Buzz Creation

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Once you've built up a portfolio of images you are confident in sharing as your style, you need to create buzz about your work. You need to let people know you are unique and your images have a distinct fashion flair about them.

There are several ways you create buzz. You can create interesting viral videos to share online. Or you can really push your social networking activities. (See "Social Networking," later in this chapter.) Another idea is to have giveaways and competitions. You can give door prizes at bridal shows or scholarships at local schools. Alternatively, you can create a luxury direct-mail piece. Or consider advertising on the radio or TV.

Each successful photographer I talk to has a different formula for success. Try getting involved in local events or even creating your own local event to generate buzz. For example, you might stage live fashion shoots during a local festival so people come to associate you and your business with fashion photography.

You might also try a local modeling competition theme like "American's Next Top Model" based out of your own town, city, or even local high school. Larger-scale PR and marketing events raise awareness of your business, services, and position in the market.

If you want to quickly become known as a portrait photographer with fashion flair in your area, you might consider holding a contest (with prizes) to draw attention to your business and distinguish yourself from your peers.

Most teens and young adults these days have seen the television program America's Next Top Model. It is a reality show hosted by former supermodel Tyra Banks. The program starts with 10 to 14 women hoping to become a top model. Each show, contestants are given different challenges, including a photo shoot. At the end of every show, the images are reviewed by a panel of judges, and one contestant is eliminated. The final contestant is given the title "America's Next Top Model" and wins a number of prestigious prizes, including a model contract.

You can hold a Next Top Model competition in your city, and in doing so you can gain press coverage and an association of your name to high-fashion imagery. For your Next Top Model project, try teaming up with a major local radio or TV station that has young adult viewers.

By teaming up with radio stations or other media outlets, you are getting yourself a great deal of exposure and press coverage. This gets your name out there, regularly mentioned as the area's leading portrait and fashion photographer. The constant promotion not only familiarizes people with your name, but with your unique skills and services.

In the description that follows, I provide guidelines for one way you might approach a competition like this. Obviously, you can modify it to fit your market's needs. You can keep it small or make it huge by having a runway competition in a large hall or live videotaped fashion shoots.

Next Top Model Outline

1. Team up with a local radio station and invite contestants to send in 2-4 images of themselves (ideally unretouched snapshots) to a specialized email address.

2. After a month of promotion, review these images and select the top 15 contestants for the next phase of the process.

The top 15 contestants can appear in a fashion show put on by the radio station, with clothing provided by a local boutique. This fashion show becomes an event with food, music, runway photography, and more. A panel of judges (perhaps you, a photographer friend, the radio DJs, and the clothing store owner) narrows down the girls to the top 10 contestants.

3. These top 10 contestants then receive a free photo shoot with you and your creative team. Consider teaming up with a local salon to do hair and makeup for each of the finalists. Each contestant gets three shots: one beauty shot (close-up shot) and two full-length fashion shots. Two images for each contestant are then posted on the radio's Web site (or perhaps on your own blog), and people can vote for which model they like best.

4. After these photo shoots are completed and retouched, the contest awards a first, second, and third place prize. The first-place contestant gets a fashion portfolio photo session (aim for high-value, impressive numbers like $1,500+). All the winners are put on the radio's Web site, your blog, Facebook, and many different social networks. This exposes them and your work.

Remember (for prizes in particular) to get as many local businesses involved as possible; the more you have involved, the more you will have promoting the competition. The more prizes, the more hype, and the more local involvement, the more synergy that exists.

Consider having a local salon do the hair and makeup for the shoots and contribute a giveaway toward the final prizes. Also, consider having a local boutique or designer provide clothing for the shoots and contribute some type of gift certificate or prizes. If you are collaborating with a local radio station, the station will be sure to get a variety of extra prizes. The bigger the prizes, the more interest that will develop around the project. Everybody wins.

What do you get for your involvement? You get your name mentioned repeatedly on the radio, and your business becomes associated with high-fashion photography. Furthermore, radio advertising is extremely costly, and you'll get a great deal of radio airtime promotion for free. Finally, if this project becomes a big enough phenomenon, local TV stations and newspapers will cover the event, thus getting you even more exposure.

You might consider ways to include more audience involvement in the competition, including a listener's voting phase. Contestants will urge their friends and family to vote for them, thus making them aware of your photography and services. The exposure is great, and you'll get positive responses associated with your work. Not only that, with the first contest being successful, it is easy to turn this into an annual competition that grows bigger each year. Locals will begin to anticipate the competition. Word of mouth spreads, along with the reputation about your business.

Remember the important role that social networking plays in attracting competitors to this competition. Be sure to create a Facebook page for your Next Top Model competition, and consider a separate Web site and Twitter account. The more ways you provide for people to connect with you and your work, the better.

If you want a lot of extra interest, be sure to conduct video interviews of the top 10 contestants during one of their fashion shoots. Interview them about themselves, their interests, and their aspirations, and overlay this with video of them during the shoot. If you have access to an HDSLR camera with video capabilities, that is a great way to drive more traffic to the site and make the project look high end. If you put this video on the Web site, it will show you at work, ingraining the image of you as fashion photographer deep into the minds of potential clients. At a minimum, have behind-the-scenes photographs of the process.

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