For many of us, marketing ourselves to potential art buyers, publications, and agencies is the stuff of nightmares. Cold calling is certainly one of the most feared.
The thought of making another email campaign or putting together an expensive mailer is daunting and, potentially, very expensive. Instagram is a handy tool, but it's easy to get lost in the ocean of images or cast aside by a ruthless algorithm. We crave new and innovative ways to market ourselves that will get us noticed without feeling like we are tossing coins in a wishing well! Ironically, one of the best ways to contact new clients is one that is so often overlooked: pick up the damn phone!
Fear is a Beast
Making a phone call can be terrifying, especially when you're not used to doing it. I'm definitely guilty of hemming and hawing for days, weeks, and months, doing everything I can to avoid actual contact with a human being, hoping against hope that someone will notice me on social media and blow up my email. We can handle being told "no" just fine when it's passive. The email box stays empty. The phone doesn't ring. We blame Instagram or Facebook for changing their algorithms and now we aren't getting the exposure we used to have. I've done it all.
When it comes down to it, what's really stopping us from making that call? Fear. We don't want to be told no in a concrete way. I can offer you some solace here. It gets easier. Every time I make a call, I'm less anxious about it. The human spirit is resilient. You can get used to anything with enough repetition.
Strategies for a Smooth Call
For me, much of the anxiety of calling someone directly comes from not wanting to sound like an idiot on the phone. I think that by sounding less than professional on the phone, I'll ruin any chance I had to work with that client. Well, you're right. A disastrous phone call could end any chance you had. I know, I'm supposed to be uplifting and inspiring here, but if you're going to be a professional, you need to work on your phone presence. Here are some ideas on how to up your phone game.
Know Who You're Calling
This sounds simple, but this is where 99% of people go wrong. They call the wrong people. Say you're calling up a magazine to get on their radar. You first need to know who to ask for when you get through. Many times, the only contact info you can find for a company is a general number that connects to a switchboard or receptionist. When you get through, you need to know who to ask for. For magazines or ad agencies, you can usually find that information on their website. Usually, it's "Art Director" or "Creative Director." Sometimes it's the "Photo Editor." Whoever it is, do your research and write down the name of the person you're trying to reach. That lessens your chance of being routed to a general voicemail box that gets checked once a week. Sometimes it's hard to figure out who to talk to from the website. So how do you find out? Call! The receptionist will know the appropriate contact. Just be direct and ask! Something like: "Hi, my name is 'Insert name here.' I'm a photographer in the area and I'm looking to introduce myself to local publications. May I ask who heads your art department?" More than likely, one of two things will happen here. Either they will answer you with a name, or they will answer you with a name and then ask if you want to be transferred. Whichever happens, you need to be prepared with what you want to say to this individual.
Your Website: The Key to Keeping That Connection
When you do get connected to the appropriate party, preparation is everything. 9 times out of 10, this call is going to last all of 45 seconds. They're going to tell you how they handle submissions and usually give you an email address to send over your website so they can have a look at your work. What does that mean? You better have a good website! Instagram isn't going to cut it here, folks. When you don't have a web presence, you simply aren't marketing yourself as a professional. It's like having a Gmail account for your email address. I know, it's petty. But people look at these things when sizing you up. These creatives are so incredibly busy and get so many inquiries, they want to weed out those that don't cut the mustard.
By getting through and actually getting a person on the other line, you've managed to do something that people pay a lot of money for through Google or Facebook ads: You've gotten the exact eyes you want to look at your work! You need to make sure that work is presented in a form that screams "professional." Get an actual, non-Instagram website. Get a professional domain name in your email address. Get a second and third opinion about the images on your website. Better yet, if you happen to know any editors, have them look at it. You need to take out the filler images and only leave the cream of the crop. Make sure they all work together. Constantly curate your work. Be brutal.
Make a Short Script
Until you're comfortable enough to wing it, print out your opening statement. It can literally be exactly what you asked the receptionist, but I don't want you fumbling over your words when you've got the client of your dreams on the phone. All you need is a brief statement that identifies who you are, what you do, and what you want from the person you're talking to. From there, it's all a crap shoot. As I said earlier, you'll probably get a request to send over an email with your website. But...and this is a big "but", sometimes they are actively looking for fresh people. In that case, be ready to talk to them about yourself. They'll likely ask about your experience. Have you been published before? Where? What do you shoot? The art of talking up yourself in a natural way without sounding like you're bragging is one that takes time and practice, and I can't say I'm amazing at it, but having some of your publications, achievements, and such in front of you while you're on the phone can help you organize your thoughts. If it's a small publication, they may ask you about your pricing. Have that ready. I've called up magazines and been on assignment with them a week later. You never know.
What's the Point?
Now, wait a minute! You may be saying what's the point in calling if they're just going to ask me to email them anyway? I could have just done that in the first place. True! Except for one big difference. Now, they're looking for you. The subject line of an email is key. If you can put, "Hi, I just spoke to you on the phone," or something similar in your subject line, your target is much more likely to give you the time of day. Also, by talking to them on the phone, you've made yourself human. Hopefully, you've endeared yourself to them and wowed them with your friendly personality and professional phone presence. They like you. You're no longer a face in the crowd. You're an acquaintance that they want to succeed. When they click on your website link, they want you to be good. They want to work with you.
One call usually isn't enough to seal the deal with a client. Hopefully, once they get a chance to click on your email they'll respond right away and want to speak further with you. Sometimes, they like your work and want to keep you on file for future work. Great! Now you can gleefully add them to your email list or newsletter, keeping them abreast of your latest work and accomplishments. Reach out with a personal email once a month or so, reminding them you exist. Sometimes, you're not what they're looking for. That's ok, too. You can still put them on your list and as you evolve, get better, maybe something will change.
So what if you don't hear anything back? As stated before, these people are very busy. Maybe you called them in the middle of a deadline week and they just plain forgot about you. If I haven't heard from someone, I usually make a follow-up call a week later. After all, you know exactly who to ask for now. If you get sent to voicemail and they don't call or email after that, it's probably a safe bet that they're not interested right now. Try again in six months! Call again and say, "Hi Joe! There have been some awesome changes in my work and I'd love for you to have a look when you get a moment." It's ok to fail. But, remember that failure doesn't last forever, and there is such a thing as second and third chances.
Cold calling isn't fun. It's not glamorous. You will be told "thanks but no thanks" many, many times. But, by putting yourself out there, good things will happen. People are social animals. They like interaction. Your smartphone has other functions besides checking how many likes your last post got. It's also a phone. Use it.