How NOT to Become a Brand Ambassador as a Photographer

I’ve often received emails from photographers who have approached my little brand, 3 Legged Thing with offers of “collaboration”. There’s is nothing wrong with making an approach at all, and while I rarely act upon these unsolicited approaches, they can, occasionally, yield gold.

The problem is that we live in what is rapidly becoming an “entitlement society”, whereby some of the people emailing me cannot possibly conceive the notion of rejection, or the vague understanding that collaboration is a two-way street and not a ticket to free products.

So, for those of you who are advancing their careers forward, here’s the process from this side of the table, so you can understand what it is to be on the receiving end of between 50 and 80 emails a day.

Firstly, emailing the CEO is an epic mistake. I have a business to run, staff on 4 continents, products in 40 countries, 18 products currently in development, and a really annoying dog sitting behind my desk, and you want me to read 11 paragraphs of self-promotion before browsing through one of 6 online portfolios that you’ve presented to me? You’re dreaming. And your email just got ignored. I won’t even respond because I simply do not have time to wade through how awesome you think you are.

Secondly, you’ve missed the point of a collaboration. Put yourself in my shoes and ask yourself “what’s in it for me?” — if you can answer this honestly, and give a response that’s worthy of some thought, then it may well be worth pushing forward. But if your answer lacks substance, and is whimsically centered around the word “exposure”, it also lacks justification.

What I Would Want Out of a Brand Ambassador

The point of collaboration is that I provide products and the brand ambassador provides the creative, the reach, and the hyperbole. Think of it as an investment from me. I put something in, and over a period of time, I would need to see a return on that investment.

So, in order to qualify to even be considered, you need:

1. To be excellent at what you do – being a great photographer is the bare minimum.

2. To have the reach to make this collaboration work. I would usually look for people that have upwards of 100k followers across all social channels. That probably sounds very high, but there are literally thousands and thousands of photographers that sit above this threshold. I created a product that’s made my brand a global player in camera support technology, so why should I lower the bar? It’s not the be-all-and-end-all but it’s a pretty big tick in the box.

3. To have a good narrative. What’s the backstory? What is it that defines them, both creatively and personally?

I’ve worked, and continue to work, with some of the most exciting photographers on the planet. Each of them has a unique story and has exceptional talent. One or two don’t have the social reach, but they do have things like Pulitzer Prizes, so all in all a good investment for me.

As a general rule, we have so many applicants that we now have an automated response email that lays out the criteria in black and white. We make an explicit request not to contact us again unless they conform to the parameters detailed. You won’t be surprised to hear that 80% of people we send this email to reply anyway.

Here’s a quick heads up: If you can’t be bothered to read the guidelines, I can’t be bothered to read your email. And before you go into a massive strop, as many applicants do, here are a few things to consider:

1. Is having a tantrum going to endear you to me? Of course it isn’t. If you can’t cope with rejection, you’re not ready to be put on a pedestal by any brand. The moment a brand promotes a photographer, they need to grow a thick skin. We live in a world where trolls lurk around every corner, with cutting remarks, some of which are valid, and some just for the sake of being disruptive.

2. Have you looked at our Pro Team? Can you look at yourself in the mirror and honestly say you’re at least as talented as my team? Here’s the benchmark:

Deanne Fitzmaurice, Pulitzer Prize winner.

Kirsty Mitchell, author of Wonderland and the photographer behind the most successful Kickstarter book campaign in history.

Paul Harries, world-renowned music photographer with two books published on US metal giants, Slipknot

Brooke Shaden, award-winning fine art photographer with almost a million followers on Facebook alone

Leon Neal, staff photographer for Getty images who’s had unprecedented access to people like Barrack Obama, most of the Royals etc…

This is the standard by which everyone is judged. Also, I consider these people to be my friends. I’ve built this brand from nothing and I’m very precious about who represents it. If you already think I’m an idiot for rejecting you once, you’re not going to be on my Christmas list, let alone my Pro Team.

3. Are you passionate about the product or brand to which you aspire to collaborate with? I mean REALLY passionate? Do you know how many generic emails I get from aspiring ambassadors? Most of them aren’t even addressed to us as a brand – they’re just “Dear blah blah, here is a ton of info all about me”.

Seriously, if you’re sending out 1,000 emails to 1,000 brands, thinking that the scatter-gun approach will yield results on basic stats, you’re wrong. Your email will be junked, and if other brands have servers like ours, once I’ve hit junk, you’ll never be able to email us again.

Generic emails are lazy, insulting and incredibly arrogant to believe that you’re so special that we’re lucky enough to get spammed by you.

