Being on FaceBook I often pass by articles from websites like PetaPixel and usually I take a look at some of them.
Yesterday was no exception and I read an article written by Danny Lenihan, the founder and CEO of 3 Legged Thing. In the article he wrote complaining about the quantity and attitude of people who reach him asking to become ambassadors of his brand in the hope to get a free tripod.
I’m sure he describes a real situation and I understand his point of view, but, as often, I try to see from a more distant point of view that is less attached to one side.
So my question for Mr. Lenihan is simple: who do you think is responsible for this situation and diffused attitude?
Let’s talk for a moment about how the photographic companies changed in the last years.
As a little premise, this is the first time I hear the brand 3 Legged Thing (evidently you know your marketing Mr. Lenihan… but do I have a positive or negative knowledge of your brand name now?), so I have no idea of the quality of the products or how they relate with the customers, and what I say is general and based on my experience, mostly in Italy, with suppliers.
When I started my business it was 1994, I had some experience as assistant for a colleague and friend so I had a clear idea of what to buy. I tried to have some representatives bringing products to me for a test before I spent a ton of money, but already something changed in the previous years and then they were only visiting photographer that already had a business. I considered this pretty stupid but, not having a choice I just ordered what I was able to test form colleagues.
When we talk about starting a business in the early 1990s, we have to consider that was not really possible to start cheap, as can be done with digital now. So I went with Hasselblad, Cambo with Schneider lenses, 1200 Ws studio flash by Bowens and a ton of accessories for a total of what now will be at least 100,000 dollars.
After I opened I started to have representatives from different companies visiting my studio to propose new equipment. When I wanted to buy something I called and they arrived with some products to test in my studio. I was able to see the results, test the products in my workflow and have the feeling of the equipment in my hands.
The representative and the company were real partners of the business. I was able to see and test some new products and give a feedback, this was important for both of us.
The representatives usually went to almost all the studios, making a selection based simply on the trust they had for the person, it was not a matter of followers on social media. An important parameter was the ability to give a feedback and be considered good, not for a prize won or followers on FaceBook but judged by the eye and the ethic of the representative and the company.
The partnership with the producers and dealers was going two ways. I always knew I could count, as a professional, on their quick support if I needed it. For support I intend fixing damaged cameras or simply giving a technical advice by phone.
I still remember a representative in particular, his name was Picchio and he represented Fujifilm, a great person and very good in his business. He visited my studio at least twice a year to see if I needed something, presenting new products and to have a feedback. Sometime he had some free films to test, and a lot of times that ended with new orders.
I was used to do a lot of catalogs in 4×5″ film, and thanks to him I was always able to have the most fresh films, coming from the same lot for uniformity and, the few times I needed films in hurry, I called him and I was able to have my film the day after, also if my studio was in a small town.
I never compared the prices of the films when I made orders, I knew the prices were aligned to the market and I trusted him. I really did not cared if at the end I payed few percent more or less than with other providers, I knew I could count on him and Fujifilm as a business partner and that was the most important value for me.
When I decided to upgrade my studio lighting system I was looking for flash power generators. I called different companies and I received the visit by Bowens and Broncolor (btw, still using them and I think are the best studio flash ever made!). They both brought the system to my studio and we tested it on a set. I decided for Broncolor, it was not just for the better performance on paper but the deciding factor (keep in mind the cost was 30% more than Bowens) was the most stupid detail: the cables were very soft, a pleasure to feel in hands, easy to put in the bags and, most important, stayed flat on the floor! Bowens cable were more rigid and unable to stay flat, a big risk in a studio where there can be people walking around.
With the photographic company there was a strict collaboration, if I had an idea for a workshop or an event I did not had to write emails to the CEO, I simply spoke with the representative and in the same way, if the company had the need for a photographer they were able to contact us and test the ground to see how to manage the collaboration.
One day I was speaking with a rep about a class where I was teaching, something local, not important at all, but the day after I received some sponsored t-shirts to give away for free. Obviously for more important programs there was always collaboration with equipment and knowledge.
Few year passed and the representatives became more rare than an unicorn. The only one still present was Picchio with Fujifilm, all the other disappeared.
I had to switch to digital from film and nobody offered to pass by and let me try the cameras. They did not even had the cameras in the shops to test. My decision was very simple, study the catalogs online and buy from where I got the best offer. I bought everything online form B&H in NY and imported it to Italy. I saved between 20% and 30%. The problem? I did not tried the camera in my hands, I was not able to get the feeling. When finally, two years ago, I switched from Canon to Fuji, I realized how much I disliked the feeling of the Canon in my hands.
Was it a bad camera? Not at all, but we were not done for each other.
The Italian importers simply lost me, for stupidity, and they lost a lot of other people I talked about my experience with B&H. All this because some modern CEO, with no knowledge of the market but with some fancy degree, decided it was better to invest on the Net instead of taking care of the professional clients.
