Marketing through Meetups – leveraging niche communities to broaden your reach
Meetups were one of the pioneering groups when people still referred to the internet as the world wide web and there was no such thing as Facebook or iPhones. As an organizing principle they are beautifully simple and targeted: form a group around a common interest or passion, and literally meet up regularly in a local neighbourhood venue to share ideas, talk, network and form relationships.
ProductTank MTL runs a series of themed monthly Meetups in Montreal, featuring three speakers from local businesses sharing their ideas, strategies and insights working as product managers or founders in technology companies.
The most recent event (it’s 14th edition!), held at Groove Nation in the Plateau, centred on EdTech and featured Roberto Cipriani, CTO of GradeSlam, Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co, and Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.
The evenings are a nice mix of learning and networking with peers, and there are often job openings advertised, from the presenting companies and an open mic for anyone else in the audience looking for new talent. If I were looking for a new gig in tech, I’d be attending these and other Meetups like these regularly.
There are hundreds of Meetups in Montreal alone, whether you’re interested in Ecommerce, Learning, Food & Drink, or simply trying to meet other people if you are new to the city. There’s even one for Digital Nomads.
Hiba Fanta, Product Manager at E-180.com
Meetups are a fantastic way to bring people together but their use could also be an easily accessible business development tool for instigators and marketers looking to grow their influence. Just a few groups that come to mind for which the benefits of a Meetup seem obvious are:
Brands / Companies looking to make connections within niche communities
Venue owners (bars, restaurants, spaces) that are underutilizes at night or looking to get known in their communities)
Professional associations looking for new members or to share knowledge and create networking and development opportunities for their members.
As an event photographer, I’m surprised by how few Meetup organizers are leveraging photography to bring more people to their events and broaden their reach and impact.
Through sponsorships from companies seeking connections with the people your Meetup group represents you can easily cover the cost of a few hours of photographic or video coverage for your event.
Renaud Boisjoly, CEO at Studyo.co
Nothing sells an event better than professional looking photos of real people in real venues having a good time and interacting with each other. Conference planners and professional meeting organizers know this and always budget for coverage as it provides fresh new images to furnish blog posts, advertisements, website copy, and media and freelance journalist who come to the event, thus extending the group’s reach even further.
ProductTank MTL is a well organized chapter of an international group, with a very targeted niche for an in-demand professional skill set. It is an obvious opportunity for a sponsor looking to connect with that same pool of talent. For a few thousand dollars a year a sponsor could sponsor the photography portion of a Meetup for a year, providing a minimum of 12 regular posts on the group’s own Facebook and Meetup page, as well as access to images for the company’s own use.It seems like a no-brainer from a marketing spend point of view.
Roberto Cipriani, CTO at GradeSlam.org
If you are either a Meetup organizer, or in a company looking to make connections to talent and the communities your company operates in, spend an hour looking through all the available Meetup groups organized in your city – or start your own.
Over the weekend I covered a large event at a beautiful historic location in Montreal (the Théatre St. James) which used to be an opulent and ornate old bank.
Théatre St. James in Montreal
It is a spectacular place for an event – commodious main event space and a secondary space in the basement with access to the old bank vault, which can be converted into a lounge as was done at this event.
Inside the vault
The engagement included both continuous event coverage and a photobooth from my company, lePartybooth.com. Photobooths never seem to get old and they add an easy and fun activity for guests of all ages at an event. They also provide branding opportunities for sponsors and the event organizers through the use of branded imagery, green screened images and take away, instant prints.
However, to get the full value of your photobooth, consider where in the event you ask for it to be set up. While set-ups vary between open air mobile studios and premium standalone kiosks, most photobooths require about 15 x 15 feet, and ideally even a bit more space for the props table and prints.
Not every event space has optimal locations for photobooths, but your provider should be able to counsel you on where would be ideal. From the client point of view you want the booth somewhere in plain site to the main event and easily accessible by your guests. If they have to go up or down a flight of stairs, or leave the party to go to a secondary room, your participation will drop off a cliff and you will not be getting the best value for your money.
Encourage your guests to share their photos on social media with your event #hashtag
If you are planning to include a photobooth at your next event, keep these simple tips in mind:
Include the photobooth somewhere in the main event space
Remind your guests a few times throughout the evening that the photobooth is available for their use and they don’t have to pay to use it (*unless you are using the booth as a fundraising tool)
Ask your provider if they can furnish you with a few images from the booth to show on the main screen during the event
Encourage your guests to share their photobooth images online via the sharing functions built-in to the booth using your event hashtag
And a bonus idea:
If you really want to leverage the photobooth, consider running an in-event contest, offering a prize (voted on by applause or some other crowd-engagement measurement) for the wackiest or most outrageous photobooth pose of the evening.
Photobooths are always popular and including one in your event budget creates another sponsorship vehicle or place to extend the reach of your marketing. Having decided to spend the money, make sure you get the best use from it by making it a prominent and well-situated element in the layout of your floor plan for the event.
I recently covered a seminar for medical professionals in an charming Old Montreal hotel. The conference brought together experienced practitioners and researchers with their younger associates for an exchange of ideas and learning but one particularly interesting segment to me was about how to present which inspired me to put together my own thoughts and observations on the subject, culled from my many years experience observing presenters in all kinds of different fora, from meet ups at bars, to large international congresses, shared below:
You are the presenter, not your slides: if your slides are full of lots of text and your presentation comprises you staring down at your laptop reading out the points with very occasional asides or additional points, than your presentation will put people to sleep. Your objective in giving a presentation is to actually engage your audience, hold their attention, and have them learn something. To do that you need to be the one delivering the message, not your screen which is there to back you up and provide impact but not be a replacement for you.
When presenting, never stand in front of the projector: while this seems obvious, it still happens with some frequency, particularly in these smaller, single-room set-ups.Although I sometimes enjoy the almost performance-art type images that can occur serendipitously, the intended audience may be more interested in actually being able to see the content of your screen. (I think it would be interesting if a presenter could wear some kind of device that would trigger a silent alarm if the presenter unwittingly stands in front of the projector, but I digress.)
Use simple, readable fonts: arial and calibri, though a little boring, are easy to see and read, which is important if you are actually using your slides to present information as would be the case for most researchers, scientists or medical professionals who get asked to present at a conference.
Don’t over-animate: excessive use (almost any use IMHO) of animations are distracting, and almost always look like you just discovered them and thought they were really cool. Restrain yourself and limit the use of them, if you must use them at all.
Mind your body language: In theatre it’s called “blocking” and it means you’re showing your back to the audience. You don’t ever want to do that, so pay attention to where the audience is and position yourself on the stage (or in the room) where you are not blocking anyone’s view of your screen nor showing anyone your back. And when you speak and need to refer to the screen, use the arm closest to the screen, regardless of whether you are right or left-handed. Stand straight, pay attention to your posture. If you happen to be presenting in a group and you are waiting for your turn, don’t forget that you are in front of the audience and on-stage. Try not to look excessively bored, or tuned out.
Be careful with using videos: videos can be great entertainment but I’ve seen them used too often as a supplement to giving a thoughtful discourse. They are also impossible to connect with so they end up bringing your audience’s attention away from you and into the screen where they get lost for the duration of your video. Ask yourself how the video is making your point better than you could without it. And if it’s really an integral part of your message, limit the use and maintain your presence and commentary so that you still “own” the room when the video ends.
Be yourself: it’s wonderful when a presenter has natural charisma, makes people smile and laugh through their sheer presence and can keep the audience chuckling with well-placed witticisms and seemingly off-the-cuff jokes. But that’s not everybody. That’s not even most people. Rather than try to be overly entertaining or extroverted if it is not in your nature, just be yourself.
Know your stuff: double down on learning your material and be so comfortable with it that you’re able to talk naturally to your audience without relying heavily on notes. Practice in front of a mirror, record yourself and improve on what you notice doesn’t work when you see yourself.
Speak calmly, clearly and be conscious of “filler” sounds: um, if you are, um, trying to make, uh, the, uh point, about the uh, graph over on the uh, left, uh, side of the screen, um there…You get the picture. Record yourself, practice and listen to your speech patterns. If you are prone to sounding like that, then rehearse more until you’re not.
Be on time: I’ve never seen a conference planner who wanted their speakers to go overtime. If you’ve been given a 20-minute slot, make sure you end on 20 minutes and no more. And if you get a 2-minute warning, but have 10 minutes left of material, don’t rush. Pick the key point and finish there. No one wants to see you fly through 20 slides in two minutes and no one will retain anything from it.
Use eye contact: look up from your notes/the screen often and for more than a flickering second. Look at the whole room, not just the few front rows that you can actually see well.
