Marketing your photography business during COVID-19
As COVID-19 infections rise throughout the United States, it may seem like a great time to put everything on hold. After all, if you’re an event photography business, chances are you’re shut down. Every day I wake up and check the New York Times COVID-19 tracking page, and every day I’m horrified. I keep expecting good news. Anything. A promising new treatment. A vaccine. Lower infection rates. When will that thin red line turn downward?
Instead, there’s the perplexing mix of skyrocketing cases AND a simultaneous loosening of stay at home orders. As of the writing of this blog, there is no indication that the US Congress plans to extend the unemployment $600 a week stipend that many photographers are surviving on. In fact, the Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin indicated unemployment would not be extended as the Trump Administration pushes reopening and a return to normal. I suspect a showdown will happen with Congress, as Democrats have included the extension in the latest House CARES package — and Republicans in the Senate have sat on the bill. It’s anyone’s guess.
With this grim backdrop, event photographers scramble to promote their business, doing anything to keep connected to their clients. It’s tough. In person events are almost non-existent. And, when one does pop up, you have to wonder:
IS IT WORTH SHOOTING THIS EVENT AND POTENTIALLY EXPOSING YOUR FAMILY FOR THE PAYOFF? WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU GET INFECTED DURING THE SHOOT, AND BRING THE VIRUS HOME TO YOUR FAMILY?
Think I’m paranoid? One photographer recently contacted me on Instagram, and told me his story. Feeling guilty his wife was the only one earning a paycheck, he accepted a job photographing a medical conference. He followed the necessary precautions — wore a mask, tried to stay 6′ from people. He said few attending the multi-day meeting wore a mask. Or practiced social distancing. A few days after the event, he started to feel gross. He was tested for COVID-19, and was positive. To make matters worse, because of the skyrocketing cases in his area, his wife was laid off from her job.
About the same day I read this photographer’s difficult story, I received an email from an event photography firm promoting their headshot lounge.
While I really understand why an event marketing firm would want to promote headshot services, this marketing email missed the mark. In fact, it may have caused more harm to their reputation than good. First, there wasn’t a discussion of the “new normal”, or any basic understanding of how COVID-19 would affect how a headshot photo lounge would be conducted at current events. In fact, the graphics and photos that accompanied the email showed crowds of people, packed into a traditional lounge area, no masks, no social distancing. No safety measures. Even the banner headline said, “PACK YOUR BOOTH!” Oops. Bad, bad messaging. Maybe they work for Trump.
Marketing your services with a tone deafness towards our current national emergency is a mistake. Everything you do to promote your business should have the current pandemic in mind. Everything. Discuss safety measures. Promote how you’ve changed and adapted your services because of the virus. Be aware you aren’t using the same marketing you used six months ago. Don’t discuss packing a booth: discuss the value of promoting one on one, individual attention. Journey from “CROWDS LOVE US!” to “people appreciate our safe and fun approach”. A subtle shift; but dramatic. For the near future, events will need to focus on individual attention, versus packing crowds. Develop your marketing to reflect an individual approach.
Second, think long and hard before you take on a project if your CLIENT is tone deaf towards COVID-19. Look out for yourself, and your family. Fiercely protect your health. Your client won’t. The government won’t. You are your best advocate.
It might be you decide to hunker down in your living room, watching endless hours of American Horror Story, feeling guilty you aren’t out working. Don’t. Keep your web site current. Think how to change your business to accommodate safety measures. Send out marketing material discussing those changes. Stay well. Despite about 40% of the population determined to ignore the pandemic and hoping it will just evaporate, you can’t. You must be cautious about if you work, and even more cautious about the promotional material you generate.
The thin red line will eventually turn down. It might take a while. The government will spin ineffectively, at least until election day. But if you’re patient now, stay healthy and safe, and keep your brand healthy and current, when we are, finally, ready to return to work — you’ll be set up for success.