My $1,600 photography advertising mistake

My $1,600 photography advertising mistake


I wasted $1,600 on advertising last year. How many ads did I get for that? One. Yup. One whopping big full-page ad in a local magazine. What did I get out of it? A big, fat, juicy nothing. Not one phone call. Not one email inquiry. Not even more traffic on my website. So what am I going to do? Tell you how to advertise and how NOT to advertise if you’re looking to go into photography as a business.

Why do we advertise?

Most of us photographers are creatives. We’re looking to pull the business out of our creativity and make it pay us. What’s one thing the majority of creatives suffer with? Business sense. How’s that supposed to work, eh? We want to go into business but are too artsy fartsy to have a clue. Most people know one thing about business: you have to advertise. And for someone with a little money to spare starting up their business, splashing out on some advertising is often a dismal first move. We don’t like to sell ourselves, so taking out an ad or juicing up the balance on our Google or Facebook ads account seems to be the way to go if we want to avoid actually selling.

Why didn’t my magazine ad work?

I thought the magazine ad was a sure thing. I thought it was perfect because it went straight into the school bags and homes of my target market: people with children in a wealthy area. In retrospect, it didn’t work because:

  • It was in print. You couldn’t click the URL and get right into my website. Parents don’t have time to remember to take that page to their computer, type the URL and visit me online.
  • I mistakenly thought I was advertising for sales when really, I was advertising for brand recognition. Advertising doesn’t directly equal sales or money. It equals “oh, hey…there’s that photographer again”. Great if you want to build a reputation and get your brand in front of people’s eyes. Not great if you want to book sessions.
  • I only did it once. It takes at least three months of continual advertising get people to act on what they’re seeing.

What would I have done differently?

If I were going to do a print ad again, I would have spent that money on many quarter-page ads and not one big whopping full-page ad. I would go into it knowing that I was building a reputation, getting my work in front of people’s eyes. I wouldn’t sit by the phone and wait for the work to roll in. The crash-and-burn disappointment from that mistake was a really hard lesson to learn. It hurt big time. It hurt my confidence and it hurt my finances. I’m still smarting from it even as I’m writing this. Ouch.

How to advertise for sales, not just for recognition?

You can’t get away from it. You have to SELL yourself. Save your money and hit the streets. This is what I do:

  • Set up tables at wedding fairs. MEET PEOPLE. Get their details. Contact them a few days later. Book a meeting to discuss their wedding. Book the wedding. Simple! But you have to get out there and put a face to your work and that ain’t always easy.
  • When I see a beautifully pregnant mamma, I give her my card. I tell her that I shoot maternity and newborns.
  • I give my card to women with engagement rings.
  • I give my card to everyone!

For every 20 people you connect with, you might only get 1 session but you’re still building your brand and now that I’ve been doing that for a couple years, some clients heard about me from more than one friend and I got the same reaction {for free} that I got from my $1,600 ad: “Oh, hey…there’s that photographer again!”

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

Some Older Comments

  • Danny August 30, 2013 07:32 am

    Thanks for the post. Nice advice.

    I am starting up wedding photography business. My website that I made is designed more as a landing page with the special promo right in the front, and everything else is secondary on a different page. My offer is really low price wise, and I hope to be able to raise the price as I get more referrals etc. I am trying to optimize my site to get as far to the top of Google as possible.

    I also have been placing ad on several free classified, also very promo centric.

    Here is my website : website

  • Melissa July 31, 2013 01:22 pm

    I'm so sorry you spent that much money. Magazine advertising is super expensive. I appreciate you sharing this and can only imagine how frustrating it was for you and how much you learned about advertising for your business.

    I really think all that's missing from you ad is a "HEY I'm open for business," and prices. Something like "Family packages with 10 prints starting $150," would have let people know what kind of prices you have so that not only do they remember that cute picture in the magazine, they associate it with the fact that they can hire you can have those photos to and the fact that it's in the magazine with all your info means they'll always know where to find it.

    Anyways, I hope your business is doing well. It's sure a cute photo.

  • Denise July 16, 2013 04:30 am

    I love how you are so open about your mistake. I had thought about posting an ad but it was too expensive. I just started my newborn photography business in November and it is booming so much that I am turning people away. The key to my success was that I went to where the clients were. I kept bugging my local hospital until they hired me as the exclusive photographer and then they let me post my work all over the hallways. Also, I dropped off $50. off sitting fee coupons to the local obgyn in the area.
    If I was a wedding photog I would make some deals with hairdressers and jewelry stores. Offer to come in and take pictures of their brides after their hair gets styled. Really get to know the people as a friend and offer something that they themselves would like. Give the hair dresser and the bride a framed picture with your logo on it. Supply a cute and creative business card holder to the hairdresser with your business cards.
    First and foremost, make sure that your work is good. When I look back at the first photos I took I cringe. I can't believe how harsh my light was or how I over photoshopped. Be honest with yourself and take criticism with an outlook of improvement.

  • Eleesa April 9, 2013 02:42 pm

    I have to agree with Dave Thielen. I am working in advertising and can clearly see that the add has no structure!!! It's nothing about being Cute..... big mistake! Strategy, structure and good campaign planing that is what works!