If there is a podium, don’t grip it and hold on for dear life: podiums are terrible for photographers. They crop your body in half and if you are not tall, they leave just a bit of space to capture a good shot of you. They also distance you from your audience. If you are at a podium feel free to stand beside it, or to step away from it now and then to break up the monotony of the lectern and to give your audience – and grateful photographer – a few opportunities to see more of you than what shows up behind the microphone.
Use hand gestures, but don’t gesticulate wildly: hand gestures add dynamism and can create some great mid-action shots. Just don’t over do it, especially if you are using gestures that don’t come naturally to you.
Laser pointers: Ugh…(1995 called and wants its laser pointer back…) If you must use them, be sparing. You don’t want your audience to feel like you’re playing that game with your cat where you make it jump around all over the place chasing after that dot of light because it’s just so funny.
Be flexible: technical issues arise far more often than you’d think warranted given how little audo-visual presentation technology has changed in the past 10 years. We’ve got devices in our pockets that can let us video chat with someone around the world, but getting a microphone to work in a small room can still be a challenge. Prepare a Plan B, just in case the slides don’t show, or the sound fails. Being familiar with your material means being able to talk it through even if you have to abandon your slides altogether.
Smile: smile often, and naturally. Particularly if there is a photographer in the room. When you pause, smile. It only takes a second for a pro to get that great shot of you. And your audience will instantly feel more connected to you.
Stick around after the gig: if you’ve been invited to a conference to speak, if possible, don’t just jet in, do your thing, and whisk your rolly bag offstage to your waiting UBER to the airport. Sometimes it can’t be helped, but if you’ve got a bit of time, it’s courteous to your hosts and beneficial to your audience members to make yourself accessible after your presentation to meet with people one-on-one and be available to answer their questions.
Taking questions: keep the conversation moving, repeat the question of the questioner (if there is no audience microphone) so that everyone understands and hears it. If you don’t know the answer, say so. There’s nothing wrong with saying you will find out and have them connect with you after ward so you can let them know. Don’t skate around the topic and try to fake an answer. And if you’ve got a bully in the room who’s trying to throw you off or asking deliberately obtuse or aggressive questions, take back control and simply say (with a smile) that rather than waste the audience’s time with too much inside baseball you’d be happy to meet and discuss this after your talk.
It looks like a lot to think about, but the best advice is to remember that you are there to deliver a message. Keep the message simple, stay on point, and remember that communication is not just about the language you use, but how you use it, your tone of voice, and how you make your audience feel. Engage with them, connect with them and be approachable and friendly. Know your material and practice.
And don’t forget to smile a lot and often. Your audience, and photographer, will thank you for it.
Here’s a fact that surprises people all the time when I tell it to them: more the 50% of the corporate headshots I take are last-minute rush jobs.
How is it possible, they ask, that someone could ever urgently need a photograph, let alone a headshot? Believe me, I used to wonder the same thing, until I started paying attention to the triggers. People use the same professional headshot for several years. Just do a quick scan through your contacts on LinkedIn and see how many have updated their photos in the past year. People kind of forget about their profile pics after a while, until a need arises for a new one.
Here are some of the reasons why all of a sudden, a headshot is needed, like NOW! All of the examples below are taken from real contracts I’ve had.
“Looking for new challenges”: People don’t change their headshots unless there is a change in their employment status. When that happens, there may be a lead up to the decision if the change is self-driven, but there are many reasons why a person’s employment status can change beyond their control. This unexpected change often triggers a need for a new look.
“You’re published!”: People get articles published on schedules they don’t control, and get asked to submit a bio picture along with their submission.
“You won!” : People win industry awards and accolades, or are selected for internal company awards they weren’t expecting and they need a picture to accompany the announcement.
“You’re being promoted!”: Good things happen to hard working people. They get promotions and despite company’s best efforts, HR doesn’t always keep internal comms informed of the latest personnel changes, nor provide a lot lead time before the announcement has to go out, particularly in public companies where the change in senior level appointments is material information that must be made public.
“You’re invited to speak at our upcoming…”: People get asked at the last minute to speak at an event, a gala dinner, or a conference they hadn’t planned on going to. Suddenly they are facing a roomful of their peers and colleagues with a 10-year old bio picture that looks like it was cut out of their high school year book. Awkward.
As with all rush-jobs, there are usually fees associated that raise the price of the product or service being purchased. As well, the last-minute pressure also usually indicates a lack of preparation and limits the number of other people in the office or on site who may also be in need of a new headshot but just aren’t given enough notice to get there for the appointed day because they are out of the office, in a client meeting or just having a bad hair day. All of these factors increase the cost to the buyer.
A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down…
Forward-thinking planners, event and conference organizers can score big savings by taking advantage of organizing an onsite headshot session when they are assembling people who may only get together once or twice a year. Annual meetings, board meetings, seminars, training sessions, workshops and conferences are just a few places where people are brought together. This allows the organizer to save on per/head costs as the set up fee for an onsite portrait session can be spread out over a number of individuals rather than just the one.
To those paying for the service, there may be the perception that bringing in a photographer to conduct a portrait session is just an unnecessary extra expense tacked on the event, but if viewed from a slightly longer-term perspective, the savings can be significant to the organization.
Per head costs / portraits can be reduced by 50% or more
Leverage the investment already made in bringing important people together (food, hotel, travel)
Raise staff morale – everyone loves having a little extra attention paid to them, and a professional headshot is a nice perk that saves your staff money. Happy workers are more productive ones.
Leaving anything to the last-minute creates more stress, cost and hassle. It’s great for my business, but do yours a favour and plan ahead. You will need a new headshot someday. Don’t wait till that day happens to be tomorrow.
Is it necessary to hire a photographer to cover your event? When virtually all staff and every attendee is equipped with image capturing devices, social media accounts and motivation to share the experience, in real time, what value lies in hiring a pro who will charge you for coverage that you will already be getting for free from multiple sources?
No, of course it isn’t necessary. If you want to rely on crowd-sourced images and dimly lit, shakily held videos, random tweets and multiple viewpoints for the narrative surrounding your event, then it’s probably not even advisable.
But I’ve encountered few professional organizations – companies, brands, conference organizers and event managers – who are so laissez-faire with their brand image and marketing of their events.Most professional teams choose to work with professional suppliers simply because it is more efficient, more effective and more controllable than any other option.
Everyone enjoys taking pictures at professional events. They do it to show that they are there, to participate in the dialogue and share learning and information gleaned from sessions they attend that appeal to them and their distinct personal and professional networks. They do it for fun. But one thing they don’t do it for is the company putting on the event. While some of the content they generate may well wind up being retweeted or shared across the organizing company’s social channels, it can only ever be the result of good luck and good timing. Unsurprisingly, most of the professional organizers I’ve worked with are reluctant to stake their reputations on good luck and timing.
Professional event coverage is a skilled trade. It requires attention not just to the visual elements transpiring in real time – what slide is shown on stage, the type and quality of the lighting, the instantaneous emotional responses of audience members, etc – but also the content and theme of the event, and the brand of the organizer itself. And the coverage includes everyone and everything. It doesn’t just focus on the big highlight moments or the fun times people have around the bar or at networking cocktails (though that is included). It is comprehensive, including every speaker, every session, and most if not all attendees in some context or another.
Additionally, the coverage is being captured and recorded with professional grade equipment designed to be adaptable to changing light conditions, and multiple scenarios that even the best of phone cameras can’t handle. It’s not too challenging to take a beautiful photograph outdoors in bright natural light in a beautifully laid out setting. It’s not quite as carefree when the subject is a wan looking speaker with thinning hair in a beige-walled, dimly lit conference room who rarely looks at the audience. But he’s part of the event and needs to be included, and not just included, but has to look good too.
As a line item in an overall event budget, photography is going to come in under video and frankly, have much wider applications than videography. While everyone loves video and video marketing continues to rise in influence and reach, the uses of video are still rather limited. You may put a highlights reel from an event on your site advertising similar upcoming events, but once it’s been viewed once (and it’s highly unlikely anyone will watch it through to the end no matter how short it is given that humans now seem to exhibit attention spans shorter than a goldfish), it probably won’t be rewatched, while photos have multiple applications. They can be used throughout a website, in headers, as templates for advertising, as content in blog posts and as a virtually inexhaustible supply of pictures for social media feeds. They can also be printed, used as profile pictures, put into sales decks, emailed out as gallery links to sponsors and generally be shared more easily and widely because they are lighter and require even less of an attention span than a 30 second video.
