Maria Piscopo: What business changes have you seen in the last few years in your event photography assignments? Chris Rakoczy: Speed of delivery is not an option anymore. It’s a requirement. People are so accustomed to sharing life instantly from their mobile devices, they expect similar speed from the professional photographers they hire. Whether they’re a non-profit using social media to stay in front of their audience while memories of the event are still fresh or a corporate client posting to their intranet Monday morning to foster employee engagement and recognize achievement, the client expects to have at least a representative selection of images within 24 hours (or sooner!). I’ve been delivering about two dozens of images representative of the overall event to the client the following day, with the rest of the images following no more than a few days later. My newest branding to target the event market specifically includes these “FlashBack” images as a guaranteed deliverable.
Maria Piscopo: How do you market and find clients – using the traditional marketing or newer marketing tools? Chris Rakoczy: My web sites are http://www.hartfordeventphotographer.com and
http://www.rakoczyphoto.com. I’ve primarily marketed through networking groups and social media. Not only have traditional B2B (Business To Business) groups led to some work, but even networking with other photographers has proven beneficial. My membership in ASMP has connected me with other shooters. We all have our specialties and I’ve been able to take on clients a colleague wasn’t available for or suited to handle. I’ve hired photographers to be my subcontractors on larger jobs, who have in turn hired me back to help on their gigs. So many of us operate as one-person businesses yet so many events, especially larger corporate ones, need a crew of 3, 4, 5 or more people. It’s great to have a strong network of trusted peers to draw on. For social media, I tend to use Facebook a lot. In fact, it’s through a Facebook Group of photographers that led to working with several of them. Even if you never see someone face-to-face, you get to know and trust them through their posts, comments, shared work, and peer referrals. Also, I post on Facebook and Twitter before and after shooting an event. I don’t make the posts “about me” instead I research the client’s social presence first and then leverage the @mentions and #hashtags to put the attention on them and their event. I also try to give shout-outs and public thanks to the people I worked with, whether an event coordinator or my vendors.
Maria Piscopo: What “war stories” from your event photography assignments can you share with our readers? Chris Rakoczy: A new event planner client asked me if I could shoot and print photos on site at an event. For several subsequent events on-site printing became a common add-on so perhaps I got complacent. I didn’t test one of my two printers before this rather large corporate event and I forgot my spare pack of paper. After the cocktail hour, while my digital tech Kris Orlowski printed, I and two other shooters roamed the venue capturing the gala event. That’s when we discovered the clogged print heads and missing paper. For the next three hours, I was sweating bullets hoping we’d not only be able to print fast enough with half our intended equipment, but have enough paper to not short-change any guest. Kris earned his pay that night, finishing every print, on time, with just 2 sheets left over! Next time, not only will I be sure to test the printers but I’ll bring a head cleaning kit (swabs, alcohol) and extra paper!
Maria Piscopo: What skills or knowledge (other than photography) do you think an event photographer has to develop for a successful business model? Chris Rakoczy: The biggest thing has been developing a managerial skill. Very few corporate events I’ve done have been one-man jobs. I’ve needed to build and maintain a quality network of vendors and colleagues. So I charge for Production Management, because it takes a lot of time to coordinate the resources needed to provide a crew of, say, four photographers, two assistants, multiple portrait and printing stations, transportation, and whatever else the client requests. You have to have backup people, not just backup gear. You have to know and trust those people will work to make you look good, and know when to give specific directions even if their own approach would be different, or seek their input because it IS different. And when it all works, you will get the next job.