  • Fresno Wedding Photographer April 3, 2013 08:25 am

    Thank you for this information Elizabeth. I have learned so much from the article and reading everyone's comments. I am in a dilemma with print advertising. I know it doesn't work well (I'm also a graphic designer), but in order to get into my local bridal show, I have to advertise in the magazine. I have talked with several vendors and they say advertising in the magazine didn't work, but the bridal show did. So now it's a juggle because a little tiny ad is $1,600 that I know doesn't work, but advertising gets me into the bridal show.

  • James February 26, 2013 12:55 pm


    I like the ad just think that this should of been reinforced online with the same advertisement through your website and various social media sites. That way you could build up your brand through the ad and mention that it's in the magazine. That way more people that were within the magazines radius could link it back to you online.

    Most likely you would of seen a higher turn around.

  • Len Moser October 22, 2012 12:12 pm

    The reason your ad didn't work is because your readers aren't sure what they should do. You have a cute picture of a baby, but there is no mention of baby photography in your ad. Where is your phone number, maybe people don't want to look you up on your website? There is also no call to action. This is how I would do it:

    For the best baby photography in ____________, call______________.
    Until ____________, you can have your baby photographed by the leading baby photographer in_____ for only $______. Hurry don't be disappointed, call today at__________. Satisfaction guaranteed! And throw in a few testimonials related to baby photography. Put yourself in your clients shoes, what can you put in your ad, that will make people call? It takes more than just a pretty picture.

  • Shaun Yen September 7, 2012 03:48 am

    Good information here. I've never bought any ad space but I can attest to the benefit of spending about $50 on business cards and passing them out like crazy. My only comment ,really, is about going up to pregnant women and giving them my card saying I shoot maternity and newborns...mainly because I'm a guy...and apparently it creeps pregnant women out when MALE photographers do that. I would maybe suggest a more subtle tactic for men seeking to find new maternity clients. Maybe only approach them saying you shoot newborns and let THEM ask if you do maternity also. This takes away the whole "he just wants to shoot me half naked" thought from their minds and shows them our (male's) focus, rather, is on the art/business of photography.

  • Nicholas Woolsey March 30, 2012 12:57 am

    I'm so thankful that I read this article before I bought my 1/2 page ad in a local bridal magazine. I'm rethinking my strategy now. One thing I have found that DOES work extremely well (for me at least) is a (FREE) Craigslist ad. I posted my first few ads in the "Events Services" section of my local Craigslist, and in less than 2 months, I booked 11 wedding that I will shoot over the next six months. Just a word to the wise.

  • georgia November 11, 2011 03:51 am

    Photo is cute. i agree, the baby doesn't appear to be "drowning" as someone posted above. I just think that it is contradictory. I couldn't tell if it was a bakery ad. "glacier cake" is cute, but as a former pastry chef--it sounds like such a fantastic name for a bakery! What else is contradictory is that it was "weddings". I do not spy anything "weddingy" about this image. If you are trying to appeal to the wedding industry, I would go for a "wedding" image. If you are going for the newborn market...write "newborns", etc. I agree with what you wrote about the interaction levels of an ad, however these days so many online ads go overlooked. We are overwhelmed with SO many of them constantly. If I sent out 1600$ in postcards in my area, I can guarantee that I would be swamped with business!!
    Good luck to you. Blessings.

  • GRV August 12, 2011 06:16 am

    Any of who has not wasted money on some form of buisness generating proposition is not in business or lying. Learning from your or others' mistakes is what really matters. This applies to any buisness venture.

  • Anderson July 27, 2011 12:46 am

    You cannot click a newpaper, but you can use a QR code so users can go to your website by pointing their smartphone to the QR code.

  • Constance June 27, 2011 01:14 pm

    Never spend as much as 1,600, but I have spend money making club flyers just to pass out and think my phone would ring off the hook as a result. I can relate to it being hard to sell yourself and having your confidence shoot down in the process of finding a good system of pulling in business. My problem is building a brand. I have a signature photo - is it a good idea to build my brand from it?

    Good article, puts things in the right perspective.

  • Photographer in Indianapolis June 27, 2011 03:35 am

    Dave Thielen's response about what works in advertising could have been an article by itself. I agree that the ad wasn't very compelling. It's clear from many of the comments that before releasing an ad, one should seek honest critique from friends and family, other photographers, and maybe even past clients. Creative types needs an editor to keep them grounded in the real world.

  • Heather B June 25, 2011 03:09 am

    Print advertising can get very expensive and as you mentioned it is more about exposure and branding than actually getting work. You are much better off figuring out your target audience and printing out your own flyers and being at the right place at the right time. Figure out how much margin $ you need to make prior to booking a job and then you can also put an offer into your ad., e.g. 10% off if you book your wedding prior to xxx date. You will probably get the majority of your business from word of mouth than anything else - so be sure to build your network. Stay in touch with couples that get married who's weddings you have done - hmmm, those couples might have babies, those couples probably have other friends getting married, etc. You can send holiday cards, etc., include your business card, just so that you are on their mind. You can send out alot of personalized materials for $1600! Also, if you do have extra $ for print advertising do follow the comments that Dave Thielen left - those are good reminders for us all.

  • Stanley Moras June 24, 2011 10:14 pm

    argh someone already posted about the QR code. :/ Good to know others have the same mindset.

  • Stanley Moras June 24, 2011 10:12 pm

    In the future you can try a QR code in the corner, that will pull others from the mobile market. :) Most magazine readers like myself will not buy the mag but look though it and writ down what i liked. The QR code brings instant stats if they snap the code. :) Good luck and keep up the great work with the site!