Having an event covered by a professional matters to other professionals. It translates into higher quality, more reliable, deliberate and usable content that can be leveraged by good marketers to build and maintain momentum for companies whose business models rely on hosting regular, well-attended events. If that’s not you nor aligned with your goals, than no, you don’t need a professional to cover your event. Just task a junior staffer to do it on their phone and hope for the best. You’ll for sure get some fun pictures, and maybe even a tweet or two.
Being a photographer requires a thick skin and an appreciative eye to help deal with the number of times people tell you, “I hate having my photo taken.”
It comes from women and men, young and old, in professional settings and at parties. It doesn’t matter what the person actually looks like, it’s how they think about what they look like that matters.
It’s not all just insecurity, though that plays a role. Far too many people have a distorted view of themselves. They look in the mirror and see what’s wrong with their face, their nose, their eyes, their teeth, their hair etc. I look and I see someone who is almost always much more photogenic and pleasant to look at than they believe themselves to be. The slight “imperfections” they balk at are the features that distinguish their faces from others and what gives them each something uniquely their own that makes them uniquely themselves. Alas, we are our own harshest judges.
The reality of a photograph is, well, it’s not really a reflection of reality. It’s a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional world and therefore it is inherently misleading.
The same face can look remarkably different depending on a wide range of factors. In a portrait or group photo for example the most common elements that affect the way someone looks are:
the kind of lens being used (85mm to 100mm portrait, or 70-200mm telephoto are best)
the distance a subject is standing from the photographer
where in the frame the subject is standing (on the edge or in the centre)
the angle of the photo (from below, from above)
the lighting/shadows at play influenced by time of day, indoors or outdoors, with flash or no flash, etc.
the way a person stands (posture), and holds his or head (angle/tilt of head)
whether or not the chin is tucked in or thrust out (which impacts how well-defined, or not, the jawline is)
what someone is wearing (scarf, plunging neckline, collar short, etc)
So, now that you know that there are a lot of variable at play, which ones can you influence the next time you have to have your photo taken despite hating having to do so?
Three tips for liking the way you look in photos:
There are, of course, a few little tricks that people who really hate having their photos taken can keep in mind the next time it happens at an event they are attending.
Smile widely and naturally: this one doesn’t come easily to everyone, which actually always kind of surprises me, so I recommend practice. Smile in front yourself in mirrors. Smile at your colleagues. Smile at strangers. You don’t have to be weird or leery about it. Just smile when you see something out there in the world that is smile-worthy. It may come slowly at first, but once you start doing it, it’s a hard habit to break.
Think jawline: people almost alway prefer the image of themselves that shows a distinct jawline vs. one lost in a double chin, or a twisted, wrinkled mass of neck. To get yours to look the way you want, practice thrusting your chin out for photos ever so slightly. It doesn’t take much to pull the chin away and bring out the line. Conversely, try not to turn your face too much away from the camera and don’t tuck in your chin (which many people do habitually when having their photo taken)
Take centre stage: if you are in a group shot, put yourself in the middle or as close to the middle as you can be. It’s the sweet spot for all lenses, and your image will therefore not suffer any distortion that can sometimes impact the people on the edges who may be a little closer to the photographer, or be stretched a bit by lens distortion.
Number #1 Rule for Looking Good In Photos
The best way to look good in photos is to dispense with believing in the “one ideal body type” fallacy, love yourself and smile like you mean it. And mean it. Really, happy, smiling people who are comfortable with themselves and the way they look are ALWAYS more attractive. We all come in different shapes, colours and sizes. We’re supposed to look different from each other. That’s normal. A bland, homogenous and artificial sense of beauty is damaging to self-esteem and is fake. Be you and you will look your best.
How an event photographer can help optimize your event sponsorship investment.
I cover a lot of large conferences and trade shows that are largely funded by sponsors. Sponsors pay to have their company logo, brand message and business development professionals gain access to the targeted audience attending the event. Sponsorships take the form of brief presentations, banners, swag bag stuffing, mentions on the big screen in the pre-roll before the conference day kicks off, as well as areas like lounges, or massage stops, or juice bars. Sponsors pay for the wi-fi access, and brand the room keys at the hotel where the event is taking place. They cover virtually every meal, reception and sometimes outings for guests. It is not unusual for a sponsor to spend upwards of $50k on sponsorships for an event that may last at the most a few days.
A few busy days where attendees are bombarded with information, exposed to branding and logos from hundreds of companies, gather fistfuls of business cards and all while being slightly jet-lagged, hungover and still trying to keep up on their work email.
As an event sponsor, are you getting the most for your money?
As an event photographer I am used to covering sponsored events and of course take the time to gather a set of images that are for the sponsor. These include the room set up with and without people (if they have sponsored a reception, or a dinner), all branded elements (takeaways, gifts for attendees, bags, sponsored areas like lounges, or interactive stations), as well as the speakers and company representatives if the sponsorship includes a segment of air time at the event.
But I think a creative sponsor could get more leverage by actually sponsoring the event photographer directly. Event organizers could work with the photographer to identify areas where direct sponsorships make sense and either split the fee, or leverage the sponsor to cover the photographer’s fees, saving costs for the organizer.
There are obvious sponsorship opportunities like photo booths, but I would recommend thinking “out of the photobooth” box to the more wide-reaching impact an event photographer can have.
Consider: the event photographer is going to be seen by virtually every guest, and interact with almost every one of them at one point or another during a multi-day event. What other sponsorship opportunity can guarantee face time in front of every single guest?
But who pays attention to the photographer, you might say. He or she is just there to document the event and be as unobtrusive as possible.
If you believe that your event photographer should remain in the background, like a liveried wait staff in a posh restaurant, then yes, perhaps you are better off taking a more conventional approach to event sponsorship.
But if you understand that part of what a good event photographer does is engage and interact with people – as a function of doing the job of getting fun and interesting photos of your event – than you may also recognize that adding a layer of sponsorship to that activity can possibly further your sponsorship goals for the event. And it could be far less expensive than a big branding opportunity but reach as much, if not more, of the same target audience.
A few ideas come to mind that wouldn’t cost more than a thousand dollars (which is small change for event sponsorship budgets):
Why not consider asking your event photographer to wear a sponsored blazer or jacket?
Or design a sticker or logo to attach to the photographer’s flash body which is always visible?
Offer branded instant prints to your guests.
Plunk a portable instant printer down in the centre of the conference room tables, “Sponsored by YOUR BRAND” and let guests have fun snapping and printing their own photos with their phones
Branding at events is always a bit of a guessing game and it’s hard to know if the money is having the desired impact or if conference warriors suffer the same kind of banner blindness to event sponsors that most of us do when seeing an ad on our phones. Thinking creatively about new ways to leverage your event sponsorship budget is at least worth considering, given the amount of money at stake and the opportunity for increasing your impact.
I’ve been covering events – from multi-day, multi-site, city-wide conferences to intimate gatherings – for close to fifteen years and much (everything) has changed since I began.
(Not in the mood for Long Form content? Skip to the checklist here)
Consider: my career predates the iPhone, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn and Snapchat to name some of the widest reaching platforms of the modern age that helped usher us all into the socially connected economy. When I was landing my first gigs as a wedding photographer and later a corporate event photographer, digital cameras were still in their early days and Photoshop was in its first iteration.
How do I check Facebook on this thing?
Fast forward to today: camera technology is ubiquitous and embedded in the daily lives of virtually everyone in some way or form on the planet. We have become blasé about being able to see satellite imagery of anywhere in the world. Seeing – in real time – what someone else is experiencing on the other side of the planet via simple hand held devices hardly registers anymore despite it being really quite amazing.Surveillance technology is pervasive – but not only are we being watched from the skies, on highways as we drive, throughout the corridors of our commutes and inside most venues we frequent, we too are bearing our own – technologically enhanced – witness, recording daily moments, protests in the streets, encounters with each other, and the beauty of the natural world ad infinitum.
What was once novel is now commonplace. We have time-lapse cameras, all manner of image-enhancing filters, virtual reality and flying cameras mounted on drones capable of tracking moving targets. We have lenses that can photograph the surfaces of distant moons and others the finely filamented wings of bees and butterflies. We can see in the dark. We can see through clothes. We can see, virtually anywhere or anything we wish to with no more effort than it takes to swipe your finger across a screen.
With this Cambrian explosion of technology you would expect professional photography to be a dying trade, going the way of blacksmithing and door-to-door Encyclopedia Britannica sales.
But the opposite has occurred, driven – paradoxically – by the same trends that have put a camera into the hands of most of humanity in the developed (and developing) world.
Content, content everywhere but nary a word to read….
