Expert Advice: Prospect List Services
Of all the challenges a photographer faces when promoting their business — finding their photographic voice, determining their target audience, creating and maintaining their marketing materials — tracking down client contact information might be the toughest job of all!
Over and over, I hear the same questions from photographers who are unsure of how to begin their search:
What types of companies hire photographers?
Which people do I approach at those companies?
How do I get their contact information?
Have no fear! Here is a breakdown of different prospect list providers to simplify your search, so you can concentrate on the important stuff — building your portfolio and getting it in front of clients!
Believe it or not, several companies aggregate that information and sell it to photographers and other creative professionals. They track companies, names, job titles, phone numbers, addresses, email addresses, and some services even go so far as to label the exact type of photographers these people are looking to hire.
Companies like Wonderful Machine, Agency Access, Bikini Lists, and Yodelist, research and organize contact information on ad agency art buyers and producers, magazine photo editors, and corporate communications directors who all hire professional photographers. Prospect list services like these can gather, filter, and organize vast amounts of data much more efficiently than any individual photographer (or their agent) can.
But it doesn’t mean you can sign up and send a mass email to everyone on your list and sit back, waiting for the assignments to pour in. In a world where anyone can send an email, everyone does. So rather than add to that noise, photographers need to carefully research and target a small number of prospects that are appropriate for their style of photography.
Each of those companies is a bit different:
1. The marketing consultants at Wonderful Machine begin with a series of questions and a review of your website so that they can understand your interests and skills. Their extensive experience with all types of commercial photography clients allows them to build a targeted list of prospects that matches up with those interests and abilities. They start by filtering their internal database; then do additional organic research as needed to fill out the list. They then verify every contact to make sure that the information is still current. With about 15,000 prospects in its database, Wonderful Machine offers the fewest names, the fewest number of companies, and no ability to browse its internal data.
2. Agency Access is the largest company of them all. Based in the U.S., they use their international partners to supplement their domestic data. They charge a subscription fee for access to their main list, and you can pay extra for a customized list build. You can search for singular companies or people in their directory or “access data” to build out a more extensive prospect list.
3. Bikini Lists is based in Scotland and is an expert on the U.K. and European markets. They have also recently begun offering U.S. data. Bikini Lists schedules its photographers' email blasts so that it can control the frequency and volume of emails that listed clients receive.
4. Yodelist started as the research arm of Workbook (a sourcebook and photographer directory), and it’s been licensing data to photographers for several years now. Yodelist has fewer names and fewer companies than Agency Access, and primarily focuses on U.S.-based clients. They've positioned themselves as emphasizing the quality of data over quantity. And like Bikini Lists, they limit the number of emails their photographers can send out. They also send out a printed copy of their sourcebook to thousands of creatives. Consequently, Yodelist says that it has a better relationship with clients and have an easier time updating their database’s information.
Unlike Agency Access, Bikini Lists, and Yodelist, who grant a temporary license to use their data, Wonderful Machine allows its photographers the ability to add those names to their own databases and keep them forever.
Now that I've outlined some of the available services, it's time to consider how to utilize them best. Even if you don't purchase a list build, these tips are relevant to any aspect of email marketing.
Branding before marketing Even with the best client data, no amount of marketing is going to help if you don't first have your branding firmly established. Every photographer needs at least a basic tool kit of marketing materials to share their photography with clients - including a website, social media, emailer template, print promo, and print portfolio. Before you make your brand tangible through those marketing materials, it's crucial to be clear about the idea of your brand. By clearly identifying the direction that's right for you, you can edit your pictures and present them in a way that will resonate with the right clients. Once you've expressed your core brand throughout your marketing materials, you'll be ready to start sharing your message.
Specialization. There’s no sense promoting your fashion photographs to a food company, but photographers do it all the time. Some clients hire photographers in a wide range of specialties, but most have fairly specific needs. Make sure that the specialties that you’re showing match up appropriately to the clients on your list!
How do I narrow down a giant list of prospects to just the ones that are appropriate for me? To be profitable, prospect list services need to offer client data that will appeal to not only photographers, but also illustrators, designers, production companies, stock libraries, and others. So you’ll still need to separate the prospects that are right for you from the ones that aren’t. The main ways to filter clients are by territory (city, state, country), type (publication, agency, brand), specialty (automotive, business, fashion, lifestyle), and job title. Using these filters will allow you to narrow the field dramatically. Then it’s a matter of looking at companies one by one, evaluating their websites, and looking for hints about whether they’re likely to match up well with what you have to offer.
Territory. If you're just getting started in the business, begin by promoting to companies located within driving distance. Clients are more likely to hire you if they’ve met you in person, so it makes sense to meet with all of the viable clients in your area before venturing further afield. As your portfolio becomes stronger, you’ll be able to attract clients based on your uniqueness more than your convenience or price.
Client type. Different types of clients often need different levels of production. With some exceptions, of course, publications tend to need low-production-value images, which make them a good target for photographers just beginning their careers. Brands need medium-to-high-production-value, and agencies tend to need high-production-value images. That requires photographers to demonstrate their ability to transform a concept into an image using stylists, props, wardrobe, locations, sets, lighting, retouching, and more. If you don’t have a portfolio that shows you can handle a high level of shoot production, you’ll find promoting to agencies an uphill battle. Conversely, if you’re presenting a portfolio of high-production-value photographs, you might be wasting your time showing it to publications.
Job title. Just because someone works at an ad agency doesn’t mean they hire photographers. Sometimes a job title is a good indication of whether they’re likely to hire photographers or not. For example, most art buyers hire photographers, whereas most copywriters don’t. Other job titles are more ambiguous, and to a certain extent, each company is going to have their own naming system. Over time, you’ll start to recognize patterns based on the type and size of the company.
How big should my list be? If you’re doing the research yourself, I recommend that you build your list one client at a time, making sure that each client you add to your list is a good match for you. Create a routine for yourself where you do some research, send out some promos, then follow up. Repeat, building your list as you go (and also deleting when you find that a client isn't appropriate for you). Build up your list to a level where you can still reach out to each client (by individual email or phone call) at least once a year. (For most photographers, that will be fewer than 500 people.) If your list is so extensive that you can't check in with those people at least once a year, your list is probably too large.
What information should I track? Some prospect list services have an online interface that allows you to keep notes on your interaction with specific clients (as long as you’re subscribing to their list). But since that information is so important, it's a good idea to maintain your own internal contact database of prospects and a history of your interaction with them. Wonderful Machine uses a CRM (customer relationship management) called Daylite, which is made by Marketcircle. It’s good to keep a record of your outreach so that you don’t send the same person the same mailer twice. And it’s good to keep track of conversations, meetings, or other client-specific information that might come in handy the next time you talk with them (like where they grew up or their kids' names). If you’re just getting started, using a simple Excel spreadsheet can work, and that way you’re able to sort the list by the header row of titles.
Wonderful Machine helps photographers with every aspect of their branding and marketing, including custom client lists. If you’d like to hear more about how we can help you, check out our consulting page or reach out to us to get started on your own custom prospect list!