  • 4msetr June 24, 2011 02:01 pm

    First off, it is not a mistake if you learned something; just a costly lesson. Secondly, anyone can be the best at their profession, but advertising is another profession to itself. I was in business for 22yrs in construction and found the best advertising to be word of mouth. Branded and focused on being the best at a segment of my industry, connected with real estate agent and contractors, had ads in phone book more for legitimacy. But things are much different now and instead of advertising, one has to promote them-self: facebook, tumbler, run blogs, connect through organizations and related businesses (if weddings: florist, wedding planners, bride dress store...) Exposure through local fairs, newspaper articles of new businesses, offer classes or free offerings. One has to get outside the box, things are different.
    I also agree with Steve Pfister above, you didn't get your money's worth from the magazine and they lost a client. Think of your business like that magazine and how you would like to be approached and treated. My last 10 yeas in business, I was turning people away as I was getting to much work. I burned out from it all. Successful, but not happy and near ruined my marriage. Going different route now.
    PS- your photos are very nice. My niece just had a baby, got pictures taken and she's posted them on facebook. Then photographer put together musical slideshow on her blog and its all over facebook and a big write up in local paper. Photographer went beyond what was asked and she's getting much more back. And a lot less than what was paid here.

  • Sonia June 24, 2011 12:42 pm

    I just wanted to say that I have just been into your website and I think your photos are just beautiful. Love your web... so easy to navigate. I know you lost $$$ on this ad ( personally I rather liked the ad). Your work is just lovely and sells itself. You're not going to know if you are going to lose money on what sort of advertising you choose and I suppose that is the luck of the draw. I also have lost money to "bad" advertising but you learn by your mistakes.

  • Evan June 24, 2011 12:32 pm

    Dave (the second commenter) is right on.

  • Evelyn June 24, 2011 10:04 am

    you paid $1,600 for that, seriously? I'm sorry, but it wasn't the fact that it was a 'print ad' was because the ad doesn't make you WANT to take the time to type in the url (saying people are too busy to get on the Internet and visit a website is just an excuse for your bad ad) I know many times I have seen an ad in a magazine that caught my interest , I have actually looked it up...and I'm a full time university student, so I know about having little time to do things other than study.

    There's little to no information about what you're offering, in the ad!...where is this business? what location? what packages are available? do I get a discount for mentioning this ad?

    To me it just looks like a photo, url and business name...I don't have enough information to make WANT to take time out of my busy schedule to visit the site. instead i'm going to look at the photography business on the next page that tells me how much and gives me a free sitting fee for mentioning their ad (speaking hypothetically of course)

  • Nicole June 24, 2011 09:51 am

    Thank you for your advice, I've been having trouble advertising and this article helps a lot! I'm sorry to hear your ad didn't work, it was beatiful! I will be checking out your website ;)

  • Diana Mikaels June 24, 2011 03:15 am

    I liked your website, by the way :)

    I keep curious about the glacier cake. And you may need to add some info about where "Hampshire and the surrounding area" is (sorry for my ignorance). Google tells me it could be England, or Massachusetts.

    And... keep up your excellent work, both as a photographer, and as a writer. Your sincerity is outstanding, appreciated for souls and sales.

    Love, Diana

  • Mindy June 24, 2011 02:00 am

    Thanks for sharing this, Elizabeth. Sorry that once again the "neggies" attacked. You're brave to keep writing and sharing your experience with DPS and many of us appreciate it very much. I wish people would phrase their comments more kindly to the authors of the articles here - critical feedback is fine when it is offered respectfully.

    For the person that asked about Groupon-style ads, I think they are not what they are cracked up to be and cheapen your brand. I did one at the end of last year; I did pick up some clients but not the kind of clients who are my target market.

  • Jackie, Broomall, PA June 24, 2011 01:51 am

    First of all, Simon's comments were not rude. Too many people are so hung up on being "politically correct" (mis-stating the truth to be "nice" - essentially lying - what's good or right about that!?) that the benefits of "constructive criticism" are being lost to false compliments that only encourage people to continue with their mistakes and thus make a fool of themselves. Which is better? Learn from your mistakes and succeed, or be encouraged to continue what isn't working and therefore fail?

    Otherwise, I too had issue with the ad, it makes you look, but there's something creepy about a baby seeming to be so tiny it fits into a tea cup. I imagine that was an out of scale large tea cup for a prop, but Simon is right, is the baby about to drown in foam or what? It's just a little odd.

    Otherwise, GLACIER CAKE - where are the cupcakes?? OH, it says photography. . . well then why is it called Glacier Cake? The ad actually has a cupcake kind of feel (maybe it's the dots and the fact that a tea cup relates to food), it's just missing the cupcake.

    Everything that was written in the article about the mistake in advertising and what we should do, I totally agree with, it is correct, years ago I made a mistake buying an expensive "one time" article for my business with similar results. Fortunately the magazine made an error in positioning that allowed me to get a refund and I just didn't use that form of advertising again. I did far better teaching non-credit classes at a local high school in which I'd get clients from every class.

    Anyway, back to the ad above, also there is NO PHONE NUMBER, NO Business LOCATION - even without providing a full address, a town is helpful. People want to have enough information to prompt them to take the next step of looking up the website or making a phone call. Otherwise it's human nature to think, Oh they're probably farther than I'd want to go for a studio shot. . . or whatever.