One of the main drivers, I’ve seen from my front row seat on the industry, is the massive and constant need for ever replenishing content created by the sharing economy. As human behaviour itself is being altered by the omnipresent integration of the internet in daily life, we’re not just heading into the oft touted Internet of Things (IoT) but really the Internet of Everything. And every search, click, swipe, haptic touch, blink or thought wave generated by a firing neurone, is seeking out a piece of content that is enriched with photos and videos, often to the exclusion of much, if any written text.
We’re spending hours daily looking at pictures, and videos, and animated GIFs, etc, and companies are paying attention. The smart money knows that more, really is more, and feeding the plethora of content distribution platforms everyday people just call Facebook or Instagram, or Snapchat…is where the real money is made. Not, of course, by crassly monetizing the stuffing in the pipe (“I never click on a Facebook ad!”), but rather through the magnetic ability of quality content to draw customers to whatever it is you are trying to sell, when done right. That is, professionally done with enough skill, amplification and repetitive force to ensure it gets seen by as many of the right people as possible.
From mega brands spending billions a year on advertising to micro-brands of one, selling through content is one of the main ways of discovering, reaching, connecting with and engaging new customers. That content feed drip continuously through the funnels of social media platforms we’ve barnacled our minds to, relies on an equally steady stream of mainly imagery that needs to be produced on a continuous basis.
UGC ya later
And while much of it is, and will be, user generated content (UGC), that alone just isn’t enough. Just because everyone in the world holds in their hands tools for taking high quality photos and videos, doesn’t mean they will use them. Even if they do, it doesn’t mean they’ll do it as consistently, and with the same (er) focus, as professional content creators (writers, photographers, videographers) contracted by businesses with a clear intent to generate specific types of images that create a sense of excitement and elicit interest from new (and existing but no longer loyal) customers they need to attract every day to stay profitable.
Events like conferences, or major sporting events, aren’t sold by sharing the selfies and beauty shots taken by past attendees. They’re sold by professionals capturing and curating content that is purposely published and distributed to targeted individuals and communities that matter to those people organizing the event.
While owning the latest fashionable pair of sneakers and wearing jeans ripped just so is still a way of marking oneself as “in”, there are now legions of younger people who prioritize having experiences over owning more stuff (and not just because many of them are priced out of the market). The new rule is that anything that can be shared, will be shared. Transportation is particularly susceptible to this as shown through the rapid growth and expansive reach of ride sharing companies like UBER and Lyft, but everything today that has a hope of getting taken up by a large group of people has sharing embedded in its design.
Product libraries are cropping up where people can share things like lawnmowers and stock pots, and successful brands are paying attention. How do you keep making a profit if you are selling fewer things? You sell something that can’t be held onto….except in memory. You sell experiences. And how do people share experiences? In their story streams, with photos, captions, videos, silly animated filters and really good thumb work on messaging apps.
And this is exactly what is happening. Brands like puravida bracelets aren’t just selling pretty little handmade bracelets that remind you ofyour beach vacation. They are selling you the feeling of your life as a beach vacation. They are selling a lifestyle. They are selling you access to a story of entrepreneurship, of helping local communities, of sunsets on the beach, surfing and living in a timeless way that cares only about the moment. And they are doing it largely through social media and largely with well-curated photography and videography.
While having the experience is core to the success of experiential marketing – selling the experience, enticing people to partake and encouraging the spread of participation is still being done through marketing that shows off the experience in its best light. (I’ve written more on experience marketinghere and here and here.
Plus ça change…
Without an audience, conference attendees or a hand-picked curated list of bloggers you hope to influence so they spread the word about your company, event photography can’t exist. Engaging these people, making the experience they’ve chosen to participate in fun and memorable, is the core function of the event organizer. Part of doing that right is working with the right photographer who recognizes that event photography has changed, even as it has grown in importance.
To help you get the job done, I’ve put together below a short checklist for event coordinators and managers, experiential marketers and conference organizers on some of the new tools and techniques to look for when booking your next event photographer:
Checklist for the new event photographer:
Min. two up-to-date cameras and min. 3 lenses (wide angle, short-mid range, telephoto)
Ability to shoot in 360 (virtual reality ready photo and video)
Ability to shoot from drone (photo and/or video clips)
Rapid turnaround on event images (highlights reel post-event, finished product within 24 hrs)
Demonstrable ability to engage and interact with wide range of people
Active blog / good writing ability
Brand awareness / understanding of the marketing goals behind the event
Can do, team-player attitude
Creative, visual storytelling skills
If the goal is reach and engagement, cutting through the noise of a world buzzing with distractions has made the work of marketers more challenging than ever even as the tantalizing opportunity for engagement and hyper-targeted messaging has never been better. In the panoply of digital tools marketers leverage today to create real and meaningful connections with their communities, strong, fresh and professional developed visual assets are crucial in forming real and lasting connections with the people that matter most to your business.
The under appreciated habit of saying thank you speaks volumes about a person’s character, motivations and genuineness. It is such a simple thing to do yet it is often overlooked.
People who take the time to feel and express their gratitude are not only likely to be happier people in general, they encourage others to help them more often and more readily than those who don’t make the effort to show thanks.
I am always touched by those people who do make the effort to send a thank you note, or leave a kind review online, or simply send a quick email thanking me for sharing photos I’ve taken of them. And conversely, I am always amazed at how few people take the time to show their appreciation and gratitude for a kindness showed to them.
As a conference photographer I may easily encounter hundreds of people over a 2 or 3 day conference, some of whom will approach me to ask for a copy of any photos I may have taken of them during the event. I really don’t mind sharing the photos (provided my client has given consent) because it’s an opportunity for me to make a new connection and I genuinely like giving my photos to people who appreciate them.
But I am always a little surprised by what happens after I’ve sent the link with the photos. By surprised I mean I am sometimes a little disappointed at how few people actually even acknowledge receipt of the link and bother to send a thank you message.Despite appearances, it takes time and a bit of effort to scroll through a few thousand images and pull out the ones of someone who’s given me their card. I never have any trouble remembering who’s who, as I have a strong visual memory and never forget a face, but I do take (unpaid) time after delivering my client’s images to put together galleries or pull out images of individuals who’ve asked for copies.
I usually give these images away and with my email ask for their feedback on my Google+ Business page, if they are happy with what they get. Only a few ever send a thank you reply email and fewer still take the extra step to leave a review.
But then there are the people who go above and beyond. I’ve had people send me expensive bottles of whisky and champagne, comfy travel pillows, handwritten cards, and leave glowing reviews on my Google+ page for whom I did nothing more than snap a few photos or some minimal photo retouching.
To these people who’ve made the effort to say thank you, I want you to know how much I appreciate it. As an independent, freelance photographer, I do not have performance reviews or get an annual bonus for doing a good job. I don’t have colleagues coming around to chat with on a daily basis and don’t get a pat on the back for delivering great photos. I get paid, and if I am fortunate, get re-hired or a referral from my happy clients, but when I do receive the unexpected thank you note, or the email telling me how much someone enjoyed my work, I am truly touched. I feel like I contributed something positive and that my work has an impact.
I save all the thank you notes I’ve ever received and am as proud of them as I am of the work I did to get them.
Saying thank you isn’t hard to do. But that doesn’t diminish the positive energy it releases by doing it. It is probably the best return on effort you can get in life. And it is something we could all stand to do more often. It’s easy to underestimate its impact or think that a “thank you” is unnecessary if you’ve paid the bill or left a tip on the table. You don’t have to say ‘thank you’, of course, especially if you are a client. You can just move on to the next project and never think twice about the suppliers you used or the people who contributed to the work you’ve completed. And that’s what makes it all the more special when you do say “thank you”. You don’t thank someone because you have to. You say thank you because you feel gratitude and you want to acknowledge the person – the human being – who provided you with something that you are grateful for.
And that is always worth the few extra minutes it takes to accomplish.
I was covering a conference the other week in Montreal for the New Cities Foundation Summit 2016 which offered an illuminating tour of the latest trends in urban technology and visions of cities in the future. The New Cities Foundation is a non-profit organization established in 2010, focused on bringing people together around the central theme of urban technology and innovations that are shaping cities around the world as we enter an increasingly urban age.It is estimated that by 2050, 6.5 billion people will live in cities, up from 4 billion today. Sustainable solutions to our transport, energy, waste management and housing needs are essential and core to living healthier, safer lives on a healthy planet. It was a real pleasure to be in attendance, and have the upfront opportunities to experience some of the inspirational speakers and provocative presentations at the conference — one of the perks of being a conference photographer.
Some of the highlights for me were the series of presentations from Global Urban Innovators (GUIs), a group of international startups building companies around urban innovations to address the needs of people today and into the future:
Chummy Agarwal, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer presented his company Jugnoo, an on-demand auto-rickshaw app based in India.