When the representatives started to disappear, Internet was starting to appear. All the marketing efforts were online, directed to everybody, form the beginner amateur to the top professional used to spend tons of money in equipment every year. There was no difference.
Few years went by and we arrived at the social media. The company started to target for the quantity, the only parameter is to have more likes and followers, so they started to share pictures taken by the masters or the last of the amateur. The photographic companies and laboratories started to see the amateurs as a wider potential market and went for it. The idea is the quantity, why you need to convince pros to spend a lot of money and looking for perfect products when you can sell easily a quantity of cheap products to a big number of amateurs satisfied by a good marketing and a cheap product?
I look at the FaceBook pages of a lot of brands and they publish everything from anybody, just to have some clicks. Specially the new companies, started from scratch with the idea to give a cheaper product with direct sales. They only count the clicks. As our CEO wrote… 100k followers is the minimum to waste his time with an email.
If a contest they sponsor gives prizes, for journalistic photography, to people inventing images in Photoshop for them is all good, they think is more clicks if people talk about that. The selection based on ethic principles is something from the past, who cares, we need clicks not ethic. And we need sales now, not tomorrow, who cares about the long term.
When I bought my Hasselblad, at the beginning, the italian distributor FOWA was 100% on the side of professionals, we had faster service, contacts with the headquarters and so on. Today I received an email from FOWA where they promote some workshops, specifically for everyone “from the beginner amateur to the professionals”, without any distinction. I suppose their target is the amateurs, they spend more now than professionals in Italy, so put together the beginner amateur (often just a photographer not paying taxes) with the professional is a plus, but they do not realize in this way they alienate the professionals.
A real ambassador is the professional using the equipment. Amateurs look at him and copy. This is the most simple truth. It is not the one payed to promote a brand on the net, is the simple photographer. When I bought Hasselblad it was because I have seen a lot of professionals I liked using it, not for the advertise with the famous name.
The rule was pretty simple: make the professional happy, perhaps making less money on them, and the amateurs will follow.
Do you remember when Apple was used to do great professional products? When they started with the iPhone they had a base of developers ready, now that a lot of pro switched to Windows because there is a lack of attention to the pro market from Apple, do you think that pros will still develop first for the iPhone or for the competitors as Android?
Now we have the ambassador programs based on the main parameter of the followers. The companies use the ambassador with in change usually some products (a cost for the factory usually 1/10 of the list price!) and pretend them to target a wide audience, giving ideas and teaching for free, even to the same people that will became illegal and cheaper competitors (sorry, they are called usually “advanced amateurs”). The ambassador has to carry all the expenses and efforts to organize workshops and create tutorials for some products or a small percent of the profit.
I had been ambassador for some products and sometime I gave away the discount code just to discover that there were better offers online.
When we were not called ambassadors, guru, evangelists and so on, the photographic companies payed us, they organized the workshops advanced the costs etc. They did not even had “ambassadors” but simply the personal knowledge of the single photographer and they were able to select the speakers based on the real value and not on the followers. The company had the followers, the photographer had his marketing targeted to his clients. The photographer was selling pictures to people, the manufacturer was selling equipment.
In this situation, is someone still surprised that a CEO receives 80 emails a day from low level photographers without even the knowledge of the basic manners, to ask to become ambassador in change of a free tripod?
Does the various CEOs really think photographers need to spend their money and efforts to market products to their competitors almost for free instead to spend the same time and efforts to market for their clients?
The manufacturers created this absurd situation and now they pretend the best photographers feel great because they are associated with a brand. The manufacturers pretend we work for them instead that for ourselves and then they get surprised (or upset) because too many low level photographers want to collaborate with them.
Dear CEO, ask yourself who is the target of your marketing efforts and then compare it with the people writing to you. You will see a great similarity!
Now, when is the last time you had a representative visiting professional studios? When is the last time you concentrated your efforts on professionals?
Try it! And you will see that the professionals will be happy, will use your products even without calling them ambassadors, people will look at what they use and buy the same. It will be at no cost for you and with a greater satisfaction for the photographer who will have again a partner and not someone trying to use them!
As a little add, I sometime speak about brands in my blog, I have no affiliations if not specified. I usually tend to speak about the brands I like more and I trust as service and easy way to contact. What I usually dislike and do not talk about are companies pretending they are doing a favor to me selling the product… sorry I expect companies to be grateful for me exactly as I am for my clients. My clients will always be my priority and I expect the same when I’m a client.
Also, as I do not expect my clients to spend time and money to promote me as photographer, I pretend my suppliers to do the same. Sometime I had marketing efforts combined with the client, but because we had the same target, their potential clients were my potential clients! So again, I expect the same way of thinking from suppliers, and I have no problem to unite the marketing efforts when we have the same target, for example for a workshop, but they have to understand that every day I will concentrate to target my own clients, not theirs.