Much of commercial photography is about marketing. Agency Access is a service that is aimed at helping commercial photographers market their work efficiently. But how good is it? Here is my review of Agency Access.
Agency Access aims to solve the problem of finding connections and emails of people within the commercial photography industry. Most, like me, start with zero knowledge of the industry. Only several years in do you begin to realize that learning all the nerdy techy stuff was not only the beginning but a beginning to a beginning. The business of photography is about networking and selling your images.
In order to be a profitable artist, you don’t necessarily need to be the next Leibovitz. To some degree, you can take “bad” pictures but be good at selling and marketing. If you think you are the next Leibovitz (brave claim), you might also have an agent who will do the business side of things for you. For most people, this isn't a viable option. Either their work is not good enough to be taken on by an agent or they don’t want to have one. So, what ways are there to build up a network? One way is certainly to use Agency Access to find connections and links to people. But how effective is it?
What Is Agency Access?
A good network is like good wine: it takes years to create yoursel or a short trip to the wine cellar to purchase. In a way, Agency Access is that wine cellar that sells wines of all sorts. Having been in the industry for over 20 years, Agency Access has been used by many photographers to market themselves. Some have been successful and some have not. So, as part of the review, I’ll include a section on who Agency Access is really for.
The creative directory is the big database that you can access to find contacts. It is neatly divided into three categories. What I like is that you can search contacts, companies, and brands. Searching contacts will make finding particular people easy, for example, the fashion editor of Elle. What I liked a lot is the ability to find a lot of people with the same job title to make marketing targeted. However, it would be a lot better if the search feature would automatically group people by workplace, because I don’t want to send promo emails to every art director in a big ad agency.
Another useful feature was promo preferences and engagement. This allowed me to find people who are happy to receive promo emails. Not only does this reduce the chance of being annoying, but also increases the success rate of email campaigns.
Searching companies is an alternative way to build your lists. This is more useful for the folk who want to work with a particular ad agency or company. Say you’ve been digging down the rabbit hole of Nike marketing aesthetic and you think you're at a good enough level. You might as well go and find the people from Nike that may be interested, such as the Creative Buyer. The company profile is linked to people currently working there; you can see email and position right away to make the decision. Additionally, a small red/yellow/green dot will indicate if that particular person wants to get an email promo.
Large corporations such as the aforementioned Nike don’t take care of ad campaigns end to end, they hire ad agencies to do this. Finding out which ad agency a brand has worked with may help you get the next dream client. The brand's category in Agency Access will show the commonly known brand, the parent company (think Coca-Cola and Fanta), and the ad agencies who were hired to do work for the brands. It would be great to see which campaigns the agencies did and how recent the jobs were. This would let photographers get a gist of what they should be aiming for, as well as give better insight into the company.
This is where you create your own custom database within the large Agency Access database. This helps to keep contacts organized and email marketing even more targeted. If you’re like me, you will be sending a different promo email to magazines as opposed to commercial brands. An email to magazines will show more editorial and unique work, while an email to brands will also include work that is more commercial-looking. While commercial photography is not a genre, it does tend to have a slightly different look than editorial.
I also like having this feature, it lets me build good-looking email campaigns like Mailchimp without being too complex. When it comes to email, I prefer the KISS principle, so I always go with a template. If you want fancy, fill your boots with HTML. If you’re in 2004, use plain text. There are four templates to choose from. While that sounds very small, I prefer taking the first best one and customizing it to my liking. I imagine a lot of photographers customize their template anyway, so having more would just slow down the whole process. Yet, a template I’d love to see is a simple picture portfolio with some text on the top. While fancy layouts and active buttons look tempting, I keep my marketing very simple (KISS principle). There are images, text, and contact information, no fancy layouts or funky fonts. The art directors need to see the content, not the fancy formatting.
There is also a printing feature, it will let you design and order all sorts of tangible marketing collateral: from postcards to booklets. Agency Access will print and mail out the stuff, which makes the whole service rather convenient. Tangible marketing is a great way to stand out as well. Unfortunately, you have to email Agency Access to arrange this service. It would be great to have something similar to the emailer, where you can design the postcard or brochure and then order it. Not every photographer is a graphical designer.
This is a CRM in the making, but for now, you can assign tasks you'd like to complete for each contact. However, this can only be done from the large creative directory. You can't go into lists and assign a task from there. You also can't assign the same task to groups of people. This is a limitation for people who do cold-calling and want to assign a cold-call to a few people to be completed before a certain date. Overall, I didn't find the Task section particularly helpful as it is right now.
This is where it gets a little tricky. Agency Access is priced a lot better than rival platforms such as Bikinilists. There are three categories: regional, continental, and global, which are priced at $39, $55, $129 per month, respectively. Right now, they are on sale: $31, $55, and $103. Considering the potential return on investment, this is a worthwhile purchase if you make most of it. In terms of pricing, I am satisfied.
How to Make the Most of Agency Access?
Agency Access has a filtering process where members are checked for suitability. The reason this happens is so that people like the image editor of Vogue don’t get flooded by emails offering everything from weddings to baby portraits. Agency Access is a platform made for image-makers who sell to businesses, not to private clients. Hence, you need to consider your work and how suitable it would be.
While not letting every photographer use Agency Access decreases revenue, it increases the reputation and the number of people who are willing to get promo emails from suitable photographers.
As a photographer, you need to have a clear idea of where you are in your career. For example, as of 2021, I am not at the level of doing a global Balenciaga billboard campaign. Hence, I will not market my work to the people at Balenciaga because I know they will either unsubscribe or worse block my email. Likewise, because I don’t shoot sportswear, I won’t market to Nike. Agency Access shows you the doors, but you need to know where to knock and what to say. There are cases when a photographer blasts a lot of people and gets no returns, while others blast 50 emails out and get assignments.
What I Liked
- A detailed and well-organized database
What Can Be Improved
- Information on campaigns that ad agencies do for brands
Agency Access is a product aimed at a thin slice of the pie: commercial photographers. It provides a ton of great marketing tools: well-organized detailed databases, custom lists, up-to-date information, and an eager research department. I am convinced that the people who make the most out of Agency Access will get a lot of work from it as it opens a lot of doors. Being affordably priced, it is a service that knocks its rivals out of the water. I am likely to get a paid subscription at Agency Access.
It looks like their interface has improved 10-fold from the disaster it was when I last tried 6 or 7 years ago. May be worth a shot again.
I don't know how the platform is now but about 6 years ago I worked with a high level Advertising Photographer who wasn't happy with the contact lists. They were out of date by about a year and half. The Studio crew and I spent weeks updating all the contacts and emails. Hopefully this has gotten better in the last couple years.
I found the same problem, it must be a pain to keep thousands of names up to date.
I used it a couple years and bid on 2 jobs, no success.
Don't forget that in direct mail campaigns if you are lucky you will get 3-5% favorable response rate and and then will need 5 to 7 additional contacts with the folks who replied in order to be considered for a job.
Thats entirely true and to be expected. Though as a company thats their job to have a dedicated team responsible for keeping everything as current as possible. From my personal experience it was closer to 60% were out of date. 4 people spent 2 weeks updating thousands of contacts. There was even a couple of conference calls with them about the issue. We had just done a huge print marketing push and were getting return to sender on a huge amount. Hopefully this is no longer the case as their offering are a great investment for creatives.