the clients they are supposed to represent (NB: the social media of agencies does little to refute this notion) as well as cost in terms of the direct expense of a marketing agency in addition to general financial pressures. I’m sure that the language favoured by marketers doesn’t help (anyone up for a transformative customer experience via disruptive value-led brand positioning?) and neither does making unattainable promises. Having said that I fully appreciate the worth of a good marketing agency. There is an expansive literature on marketing in general but little from a photography perspective and so here’s my brief thoughts regarding photoshoots that involve a marketing agency.

Undisputedly what works best in advance of any shoot is comprehensive discussion between client, photographer and agency to draw up a detailed photoshoot plan including tasks and responsibilities in order to deliver the photography brief (i.e. which products and in what style) which is generally, but not always, drafted by this point. This should be an 'every view counts' exercise where potential problems are highlighted and alternatives suggested. This is particularly important for clients who have no experience of a professional photoshoot as they are more easily pressganged into accepting the undisputed wisdom of the agency (or for that matter the photographer). Possibly the most important role of the photographer is preventing an overly-ambitious schedule in terms of overall number of products and/or number of scenes to be photographed if lifestyle photography is involved. Note that this process requires time and effort from all parties and that writing a plan can be especially difficult for those with no previous experience. A good photographer will always offer help! A detailed plan not only ensures that everything is in place for the photoshoot (which means Fred from accounts won’t need to be urgently dispatched to source missing props on the day of the photoshoot) but also that the photography/marketing will deliver intended results. It is also important to reiterate that a photoshoot plan (who does what and when) is different although complementary to a photography brief. Both involve far more than just a list of shots to be taken. What doesn’t work is lack of engagement by the agency or presentation of a rigid brief with no client or photographer consultation. Sure-fire recipes for failure include prescriptive approaches (“we always do it this way”) and directly copying from a previous photoshoot. I’m all for drawing inspiration from successful marketing campaigns but that doesn’t necessitate outright plagiarism.

What works best during a photoshoot is enactment of the advance plan, preferably using a checklist, with all parties respecting the professional roles of others. In other words acknowledging the photographer is the expert in photography, the stylist is the expert in styling etc. It’s important to recognise that this doesn’t mean an inflexible approach or that technique can’t be challenged. Modification of the plan and/or brief in light of unforeseen issues is to be expected in a photoshoot and is an entirely sensible course of action as opposed to panicking or carrying on regardless when things don’t go to plan. Ideally any deviation should be by consensus, which is not always possible in the limited time of a shoot, and good practice is that all modifications are documented in case disputes arise at a later point in time. Whilst a degree of flexibility regarding delivery of the advance plan is important what doesn’t work so well is where an agency (or a client) continually introduces new ideas throughout a shoot “because they are creative”. The net result is that the specified job ends up not being fully delivered and the impact of any subsequent marketing campaign is ultimately diluted. What also doesn’t work well is when a marketer (or client) is constantly on the phone or their laptop meaning they don’t actively contribute to the shoot. Whilst more people adds complexity more often than not the upshot is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. This doesn’t hold when one or more members of the team are distracted. This includes marketers who repeatedly interrupt a shoot to get their own shots for the agency Instagram feed.

I am often frustrated at the lack of control in how my images are used. What I perhaps find most disappointing is marketers who completely fail to appreciate that consumers are more discerning than they are given credit for. Consumers see right through marketing agencies who make disingenuous product recommendations e.g. where marketers imply first-hand experience of a product in a magazine article that features (my) photos when in fact they clearly don’t have any end-user product experience and are simply responding to a journalistic request. I always feel a sense of embarrassment when I see my images used in this way. Surely this can only devalue a brand? In fact, good marketing not only needs excellent photography but effective strategies - based on analysis of data - to sell more products. Gone are the days when marketing simply meant sending product samples to all influencers†† listed in an agencies black book. Although complex, consumer behaviour is predictable and ultimately open to modification. Unfortunately few agencies have expertise in the analysis & interpretation of data that is necessary to inform effective marketing strategies that influence consumer behaviour. Until marketing agencies up their game I suspect that an increasing number of photoshoots will involve just me and the client.

 To be distinguished from a marketeer who is a person who sells goods i.e. in this case the client whose product(s) will be photographed

†† Even before the term was popularised in social media



Call Alistair Grant on 07775 365507, Email [email protected] or click Booking Enquiries if you have any questions or would like to make a booking.


bokeh: "the aesthetic quality of the blur produced in the out-of-focus parts of an image produced by a lens"

bokeh photographic (Alistair Grant): Food & Drink Photographer; Food Photographer; Drink Photographer; Commercial Photographer; Product Photographer; Corporate Photographer; PR Photographer; Wedding Photographer; Portrait Photographer; Event Photographer and Photography Training Courses in Cambridge and Cambridgeshire.

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