The Profession of Photographer, or The Photography Industry?
Over a decade ago, I had a big decision to make. It honestly didn't seem like a big decision at the time. In fact, I didn't think it was such an important one. However, it was. The question at hand was:
Do I call what I am doing: John Harrington - Photographer, or instead John Harrington Photography. Fortunately for me, I had Elyse Weisberg asking me this question, and instead of letting me make the wrong decision, Elyse was among the top photography consultants in the country, and without going into her CV, let's just say she worked with Eddie Adams, and wrote Successful Self-Promotion for Photographers.
What Elyse did was guide me to John Harrington Photography. She said "you're a business, and you want your clients to see you that way. When you're 'John Harrington, Photographer', you're seen as just an individual, and businesses want to hire other businesses." She needed say no more. This was one of the earliest stages of branding I participated in, and one that set me on the right path for the long term.
The question of The Profession of Photographer, or The Photography Industry is, at first blush, semantics, but is very important to distinguish.
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During the Presidential campaign, the power of words was dismissed by some. The power of possible plagarism on this very subject, came to the fore, as highlighted in this minute-long video. Words, and the choice of them, is critical. I mean, vitally critical.
We spend a great deal of time here in my office thinking and re-thinking our messaging. for example "I'll need to get you my contract for you to review and sign before I can get started" is an off-putting message. Instead, we use "we'll send along some paperwork for this assignment, and if you'd sign it, we'll be all set." Notice the use of "we" over "I". "some paperwork" over "my contract", "we'll be all set" over "before I can get started". Which one sounds more appealing to you? I've been attentive to this level of detail almost since the beginning - since discerning the difference Elyse put before me.
One of the most respected consultants in the political arena is Frank Luntz. Luntz is usually hired by Republicans, but even Democrats like John Kerry begrudgingly respect his genius. Luntz dissects, in his book Words That Work, how the words we use have impact. I have just finished his book, and it's full of post-it notes and dog-eared pages for me to return to, and it's also now out in paperback. The books' tagline is "It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear ". This is a time-tested concept, in part made famous as a thread running through the Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus book, where the message was that when a man says something to a woman, she hears things he didn't say, and vice-versa with women speaking to men.
One of the points in the book was that using the word "industry" in the context of "Pharmaceutical Industry" suggested big business, uncaring bureaucrats, piles of money, and so on. What about, as Luntz points out, the Pharmaceutical Profession? That's your local pharmacist, or even possibly your own doctor who gives you a prescription? So too, when you say "Photography Industry", what comes to mind is not we photographers, it's things like Kodak, Fuji, Canon, Nikon, HP, and so on. In other words - big business. When we say "the photography industry is being devastated right now by X, Y, and Z", people don't think of the wedding photographer in Duluth, or the studio owner in New Orleans who is closing up his studio. If you, instead say "the profession of photographer is being devastated..." there is a more core sentiment felt for the individual small business owner that is a photographer. In fact, even changing the words to "the photography profession" dials back the individualistic components of what we do, if even just a little.
I want to strongly encourage you to think, re-think, and then, yes, think some more about the words you use. Luntz' book is certainly a great guidebook for that. However, not just the words you use to brand yourself, and in your correspondence to clients, but also in your phone conversations - how you answer the phone, negotiate, and so on. After every call or conversation, think about how you could have been more effective in that dialog, more succinct, or been more clear.
Words are not just words - they are the foundation of our communication, and are often short-changed.
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