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Archive 2013 · Low Key / High Class Marketing
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p.1 #1 · p.1 #1 · Low Key / High Class Marketing

I don't shoot professionally because I never had the desire to run my own business. I came to realize that I didn't have the temperament to enjoy doing that by working for one of the more successful marketing geniuses in the business Monte Zucker as my first job to test the waters of working in the profession. I went on to do other things which involved marketing and developed several marketing plans based on some of the lessons I learned from him.

The first was that it's just as much work to shoot people who shop at KMart as it is those who shop at Nordstrom, but not nearly rewarding in terms of money or enjoyment. In Zucker's case he started shooting friends in high school and they grew up to become doctors, lawyers and real estate tycoons. He went along for the ride as their photographer winding up in the Nordstrom strata of clientele.

One of Zucker's friends in the business was Phil Charis, who ran a studio out of Bullocks department store selling life-size old world classic painter style portraits. Monte, who shot mostly weddings operating out of his home with an office for client meetings copied that idea while I worked for him.

Charis, as a sideline to his main high end portrait business, had created a package called he called "Daguerrechrome". It was pure PT Barnum snake-oil. It consisted of a four light portrait set-up (key/fill/hair/background) a Gowlandflex twin-lens reflex camera and a color Polaroid back. The Polaroid shots where passed through an embosser to give them a canvas finish. They were then put in a cheap $3 wholesale vintage looking Burns frame and sold for $40 each (1974 prices). That would be about $150 today.

I operated it at Garfinkels department store (one of the more high end at the time) during the Christmas season from a counter next to the women's clothing section. That was by design and the most clever part of the marketing strategy. Customers, mostly women, would stop by and be interested but say, "But I'm not dressed!" I'd walk them over to the women's section, turn them over to the cooperative sales clerk there and say "Pick out whatever you'd like to wear. You might want to stop by the make-up section for a touch up first." "But what if I don't like the photo?" they'd ask . I'd tell them there was no obligation to buy it.

It wasn't like hooking the fish and reeling them in.... it was more like sitting back and watching the fish jump into the boat. Nearly 100% of them bought the photo and about half went home with the dress because it looked so good in the photo that the husband wouldn't care it cost $400 (why the lady working on commission in the clothing section was so cooperative).

Why did it work? The first reason was the location in the high end store. $40 was a lot for one tiny 3 x 5 photo and the "Daguerrechrome" label was to convince them it was a similar unique product. Some caught on it was just a Polaroid in a cheap frame, but when they found out about the clothing and make-up they'd go for it anyway as an impulse gift for the husband or boyfriend. The $40 was still "chump change" compared to the cost of the dress and other stuff they regularly bought in the store.

Later Monte opened a Charis style studio in the same mall because that little counter operation opened his eyes about what a gold mine that location was because of who shopped there.

I was reminded of this yesterday when visiting Tysons Galleria II in Virginia. I've mentioned previously how several photographers display there. No studio, just photos on the wall. I took some shots of them to share here. I don't know the photographers but admire their marketing savvy:


It's just a display on the wall of big prints you might put over the sofa in the living room in nice classic frames. More or less identical to what Charis and Zucker shot. But this is what the wall is next to...
... and where in the mall it is located:

Around the corner from Neiman-Marcus (the first stop for many) near a parking lot entrance, across from two busy Cheesecake Factoy and Italian restaurants and near the escalator leading down to the Starbucks.

Here's another photographer's similar display:
Wisely it's a different style featuring more informal outdoor shots, but also some formal ones. More contemporary all caps font in the logo. He will appeal to a younger market.

But in terms of location?
Not nearly as good off in the far end of the mall near Macy's and the cafeteria style restaurants where all the frugal people who are there to window shop eat. I walked by it the first time and barely noticed it because of where it is located. But he also has another similar display on the ground floor in a much better location.

I don't know what the mall charges for the display space or how many bookings it generates but I suspect those that it does pay pretty good and generate a lot of word of mouth referrals to friends that see them in the clients walls. They'll call and say, "You know that portrait you did for the Jones family? Can you do an even bigger one for mine?" That's a thing everyone does, keeping up with the Jones', but the well heeled have more disposable income for things like photography.

The take away marketing lesson I got from Zucker was to first identify what part of the potential market has the most money to spend on photography then tailor the marketing to appeal to the level of service they expect. Photographically it's not much different than what they could get at Sears, only bigger and in a fancier frame. But then the clothes at K-Mart aren't all that different from Nordstrom either (from a distance).