    Otherwise, about the ad, I also question the Santa or Elf hat on the baby - adorable if it was an ad in a magazine during Christmas time - I'm only hoping that is a YES - otherwise, what was the photographer thinking to post such an ad!?

    And, despite the fact that it lists "Children, families, Weddings or You" that is so subtle in the font that it gets lost - the baby is SO PROMINENT that it looks like (once you get past the cupcake thought) the specialty would be photography of children.

    I also wonder if the photographer has a "brand" color, or if the brown of the name is it. So the only recognition aspects, if that is the case, would be "Glacier CAKE photography" in it's color and font style. Nothing about the photo that would create brand recognition unless it was the only photo ever used for advertising and that sure wouldn't be a good idea, for other reasons.

    So, while all mentioned in the article is GREAT ADVICE for all, I agree with Simon, that this AD was just WRONG on many fronts. A great photo? Absolutely! But in no way representative of a photographer offering multiple specialities. That would only work if you advertised so much (prohibitive budget!!) where you became recognized for a certain style of photography but each ad/photograph would be a different subject category and therefore start to give you recognition as having multiple specialties. Not to mention avoiding the "cupcake" confusion!!

    And this is all meant as "constructive criticism" as I in no way mean to be "rude" and I don't believe Simon did either, despite being accused of being rude and harsh. It is only by having open eyes and an open mind that we can truly see what others see, and therefore make improvements where needed, progress and become successful.

  • Alina June 24, 2011 01:51 am

    I really like the photo, but I found the small font around the business name hard to read. I couldn't figure out what type of photographer you were for the longest time.

  • Da Camera Guy June 24, 2011 12:50 am

    I am learning day by day !

  • Harry, ExposedPlanet June 22, 2011 07:10 am

    Ha, I am so conditioned to block out ads on blogs, that I had to read the article 3 times over to find a link to the ad, before I noticed it was actually sitting next to the article :)

    Anyway, good for you for sharing, brave and smart. Maybe you have recouped your losses with this article!

    I think the photo is actually quite nice, but it misses the connection with some text that will lead to your site.
    If you had put your brand in smaller font and added something like:

    "I can't make your babies sleep peacefully, but making a portrait that you will cherish forever is my cup of tea. Don't wait until your baby goes to college before calling me at ... and check out our website ... for a special discount for sleepless moms and dads! or something more creative, then I think you would get some leads. But only for baby shoots of course, I would have no clue that you do weddings as well.

    Cheers, Harry

  • Elizabeth Halford June 22, 2011 05:59 am

    Wow that bar code thing is far out, dude! Love that idea.

  • Edgar June 21, 2011 02:30 pm

    I would suggest adding a "bar code" to any future print ad. People may not open magazine and type in url, but they can very easily pull out their cell phone and scan your code. Where it leads is up to you.

    Here is great site to produce your own codes.

  • Xposurepro | Digital Photo Tools June 21, 2011 09:43 am

    Not surprising .. print has been dead for a long time now. Direct mail .. dead .. newspapers .. super dead .. the yellow pages .. doesn't even smell bad anymore because it decomposed and turned to dust years ago. WOM marketing, online social networking, direct social networking, living large displays in malls, and businesses that target your demographic still rock (OBGYN office displays for newborn photographers, hair salons, etc.) Facebook is a revolutionary tool (until it's dead too .. which will happen sooner than 99.9% of photographers will admit) Staying in business takes more than keeping up with changes and being a follower .. you need to watch, study and anticipate change before it happens so you're ready to jump ... it doesn't just save you from losing money .. it makes you TONS of money.

  • Simon June 21, 2011 08:41 am

    I sort of feel the need to apologise for my initial comment. I stand by what I said, but perhaps I could have phrased it better. However, I thought it was important to get my opinion (and it is just that, my opinion) across because it differs from the lessons in the main article, and perhaps it will make people think about things beyond the scope of the main article. The truth is, there are many reasons the ad may not have worked, I listed some, the author of the article listed some, other commentators listed some - it may be all, none or some of these, and we may never know.

    Something that I feel obliged to point out, though, is that as photographers we see ourselves as creatives. When you're a creative you feel as if you're capable of doing lots of creative things. But in the same way we wouldn't expect advertising professionals to do the photography for their ads, maybe we shouldn't expect photographers to do the advertising for their photography.

  • Shirlene Higbie June 21, 2011 07:34 am

    I love your image of the baby...:) However about your Ad most of the comments have been right on. I am concerned thou that your business will always suffure due too the name that you have chosen. It is just to confusing as to what you are trying sell. Please don't take offense, just think about it. It is never to late to make a change....:)

  • Dewan Demmer June 21, 2011 02:03 am

    I learned a long time ago that printed media advertising is about repetition, not unlike web advertising really, and both can be very effective when aimed at the right market .
    Any form about of advertising is about repetition and position, get a your ad on the right space ( webpage or magazine ) to the right audience and repeat.
    The above advert I would say would be best focused in a pregnancy magazines, especially with repetition.

    Ah well ... I have even taken and used my own advice and it would seem to be paying off .