Niamh Kirwin, Marketing and Communications Manager, shared her exciting startup, Foodcloud, that focuses on reducing food waste in cities by bringing surplus food to those who need it.
Steven Ramage, Strategy Director, What3Words, really blew my mind explaining how his company has developed a new address system for the world given every 3 square meters on the planet a three-word name such as “Banana Car Giraffe” to give everyone everywhere a usable address.
Raphaël Gindrat, CEO and Co-Fuonder, Bestmile, taking a truly forward looking view is building an ecosystem to manage autonomous vehicle fleets: a fleet management software, a smartphone application, a system for traveler information and solutions for the control of smart infrastructure, creating a platform that works like a “brain”,enabling the control of many autonomous vehicles at the same time.
Geert Houben, Founder and CEO, Cubigo, addressing the problem of an ageing population, social isolation and loneliness, has developed “one app to rule them all” that integrates a suite of apps that helps older people with restricted access and mobility live more independent lives.
Chris Gourlay, Founder and CEO, Spacehive, talked about the platform he and his team have developed to help engaged citizens access funding for their civic projects so they can transform unused urban spaces (anything from parking lots to empty mall space)
Aaron Lander, Co-Founder and CEO, Popupsters, shared his passion for the platform he and his team are building to connect artisans, vendors and makers with events.
Arielle Guedes, Founder & CEO, Urban3D is aiming to do nothing less than radically transform the construction industry, creating a new process of building and developing new materials using 3D printers to create natural materials, that do not require metal reinforcement or cement.
Chong-Wey Lin, Founder, OurCityLove, a Taiwanese based social enterprise seeking to increase and improve accessibility in the urban environment for mobility challenged people.
“I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”
While later mingling with the audience as they were engaged in networking and exchanging ideas and business cards, I was approached by one of the attendees who asked me to send through some of the photos I had taken of her with her fellow attendees. I am often asked by guests for access to their photos and I try to accommodate people who ask me as best I can, with my clients consent. Part of what I love about my job are these opportunities to meet interesting people from around the world. In this case, when I asked what she did I was told that she works for an organization that uses technology to help bring more peace to the world. That’s a pretty awesome thing to be involved with and when I was asked about my work, I responded, “I use technology to help bring more smiles into the world.”
It was a quick and playful response, of course, but on reflection, it is actually an accurate description of what it means to be a photographer of people. Photographers at events can be seen as a nuisance, or an interruption but in my many years experience what I’ve learned is that we also provide a very valuable service beyond mere documentation and the images we deliver to our clients. When I see a group of people talking slightly awkwardly together in that business networking conference attendee way before the second cocktail round, I approach and ask them to stand together and smile. It only takes a few seconds, and I usually proffer some kind of light banter to make them laugh a bit. It works beautifully for getting a nice photograph, but I’ve notice the effect lingers and the smiling usually persists after I’ve buzzed away. It’s just human nature to feel more open and accepting of another person who is smiling at you and though I don’t take much credit for it, I do believe that the thousands of such small interactions I’ve instigated have, over time, produced many more smiles than might otherwise have happened.
Call it the butterfly shutterfly effect, a photographer’s contribution to making the world a better place.
Companies spend a lot of time and money building and developing a recognizable brand. The purpose of a brand is to simplify and render the complex intelligible. With enough repetition, consistency and reliability, a brand can become established in its target customer’s mind as the “go-to” solution to whatever problem the brand solves. Your customers don’t get tangled up in choosing between competitive offerings – they just reach for you and move on. In brand marketing that’s the equivalent of having the goose that lays the golden egg. Again, and again, and again.You just cash the cheques.
How come some brands get to be in that elite club of “go-to” solutions that render their customers blind adherents to the faith, while others struggle through churn and burn, constantly waging the same battle for heart-, mind- and wallet-share that never seems strong enough to convert tire-kickers into proselytes? So, how do you get that kind of brand loyalty (fanaticism)?
It begins, of course, with having a great product/service that is genuinely of high quality, but that in itself isn’t good enough. It also has to be a smooth and consistent experience for your customers. Although I’ve never owned the Canon’s 85mm L-series lens, I already own a few others with that signature red line and therefore know what to expect. I know that I’ll have one of the best in class lenses when I finally get one, because the brand has consistently delivered a quality product for each and every other of its lenses branded as “L-series”.I trust that simple red ring and expect the workmanship, clarity, sharpness and handling of the lens to be excellent. I don’t really have to think about it. For a brand, that’s just pure gold. When your customers no longer have to process your product/service through any part of their decision-making brain, you’ve already won.
Do me like you do
One factor in engendering that kind of loyalty is consistency. Brands that can deliver a strong, consistent experience time and time again reap huge benefits, not just from existing, returning customers, but also the amplifying effects of those customers who evangelize for them, sharing stories about their experience that new customers then taste and feel in the same way, and the virtuous sharing circle just keeps getting wider and wider. (Like I’m doing right here for Canon).
But what if you’re not the manufacturer of high-end professional camera equipment, but rather a conference organizer, or a PR firm hosting a series of experiential marketing events around the launch of a new product, or an industry association or club that puts on a few membership driven events a year. How do you develop and replicate success when what you are selling is an experience rather than a physical product? How do you maintain consistency in all channels of communication that you are leveraging on behalf of your brand to connect with its tribe?
Firstly, you do it by creating an experience people want to be a part of. You are seeking to engage them for a time, asking them to forego everything else they could be doing to spend some time with you. Of course that means offering them entertainment, intellectual and visual stimulation, good food, strong drinks, and most importantly situate them in a roomful of people they will feel are sufficiently like them, to be both attractive but still offer an opportunity for making new friends. In effect, you need to target their tribe.
Tribal marketing is about cultivating and offering a consistent story that communicates through words, photos and video what your particular events are all about so that everyone in the tribe – or who wants to be in the tribe – will instantly feel something when they come across news of your event in one of their social feeds, or by browsing online for events like yours.
To everyone not already your client their first interaction with your company will likely be through a third party (i.e. not someone you control) who will share with them a review, their comments and very likely pictures from the event to give their friends/colleagues/prospects a sense of what your event is all about.
In other words, the edge of your market is the people you don’t know that know the people you already sell to. And what they are going to do is share content and their reactions based on how your event made them feel.
Your job is to provide them with enough content to share in chunkable formats that are easy to carve out, and then deliver the same results for the new tribe members as you gave to the ones now spreading the word.
While that seems obvious, it is surprising how rarely companies take consistency in mind when contracting suppliers who will form an integral part of delivering that experience for your audience. These suppliers – the audio visual team, florists, caterers, photographers / videographers, etc are all delivering on your brand’s promise. If membership, attendance, and reputation has an impact on how your events are perceived by your target audience then the role of your suppliers (almost always outsourced) is critical in ensuring the experiences you are marketing are consistent and have the power to reach beyond current attendees through the amplifying effects of social media and word-of-mouth (WOM) marketing.
Hiring the same set of suppliers for your events – once you’ve found the ones that “get” your marketing and deliver exactly what you need to make your events successful, makes sense, even if you take your show on the road. It may look like you are being smart with your money when you hire a different suppliers for events in different cities, but the hidden costs are time/effort spent finding the right people, getting them all to work well as a team. There is also a risk to the all-important consistency that once attained pays dividends (I will always buy an “l-series” lens) but once lost is difficult to regain.Maybe you can accept a degree of variation in the quality and consistency of the images you get from your event. Maybe your customers aren’t that discerning, or they don’t have a choice so they’ll always go with you no matter what kind of variable experience you offer them. If you’re in a business today that has no viable competition, where your customers don’t have any real power and you can blithely serve them up an inconsistent experience without worrying about them coming back, then congratulations. I guess you work for a telecoms company in Canada.
But if not, then consider that the apparent additional cost of using the same team of suppliers in terms of higher travel costs will be more than offset by the value add of customer retention, loyalty and brand consistency you – and your audience – can rely on.
If you organize conferences you are familiar with what I am calling herd scatter: your presenter stands before a too large room with lots of white empty spaces between seats of attendees. Since your goal in hiring a photographer to cover the talk is to make the room look full, the attendees engaged and the presenter interesting, having a lot of empty seats in the images is counter-productive.
Here are four tips that can mitigate against that:
Book a smaller room: if you only have 80 registered attendees and the room the conference centre or hotel has given you sits 400, you’ve got a problem. Often these rooms can be divided in half, or if that’s not possible, ask about any alternative spaces where your guests can still fit but the dead space is cut away.
