When we started in the 70’s, I did not know anything about marketing. Being an AB Political Science graduate, I was more familiar with the teachings of Plato and Aristotle and with the preamble of our Constitution than with anything about marketing. I had no idea what marketing research, marketing strategies or market segmentations meant. I did not know how to prepare a proper portfolio, or that we were supposed to leave behind some “leave behinds.” We had no money to market or advertise.
We did not know anyone, no sorority sisters or fraternity brothers, no backers, no influential relatives, no connections to politicians who could pull strings for us. I did know that there was such a thing as the Yellow Pages, and that companies were sorted according to the kind of service or products they offered. John and I had decided that we were going to specialize in advertising, so I looked up “Advertising” and found a few agencies. That list became my “database” before there was such a term.
I was fortunate to have had a little sales experience. After college, I knocked door-to-door to sell encyclopedias, so I acquired the patience to do cold calls. I knew that I might have to be turned down 99 times to hit at the 100th who will let me in. To market our photography, I prepared my fingers for a lot of telephone dialing. Remember those rotary phones? Calling literally meant d-i-a-l-i-n-g those numbers, and checking names of those who were encouraging, and putting an “X” on those who seemed rude or not interested. There were no highlighters, no photocopiers, no computers, so that telephone directory page was marked with lots of x’s and checks.
Calling cold was the only way I could get appointments for warmer face-to-face meetings with prospective clients. Armed with more audacity than qualification, I would represent us as doing advertising photography even though our portfolio had more amateur stuff than commercial work. (One of the first ad agencies I approached was J. Walter Thompson. That was in 1973, and I’m proud to say they continue to be our client to this day. I will write about that experience and relationship in another blog).
I still think meeting clients face-to-face is the best way to meet and keep them. Fortunately, with the vast advantage that Internet offers, cold knocking or cold calling is no longer the only way to initially find them. Today, a website is like a store or display window that is open every day, and even when you need to call, those touchtone phones, with automatic dialers and stored phone numbers, are a superb improvement over the ancient rotary phones. Gratefully, the proportion of cold calls to warm contacts is no longer one in a hundred – experience brings the success ratio to more encouraging numbers. Spreadsheets and contact management software have made it easier to add a few hundred more names to our client database, but we know, oh we will always remember, that we still have to keep on knocking.