So, with that in mind…

My Guide to Applying to Brands to be an Ambassador

1. Address it to someone. LinkedIn is a great resource for finding influential people in companies. If you can’t find someone, at least try something eye-catching: “Dear Favourite person at Awesomeness.com…”

2. Get to the point. If you’ve got another sponsor, start your email with “I’m a brand ambassador for ______”. That gets our attention instantly. That said, you’d do well to get them to do the intro. That holds way more weight.

3. Make a case. “I love your products, and have a huge following….” but keep it brief. Assume I’m reading 50 – 80 a day.

4. Do you even use a tripod? If you knew how many people sent me messages saying “I don’t use one right now, but if I had yours I’d use it all the time”. *insert gif of Jean Luc Picard / William Riker double facepalm*

5. Show me the stats. “Youtube – 80k subs, FB – 70k followers, IG – 25k followers”. I don’t need a flowery email to see that you’ve got reach if you give me stats like this. Don’t forget to add the links.

6. Add ONE picture. And make it the best one. And here’s something I think people get really wrong: Your best picture is usually the one that’s had most engagement unless that happens to be a picture of an elephant playing with kittens that you took on an iPhone. People quite often have incredible images that have had millions of interactions, but they’re so bored of the image they don’t use it. Mahoosive error. Also, keep it under 1MB. Not because the interwebs can’t handle it, but because lots of corporate organizations have filters for email attachments over a certain size, so any bigger and the email may never be seen.

7. Add ONE link to ONE online portfolio or album. If I’ve made it this far into the email, I may well want to see more. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to hear that I get several emails a day without any images or links!

8. Just because your portfolio is full of half naked ladies or Aston Martins, don’t assume I’ll look at it, because I probably won’t.

What Happens If You Get Rejected?

For the most part, people don’t respond once rejected, which is fine. I understand the disappointment. Some people email back and say “thanks for taking the time to read my email” or similar — I like those people. They get it. They asked, I said no, they totally agree that that is my inalienable right.

Then there are those people… The number of meltdowns I have to deal with is increasing, and it’s just ridiculous. Here is the brutal truth (I’ll make it a bit more palatable shortly):

  • You are not entitled to my products for free
  • I am entitled to say no
  • I am not obliged to respond at all or provide any feedback
  • You being a “pro” makes no difference. Who do you think I sell to?
  • You being an influencer elsewhere makes no difference if I don’t like your work
  • You being famous makes no difference
  • Having mutual friends or acquaintances makes no difference

But here’s what really happens if you have a total tantrum and start chucking your toys out of the baby carriage. I may shame you on social media. The moment you cross that line, call me names, use abusive or aggressive language you lose any entitlement to anonymity anywhere. I won’t put up with it. You came to us because you thought our products were worthy of you, so acting like a child and telling me how s**t we are, and how you could do ten times better elsewhere is really more of a reflection of you.

Oh, and if by now you’re screaming “you can’t talk to me like that, you’re the CEO!” at the screen, then you’ve misunderstood who I am. I’m not just the CEO / toilet cleaner / coffee boy. I’m the founder. I’m the person that poured his life and soul into this brand, who took it from concept to a global leader in camera support technology, who worked 100 hours a week, took risks and spent thousands on infrastructure and R&D… but more than that I’m a human, and I have as much right to righteous indignation as anyone.

If you wouldn’t want a room full of people to hear what you’re saying, then just don’t say it. The fact that other brands don’t respond how I do is entirely up to them. I don’t believe I have to toe the line just because I am representing an organization. Manners cost nothing, and neither does humility.

And don’t give me any of that “the customer is always right” stuff. You’re not a customer. You’re scrounging for freebies, and while that aspect doesn’t bother me at all, the fact is, that you genuinely think you’re entitled. You are not.

So, here’s my advice for those of you that are pre-disposed to meltdowns after rejection: Stop asking for free s*** and you’ll save yourself a lot of pain.

Brand Ambassadors are worth their weight in gold. They are influencers, cajolers, inspirers and dedicated users. They represent this brand, and as such they represent me. They give back, often more than they get, because they are passionate, enthusiastic and proud. They are not aimless wanderers who fleetingly pause with hands held open, like Oliver Twist, begging for something. They have earned their right to choose who they represent.

It’s a two-way street. If you’ve got the talent, the attitude and the work ethic, there’s nothing you can’t aspire to.

If you’re a pretentious jerk, there’s the door.

Also, I used the word “mahoosive” earlier and the computer didn’t give me any wiggly lines. What’s that about?


About the author: Danny Lenihan is the founder and CEO of 3 Legged Thing. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. Prior to his career in entrepreneurship, Lenihan was also a comedian, actor, and musician. You can connect with him on his website, Twitter, and Facebook. This article was also published here.

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