Block access to the back of the room: if you can’t switch spaces then cut off access to the back of the room where some conference attendees like to sit because it provides easy access to escape. It also virtually guarantees that your room will have big white holes in it where people avoid sitting too close together or up front. If you want a full looking room, you need to limit the seating options to where you want people to sit.
Ask people to sit in the front: just like in school when the teacher tells everyone to sit closer, a very simple thing to do is to ask your attendees to move closer to the front as they are entering the room. Most people are easily persuaded to move as they know that the reason they are there in the first place is to pay attention and participate.
Use engaging presenters: if audience engagement is what you are after, than pay some attention to the ability of the presenter you put in the front of the room to actually engage their audience. Reading long texts, reeling off bullet points and old clip art style graphics do not usually elicit strong reactions from audiences, regardless of subject matter.
Keeping people interested is a challenge when most conference goers hold in their hands a device with infinite capacity to distract. It is impossible to keep everyone’s interest corralled when people get pulled into work emergency emails, but these simple tips can help conference planners manage the way their events look when the pictures get delivered.
I encounter a lot of people who are curious about what it’s like making a living as a freelance photographer. Because I often go into offices during the work day to shoot an executive or pickups of office life for company websites, I am in contact with lots of people doing a lot of different jobs.
And I see the look of incredulity on people’s faces when I tell them what I do for a living. They can’t quite seem to fathom that in this digital age where everyone is armed with a camera in their pocket, and people are uploading hundreds of millions of photographs daily to Instagram and Snapchat, that anyone could possibly earn enough to survive by just being a photographer.
And while I am not “just a photographer” (I do a lot of freelance writing as well), photography is my main occupation and what I fill out on customs cards when I travel.
Do it for love, not money
I am the first to admit that photography as a career choice is not one made with an eye to getting rich. Indeed there are very wealthy photographers out there, those who shoot celebrity portraits on exotic beaches, for example, but I am not one of them, and the vast majority of working photographers are not either. Gigs come and go, clients come and go, and you are never guaranteed anything. It is not a surefooted, clearly marked career path and there is no security. So if you are looking for anything of the sort, it may not be the best choice for you.
It is, however, one of the best jobs in the world if you enjoy meeting a lot of people in a wide range of contexts, and engaging with each one of them on a human level. One of my first ambitions in life was to become a journalist, and though I never realized it, photography affords much of the same exposure to different situations, different groups of people and an array of ideas (if you keep your ears open as you do your work) that is very exciting. It is totally unscripted – one day you may be doing a CEO portrait in an office tower, the next you’re covering a tree-planting team building event in a city park, but the opportunities are truly endless for encountering new, interesting people and getting a snapshot of who they are by being a fly on the wall in their every day lives.
So if you love meeting lots of different people and having many interactions throughout the day (if you are covering a large event like a conference or tradeshow), than it is a very fulfilling job.
Get your hustle on
How do you get business? In that sense it’s no different than any other freelancer gigness out there. Whether you are a writer, a designer, graphic artist, videographer or the guy who sets up window displays for shops on High Street, getting gigs is about showing up, doing your best work every time, listening and understanding what your client really needs, delivering everything you promise (and more), and then doing it all over again for the next client. And the next. And on and on until one day you get a call from someone who says they heard about you from someone else.
While you can never stop hunting for new clients – and that can mean making cold calls, running e-mail marketing campaigns, maintaining a blog with regular, useful content, and good old-fashioned networking both on and off-line – holding on to the clients you have is also part of the job. If you develop a good relationship with your client – mainly by doing good work consistently for them – you earn the benefit of their repeat business. Having a few regular clients can help smooth out some of the variability in your income and provide a degree of security, though nothing ever lasts forever.
Developing your hustle muscle is also critical. I never go to any gig without a pocket full of business cards, and my spiel ready to deliver at the right moment if I meet a prospective future client. While the main focus is always on the paid gig at hand, part of photographing people necessarily entails talking and connecting with them. Not doing so makes you that awkward shooter lurking on the sidelines and yields a crop of photos showing people with slightly annoyed looks on their faces at your interruptions. You have to interact, and mingle, professionally. Sometimes, in so doing, you’ll meet someone who might need what you’ve got to offer and you follow up. I’ve landed a lot of new business this way.
Don’t let your love go cold
Finally, staying at it and always looking for ways to up your game or improve your skills, tools and technique is all part of the job. You are only ever as good as your last job, and no body cares how expensive your gear is. They just want great photos and it’s your job to get them done.I read up on photo news, stoke my perpetual gear lust with Pinboards full of the latest gadgets, and experiment constantly with new approaches to my work.
It’s very important not to let your passion ebb away by letting your work go stale. After the 100th portrait of the old guy in a suit against a grey seamless backdrop in a cramped little fluorescent lit office downtown, you may be tempted to just mail it in. But that would be the beginning of the end of your career, I believe, because to that man, this portrait means something. It’s a sign his company is investing in him, a chance for him to show who he is to his clients or to accompany a news article about his recent accomplishments. Having your portrait taken is something to be proud of, and it’s important to always keep your emotional IQ running high to ensure you never lose sight of what a photo is really about.
Taking good pictures, and being the kind of photographer people like and want to hire is ultimately not about the tech you are using, or any tricks you’ve learned along the way. Yes, you need to understand your gear, have mastery over the tools you have, and not flub the shots technically. But the most important aspect of the work is making sure your heart is in it, and keeping it there.
Stick with it
Being a freelance photographer is really an amazing life. I’ve been able to travel, meet interesting, friendly and wonderful people and see places and things I never would have were it not for the work. That’s imparted a very deep sense of gratitude in me and a respect for my work. I truly believe that it’s a privilege to be hired by every client, and every client deserves my best work. If I let that slip, even a little, it’s the beginning of the end for me.
The work is important. The gigs will vary. You’ll have to nail your pricing and be flexible and able to talk frankly about cost vs. value, and you’ll need stamina. All entrepreneurs will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to be successful, and will cost twice as much as you expect it will to get there.
How you define “success” of course, is up to you. I consider the option to wake up every day, direct my efforts towards my goals and do important work for great clients a success. And as my economics professor once told me, I’ve got “stickwithitness” which is probably the single most important thing you need if you want to make it as freelance anything.
I love making up neologism and one I’ve recently started using to describe my event photography service offering to clients is social mediagraphy. I used to be able to work exclusively as a photographer, documenting an event or covering a conference then delivering the set of edited images to my client for distribution through their communications channels like newsletters, websites and the like. This is no longer sufficient for today’s market which demands a steady and constant flow of snackable content, in real-time, to keep audiences engaged and re-engaged throughout the course of an event.
No large event today is deemed to have happened if it doesn’t have its own # and generate volumes of Tweetable, and re-tweetable content. And as a photographer, I’ve learned to adapt and actually enjoy the connectivity and heightened appreciation for my work that this behaviour brings.
Where I used to be an invisible service provider, working away in a kind of obscurity producing images that would be used long after my work was done, I am now often thrust in the middle of the action, generating and sending out my own socially-media-friendly Tweets, Instagram posts and LinkedIn content as it relates to what I’ve been covering as a photographer during an event. And clients appreciate it, because it helps them with their goals of generating interest and sparking conversations surrounding the content they’ve pulled together to mount their conference, or to satisfy the needs of their membership, boards or communications teams who work hard to show ROI on the big events they develop.
Social mediagraphy, as I would define it from the point of view of a photographer, is the combination of both traditional event coverage with frequent bursts of social media activity. In my case I will use my phone during events, and then later on post edited and refined images from the day’s coverage. Post-event, I’ll usually follow up with a roundup or a few blog posts relating back to the event, or a particular piece of content that resonated with me that I think bears reporting on for my audience.
If a quote happens at a conference and nobody Tweets it, does it matter at all?
Once the content is created and pushed out there, it can, and often is, picked up by event attendees who sometimes add their own commentary to the posts, or simply retweet or repost the content so that it reaches ever-widening circles of influence.
All of this helps increase the impact from an event and enables event organizers to leverage their attendees to extend their reach into their networks, as the people at one event are usually connected to a bigger number of people outside of the event for whom the event also has appeal. Aside from seeding sales and requests for invitations for future events, this also helps validate the relevancy of the event to its target audiences and provides context for people on the outside who may be curious and become interested in learning more simply by coming across one or more of these social tidbits as they float through their ever-refreshed news feed. It’s also fun and a great way to make new friends.
