I recently worked with fine art photographer Ernie Button to help promote his book, The Art of Whisky, in connection with its one-year anniversary. Based in Phoenix, Arizona, Ernie has been a working photographer for more than 35 years. The Art of Whisky was a labor of love for 15 of those years. It was originally published by Chronicle Books in April 2022.
In this exquisite photo book, Ernie used innovative lighting techniques to highlight the unique and intricate patterns left at the bottom of whisky glasses after the liquid had evaporated. His beautiful images are accompanied by text explaining the science behind these residue patterns by Princeton Professor Howard A. Stone, and tasting notes from world-renowned whisky expert Charles MacLean.
As a lover and collector of photography books, I knew this was going to be a fun project. First and foremost, I ordered the book to familiarize myself with the project (and to add to my extensive collection). It is truly a lovely coffee table book for any fan of whisky or photography. Ernie and I had a lovely first conversation. He helped me learn more about the photographs, the book, and his goals for this promotion.
Sometimes when I help photographers pitch their project, we’re pitching directly to clients. In this case, our objective was to pitch the project to blogs, publications, and podcasts who might be interested in covering this story to build awareness (and drive sales) for the book. My goal was to help Ernie promote the book (and his photography in general) and to sell the remaining 2500 copies. Celebrating the one-year anniversary of the publication provided us with a great hook.
I start every pitch with the following questions:
What is the product or service we’re promoting? The Art of Whisky coffee table book by photographer Ernie Button.
Why should people care about it (now)? The book has a lot going for it. The photos are unique, interesting, and beautiful. The project has a great backstory told by experts in their fields. The book itself is beautifully printed. While all of that’s true, we needed to find a simple, compelling idea (a “hook”) to get people’s attention. We chose to focus on the uniqueness of the project and the one-year anniversary.
Who is our target audience? While we ultimately want to reach people who might want to buy a photography book about whisky, the immediate audience for this campaign was going to be the people who edit publications (including blogs and podcasts) that match up with those book buyers. Unlike sports photography or landscape photography, where there are a lot of publications devoted to those subjects and photography, whisky and photography are not natural partners, so I had to research publications for those audiences separately.
I decided to concentrate my efforts on researching the whisky side of the audience and then round out my list with some photography publications as well. I compiled a list of smaller publications like Whiskeyfiles and Whisky Advocate as well as bigger names like Wine & Spirits Magazine. To maximize our chances of success, I like to pitch to a combination of those smaller publications that might be more receptive, but also include bigger fish that might be harder to land, but where the payoff would be much bigger.
What is our call to action (CTA)? Of course, all marketing and advertising messages boil down to CTA. What do you want people to do once they hear your message? In this case, we want those editors to do their own story on Ernie and his book project.
What does success look like for our promotional efforts? Of course, getting any editor’s attention is a challenge. Of course, a published article would be amazing, but as a marketer, my job is to get people to look at Ernie’s project. Since we’re sending out emails, we measure this in terms of open rate and click-through rate. If we build a list of 50 publications, if 50% of them open the email and 5% of them click through to the photos, I feel like it’s a successful campaign.
What mode of communication are we going to use? Direct mail (email, print), online ads? Email marketing is still the most cost-efficient way for photographers to target an audience and convey their message, so that’s what we chose.
What combination of words, images, and links are we going to use? I worked with our publicist Ashely Vaught to craft a press release that could be republished as the actual article or that could be used as a starting point for that publication’s version of the article. We also created a short pitch to include in our email, along with a photo attachment, that combined would give them an immediate understanding of the project. Mentioning the one-year anniversary of the publication helped renew the relevance of the project.
To sum everything up, I really enjoyed working on this project. It made me think outside the box to come up with 50 contacts for such a narrow subject. And Ernie was just such a delight to work with.