  • Kortnee Rae June 21, 2011 01:25 am

    I definitely agree with Dave. Your business name is least important. You want to show what you offer, give a special to give urgency on the deal, and then give your business name. I work at a clothing boutique and when we advertise, we will pick a brand, feature a photo of their top selling item/items, print big what the product is (Trina Turk would equal 'Photocreativity' or 'Wedding Photographer' in this case) and then we show the name of the store so the customer will know who to contact and where to go. This works. You just have to make the customer want your product.
    I love your ad. The photo is whimsical and fun, I definitely would say try to ad a bit about why you're different. Like 'Specializes in capturing whimsical moments in all ages.' So people think, "Wow, THEY are going to get my real smile or my babies true giggles and laughs and capture that for me to remember forever!"
    It also helps to have experience with writing. I know some magazines offer "word-smiths" to help with wording to help entice an emotion in your customer so they feel they really must call.
    Great article! I enjoyed it. :)

  • DiDi June 21, 2011 01:14 am

    Cute ad. I can sorta relate-I spent only a few hundred on a quarter page ad in a local magazine many, many years ago. Received NO customers, only people who scoured the magazine looking to build their own client base. Basically, I paid for sales pitches by the dozen. I didn't appreciate that! One sucker called-I was wise to them at this point, so I put a sales pitch on him and he hung up.

    I think this is great advice, and thanks for offering up your pain as a learning tool, Elizabeth.

    I think Simon above is snarky, and CONGRATS on the new baby Joe! Wonder if folks will be targeting his email to be his baby photog. :DD

  • Emmy June 21, 2011 12:24 am

    I think it's a very adorable ad, quite honestly.

    Perhaps this would have been a good optimization of a QR code - your 'call to action' for those reading. Yes, most folks don't understand what a QR code is but a quick line of text next to it has been working for a lot of business owners I know. "Scan this code with your smart phone's scanner ap for more information/special reader coupon". Coupon mention usually equals action on the reader.

    Print advertising does work but those creating them need to think more technical and incorporate the internet these days. Gone are the days of just slapping in a website URL. With QR codes and smartphones, success can be had in print.

  • Grant McAllister June 20, 2011 11:23 pm

    On the other hand you did get a good blog post out of this, taught us a few things, learned yourself and I'm sure your website got a goto bit of traffic from this article ;)

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer June 20, 2011 11:18 am

    I found this post a good example of how to better improve one's advertising along with the benefits and many negatives of passive, print advertising. Many of people's comments were insightful as well.

    My first impression of the ad in this post: this person is a cake photographer...second thought, cake photography is really specialized! Then upon looking closer, which I would not have done if I saw this ad in a magazine, I saw the words wedding, then much later saw portraits.

    Here is an example of an ad I created myself using Pages for DSLR Photography Lessons:

    That ad obviously runs on my website, is posted to Craigslist several times a week (has lead to dozens of bookings) and is printed and posted on local bulletin boards at the post office, natural food store, etc.

    I will agree with what other people have commented, the most effective way to build awareness and get leads and eventually bookings (other than via random web searches) is to physically meet people and get your (should be outstanding) business card into the hands of people you have connected with who will then become sales people for you.

    However, a lot of my business in 2011 has come from Google searches finding my website. The pages they find initially are mostly specific blog pages. I write multiple blog posts each week. They are mostly being written to grab Google's attention, i.e. I put "St. Petersburg Commercial Photography" into the title of blog posts for commercial photography done in St. Petersburg rather than just saying, "Photo shoot at Parkshore Grille." I write the posts for the few readers I have and with hopes of building a larger audience, but over the past 6 months I am definitely mindful of writing for Google results first and foremost.

    Having a blog built into your website is very powerful. You cannot put up 200 menu options in the site's menu bar, but you can put up 200 blog posts about any number of topics that will all lead to your site.

  • Johnp June 20, 2011 11:01 am

    I think the ad was good but wonder if it may have been succesful if it included your own name and a phone number. That would have made it more personal and therefore maybe more applicable for the market you were aming at. As you say a web address is only good if someone can click on it.
    Good lesson anyhow and thanks for passing it on.

  • Anna Gay June 20, 2011 03:40 am

    Thank you for this article, Elizabeth! Very helpful to me at this point, because I have been toying with the idea of advertising locally. Sorry you had such a bad experience, but thank you for sharing it with us and what you have learned - turning lemons into lemonade!

  • Iris June 20, 2011 12:59 am

    I am so sorry that you had such a bad experience; thank you for sharing your experience with us. Yes, it is very hard to get your name out there; especially if you work full-time in a different job. My clients have come from other clients; referrals seem to work for me. It has been a long journey and sometimes I want to give up; but it starts to pay off.

  • steve pfister June 19, 2011 11:46 pm

    Sorry to hear about your misfortune with print media. This was not your fault but the fault of the publication for not guiding you through the process of how to write a successful ad. I have over 20 years of advertising experience the last 6 I have run my own publications. The first thing I do is explain how the process works. I have had new clients come on board with an ad they have written themselves and I have politely pointed out how to improve it. After all I want my clients to be successful. Firstly they will come back again and secondly they will tell other business friends good stories not bad ones like this. I have built my business on referrals I hate to see people not get the right advice and waste good money. As it reflects badly on all print media we are not all the same.

    I could sit here and pull your ad apart. But basically you have just put out a brand building ad and not a very good one at that .Yes nice photo but…. You don’t even have a contact number in there. Small businesses have to make every ad count to make you money.