Change is good
Change is at the heart of all technology. Photography is no longer sufficient on its own to meet the demands of clients who find themselves having to publish content in myriad forms to satisfy the needs of their audiences. Gone are the days when you could shoot an event, deliver your work weeks later and charge a premium for the service. Whether your event is a wedding, a corporate gala, AGM, trade show or a conference, photos are now but one layer of social proof needed to help augment and enhance the experience. Of course this requires new skill sets and familiarity with constantly changing tools (I’m still fairly lame at Snapchat but working on it) but that’s part of the fun of photography and working with technology in general. Rapid change is the constant of our times today and the only way to not drown in it is to embrace it.
If ever there was a time to gather up your team, hold a meeting and host an event in Montreal, 2016 is it.
I think the screenshot from today’s FX rate pretty much sums it up.
In Canada (Donald Trump’s views notwithstanding) we are not so different from America. Except everything is much cheaper. Venues, staffing, catering, and going out to really world-class restaurants is all almost 50% off for US currency holders right now.Flights into Montreal are inexpensive and only a short-haul from New York or Chicago.
Winter, too, while perhaps colder than some of you are used to, has its own kind of beauty and is fun to experience.
Fun with snow
Montreal has it all. Great restaurants, hugely talented professionals to work with, gorgeous venues, old world charm, beautiful people, and a lively night life scene. You can be virtually guaranteed a good experience travelling here, and your guests or event attendees will be grateful for the opportunity you’ve provided for them to visit one of the oldest cities in North America. If you need help finding a venue, or just want to sound out a friendly local, feel free to contact me anytime.
I’ve attended a lot of digital marketing conferences recently, and noticed that a type of fatigue sets in to the hard core road warriors who fly from city to city, and conference to conference. While the topics change and conference organizers work hard to bring interesting and useful content to their attendees, inevitably an example used in one presentation on brands doing it right (think: Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty) pops up in another, or a deep dive on one topic (It’s all about moment marketing! It’s all about micro-moment marketing!) is unfortunately only a buzzword apart from another session they’ve just attended. Attention sags with heads at tables as the attendee half pays attention to what’s being said while Snapchatting with one hand and answering a deluge of work emails with the other.
Even those paid to attend and be attentive can only stretch their minds so far around another insight into the benefits of programmatic media buying, a topic they’ve heard discussed ad nauseum (particularly if it happens to be an early morning session) even if opinions diverge on how best to deploy it.
And yet, I see the same faces from one event to the next, and hear tales of other events people don’t think they’ll ever return to. So what keeps them coming back? What makes an event so memorable and worthwhile it engenders a kind of tribal loyalty that other events fail to elicit, though marketed to the same core group?
In my observation as a photographer and someone professionally required to look at people and intuit their emotional states, I think the “secret sauce” of a conference that wins people’s hearts and minds is how it makes them feel.
While content is still the reigning monarch of the internet and a central theme at gatherings of marketing people discussing it, just getting content right is not going to win over the road weary, besieged brand manager with more money to spend than energy for another vendor’s kick at the can. Buyers, people with budget and the decision making power to pull the trigger on test spends and innovative new technologies, are always going to be high in demand wherever they are.Winning them over takes more than delivering a slick presentation, and beautiful infographics showing massive growth and uplift achieved on campaigns – even if it comes served with a mimosa.
Don’t try this at home
What keeps people coming and makes them feel a little sad to leave behind, is the feeling they get when they are there. A feeling that you are with your people. You have found your tribe. You will get into conversations that stimulate your mind, and motivate you to do and be more. You’ll stay up too late and experience life illuminated only by outdoor firepits and empty glasses and you won’t be tired. You may even learn to walk on fire if you’re really, ahem, fired up.
Being with like-minded people, who want to talk together, drink together, laugh, joke and create something together around a fire is really about as primal as it gets. And it works. Yes a beautiful resort location helps, and yes, balmy eternal-summer evenings don’t hurt. Yes, the agenda has to be well structured and yes the presenters have to be engaging and smart, but in the end, what keeps people coming long after their biology suggests they should still be on their feet, is that warm feeling inside when you realize you are right where you belong.
Achieve that with your next conference and you’ll soon find you need a bigger venue.
Seth Godin presenting at the Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal
Conference and trade-show photography covers a wide spectrum of photographic specialities and serves a few different purposes.
A conference and trade-show photographer can reasonably be expected to:
Cover all onstage action from a few different angles. Good lighting is important as speakers can often get washed out or take on a yellow or orangey cast from the stage lights if not adjusted for. As well you should expect to get shots from the back of the room, as well as both sides, wide and close shots, and a few from the speakers point of view showing the room, preferably filled with a rapt audience.
A couple of posed shots of speakers at podiums or in front of their branded presentation on-screen
Candid, “pick-up” shots of attendees doing what they came there to do: meeting people, shaking hands, networking and socializing
At trade-shows or scientific congresses where your exhibitors are presenting products or academic posters at least one shot of the booth with attendants, and one without for reference
Room and set-up “beauty” shots, particularly for any gala or VIP event
Signage, interior and exterior, for reference purposes and to provide proof and lift to any sponsoring entities involved
Provide all images with a standard usage licence that allows the client to use the images for their intended purposes (websites, promotions, emailers etc)
Add-ons that can be accommodated on special request would include:
Provision of a photobooth for any cocktail or evening activity
Drone flyover videos of your outdoor party or gatherings
A mobile studio set-up with seamless white or grey paper backdrops for headshots of attendees or key executives
Time-lapse images of rooms or in the case of trade shows, the set up, action and tear down of the booths
Shoutouts, Tweets, Instagrams, etc. using your conference provided hashtags and social media handles
Immediate turnaround on images – making at least highlight reels available for the next day to post during the conference and feed voracious social media channels
In terms of scheduling and availabilities:
Full day coverage, starting out before the conference opens straight through to the end of the last event. 12 hour days are not uncommon and since conference attendees tend to work hard during the day and socialize at night, your photographer should be there to capture all the action wherever and whenever it happens
What shouldn’t be expected is:
Free headshots for guests – if your photographer agrees to do it, that’s fine, but a lot of “Hey buddy, I need a new LinkedIn profile shot” requests to just grab a quick headshots isn’t really appropriate
Accommodation to unbudgeted big scope change requests or bringing in a mobile studio after the contract is concluded
Supernatural knowledge of schedule changes – if your main event is shifted to another room or there are key aspects of a particular presentation (like the handing out of awards) that you want shots of, be sure to communicate what you need clearly with your shooter before the event happens
Photo and video coverage of the same event at the same time without budgeting for the necessary resources
The best thing to do when looking for a conference or trade show photographer is be up -front with your requirements, have a fair budget available for the hours you need coverage for and communicate the schedule clearly. Hourly and daily rates can vary considerably depending on the city your event takes place in. Familiarize yourself with the going rates in your destination before setting expectations based on other markets and once you’ve agreed to a contract, expect to pay a deposit or at least be on the hook for one should you be required to cancel for whatever reason before the event takes place. As in any skilled trade, you will find a range of providers with a range of pricing. Caveat emptor!
I chose the handle @ursomebody for my Instagram account after realizing that julianhaberphotography was too long. But that’s not the only reason – I also chose it because I believe that everyone is a somebody but not everyone believes that about themselves and I find that kind of sad.
I realized that the core of what I do – photograph people at work and at play – provides me with a unique position from which to observe humans in their sometimes unnatural habitats of gala parties and conferences, work parties, and social gatherings. From years of peering through my lenses at thousands of faces, I’ve honed my intuition and feel sometimes like I can see right into who someone is, just by the way they look when they don’t think anyone else is watching, or how they present themselves when they do. I feel this is one of the privileges of being a photographer and I am very grateful for the experience.
What I have observed countless times is the amount of discomfort and social anxiety many people feel that they do their best to hide. Reflecting on that, I came to the conclusion that main reason people feel awkward in social situations is because they harbour a sense of insecurity about themselves. They feel judged. They don’t think they are pretty. They think their clothes don’t fit them well. They think they are fat. They think they are too short. Too tall. Too skinny. Too ugly.
So they develop ways of hiding. They lean away from the photographer. They smirk rather than smile. They slouch, they turn their bodies defensively away from the lens. These gestures and subtle adjustments to posture and pose when facing a lens are not always conscious or deliberate. I believe, in fact, that most are unconscious. But to me it says that the person before me feels a kind of pain and I’ve learned that a big part of my job as a photographer of people at social and professional events is to make that pain disappear – however briefly. One easy way to do it is just by being kind and by recognizing that not everyone who is beautiful believes it about themselves, so I try to make them feel that they are. I think this is a valuable thing to learn to do for oneself as well.
We are somebodies
A few helpful things you can do if you are one of those people who doesn’t like the way they look or feels uncomfortable in front of a camera – and there are many others who feel just like you do – is to smile. Just the act of smiling opens up positive energy inside of you and actually improves your state of mind. And you instantly look much better, I can guarantee you that.
