Does the word "networking" conjure visions of stick-on name badges and conversations involving the term "win-win"? It doesn't have to be that way, and making connections is important in any field. Learn how to get to know people—and get known—as you enter the professional photography world.
This article has been contributed from the Spring 2009 issue of Resource Magazine, courtesy of the publisher. To subscribe to the magazine and explore Resource’s online features, visit the Resource Magazine website.
High-powered business persons—if they are true to stereotype—love to network. The brisk snap of a business card as it is extended forth to a potential partner is an exquisite sound akin to a lover's sigh. But for artists, networking can feel like extending their neck out for the executioner's blade. Sure, they tell themselves in private that their artistry is superior to those hacks who get published in bourgeois rags like Vogue, but all confidence magically evaporates once they are put in a position where others can actually judge them. For artists, networking is an invitation to misery.
So how do those who wish to follow their dreams of getting paid for their art gain ground against the cold-blooded Gordon Gekkos? By emerging from those darkrooms and pressing some flesh. It may not be fun, but if you want to get work, you have to know people. Talent alone is not, and never has been, sufficient.
Before we take you on a guided tour of the best networking methods this industry has to offer, make sure you have everything you need, starting with a business card. Simple, classy, and descriptive is best; something that screams, "Artistic yet not flaky." Your name, your talent, your contact information. That's all that's necessary. There are plenty of online companies that will make them for you, such as Wizard Graphics and GreenerPrinter, but skip the ones that offer free or reduced price business cards. You may save money, but your card will have an advertisement for an unrelated business on the back, and that will not do.
You'll also need confidence. Think of all those people who do what you do, but are more famous and popular. You're better than them, aren't you? Hell yeah! All you need to do to catch up is to meet "those" people. The ones "in the know." If you need a little social lubricant to befriend random strangers, fine, but don't go overboard. No one wants to be "that guy/girl."
According to the latest scientific research, the best way to meet people these days is on the Internet. This massive, incorporeal place offers dozens of sites brimming with networking opportunities. Which ones should you join? As many as humanly possible. Here are a few that may be more helpful than others:
Not just a place to post embarrassing drunk photos anymore! Ever since MySpace became a habitat for garage bands and Tila Tequila wannabes, Facebook has declared its dominance in the devastating Social Network Wars of the 2000s. The site is great for keeping friends and colleagues up-to-date on the latest developments in your life and career and vice-versa. Someone looking for work can post a status update begging for the mere morsels of a paying gig. Likewise, those in a position to hire can inform their circle of contacts of their latest openings.
But what if you're brand new to the industry and have no friends, you complete and utter failure? Join a group or subscribe to a page. Many organizations have created their own groups or pages where artists can mingle, chat, and hear the latest news. There are groups for Drive-in Studios, Shoot Digital Studios, and Resource Magazine (ahem!) to name a few. You can even join a cause and fight for something you believe in. If you'd like to save the Polaroids, then join SAVE THE POLAROIDS and battle in the cyberspace streets alongside your nostalgic brethren. These sites send you updates anytime something interesting happens, so you stay informed and in the loop.
Unlike Facebook, this site is devoted solely to business, no screwing around. This is a great site for finding jobs because employers can list openings and seek potential employees while candidates can check out the companies and the people who work for them. Plenty of photo businesses are listed on the site. Here's what to do: register to set up your profile, then snoop around the companies' pages to see if there's anyone working there you already know, no matter how tenuous the connection. If there is, all you have to do is tap on their door with hat in hand.
But what if you don't already know anyone? Luckily, LinkedIn is courteous enough to let you know how many connections you are away from that company. Users build up contact networks (like a friends list), and LinkedIn will tell you how far away someone is from your network. If one of your contacts has a contact with someone at the company you are interested in, the company person will be a second-degree connection. All you have to do then is ask your contact to make the introduction, and bam!—you've got your foot in the door. A good place to start on LinkedIn is the Photography Professionals Group. Dive in and start making friends, and soon you'll find that anyone and everyone is in your contact network.
Whereas Facebook and LinkedIn are general social networking sites for any field, Dripbook is specifically designed for the photo production industry. It's the ideal place to throw your portfolio up and display it to everyone you drunkenly friend on those nights when it's just you, your computer, and a bottle of Absolut. This is ideal for anyone whose work is seen on-camera. If your job is to scout and hire talent, you'll be able to browse portfolios to your heart's content.
Another website devoted to helping the photo production industry meet and embrace new people. This site sets itself apart by providing easily accessible message boards where users can post videos and pimp their products, events, and projects. There's also a classified section for job postings or beggings.
