Books and movies are filled with stories of grand gestures, wherein one character, utterly smitten with another, carries out some super-romantic act in an effort to gain the favor of another. In the movies it almost always works, but unfortunately it’s not so easy in real life. Still, this “grand gesture" approach can be taken by commercial photographers who want to make a big impression on potential clients.
When stock and advertising photographer Inti St. Clair relocated to Austin two years ago, she decided she had to make a big splash if she was going to get noticed. Always a believer in a well-rounded, multi-faceted marketing approach, St. Clair decided to send a new marketing piece—a printed promo—but she wanted to go above and beyond.
"That was the coffee promo,” she explains, "and it was by far, hands down, the most successful thing I’ve ever done.”
As a stock photographer, St. Clair is experienced in producing her own photo shoots on a wide variety of topics and subjects. So she decided to produce a shoot specifically for this promotion. A former Seattle resident, she chose coffee as a subject as a sort of call back to that history. Plus, pretty much everyone loves coffee. So she photographed the roasting, brewing and drinking of coffee and created a bound book of the resultant, absolutely stunning, images. To that she added a custom-designed coffee mug featuring a unique logo that highlighted her new location, a bag of personally branded coffee beans, a handwritten note and wrapped it all in a swath of burlap from an industrial sized bag of coffee which she enclosed it in a beautiful, handmade box. Her plan was to send it out into the world and hope that a few calls came in.
What she got was even better.
"There was what I wanted out of it,” she says, "and what I actually got out of it. With the agencies in Austin, my goal was to get meetings. I hand delivered it to 23 agencies in Austin. So, literally, I walked in unannounced through the front door, introduced myself and handed it over. My goal was not necessarily to have a meeting at that point in time—because that would be pretty unrealistic—but to make an impact by physically showing up, and them being like, 'whoa, she dropped this by!' It was more about connecting than having put it in the mail—though I did also mail it out to agencies around the country."
The result was immediate and loud and much more than the photographer could have ever hoped for.
From the mailed pieces, an agency in Los Angeles that St. Clair had been wooing for more than a year made an Instagram post about the promo, calling it one of the best examples they’d ever seen. Blogs catering to the study and critique of photographers’ promotional materials happily tweeted and Instagrammed about the clever and well-executed piece of marketing they’d just received.
From the hand delivered batch, St. Clair was able to schedule six meetings. Technically she only scheduled five. One of them happened immediately, right there on the spot.
“My goal was to get meetings,” she says. “To get them to meet me in person and get to know me so they could hire me. But one of the agencies that I walked into literally opened it and the guy said, ‘Oh, hey, this is so cool!’ He called other people in the office over and looked at it, picked up the book of pictures, flipped through it and said, ‘We’ve got a job for you right now. Come on, let’s sit down and talk about it.’ And that job paid for the promo series. Boom."
Not including the time it took to produce and execute the promo, St. Clair says that by the time it was complete, the total cost of production—for the books, the coffee, the mugs, packaging, shipping, everything—was $10,000.
As they say, no risk no reward. Go big or go home. And so on.
“Truth be told,” St. Clair says, "even those other meetings that I got, even if I had just scheduled that many meetings, it still would have been a success to me for $10,000. Because those agencies now know who I am. I made an impact."
"In a million years, I never expected that to happen,” she says. “I never expected them to say, ‘Sweet, let’s look at it right now, why don’t you hang out while we look at it.’ Never. I don’t want to paint an unrealistic expectation; most people would tell you they’ve never had that kind of success [from a promo]. But it’s an example of going above and beyond. I did e-promos for years, and signed up for Agency Access and paid them thousands of dollars, and I don’t think I can trace anything back to it. So I dropped them."
“Obviously,” St. Clair adds, “ten grand is a lot. But I should do it again. I’m thinking about doing another thing that’s kind of at that level in the next year. I wish I could afford to do it every year.”