We are somebodies too
Deeper down, my wish is also for you to stop being so hard on yourself. I was once chastised (in a friendly way) by someone whose portrait I had taken for having slightly blended out a few small wrinkles in her face. I hadn’t really thought much about it as I try not to edit portraits very heavily and only allow myself slight interventions to enhance the natural beauty of the person I am photographing. But in this case, the woman – a mother of four – told me she was proud of her wrinkles and didn’t want them brushed away and I realized that she was absolutely right.
You’ve earned the face you have now. Be proud of who you are, how you look and what you can still give to the world.
Conference organizers know that a lot of planning goes into creating a program of interesting and relevant content and attracting a strong roster of speakers, panelists and breakout session leaders. Effort is usually spent creating a detailed shot list for photographers to make sure that nothing on the agenda is missed and the investment in hiring a professional shooter to cover the event pays off with a load of marketable images of attendees and conference activities to help promote next year’s event.
Conferences often pull together people from within and across organizations that are otherwise rarely all in one place at the same time, and this creates an opportunity for updated group photos, corporate headshots and bio pictures that is often overlooked by organizers with heads full of conference planning details.
Often the venue itself will provide interesting and useful on site backdrops and your photographer will also have the necessary lighting and equipment to set up a small mobile studio in one of the many spaces occupied by the conference. You’re paying for it already so why not leverage the space to either update your firm’s set of portraits or offer the service to your attendees as an added value for attending your event?
Everyone needs a headshot these days – something I’ve written extensively about in posts on personal branding and profile pictures – but organizing one can be a tedious task often dropped due to other more urgent priorities. If you can offer the service conveniently and quickly to attendees who are already on-site and available, you are providing a useful service and alleviating a pain point preemptively for both your attendees and perhaps the marketing team within your own organization.
While candid photos are always good to have, there is still a need for planned, posed and conventional headshots. I am often approached by conference attendees – people not paying me directly for my work – who say things like, “I need a new LinkedIn photo” or “My headshot is ten years old, can you do a new one for me?”. Aside from essentially asking a working professional for a freebie, these kinds of requests would take time away from what I am hired to be doing and are rarely accommodated for. They reveal the demand though, which could be better met by including an on-site portrait option within the general conference coverage contract.
Why not leverage the inherent social nature of conferences to turn a portrait session into a networking opportunity in its own right? You could promote the on-site photo booth as a place to meet other attendees, leverage its presence by offering another component a sponsor could brand, or embed it inside a collaboration or meeting lounge space that conference attendees can pop into when they have a spare five minutes.
When planning the shooting schedule and generating a shot list for your conference photographer, consider asking about including a mobile photobooth for corporate and group portraits. You’ll save time and provide yet another added value to your attendees.
I’ll preface this by saying I’m an experienced conference photographer and know the difference between a breakout session, general session and collaboration lounge but working on a citywide convention across multiple venues with a fleet of photographers is an order of magnitude more complex when it comes to conference photography. How is it different and what did I learn?
Let’s start with a baseline (or just skip down to the end of you want the 6 key takeaways)
What’s needed to provide standard conference coverage?
A normal conference may require one to three photographers. The conference will take place in one of the designated conference centres of your city (in Montreal’s case, that’s usually the Palais de congrès, though sometimes a commodious hotel like the downtown Sheraton, the Delta on University or the Fairmont Queen Elizabeth).
General Session at Palais de Congres
A regular conference has a general program with a few designated speakers, a keynote welcome address and wrap-up remarks, panel discussions, Q&As, and smaller breakout sessions. Depending on whether the conference is academic or business oriented, there may be more or less focus placed on networking and meeting sessions, though all conferences comprise scheduled blocks of time for formal networking, along with looser time and space for informal meetings and networking. Presentation areas with booths, posters and product displays of participating members or sponsors will also be included.
As a photographer, the general mandate is to cover all scheduled events on the program. This kind of coverage should include “beauty shots” taken of the various venues before attendees are in the room, shots of the speakers on stage from all angles, high quality images of rooms full of attendees looking interested and engaged, and any particular activity that takes place on stage such as award ceremonies.
On the topic of “beauty shots,” clients enjoy seeing photos of the spaces they’ve created, before and after attendees fill them up. This would include general meeting areas, as well as designated lounges, eating areas, registration desk and any sponsored booth or presentation area.
Attendees mingling, networking, attending sessions, making contacts, doing business and having fun
Speakers at podium (shot from front, side, near and far)
Award ceremonies including individual recipients being granted their trophies and group shots of award-winning teams
Executive group shots
All sponsored and branded items, including booths and posters (if the conference is academic or scientific)
Cocktail receptions / VIP events
How does a citywide convention differ from a regular conference?
The difference between a regular conference and a citywide convention, to state the obvious, is scale.
Where a regular conference may take place over one to three days, a citywide convention may span a week, with pre-conference activities starting well ahead of the general sessions.
As well, there is a much higher order of project management and coordination skill required as many events will be taking place simultaneously across multiple venues.
Seth Godin, speaking at Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal
While providing complete coverage for the recent Cisco Partner Summit 2015 in Montreal, at one point I had over 10 different photographers/videographers fanned out across the city covering awards ceremonies, cocktail parties, and a slew of various auxiliary events for clients from around the world.
Managing and creating the schedules for the photographers and ensuring each on-site client had all the information necessary as well as providing the same to the photographer alone takes a few days of coordination. Communication is critical, particularly when there are (which there always are) last-minute changes to the schedule and additional requests.
One particularity of working for a global enterprise like Cisco is the level of professionalism required. There is no room for error when covering an event that comprises over 50 different events needing coverage and a traffic flow of over 4,000 attendees. Execution must be customer-centric, flawless, and timely, and that’s precisely what my team and I delivered.
We set up an on-site office, staffed with technical support, just to manage the intake and processing of the over 35,000 images generated from the coverage. All of these images needed to be edited, sorted, categorized and uploaded to shared drives with a variety of clients requiring access to the images within 12-24 hrs of them having been shot. This always-on, near-instant turnaround on such a heavy volume of images is one of the key distinctions between this kind of massive convention and a smaller scale conference. Things like connectivity, upload speeds, etc. become critical.
World class client service is also paramount. For an event at this scale, there is not just one client – there are numerous clients, all requiring the same level of service and attention to detail:
There is the ultimate client, Cisco, within which there may be 10 or more individuals with photography or videography needs that must be met.
Cascading down there is the event management company that creates and manages all the logistics of the event, who may be the direct client, within which there are also a number of event specific clients.
Then there is the AV team, responsible for the screens, sound and lighting; managers responsible for the interior and exterior signage; food and bev directors, caterers, decorators all of whom may need specific images for their own purposes which may all fall under the responsibility of the core photography team.
I personally dealt with more than 20 different clients, all of whom are equally important even if only a few are actually paying for the service.
With the management, coordination, pre-show preparations and post-show post-production on images, and after-market service, one citywide convention like this can require a month’s worth of work, compared to a week or less for a scaled down single focus conference.
It can be exhausting, with days stretching from 5 am to well past midnight, and stressful, but it is also hugely satisfying to complete. Because of the high level of organization and the size and scale of the client, everyone working this kind of event is at the top of their game. Professional, organized, supremely competent and almost invariably a pleasure to work with.
So what did I learn?
As the old adage goes, the client is ALWAYS right. Courtesy, respect, delivering on time and within budget goes a long way towards ensuring the experience is positive for everyone involved. So does being responsive to last-minute changes and providing the same level of highly customized service before, throughout and after the event
Keeping the team of photographers in the loop and informed of all client needs and requirements is equally important. While photographers tend to be independent self-starters, they benefit from and appreciate being made aware of the bigger picture (no pun intended!).
Establishing and maintaining clear and open communication with clients is essential at all times. The way I do this is through active listening, identifying the client’s needs, and proposing innovative solutions to potential challenges before they even materialize.
Providing visual examples of the types of images needed to your photographers helps guide their inherent creativity towards the client’s specific needs.
Online collaboration tools like Box and Dropbox are necessary to ensure wide distribution of images to all clients.
Keeping focused on the end purposes of the images helps navigate the editing process to ensure timely delivery —this is especially true in the case of the Cisco summit where, as mentioned, we needed to process thousands of images in a very short time period.
Taking on a citywide conference mandate is not for everyone. Many photographers are excellent at what they do but lack the interest or the skills required to manage an operation of this scale. But getting to play in the big leagues means you have to step up and move outside of your comfort zone, no matter what business you are in, and I’d do it again in a heartbeat.