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The Art of Refusal

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As photographers and videographers, in fact any creative artist that draws a crowd, there comes a time when we have to simply say “No”. What do I mean? Sponsorship. Now this is a multi faceted beast so I’m going to attempt to broach it from my stand point in the understanding that every potential similar situation has its own set of equally unique parameters. As it can be seen I have a pretty incredible Twitter following. I don’t put that down to celebrity, I don’t put it down to my being particularly popular in any social standing other than for the reason that people like my work, they know for the most part that they can approach me and ask questions, help promote certain causes and even send out questions they may be having a hard time with. In all I started back on the Twitter platform in 2009. 

In 2009 I was on the road for Nat Geo, I guess some of the updates then attracted a good bunch of folks many of whom are still active, having in that time become personal friends, within my Twitter following etc. I noted at a very early stage that there were a heck of a lot more reactions to posts I made when I included imagery so I kept that as my main operating procedure. I would stick to posting what I known about, imaging, in order for me to accompany any updates with the interaction trigger that imagery, still or video, tends to be. It works. I get great interactions from that audience and it is an audience that I manage daily. I use the Tweepi system to manage it having opted for their Platinum account which allows me to specifically target and laser point potential individuals with similar core interests as myself. This affords me the luxury of knowing that I follow those who may have an interest in the updates and information I send out.

Over the course of my time on Twitter I have also learned what works and what doesn’t. Who to tag in imagery, who not to. I’ve devised a way that works for me, which isn’t I believe overbearing in any way. Now this is where it starts to get interesting. As an imaging professional and with such a vibrant and responsive (and growing) audience I receive on average four approaches per week from product manufacturers asking if I’d be willing to receive and then endorse their product. These tend to be products relative to the core interests of my work and following, filming, photography and outdoors pursuits.

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Sounds ideal doesn’t it? Manufacturers of cool stuff looking to give it away in return for promotions. Hmmm, let me think about that. In order to really give value for money, I mean some of the gear that could be bestowed on you for product support could very well be high priced items as well as there being the flip side offers from products in the lower value range. I mean if they all fill a role and provide us with ways to facilitate the task at hand then it’s a win win situation, right? Wrong. Imagine if you will having to promote products which may only cost a couple hundred bucks or less. Take out of that your time, any transport costs to get you to locations needed to film or photograph the product ‘on location’ such as transport or potential overnight accommodation etc. If you take a day to promote, and I mean one day of great work to get the promotional imagery, edit and present it. We’re talking a good chunk of change, potentially more than the value of the latest gadget, which granted may make your life easier, but does it really equate over the long run to continually look to collect freeby gifts and gizmos?

Now I know that some folks would be saying “Yes but you promote the gear when you’re on the road doing what you do”, and they would be correct in suggesting that, but we’re not on the road as much as the manufacturers would like. If the truth be told I’m sure many manufacturers would like to see imagery and promotional media hitting their doorstep on an almost daily basis. Who wouldn’t? At that point it is where things start to fall apart.

Sometimes we have to simply draw a line in the sand as it were. There comes a point where the time needed to promote a never ending arrival of gear eats into, nay devours, our available productive time in a big way. Not being able to remain at the leading edge of the curve of your industry will see you fade away from the gaze of the audience. There is always a new Action Hero in the mix and if it isn’t you, then it’s your competitor. As the majority of us are also freelance, not to mention with dependent families, pushes home that need to increase our productive time. My biggest responsibility is to my wife and young son. I can’t do anything until I know they are taken care of and provided for. To this end I find myself now refusing any cold calling options to endorse product X, Y or Z unless of course they are something absolutely necessary as core elements of my work such as camera bodies, lenses or other such hardwares. It sounds callous I guess but I see it as simply being realist. The one thing we need most also tends the be the least thing we are offered, advertising revenue to offset potential project costs. Endorsing products is a good thing but it is also something that needs to be understood by folks getting into this game. Take on what you can manage and then learn to say “No”.

Saying “No” doesn’t have to be the end of a relationship though. Manufacturers and the individual are starting out on a long road of communication where one day reciprocity could become agreeable for product or financial support. Everything hinges on one main thing, professionalism. Because you have 200,000 Twitter followers doesn’t mean that you are entitled to anything. Your main ace is how you handle yourself, respond in timely fashion, respond with respect to those addressing you, even if you’ve had a bad day, and above all be positive. If things don’t go the way you want with Manufacturer X then move on, be cordial, leave that door open, that bridge in place and carry on with your search. Who know what the future holds with your needs and with your situation and it may very well be the people you are turning down today end up being the sponsor of a lifetime when the time and situation is right.

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