Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Get business cards

Every pro PJ should have business cards. This is the easiest way to distinguish a professional PJ from an amateur. These are by far the cheapest and most effective tool every PJ has to gain access and business.

The business card represents immediate legitimacy to the reader of the card. It lets people know who the person on the card is and how to contact them. In other words, if a PJ has a business card, they are willing to take responsibility for their actions. They have gone to the effort to create a validation for anyone who asks for accountability.

Staff PJs have business cards issued through the company with the company logo. Cards are typically ordered while new hires are processing all their other paperwork at a new job. At the very least, new PJs get cards once they have their cell and pager numbers established for a new market.

In my first 10 years as a staffer, I went through more than 2,500 business cards. Mostly, it's a quick way to hand someone instant credibility. They would take the card, see all the contact information and logo, and they were satisfied with my journalistic legitimacy.

I carry about 20 cards each day. Occasionally, I run out of cards because I'm asked for my card so frequently in one day. This tends to happen at large public events (parades, community events and such). It's also likely to occur when the event involves some kind of performance where people might want photographs for their personal collections (concerts, sports and such).

Some staffers carry two sets of business cards. They carry the official, company-sponsored cards and business cards for their freelance work. They give the official card unless they are asked if they freelance. In the latter instance, they give the secondary card in addition to the company card.

A note of caution here. Although it's OK for staffers to give out freelance cards, don't talk business on the clock. Explain to the potential client that you are working for the newspaper now, and you're happy to answer any questions via e-mail or otherwise off the clock. They'll understand and appreciate it while you're working on their dime.

Meanwhile, freelancers hand business cards out like candy to whoever takes one. The card not only clears legitimacy concerns, but it helps acquire potential clients. Potential clients need multiple means to contact the PJ if they need the PJ's services. The card is the answer.

Professional printers
I know it's easy to buy pre-scored biz card templates at the business supply store and print them at home. Don't do it. Your credibility rests on the cards you present. Instead, use a professional printer for your business cards.

The cost of 500 very-high-quality business cards is $45 or less. It is probably the single best investment any pro PJ could possibly make. Compare this cost to six fresh rolls of film. I promise the cards generate more income over time.

Simply stated, a cheap card looks cheap. It's easy to tell from the card edges if it's a pre-fab, do-it-yourself card. When water is introduced, the entire ink-jet card may smear or wash away. A laser card will stick to other cards or other items in the wallet and lose some or all of the characters. Be professional and get professional cards.

What information goes on the card?
Business cards are best if they are simple and broad. This keeps the PJ from being pigeon-holed as a "mug shot" or "party" photographer. After all, if the card list 20 things the PJ is willing to shoot, the PJ must not shoot the things not listed.

Typically a name, title, and contact information is best. My current cards have my name, "pro photojournalist" as a title, phone numbers, e-mail, Web site and PhotoJournalism's Web address. My name and title are centered, phone numbers are in the upper left-hand corner and online information is in the lower right-hand corner. The rest remains blank.

In contrast to a cluttered card, my card means I can shoot anything, anytime, anywhere.

As I described before, Doug Davis has hand-buffed steel business cards with only his name and office phone number embossed into the metal. That's all.

Essential card decisions
When creating a freelance business card, several decisions must be made. Among these are paper grade, print quality and design.

Paper grade
Without getting too technical on paper grades, just tell the printer you want heavy-weight business card stock. You might hear the word "bristol," it's the printer's word for stiff, heavy paper (including rag pulp). Likewise, you will hear basis weight referred to in pounds.

The "basis weight" is the standard used to specify the weight of paper. It generally implies the paper's thickness. The basis weight is equivalent to a 500-sheet ream of 17 by 22 inch paper. If this ream weighs 100 pounds, it is called 100-pound paper. For business cards, you will want opaque, heavy-bond, non-gloss (matte) paper. Textured paper adds an extra level of sophistication.

The point of the heavy paper grade is to ensure the paper is durable enough to be handled, shoved in a pocket, washed and still retain your basic information.

Print quality
Print quality is essential for the business card. When someone gets the business card, they unconsciously rub their thumb across the print. When they do so, they also are subconsciously assessing your value.

If the card has raised type, your worthiness increases. If the type is flat, your value is diminished. If it smears on someone's fingers, you may be considered an imposter.

To get the proper raised letters, ask for thermographic print. In thermography, a special rosin powder is introduced after the ink is applied to the paper. Excess powder is removed and the remainder is heated. The heated rosin powder cools to create the raised type.

An additional benefit of thermographic print is its ability to become wet and remain on the paper. It requires intense heat rather than water to remove the print. Consequently, the cards are still useful after a rainy sporting event. Also, the client can wash the card and the text lasts as long as the paper. However, once the card goes into a clothes dryer, it may negate the benefit. But, it's better than other options.

