On Promotional Materials


General Photography

As I mentioned earlier, this past weekend, I was a reviewer at Atlanta Celebrates Photography’s portfolio reviews. Apart from seeing a lot of interesting photography, it gave me the opportunity to see lots of different kids of promotional materials handed out by the photographers.

Of course, your personal preference of what to use can be very different some somebody else’s, and in the same way my personal reaction to the materials presented to me might differ from somebody else’s. But I thought I’d at least mention what I encountered and what I think about it.

First and foremost, your most important promotional item is your photography. If your photography is bad, then no promotional material is going to make me think of it more highly. But that’s obvious, isn’t it?

In any case, I encountered the following materials: Business cards, postcards, fold-out brochures, CDs, booklets, actual photographs, and any combination of those (for example, someone handed out a booklet that included a CD).

Looking through the materials I got I don’t think I can say “This works for me” or “I don’t like that”. What I do see, though, is that I personally like things to look professional. If you get your business cards made (there are a zillion places online, many of them very affordable) or even make them yourselves, make sure they look professional. Get a nice card stock. If your phone number changes, don’t cross it out on the card - get a new card.

I asked my wife, a professional graphic designer, to comment on the (photographer’s) business cards I got, and there’s a clear trend. She didn’t like all the cards that were only black text on mostly pretty thin card stock, commenting also on the typesetting (aka choice and placement of the fonts), saying they looked like someone had simply printed a Word document. The cards she liked all had a pretty solid card stock, and interestingly enough, most of them have an image on one side (which has to fit the card). And again, the type setting is important - avoid cards that look conservative (so use some colour!). Maybe get a graphic-designer friend involved (if you have one). Needless to say, I’m not the expert on this, and me writing it down is probably not overly descriptive, but maybe you get the idea.

If you hand out a brochure or post card, do get it printed somewhere.

Some photographers had little self-published booklets (I got two, and they were both made with Blurb), and I like those. Of course, when producing a booklet you need to make sure the photography looks good (which can be a problem with some self-publishing services, as I discussed a while back).

I’m a bit torn about CDs with images. I’m not sure what to think about them. After all, if I want to see some work I will probably go to the website. But again, if you hand out a CD, make it an attractive package. I think that might be the shortcoming of CDs, since giving someone a home-made CD (with the title written on the CD), inside a clear jewel case, does not look very good at all. As much as we all are used to CDs, they’re not very nice objects, are they? They’re literally cheap plastic, as are their cases, and I think it might be just a tad too much money to get a jewel case with a booklet etc. Don’t know. Other people might really like a CD. For me, the disadvantages of a CD (cheap plastic) ruin the advantages (easy way to distribute images), and CDs don’t have the aspect of coolness any longer that might rescue them.

The single item I did end up enjoying the most was a little package, very simple. It’s basically a piece of nice cardboard cut out and folded a few times to create a container (with the photographer’s name printed on the front), and inside, there is a business card and a set of photos. I can’t pin down what it is that attracts me to the little package, but it does look very simple and very professional at the same time. It doesn’t have the shortcomings of a CD (the cheap plastic feel), and it doesn’t have the shortcomings of Blurb books (the extremely cheap paper).

But regardless of what you decide to go for remember that in the end, these promotional materials are there to have people remember you, or to help people connect the name that they wrote down with the images they saw. Also, as I wrote earlier, other reviewers might prefer different things, so don’t necessarily go by my preferences. I do think, though, that having your materials look professional is most important.

I realize that these things cost money, but then if you spend a lot of money on traveling to a different city (incl. flight, hotel, etc.) why then try to save money on promotional materials - the one thing your reviewers will literally take from you?

PS: If other reviewers (from other portfolio reviews) want to email me their comments about what they think about promotional materials I’d be happy to add them to the post.

Update (15 Oct 2008): Another thought - if your photography is great then you could probably hand me anything afterwards, and it would not matter. However, if your photography is, you know, somewhat interesting, and somebody might or might not look at it again, maybe while going through all the promo materials back home or at the gallery or museum, then their quality could end up being quite important: A cheaply printed postcard, say, might provide just enough tilt in someone’s mind to decide “Ah, well, it wasn’t that great in the first place.”, just like a nicely designed postcard might make someone think “Hey, nice card, I don’t remember this work that much, but why not look again?”

Update 2 (15 Oct 2008): I just browsed the web a little for some business-card design ideas, and boy!, there’s a whole industry out there. Here are some cool ones, and there are more here.