Further thoughts on out-of-state race photographers…

This is just an attempt to flesh out some of my thoughts that I didn’t include in my email because I didn’t want it to turn into a book!

As I alluded to, these out-of-state outfits frustrate me because they don’t know you or your runners, they have no local relationships, and will likely never come within 100 miles of your event. And because they’re attempting to fill a need that doesn’t exist. Can’t blame them for trying, but whether you’re talking about photography, race planning, coordination of sponsorships or bib services, there are already excellent sources located right here in mid-Michigan. In that sense, they strike me as little more than poachers.

They don’t — and can’t — know your customers, but they’re perfectly capable of alienating them through email bombardment, which is likely what will happen. Why? Simply because they have no other way of engaging your customers, which they must do in order to sustain themselves. Whereas I have the ability to hang out and chat with area runners before and after races every weekend, they don’t — because they’re not here. They have no presence or investment in this community. They have no opportunity to bump into your customers at Playmakers, at MSU sporting events, at Potter Park Zoo, or anywhere else. But they have the same need I do to remain relevant to that market. So they send emails. Lots and lots of emails. I’ll share a brief anecdote, one that should sound familiar to you…

My wife was registered for a race in early 2009 that was photographed by one of these out-of-staters. She suffered an injury that prevented her from running, but nevertheless was on the email list alongside the thousands who did run. She received emails about her race photos on a roughly monthly basis for about two years. It’s mid-2012 and she just recently stopped receiving emails about photos from a 2009 race she didn’t run! Is that crazy? Is that something you want to subject your customers to? Not likely.

And why do they do that? Couple of reasons. For one thing, they need to make money. I do, too, of course — don’t we all? — but this is a bit different. If I shoot a race and fail to sell as much as I hoped, that may be construed as time poorly spent. Time is money, sure, but it’s different when you’ve contracted with one or more photographers and have to pay them. In that case, sub-par sales can mean the loss of cold, hard cash. That won’t do, so they email your customers to death until they’re satisfied with sales. Another reason, as bad as it sounds, is: why not? The multitude of emails essentially represent benefit without risk. Their reputation isn’t on the line with your customers, yours is.

By contrast, I couldn’t afford to alienate these people even if I wanted to. I’m as invested in the community as you are. Beyond being born, raised and based in mid-Michigan, I rarely leave the area to cover an event. When I do, there’s always some local connection at the heart of the decision, such as Playmakers involvement or an earnest request from customers who’ve traveled to Lansing for a race and been impressed by what I offer. Working at races weekend after weekend — and interacting with customers week after week — I build a LOT of relationships with local runners. These people are both my customers and yours, and it’s important to me that those relationships be as strong and as positive as possible. These are the people who wind up eventually contacting me to photograph their families, their kids in youth sports, their son who’s about to graduate or their daughter who’s about to be married. That means a lot to me and is worth cultivating, which is why I typically send 1-2 emails about a given race. The first lets them know the photos are ready, and the second warns them before the photos are moved to archival storage (a move that comes with a price increase). Less irritation and annoyance for your customer means less risk for you.

And there you have it: a thumbnail sketch of my views on “localness” and relationships from the perspective of a race photographer. As always, I’m happy to discuss further if you’re interested!

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