The other was that in a small business nearly all the GOOD business comes from referrals from happy clients. Not so much about the product but the level of service (they expect to be fawned over, which is why they shop at Nordstrom not Walmart). Like the SAs at Nordstrom it's just a matter of dressing sharp and minding your manners as you reach into their wallets.

Zucker also generated a huge number of referrals from colleagues by always photographing their work at weddings. One of my tasks at a wedding was shooting stuff like the buffet tables, place settings, flowers, cake, band, etc. then mounting the 10 x 10 custom prints with a gold underlay on black mat board in a plain black frame with a gold foil "Monte" stamp. He gave them away for free. Go into any high end wedding related business in the DC area in the 70s, dress shops, bakery, hotel banquet manager office, florist... and you'd see the "Monte" wall of photos. Any guess who got the referrals? Monte also never paid for bread, flowers, or nice meals at 5 star hotels. Once while shooting a big 300 guest sit-down dinner wedding at the Mayflower the banquet manager comp'd us a meal at the hotel steak house while the guests where eating chicken because he was too busy to feed us. Why? Because Monte supplied all his promotion photography. He had a "Monte wall" too. The genius part in that was giving them dozens of identical framed ready to hang photos instead of a loose 8x10.

Yeah he took photos you could get from Sears, no argument there, but he marketed them with the genius of BT Barnum at GUCCI prices and dealt with a much better class of customers and colleagues. He wore Gucci shoes too...

Apparently others are still doing pretty good with the same strategy 40 years later.

Just some food for thought for your next marketing plan if the Facebook page and website aren't working.

Feb 01, 2013 at 02:43 PM
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p.1 #2 · p.1 #2 · Low Key / High Class Marketing

Good post that points out some real truths about consumers.
FYI Jeff Lubin is a very successful and established portrait photographer that I first heard speak at WPPI maybe 10 years ago. At that time he had already been doing well in the D.C. market for many years. (But he isn't old )

Mall displays have long been a article of faith in marketing portraiture but it definitely seems more popular/successful in the midwest and south than on the west coast. In our area the malls had photo studios that successfully excluded independent studios from displaying work. They have since folded and still no one displays work.

OTOH, malls seem to be a bit more down at heel these days and the bulk of visitors do not have the funds for high end portraiture.

At bottom, as you point out in your post, referrals are the single best way to get qualified prospects that already have confidence in you.

Feb 02, 2013 at 11:27 PM
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p.1 #3 · p.1 #3 · Low Key / High Class Marketing

I'm not sure if these photographers get to choose precisely where (i.e. next to what stores) their display is placed. However Tysons Galleria (particularly Tysons II) is a high-end shopping center catering to lots of wealthy suburban-type folks... so chances are your display will be in proximity to a high-end store if you choose to advertise in the property.

Lubin and Bermingham both serve the McLean Virginia market, one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest community in the entire region. Both photographers have probably served this area for a while. So I'm not sure if this particular sort of advertising is savvy so much as standard operating procedure for these businesses.

Feb 04, 2013 at 03:46 PM

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p.1 #4 · p.1 #4 · Low Key / High Class Marketing

This is a very clever "old school" way to promote your business.
Beside producing the images for display. What other expenses are involved?
Special insurance, wall "rent" or preperation, etc.?

Feb 06, 2013 at 02:06 PM
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p.1 #5 · p.1 #5 · Low Key / High Class Marketing

But what are the requirements to do this?
With all due respect.
If it is so simple. Why doesen't everyone do it?
There must be some kind of protocal or screening process.

Feb 06, 2013 at 09:11 PM
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p.1 #6 · p.1 #6 · Low Key / High Class Marketing

The wall space is not at all cheap. Even in my one-mall little burg, wall space runs from $300/month near the cheap Chinese-import junk jewelry store to over $1000/month near Victoria's Secret. And it jumps up in the last quarter of the year.

I have found high-end hair styling salons and spas to be a bit easier and less expensive to reach the same customers. In one way, they're a bit better because the atmosphere is relaxed and the prospects have plenty of time to contemplate the work (they have very little else to do). Salons are better than doctor's offices because most people aren't in a very cheerful mood in a doctor's office.

This doesn't work very well in the chic-chic salons or those that use their wall space for their own advertising, but it does where the owner and stylists are trying to entertain a more stable and high-end clientele.

Feb 09, 2013 at 03:11 PM

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