One major downside of thermal reproduction is the lack of halftone printing. In other words, there's no way to include photographs in thermographic designs because the dots will melt into a blob. Therefore, only text and line drawings can be used.

If the PJ is depending on a client to make their decisions based solely on a business card photograph, it might be better to skip the client anyway.

Another minor problem is time. Most printers run thermal cards either once or twice weekly. Don't expect the cards to be ready the next day unless you're lucky enough to go on the right day of the week.

Consider the purpose of the business card. It's designed to let people know who the PJ is, why the PJ is there and how to contact the PJ later. It isn't designed to attract attention, sell a product, inform or entertain the reader. It should present legitimate facts to get the PJ in the door or let a potential client know where to see work samples.

As I said before, it's best to go with a simple design. Keep the business card to "just the facts." However, other elements such as a logo or slogan could be introduced to the design - as long as they are on each and every product the PJ produces.

Before heading to the printer, it's best to know what you want before you go. The printer is helpful, but only the PJ can make the final decisions. Look through all those cards you've collected for years (you did collect cards of hard-to-contact people didn't you?).

Try out some test cards on a layout program. Once the PJ is happy with the design, take a serious look at the card and see what could be removed to make the key elements stronger. I'd wager most PJs return to the suggestions above. But, the PJs had a fun day deciding all the other stuff is just, well, stuff.

What remains should be mostly text. Type font is important. Although we know serif fonts are easier to read as the print becomes smaller, consider a san serif font for business cards. Additionally, consider all capital letters for the PJ's name, but have the first letter a point or two larger than the remainder of the name. It works fairly well.

Proof the card
At the printer's office, PJs are asked to fill out a form with their design and requirements. There are samples of paper stock, typefaces and so forth. It shouldn't take long to narrow it all down and submit the request.

Have the printer make a proof before you leave. This is often a laser copy on a sheet of standard paper. PJs need to check the proof for accurate spellings and correct numbers. Also look at the overall design and make any changes for accuracy or style. Once the proof is approved, 500 cards are made exactly like the proof. The PJ pays for it - even if it's factually wrong.

Photographic business cards
Each photographer has probably made a photographic business card at one point or another. We are proud once we can make them in our darkrooms with 1-to-1 negative reproduction and clarity.

Please avoid this temptation.

I have boxes of business cards from other people. Most of the photo business cards promote a product or a specific person. Items such as an insurance agent's smiling face, wedding cakes, motorcycles and boats look fine on business cards. Feel free to make quality images to help these people promote their businesses with your fine images.

However, unless you know you are handing your business card to someone who immediately relates to the image on your business card (same hair color, same hobbies, etc...), consider how they'll perceive this card later.

The card with a goat is from the goat photographer or the goat herder. The card with the child is from the child photographer. However, this client sells beer - not children. Furthermore, s/he wouldn't dare sell beer to children.

Most PJs get my point. Keep the card clean and refer the clients to the newspaper or PJ's Web site. Let the images do the talking there.

Make the cards work
Although business cards are useful, make them work. They can get equipment returned and even get professional discounts on new equipment.

Recover equipment
Place a business card in a flash card wallet, in the bottom of any bags or suitcases, every coat pocket, inside car door panels or any other item which might be separated from the PJ. At best, it will be returned to the PJ. At worst, it's a way to identify stolen property.

Get some heavy laminate (as used on old driver's licenses). Laminate two cards back to back. Find someone with a badge punch or carefully cut a hole large enough to insert a leather or plastic band. Attach these to credentials (dog tags), tripods, monopods, camera bags, camera straps, power packs or anything else of value or immediate use.

Normally, people are very kind to news PJs and immediately call the PJ's cell phone if an item is forgotten when the PJ ran out the door to cover a fire. At the least, the PJ has a return number to claim missing equipment after the fire.

Get professional discounts
Many folks can be intimidated when they walk into a major camera store the first few times. Introduce yourself to the store owner or clerk with a business card. It levels the playing field and often helps secure a professional discount.

Ten percent doesn't sound like much at first. However, when it's time to buy a $3,000 dit, it equals $300 in the PJ's pocket or $300 worth of flash disks.

Enough for now,


John Stephen Lewis said...

I love your blog. I just stumbled across it, and am enjoying your take on things. However, I would take issue with this entry on business cards.

The business of printing has changed a lot in the last several years, both because of the global market place and because of new printing technologies.

Long story short, full-color, photo-quality, double-sided printing on both front and back, can be had for the prices listed above. I used to use www.flyerwire.de, but that was three years ago, and I'm sure there are guys doing it cheaper now.

The cards look sharp (even with beveled corners). All the pop you can push.

Mark M. Hancock said...

Business cards only need a PJ's name, title and contact information. Don't limit yourself to the one or two images on a biz card. It shouldn't be your best shot in two months. It won't be your best shot in two years.