    If you would like my e book for FREE on how to write a successful ad I am more than happy to share it with you, and anyone else who wants to know how to get the best from their marketing. The same techniques are used for letters and emails. You need to stand out, and get noticed. You can write to

  • Prasad June 19, 2011 11:16 pm

    Sorry to know that your Ads didn't work. Just a suggestion you may like to explore... Try Google AdWords. I will also suggest to have local listings on Google. It does help.

    Make sure that if you have a local presence then choose area as 30-40 miles from your location for internet adverts on Google. Check Link :

    I hope it helps. Wish you all the best...

    In case you can't set up ... Give me a shout... would like to help a few (Depends on the number of people asking for help ;-)

    PS : I took to Photography as "leisure" activity a few months back and I never expected that I can be of help (Due to my little knowledge on photography as of now) to the forum members .... But I am happy that my internet advertising expertise can be some help to the members...

  • Cathy June 19, 2011 10:39 pm

    Dear Elizabeth- When you become transparent you open yourself up to every critic in the world. Your openness is sooo rare and I dare say your few critics would never become vulnerable the way you do knowing the risk to help the many people that you have. It is so refreshing to see someone teach others from their lessons learned.
    I love your photography. It is creative and different. The photo you chose examplified that and will eventually pay off. You've helped many people. Keep being vulnerable; don't let anyone discourage you. Keep helping people, and most of all, keep up the good work girl!
    Well done- Cathy

  • JEF June 19, 2011 10:28 pm

    The printed ad can link to your web site if you used a QR code.

  • Will McA June 19, 2011 09:15 pm

    Excellent article, these are all things I've been learning over the last few months... fortunately I haven't gone as far as you did with advertising in print media because I've been lucky enough to have good advice. (I'm in commercial photography and the guy at the local magazine I contacted to ask about advertising prices was honest enough to warn me that for their prices I was paying mainly to reach people who weren't business owners and therefore not potential customers).

    I think advertising doesn't always equal brand recognition as opposed to sales. In your case you'd gone for a 'high concept' as others have pointed out, which doesn't necessarily equate to the more 'mainstream' photography which I imagine (may be wrong) that the majority of your clients want, and all you put on the ad was your business name, the types of photography you do and your web-address. It might have been different if you'd made a collage of more 'mainstream' photographs and a bit more about what your services are.

    It's a good point you make about print advertising not being 'clickable' though. When advertising you kind of have to assume that the people you're advertising to, even if they were looking at photographers with a view to hire, wouldn't bother to put you on their shortlist if they had to go to the trouble of finding the magazine again, loooking for your ad, then taking it over to the computer and typing in your address themselves.

  • Steve Pontbriand June 19, 2011 09:14 pm

    "I mistakenly thought I was advertising for sales when really, I was advertising for brand recognition. Advertising doesn’t directly equal sales or money. It equals “oh, hey…there’s that photographer again”. Great if you want to build a reputation and get your brand in front of people’s eyes. Not great if you want to book sessions"

    That is so true...

  • Peter June 19, 2011 07:10 pm

    I'm not supprised that you did not get any interest from your advert.
    While the baby in the cup is "cute", the background is ill thought out, (thats if there was any thought put into it at all).
    Have you thought about rebranding, Glacier Cake photography doesn't work for me. I am thinking what on earth is Glacier Cake. Even Elizabeth Halford Photography sounds better than Glacier Cake.
    What is Glacier Cake

  • Johan June 19, 2011 05:22 pm

    "When I see a beautifully pregnant mamma, I give her my card. I tell her that I shoot maternity and newborns."

    WARNING: May lead to a big fat lip if the woman is not actually pregnant but just large.

  • wal June 19, 2011 02:40 pm

    the point that you are making is really clear and true.. I myself would find it hard to remember and click on the website link. however as a cutomer, looking for service.... i would made the effort anyway.. the ad is really nice... as for branding recognition. I really believed the add would be more effective had it been continous for a few month.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Brad June 19, 2011 02:28 pm

    I feel your pain. I made the same mistake with a local glossy magazine. I did it for about 6 months with half page ads and never recouped my losses.

  • Clarissa Nicole June 19, 2011 02:12 pm

    First of all, I don't think the ad was horrible. I, in fact think it's cute and I can tell the demographic you were trying to reach. That's not why I posted this.

    This is a great article. I just had a discussion about this because I'm trying to get myself out there but let's face it, I don't have the money to risk for a hit or miss.

    I love the advice you gave. Thank you again for typing this up.

  • Bobbi June 19, 2011 12:24 pm

    Do you think websites such as groupon or whatever your local daily deal website is worth the loss of profit? I think the exposure would be good, but not sure about repeat business at full price.

  • moe2244 June 19, 2011 12:08 pm

    As a Dad, i gotta agree. I think the picture is super cute. You'd have to be one of those over protective parents to think a kid was drowning in that pic lol.
    Anyway, I also agree with your idea that a smaller ad more often has a greater effect in print. Not always immediate, but pays dividends down the road.
    Thanks for sharing.

  • Rachel June 19, 2011 11:40 am

    Thank you so, so much for sharing this and I agree that the ad is ADORABLE and PRECIOUS and PERFECT. And if you had a million dollars to run it again and again it would make a great impression. This was a very helpful article.

  • Through the Lens of Kimberly Gauthier, Photography Blog June 19, 2011 11:39 am

    Fantastic advice and great job putting together the idea that people can't click on a print ad - I've never thought that way and it's such a great thought. And thanks for sharing the 3 months thought and what you would do differently. Very helpful!

