Over the last few months, I have been sharing posts from art buyers regarding their experiences at photo industry networking events. They have been popular posts, so I thought it might be interesting to share some insights into the photographer’s experience.
When I asked Kevin Twomey if he would answer a few questions for us, he did not hesitate. Since he recognizes the value of he himself being out there promoting his own work and, because of that he has been committed to attending networking events like Fotoworks, AtEdge’s Face to Face and Debra Weiss’ One on One reviews, I thought he would be a great first photographer to interview first.
Which events have you attended?
Can you briefly describe how they work and the differences in each event?
It’s a lot like speed dating. You sit down with an Art Buyer, Art Producer or Art Director to try to essentially “sell yourself” in the allotted 10 to 20 minutes that you have with each person. Hopefully they are one of the people that you selected from the list of reviewers. (Sometimes you don’t get all the people that you choose.)
Some photographers use this time as a “portfolio review,” but I’m at a point in my career where my portfolio has been refined and is always changing, so I’m not looking for feedback on content, placement etc. For me it is about them getting to know me, as a human being. “Putting a face to the name.”
I am promoting my work often and in many different ways; so getting the actual human contact is what is most important.
What were you most hesitant about before signing up?
Well, AtEdge events are included in their contract, so it wasn’t a financial concern. The hesitance was more of “oh gosh, I have to go and SELL myself, and I take pictures….LOL…so let’s just say I’m not a salesman!”
For the events like FotoWorks where you “pay to play” it was a question of weighing how effective the event would be. I considered: is it worth my money to attend or should I be sending out more promos instead? Which will be most effective in getting me jobs?
What were you most surprised about when you attended?
Sitting down and talking with art buyers gave me a glimpse into their world. It kind of “enlightened me” about the process that they have to go through with each project (their unique point of view, the changes that they are experiencing in this ever changing business) and that has helped me to understand their job a little better.
How would you reply to a photographer or art producer who questioned your attendance because you are already established?
It’s competitive now, more than ever. These events have become one of the tools in your marketing “toolkit” that can possibly give you an “in.” After meeting with an Art Director or Art Buyer, you have more of a personal connection with them. That little 15-minute visit may just make the difference.
I go to these events not to get tips regarding my portfolio, but to say, “Hey, you’ve seen my work in Workbook and AtEdge you have gotten my promos and emailers, so now you are meeting me. And since someday you may want be considering spending 8hrs or 3 days with me on a shoot, this is a good idea!.”
Since you have been going to these events for some years, can you pinpoint a job that you have gotten as a direct result of going to a show? Have you gotten jobs out of these events?
I know for sure that I got one editorial job directly from a meeting at NY FotoWorks. Beyond that, I’m not sure. But as I shared, I really do think this is more about the personal connection for a future consideration.
I do find it challenging though that it is hard to find out nowadays how people discover your work. I do ask when appropriate and I hear answers like, “I don’t know I just have your website bookmarked.” Or, “I saw your work in Workbook or I received some of your promos…” but mostly they can’t pin down what has sparked them to call me.
I do think it is a combination of things of course. It’s doing anything and everything that you can to be “top of mind” [when an appropriate job comes along]. Even something as simple as a holiday card could be what does it. So 5 minutes in front of an Art Buyer is golden, I think!
How important do you think it is that photographers reach out to potential clients and art buyers on their own?
Absolutely, it is incredibly important. I guess I’ve always known that this is the best way. It’s just been my character to be quite an introverted human being and doing these shows, especially in the beginning, was pretty scary.
Assuming that you have great work and excellent communication skills, the human contact is what is going to put you ahead of the person who is not doing the same. So it’s very, very important.
Are these events a strong and efficient way to do so?
Yes and no.
Yes because it’s an efficient way to meet numerous people over a one or two day period. I could never see as many people in one day that I do at these events. I would need to stay a week and I just do not have that time to be away from the studio.
No, because some of these events can be noisy and crowded. Also, when you are meeting in the evening some people are tired from their work day and not as focused; which is understandable.
What happens when you are at an event and a reviewer has to cancel last minute? Can this be expected?
Absolutely. It happened to me with 2 people at the same event in LA. I was bummed. But you just accept it and move on.
Beyond meeting photographers, in your opinion, what benefit(s) do Art Producers get from attending?
Good question. Wow…it probably is the flip side of what is beneficial to photographers. They get to meet with people whom they may potentially work with in the future. Also, they look at work all the time and get tons of mail, but they don’t see the physical portfolio unless they call it in (and hardly anyone calls in a portfolio anymore). So when they get to see a well put together, well produced, well printed portfolio, I bet they are pretty interested. It’s more than just looking at a website. I know one person said to me, “This is a really nice book! Lately what I see is a lot of really nice websites but the printed book is much nicer.”
They also get a chance to tell me about what their agency is doing creatively. I like to know that because it shows me that they are still hiring photographers and that I am targeting the right person.
What do you do to get the most out of these events and or your visits to the cities where they are held? (I know that you have to travel to these events)
I don’t have a lot of time to be away from the studio so I mostly just attend the event. However, it becomes a much more valuable trip if I can add a few appointments in the city.
For this recent FotoWorks in LA I wanted to extend my trip and see some art buyers in town, but it didn’t end up happening. New York is my hometown, so anytime that I go to NY to do events, I usually stay for about a week and take full advantage of the city. I make appointments and make sure to go to some good restaurants as well. Also, I’m very much in love with the galleries, so I spend time with my friends exploring the gallery scene and visiting some museums while I’m in town.
Is there anything you think that could make these events better/even stronger?
I don’t know how this would be done, but if they could better match photographers with reviewers that would be great. Right now it’s a bit of a random process. If you have 10 meetings, you choose 20 potential reviews from a list and you may not get paired with your favorite 10 people. So I’d like it if there was a way to ensure that you get matched with most (if not all) of your favorite reviewers. I know that this is mathematically impossible, but it would be nice!
Also, it would be nice if at the events where there was no social hour, they considered adding one. That way, we could engage with others that were not on our assigned list. Maybe even a table where you could put your portfolio on display and attendees could come by and review on their own. Timing for that would be hard of course, but it is on my wish list.
Art Producers are talking more and more about how they want to meet the photographers in person and how important the personal connection is. It has not always been this way. Are you experiencing this for yourself?
I didn’t really realize that this was an actual trend, I have always thought it was important. I just never wanted to do it. But, I am getting beyond my comfort zone and now starting to enjoy it!
Is the effort you are putting in making a difference to your recognizability?
I can’t answer this. I want to say, “YES,” but this business is so strange. You may get a job right after a meeting with an Art Producer or it make not happen until 3 years later. It’s hard to know what is making the difference, but I can only think that making the effort to see Art Buyer has to help. It has to make a difference.
Do you have anything else that you’d like to add? Anything that we didn’t touched on yet?
Just that I can’t stress enough how important the social aspect of connections is to our business. It is no longer about placing a source book ad, winning an award or having an agent.
I believe the “old fashioned salesman” technique is never going to go out of style. The guy who goes from door to door visiting his clients, can strike up a conversation, has that personal touch and can make people remember him. So that’s how I approach these types of events. And I try to be as personable as I can.