The Benefits of Partnerships with Skip Cohen
Over the years writing for Shutter Magazine and my blog, I’ve talked a lot about the importance of partnerships, but almost always about the same benefit: sharing the cost of direct-mail pieces. Developing relationships with potential partners can be even more beneficial to your business. It’s time to expand the concept and go beyond just sharing the cost of production and mailing for a brochure or postcard.
During my Hasselblad days, 1987 to 1999, our advertising and promotional offers reduced our costs while giving the Hasselblad brand exposure.
Hasselblad, Kodak and Polaroid
We pulled together an ad campaign with both of these then top-shelf companies featuring the work of Nick Vedros. The image we used was shot with Hasselblad on Kodak film, but there was no digital technology then. A Polaroid back was an essential component to check exposure and composition for many commercial and portrait artists. The costs for the complete campaign, including production and media placement, was split three ways between us.
There were other programs over the years, each similar in structure, and including Kodak, L.L. Bean and Bogen (today known as Manfrotto). Each time the companies involved not only reduced their costs, but each company became an ambassador for the others.
Here are a few ideas to start thinking about.
Think about partnerships with other vendors in the community. It’s easiest to use wedding photographers as an example because there are so many potential partners. A wedding photographer might develop a program with a florist and a venue. An oversize postcard designed to highlight all three partners reduces everybody’s cost to a third of what it would cost if you were solo.
The goal of referrals is to never say no to a client. Say you’re a wedding photographer and the bride contacts you a few years after the wedding to photograph her new baby. It’s not something you enjoy doing, but you’ve got a relationship with another photographer who specializes in maternity and newborns. It’s the perfect opportunity to refer business back and forth to each other.
Sharing studio space
At ShutterFest two years ago, a photographer told me she was sharing office space with several other photographers. That’s a great way to reduce expenses and get a bigger and better space than you normally would be able to afford, especially if you’re just starting out.
Events and fundraisers
This is one of my favorites because it’s open to so many different types of business owners. Many years ago, Vicki Taufer established an event that led to her becoming one of the leading pet photographers in her area. Her Dog Day Afternoon program offered pet owners a free 5×7 print in exchange for a donation to the local animal shelter. She worked with the shelter, a local business called the Dog Barkery and a dog biscuit manufacturer. Each helped promote the event. Bambi Cantrell did a wine and cheese fundraiser with a salon. Together they raised funds and awareness for a community need.
Los Angeles photographer Kevin A. Gilligan, a member of the Hermosa Beach Artist’s Collective, cited five benefits of this approach in a guest post on SkipCohenUniversity.com called “Sharing the Burden of Building a Photography Business”: creativity, shared expenses with permanent space, increased exposure, motivation and networking. With each benefit, he gained the support of his partnership with other artists. The common denominator is they all share the same target audience.
Kevin’s closing paragraph about his group’s community events says it all: “What makes it work? All have to pitch in. At least one person has to take the lead to make sure the flag does not touch the ground and coordinate efforts. Many artists have multiple gigs; it’s best if you have several full-time artists in the group who can devote more time.”
New-gear fever is prevalent this time of year, and in 2018, it’s likely to have an impact on more of you than last year. That’s because at Photokina, one of the industry’s largest imaging shows, held at the end of September in Germany, hundreds of manufacturers introduced new products. As these products become available, they will create a push to clear older inventory and sell the latest and greatest.
Cash flow is a challenge for every business, but before you stretch your wallet a little too thin, consider partners for the purchase of some of those high-ticket items. Exotic lenses and large-format printers are two good examples of equipment whose cost should be shared. Depending on what you’re about to purchase, it’s not that big of a challenge to share usage and maintenance.
Earlier I mentioned the shared cost of advertising back in my Hasselblad days. There’s no reason not to share the cost with other vendors. Direct mail is only one vehicle, but an ad in a local paper or magazine or on a website saves money and expands your reach.
A full-page ad in an upscale bridal magazine with a caterer, bridal salon and photographer could roll out under a headline like “The Best of Three Worlds,” and feature each entity in a third of the ad—again, all hitting the same target audience.
I’ve coauthored six books on photography with Don Blair, Bambi Cantrell, Joe Buissink and Scott Bourne. With each book, the common denominator was our target audience—professional photographers—and we pooled our skills to create educational material in imaging. We shared all expenses and revenues, as well as a few spinoff workshops tied to the books.
This is one of my favorites, which I first heard about from Bruce Berg, a photographer in Oregon. He wrote an incredible guest post several years ago on my blog titled “A Promotion Worth Having,” in which he talked about the marketing concept behind the Lane County Children’s Contest, founded 30 years in Oregon and still thriving. Each year it brings together three competing photography studios that are able to bring in income during seasonal slowdowns with the help of the contest. Bruce had been working with the contest for 15 years, he wrote, though he was hesitant at first because he “didn’t want to do formulaic portraits or attempt to be a high-volume business.” “But,” he continued, “I’ve been able to tweak the approach and do the creative work I love, and the contest has been great for business.”
Year after year, the Lane County Children’s Contest has been successful in not only raising awareness for professional photography but revenue during the first quarter of the year, typically when photography income is at its lowest.
Here’s what Bruce wrote about revenue in that post: “Last year, with 12 percent unemployment in our area, we drew 55 clients for 70 entries and took in $17,000. (Pre-recession, we averaged $23,000.) My advertising cost was just $1,100.”
And that brings me full circle to the importance of building relationships and creating great partnerships. You don’t have to go it alone. Bringing in strategic partners for any project helps expand your reach, creativity and brand awareness.