  • Caetano June 19, 2011 11:36 am

    that's why i'm studying advertising and marketing...
    nice article

  • reggie June 19, 2011 11:34 am

    I disagree with the 1st poster Simon. It's not a horrible ad. In fact, it's cute and will appeal to your market. It's not high concept either. Many baby photographers do creative shots like this and it's not new. It's only right that you show this picture if that's the kind of photography you do. Lastly, you don't need a call to action. In this ad, it's immediately clear that your advertising a photography service.

    I agree with your points though. One ad won't change anything. With a limited budget, you will be better off spending your money in cheaper and more cost-effective marketing efforts.

  • nik June 19, 2011 11:02 am

    maybe it has something to do with the picture, because the picture that you have posted is some what like not that connecting easily to the readers.. because as far as i know on ads if its pictures we need to make it easy for the readers to imagine or understand what are we saying..

    my idea if im going to ask if simple.. "collage" try make a collage simple from collective events.. weddings, and any occations.. and a guy at the middle wearing "cameras" .. yes many camera to emphasize that you are captured what happened something like that.. and i can imagine that anyone can understand it easily..

    : )

  • Kenneth Prater June 19, 2011 10:52 am

    What an interesting and informative article. I will be thinking over the points that were made. I also commend you Elizabeth for being brave enough to put this out there. Surely there are plenty of photographers doing just this same thing and losing out many potential clients.

    Simon slammed you hard though.....ouch! But lets not forget that the honest opinion is what makes us think about what we produce in different perspectives to improve what we consider our work. I know his opinion was probably more of a professional critique than anything but it sure was rough.

    Good article and Thanks.

  • THE aSTIG @ June 19, 2011 10:36 am

    Wow thanks for sharing.

    I do car photography for my website

    It serves as my portfolio as well. But I always think about expanding my services, and advertising. But good thing you shared this as this will really help decision making. Thanks again!

  • Shannon June 19, 2011 09:52 am

    I've actually been thinking lately how I can bring in more business and one of the things I was looking at was newspaper and magazine ads. I'm so glad that I saw this before I committed to anything. Its let me step back and look at my plan again.


  • Joe Shelby June 19, 2011 09:49 am

    I agree the photo was more catchy than "risky". I thought it was kinda cute (but then again, i'm in a "cute" phase right now as my wife just gave birth to my daughter yesterday ;-) ).

    Basically, what you're describing here is the difference between Sales and Marketing. Sales can happen without marketing, but marketing is about creating a "pipeline" - working out backwards from the event and the sale to what led to the sale negotiation and using that data to create "campaigns' (email blitzes (but not too spammy), public sales events like the wedding faire you attended, online and print advertising - look at add exchange options as an alternative to paying out the cash), promotions here on the blog, getting (nagging) current/recent customers to give you referrals, managing and improving the quality of any photos you have on stock-photo sites) that will drive more people to the final stages of sales (view the website gallery, like what they see, give you the call).

    The campaign increase the number of people that get to the "what". Consider (hypothetical numbers) that you can handle 5 "events" a month (but you're only getting 1). To get that 1, you talked on the phone with 5 in the month leading up to it. Extrapolating, that would imply that you would need to actually get 25 people on the phone to get the 5 'yes's' to fill the schedule. Campaigns are how you direct people to get those 25 phone calls.

    Campaigns that build are those that take from one to the next - attend the wedding faires not to make the sale (if you get it, consider it a bonus) but rather to collect leads - to collect names and email addresses of interested people (if they're interested in what you have, email to them is no longer spam). Then work out an email (or set of emails) that personalize what you're offering in a little more detail to get them back to the website, then let the website lead to the phone call ("opportunity") which is where the sales process kicks in.

    The other thing to do is increase networking - selling indirectly by getting referrals from the *venue* (one that was the site of an event you shot) or with other vendors at the faires you mention.

  • Naomi Creek June 19, 2011 09:30 am

    Definitely a brand recognition ad. Lovely picture :) I would have gone the smaller more regular ad and also added a special or coupon type thing - 20% off or 2 free prints for eg.

  • Keith June 19, 2011 09:09 am

    I gotta agree with the person who said the ad is terrible. There are so many things wrong with it as an ad. As a photo it's fine. Nothing special. But not terrible. But I'm guessing from the hard to read copy you're a wedding photographer. Why not use a wedding photo in that case. Why a baby? In a cup? With a Santa hat? Really. If I was looking for a wedding photographer I wouldn't look twice at this. the name is not great either. It doesn't say weddings or photography and the call to action is badly positioned and hard to read. And finally, and most importantly, your biggest mistake is the thinking 'all photographers are creatives'. What does this even mean? Just because you can technically use a camera does not mean you are a designer or know the first thing about advertising.

  • Dot McQueen June 19, 2011 08:51 am

    @Simon This shot may not be everyone's choice of pose, however this style of photography is very, very popular and it is a great quality photograph. Why do you have to be so rude in your comments? It is, after all, only an opinion which could be stated much more pleasantly.
    @Elizabeth Thanks for the advice and sharing of your experience so others might not fall into the same hole. Appreciated :-)

  • Lovelyn June 19, 2011 08:51 am

    Thanks for being welling to let others learn from your mistakes. The ad is very cute. I think you're right about needing to run it more than once.

