Ok, I admit it, I’m guilty. Guilty of polluting your offices with junk mail — analog spam, unsolicited and unwanted and in most cases probably tossed directly into the garbage and now sitting in a landfill somewhere. I’m talking about printed promotional mailers; postcards and folders and brochures and the like. As a follow-up to my last post, I dug deeper into some of the boxes in my storeroom and unearthed an ungodly torrent of paper. And these are just the odds and ends and leftovers that weren’t sent. Most of it, thousands upon thousands of items, was mailed out or hand delivered to AD’s, CD’s and art buyers across the country and in the US. And then it all just disappeared. And I’m sorry.

I saw the error of my ways a few years ago, however — I quit the mass mailing habit cold turkey in 2007. Informal chats with clients and beer-fueled tête-à-têtes with other photographers seemed to indicate that printed mailers are an exercise in futility, vaguely distracting at best and downright irritating at worst. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that in most cases, mailing out promos offers pretty much the same return on investment as giving your money to the printer and paying him to set it on fire for you. Actually I think that scenario is probably a lot more efficient, and certainly less wasteful of time and natural resources.

Granted, whenever I visit a client or creative, there are usually a few mailers stuck to the wall or sitting on their desks — but there are generally a lot more of them in the garbage. And often as not, the stuff pinned up is either from photographers they’ve worked with before, or shooters who’ve recently won awards or garnered some attention elsewhere and are therefore already on their radar. As a supplement to self-branding, I suppose mailers have some nominal value, but I’ve found that juried annuals and awards shows are a much more effective way of getting noticed. And in all honesty, the Planet Shapton blog, combined with regular website updates, has been by far the most effective form of self-promotion I’ve ever tried.

However, here at the studio, discussions about mailers still abound. We’re encouraged to self-promote, of course, and printing a mailer is a quick and easy way to get something out the door. And of course, my fellow Westside associates are talented and well established, and regular award winners. We’re also the subjects and beneficiaries of an active and popular studio blog — in other words, we’re a known quantity and hence our promos are somewhat more likely to end up decorating someone’s office wall. It seems unfair, but there you go. Which brings me to the point of this post.

I had a meeting a few months ago with the studio partners, and when the subject of printed mailers came up, I politely expressed my views; I think my exact words were “Forget it. Not doing one. Waste of money. Too bad I can’t just print some shots on Kleenex, that way they’d at least be useful on their way to the garbage…” — and that was the Eureka moment. Yes, it’s true, I’ve done a promo – but not a mailer. I couldn’t find anyone who printed on Kleenex, but we came up with the next best thing…

The shots were conceived of and taken specifically for the tissue boxes — it was a hilarious and messy day of photos — and I consciously tried to do things a bit differently. I wanted the images to tie in conceptually with the promotion itself, which is something sadly lacking with most promo efforts, and I wanted to indulge in some careful studio lighting, something I’m not necessarily known for — you can see the full set of shots here. And last but not least, I loved the idea of an actual product, with some actual utility, that will hopefully linger for a while on people’s desks before being thrown out. Because let’s face it, that’s ultimately what’s going to happen.

They’re being sent out over the next few days, just in time for allergy season…

Special thanks to Erik Mohr, for the box layout and design, Kirsten White for producing the shoot, and Louise Griew for the snot-and-tears makeup effects. And of course, to the willing portrait subjects, good sports one and all!

If this is your first visit to Planet Shapton, please leave a comment, I’d love to hear what you think. You can also subscribe and follow me on Twitter.










20 Responses to Hey Art Directors! (An Apology)

  1. kirk says:

    Brilliant. I’m looking for someone who can print on toilet paper rolls. That would be magic.

  2. Paul Riss says:

    Amazing Derek, but I don’t have one of these.

  3. A very enlightening and funny post.

  4. Great post, but how is an unknown photographer like me who’s only done regional work supposed to break into the game?

    This was going to be the year I started getting promotions printed and meeting with editors, but now I’m discouraged that it will be a huge waste of money and that my portfolio isn’t strong enough.

    It seems like a catch-22: You have to have worked with that art director before to get more work, and you can’t work with that AD if you haven’t worked with them before.

  5. Jean Labelle says:

    Absolutely brilliant!

  6. Troy Braun says:

    What a terrific idea! You should be very proud of that one, and I hope it works like crazy for ya. Nice job writing the post too.

  7. [...] the rest of his post HERE and check out his super dope promo piece below. What’s so wonderful about the piece below is [...]

  8. Alan says:

    1st timer…..
    Good read. I was expecting the usual “the business ain’t what it used to be”, with nothing but a lot of pessimistic attitudes (which it did), but then you gave a solution. Nice.

  9. Mike Henry says:

    Absolutely Genius!! Wish I had come up with that. Well done!

  10. Love the boxes! such a good, useful idea.

    I myself am in the process of putting together my FIRST EVER promo series, and REAL portfolio ( a long time coming). While I see your perspective — I’m at a point where I need to to prove that I take pictures, can get the shot, and am fully awesome. If I get the opportunity to meet with a potential client – I want to show my work in hard copy, to remind them every month that I’m here, that I’m sticking it out, and to stay on their radar long enough that they let me prove my worth.

    Definitely times have changed, and the ability to reach people is far better, more creative, and full of possibility. I love this blog, and that thoughts can be heard. I am for sure nostalgic for ways of old, when people could hold an image in their hand (while blowing their nose).

  11. Shelley Frayer says:

    Hey Derek, where’s my kleenex box?

  12. [...] Recently, Derek wrote a post on his blog, titled, “Hey Art Directors! (An Apology)”. You can read the entire post here. [...]

  13. [...] and the response has been outstanding. The screen grab above is from Facebook, shortly after I wrote about the project for the first time (The very talented Paul Riss is an associate creative director at DDB – [...]

  14. Hi Derek, I wanted to thank you for your personal approach to what you are creating ! I have been in the field for yeeaaarrrrsssss ! I was working on trying to promote myself recently, which I have never really had to do till now, and found your blog . . . rather refreshing! The photo world has made a giant shift in the last 10 years so it is challenging to change old habits, but should be fun with new insights like yours . Cheers ~ Rocky . . .rockyshoots.com

  15. Irem Harnak says:

    One of the best promos I have ever seen so far! Fun and smart!
    I first saw it on a friend’s desk then on Agency Access website, a piece really hard to toss for sure ;) Inspiring!

    All the best!

  16. I was doing research on the different supplemental materials photographers use to promote their business when I came across your tissue box portraits, awesome idea, I found your blog to be very helpful, you have some great advice on promotional materials, and what not to use to get the job done! thank you Donna (photography student)

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