Subscribing to someone's Twitter feed keeps you in the loop on what they're up to . . . constantly. It allows users to send out brief messages (annoyingly called "tweets") from their computer or cell phone to all of their "followers" (the creepiest imaginable term). You'll be able to instantly keep track of what your contacts are doing as they send out messages promoting upcoming events, requesting services, or wittily discoursing on the latest turn of events on the world stage. However, some people may bombard you with messages that are trivial at best. "My dog just threw up on the floor!!" may be amusing at first, but repeated updates on the dog's cuteness and state of being will make you want to punch them in the face. Subscribe judiciously. However, you can subscribe to the Resource Twitter without fear: we promise zero crap!
By now, you've exhausted your online resources and you've got leads on actual happenings where people are meeting IN PERSON! It's time to make an appearance and turn heads the old fashioned way: through an elaborate song and dance sequence. Or, you know, walking up to them and introducing yourself. Both could work.
Say what you want about the industry, but it sure likes to throw parties. They might be disguised under the code names "gallery opening," "staff show," or "gala event," but make no mistakes: they offer a chance to mingle with your fellow artists and industry professionals (and score some free booze while you're at it). Before attending bashes willy-nilly, however, do your research. Don't just show up and wander around in a daze. Know exactly what it is you're attending and what it's for, and have an opinion about it. Figure out who the VIPs will be and set them in your sights.
What should you do at these events? It depends on your personality. If you're the strong, silent type, stop that. Open your mouth and approach people. Flash that card and let them know what you do. Talk yourself up, but remember to let them talk in return. Anyone can become interesting if you ask enough questions, and you'll seem like a generous, outgoing person who actually listens. On the other hand, if you're the type of person who tends to get a bit out of hand, then give everyone a break and pace yourself. If no one can keep up with you when they're supposed to be relaxing, how can they do it on a professional set? Didn't think about that, did you?
Okay, let's jump forward in time. You've been attending events, scoring free hors d'oeuvres and fusion cocktails, making friends, contacts, and colleagues, and, quite possibly, getting work. What now? It's time to give back to the community.
Throw Your Own Event
Yes, yes, it costs quite a bit of cash, but money spent is money earned. If you're in a company, all the better—get the boss to foot the bill. If you're an individual, get corporate sponsors. Companies are desperate to be seen wherever there are people, especially the "hip" types who influence fashion and trends. Wrangle sponsors onto your side by giving their marketing/advertising departments a call and proposing an alliance.
If the party is successful, lots of people will show up, fawn over you, drink more booze than you have, and vacuum up the food so fast you'll wonder why you even got it in the first place. It's worth it, though, because now YOU are the VIP, and business cards and contacts will be thrown at you like peasants at the royals' feet. An event is a gambit, but play it right and the world will be yours.
The Follow Up
If all goes well, you'll have many contacts you'll need to follow up with. Most likely, you'll wake up the next morning (maybe in your own bed) and find yourself surrounded by business cards from people you barely recall meeting. What do you do? Treat it like you would any other social situation. Wait a few days—two at least, five at most—and then send these contacts an e-mail. Let them know how much you enjoyed meeting them, how interested you were in what they said, and tell them that if they'd like to check out your work, they can go to your Facebook, Dripbook, etc. page or website.
It can be good to end your initial query with a question: Did you enjoy the party? What are you doing now? Is everything going well? Want to grab a coffee? The point is to encourage a response. If you have a neatly summed-up message all about you, there's nothing for them to respond with except, "I enjoyed meeting you as well. Here's a link to my stuff. Ciao!" Potential relationship = fail. You must start a dialogue that will keep the lines of communication open. Don't be afraid to ask for favors and in turn, don't be afraid to perform them, either. Networking is all about people using each other to get ahead, but in a good way.
The New Age
Of course, sometimes things don't work out. Like everything else in your weary life, people grow distant and sometimes disappear. Don't get choked up. Instead, make an effort to stay in touch. Invite people you haven't heard from in a while for drinks, coffee, dinner, or at least send them a brief email asking how they're doing. You can even keep them abreast on the latest developments in your existence through the miracle of chatting. Google, Instant Messenger, iChat, and Facebook bring all the magic and wonder of inane small talk to the new technology age. It may be tedious, it may be shallow, but even a brief "Happy Fourth of July!" can go a long way.
There's only so much we can tell you about networking before you'll just have to go out on your own and try it. As long as you're not a shut-in, it shouldn't be too hard because every moment you interact with another human being is a form of networking. If you really want to succeed in your business, you just need to learn how to transfer the networking you do in your private life to your professional life. Then, if all goes well, the world will open up for you. If not, at least you tried. And isn't it at least nice to get out every now and then?