  • Sarah Jane June 19, 2011 08:39 am

    Business sense is definitely the area in which I suffer the most. It is the scariest part of photography to me because it is so foreign to the way my brain works. I enjoyed reading about what happened with your business and your ad -- I found it very easy to relate to and I thank you for writing a post that illustrates how we can learn from your mistake. This speaks to me way more than reading a post about "how to learn from all my many accomplishments / look what I can do" etc. etc. As for people commenting on the various aspects of the photograph (which I think is good, by the way), I think they may be missing the point of the article.

  • Ved Upadhyay June 19, 2011 08:33 am

    Great info, thanks for sharing the experience it'll help a lot of people out there. i hope you recuperate your $$ soon

  • RayeAnne June 19, 2011 07:54 am

    Silly, but I actually "read" the advertisement as a possible photography business that may be tied to cake photography.
    Also, not knowing what time of year this was ran, I see it as a seasonal (maybe Christmas time) ad.
    MHO. Thank you for sharing your lesson learned, so that others possibly will not make the same mistake.

  • Jen Johnson June 19, 2011 07:52 am

    I think the ad was quite adorable...for a different audience. Speaking mostly as a parent of 2 children, if I saw that ad in a magazine brought home from school, I would think, "Oh, a wedding/baby photographer. Well, I'm done with babies, and married 15 years..." and toss it aside. So to your advice above I'd ad "Know your audience for those quarter ads and design accordingly; in the example you gave, one of your adorable children's shot would probably have worked much better.

  • Photographer Glenwood Springs CO June 19, 2011 07:34 am

    I've done pretty much everything you say. I give my card out to everyone; pregnant women, women with babies, etc. I've done this for 4 yrs - not one single call from that. There are not wedding shows around here. Everyone who is getting married tells me they are using their friend/family member because they have a nice camera. I'll keep trying, but it is frustrating. I try to educate the people as well, but they always say "it's good enough for me". They see these awful images on fb and figure that must be good photography, so they don't seem to see the difference. Anyway, good luck to you.

  • Ricky June 19, 2011 07:29 am

    What a great article, and I totally feel for you, but it's a hard lesson to learn but learn you did. great sharing with us, so we don't make the same mistakes. Excellent job

  • Valerie Jardin June 19, 2011 07:24 am

    On the contrary I think the ad was catchy and sweet. Such a beautiful smile on an adorable baby. I do agree with the repetition though. Three consecutive ads minimum to get the calls. I used to advertise in print and I was always surprised at how many people actually hold on to the ad and call you months later (I'm sure you'll recuperate your $$$ eventually :-))
    Also, true that your need to interact with people to get business. I am a food and interior/architecture photographer and most of my best clients are people I started a conversation with at trade shows or even while shopping or eating out! Thanks for the article Elizabeth, you will probably help a few people save $$$ with your good advice.

  • Rosemary June 19, 2011 07:21 am

    As a mother of 5 this image did NOT evoke thoughts of a drowning baby--but yes, I see how it might. I liked the image right away as it said creativity, craft mastery, and a sense of humor ; )

  • Dave Thielen June 19, 2011 07:11 am

    There is a very simple formula for advertising that works, and no it's not doing it on line so they can click on a URL.

    Advertising needs the following:

    1 - A Headline - the headline must reach out to your target market, grab them by the throat, slam them up against the wall, and yell in their face like a Marine Drill Sargeant - READ ME. The above ad not only doesn't have an attention getting headline - it makes one of the single worst small business mistakes - it uses the business name as the headline. Nobody cares who you are until they know that you have something that they want.

    2 - An Offer - once you have their attention, you need to make an offer to get the customer off their couch and on the phone. Again - there is no offer in this ad - not even an implied one.

    3- An Urge to Action - This tells the customer what you want them to do next - Pick up the phone and call, Get in your car and drive on down. (Hint - you don't want them going to your website. You don't want them sending an email. You want to be able to actually talk to a real person). Again in this ad - no urge to action - nothing telling me what you want me to do.

    4 - A deadline. If you do not include a deadline - then the customer has no urgency to get it done. They will put it over in the To_Do pile, and then completely forget about it. Again missing from the ad - even if I am a potential customer that is sold simply on a pretty picture - I have no reason to do it today. I can wait until next week, next month, next year, over maybe even the next decade.

    5 - and you notice this is last - because it is the least important thing in the ad. Your business name and contact information. Why is that the least important - because if you have done the rest correctly, you could leave this information off entirely and people will move heaven and earth to track you down.

    If you do the above, then you will have an ad that will make the cash register ring.

    If you miss one of the steps - depending on which one - you will still get a response - just not what it could have been.

    Miss two of the steps - only if you are lucky and they are desperate will you get a response.

    Miss three or more of the steps - you might as well go down to your local pub and spend the money there. You will have more to show for it.

    There is more - but it goes beyond what you need to create an effective ad.


  • Simon June 19, 2011 06:56 am

    I'm sorry to say this but one of the reasons the ad may not have worked is it's pretty horrible. It sort of looks like a baby that's fallen asleep and could possibly drown. That's not a thought I'd want to leave prospective clients with. It's also high concept, which I would imagine goes beyond the majority of your business - that's not to say you shouldn't "display your best" but there's a lot to be said for promoting the sorts of services people might actually buy.

    And you're right regarding the brand recognition vs sales. There's no real call to action and the services you offer aren't immediately clear, so it's clearly a brand recognition thing, and you may see the benefits further down the road.