Strategy Session: Putting Photo Fan(nie)s in Your Seats

Strategy Session: Putting Photo Fan(nie)s in Your Seats


As I fought the crowds in the halls of the PhotoPlus Expo in New York City in late October, I realized why I was continually confronted with stopped traffic at almost every turn.  It was the attraction of pro photographers speaking at many of the booths at the show. I was amazed and impressed at how many elite pro photographers were featured as speakers—and how popular they were with the photo fan audience.

So many seats were filled with amateur and enthusiast photographers looking for information and education. And many companies were happy to feature their pro photographers talking about their equipment, their technologies, their pet projects and their photo journeys.

The lure of professional photographers for this crowd is electric. Being able to see so many photographer icons in one building and hearing their stories firsthand is a photo enthusiast’s dream. It’s akin to a Green Bay Packers’ fan hearing strategies and game-day experiences from Aaron Rodgers up close and personal; a guitar player getting a backstage pass to speak with John Mayer; or a news geek getting the inside scoop from Chuck Todd on the presidential political beat.

The difference is that these photographers, for the most part, are accessible, and fun to be with. Virtually every manufacturer has their list of “hall of famers” on their roster. There are Canon’s Explorers of Light, Nikon’s Ambassadors, Sony’s Artisans of Imagery, Panasonic’s Lumix Luminaries and Olympus’s Visionaries. The list goes on and on. While these photographers are brand ambassadors, they are also experienced professionals who enjoy spreading the joy and challenges of photography to enthusiasts.

As I roamed the PhotoPlus halls, in almost every row I went down I was fighting through crowds gathered around these speakers. Yes, the brands were using this technique to gather prospects into their booths—and it was working. It struck me that these photo “rock stars” might offer a great opportunity for local retailers to tap into this phenomenon in their own locations.

Large crowds gathered at manufacturers’ booths to listen to the pros at PhotoPlus Expo. Nikon’s booth was packed during a presentation by Nikon Ambassador Joe McNally.

I know this isn’t a new idea, but it’s one worth revisiting. Drawing people into your store is critical to every retailer. And educational classes are an excellent way for you to bring prospects into your retail locations. Why not tap into this photo rock-star strategy that is employed so well by manufacturers? Why not bring pros into your own stores?

I dare say that every part of the country is home to local pro photographers, many well known, who would be willing to spend time with your customers. Think about promoting it like a concert series in your store. “Bob’s Camera Presents the Pro Photographer Speakers” series, a monthly event featuring some of the world’s greatest photographers.” Or how about “Spend an Evening with Olympus Visionary and Pulitzer Prize Winner Jay Dickman.”

The by-product of this kind of series is that it promotes photography using “real” cameras and a wide array of lenses and accessories—often the most profitable items in your store. It’s a win-win for you and your suppliers.

Giving Back

Not only can pro photographers promote products, but they can also speak about their “giving back” passions that most are involved with. Promoting these kinds of programs can also contribute to your goodwill in your local communities.

Pro photographers talked about their passions at the Imaging Alliance Salutes Photographers Who Give Back event. It was a great example of the enthusiastic crowds that pros can bring. Pictured (L-R): Marilena Stavrakidis, Rick Guidotti, Ami Vitale and Cristina Mittermeier.

For example, the Imaging Alliance Salutes Photographers Who Give Back event was held in early October. It featured three professional photographers and also one student photographer. They have all chosen to give back to society using their talents in imaging. Sony Artisan Cristina Mittermeier spoke passionately about her Sea Legacy project that promotes solutions to protect our oceans. Rick Guidotti related his Positive Exposure nonprofit that’s all about helping people with genetic disorders feel positive about themselves. A crowd of close to 200 people listened intently to their stories.

There are so many reasons to recruit pro photographers to be ambassadors for your store. And it’s easier than you might think.

Professional Photographers Speakers Bureau

To help you contact pro photographers to speak, the Imaging Alliance is developing a Professional Photographers Speakers Bureau. It can be used as a resource for local dealers to find pro photographers in their geographic area. It’s a new idea, but it should be available on the IA website by the end of this year.

But there is no need to wait. Contact your favorite manufacturer and ask for suggestions. They have so many contacts and I’m sure would be more than willing to help promote photography and their products with speaker suggestions.

If PhotoPlus Expo proved anything to me, it’s that pro photographers can inspire almost any level of amateur photographer. And they can certainly attract customers into your stores.