Developing an Email Marketing Strategy for Your Photo Business

Managing an email list can be a complicated task, especially for a photographer who has many different types of customers, where a one-size-fits-all email won’t cut it. Services do exist, however, to make this much easier – but you’ll still need to come up with a sound emailing strategy.

The free report, “Email Marketing for Photographers“, was recently created by the PhotoShelter Research Team, and it contains really valuable information for any photographer looking to improve their email marketing, outreach, and communication.


Mike Shipman runs Blue Planet Photography, and he was featured in that report. I decided to contact him again, and ask a few follow-up questions related to his email strategy.

But first, some background: Back in 2004, Shipman started by using a template built into Microsoft Outlook. The effort wasn’t flexible, and involved a lot of extra work, so he eventually turned to Mailchimp, an Email Service Provider.

Shipman, a photographer who also runs his own photo workshops, segments his email list into four different newsletter groups: The Blue Planet Newsletter (photo tips, reviews, and photo-related information); Workshops and Trips (for upcoming photo workshops and trips); PhotoCrawl (for announcing local photo excursions); and Gallery Show Announcements.

A user can sign up for any, or all, of the newsletter using a subscription form on his website.

Shipman has a few interesting challenges – being a photographer, he wants to reach editors, photo buyers, and people interested in hiring him for assignments. But he also runs photo workshops and tours that are of interest to a totally different audience.

To reach both segments, he relies on email marketing – and has learned a lot over the past few years. He was kind enough to provide honest answers to my questions. (Thanks, Mike.)

1) You break your email lists into several smaller groups. What are the benefits in doing so? And is this harder to manage?

Each group, or list (there are 4) corresponds to a particular newsletter, and each newsletter addresses a particular subject, so it allows subscribers to choose the subject(s) that interest them most. It keeps each newsletter topical and not rambling (that’s the theory, anyway). Three of the newsletters are really just announcements, anyway; upcoming workshops and classes, my bi-monthly PhotoCrawl, and upcoming gallery shows. Splitting this information out keeps my monthly newsletter from being really large and unwieldy for people to read through.

In the monthly, there is an informational article about a photo tip, equipment review, my thoughts on various photography-related things, whatever is at the top of my head when I sit down to write it. I also include a side gallery of recent photos I’ve made. There are links to the content from the other newsletters, but no lengthy descriptions. These newsletters typically go out to former students and purchasers of my art work, individuals interested in my workshops or maybe even what I have to say in my articles, anyone really who wants to subscribe.

As far as managing these different groups, or lists, it’s pretty easy to do through MailChimp. I set up the different lists and they appear on the subscribe form on my website and Facebook. So an individual can select for themselves which newsletter(s) they want to receive. Each subscriber can also unsubscribe from one or all newsletters easily, if they no longer want to receive one, or want to add one. That’s the benefit of using a good service provider. Managing lists was the biggest problem I had when I was trying to do it all from my computer. A good provider gives you the right tools.

Sending them out is easy, too, by selecting the appropriate group to send to when I’m ready to push it out the door. Management of the lists is basically by the individual subscribers, who come and go (subscribe and unsubscribe) on their own.

For business-related clients I send promo materials through Agency Access.

2) What types of emails tend to get a better response rate? Does certain kinds of content work better? Have you experimented with different headlines/subject lines?

My monthly newsletter tends to get a better response rate. I think this is primarily because of the changing content (the article). I haven’t actually written down the hard numbers, but my sense is, regarding whether certain content works better, I tend to have more unsubscribes (one or two at max) and subscribers if I write an opinion that goes against conventional ‘photography thinking’. I don’t know if that’s coincidence or if I’m just more aware of it because of the topic. I will write about a Photoshop tip, camera technique, or equipment review now and then, but my personal opinion pieces seem to get the most responses.

The other newsletters are strictly announcements, more or less, so the response rate would be an increase or decrease in workshop/class registrations or participation in a PhotoCrawl or attendance at a gallery show (that’s an infrequent newsletter). For these newsletters, I haven’t noticed an increase or decrease in responses.

The subject lines I use are pretty generic, i.e. Blue Planet Photography May Newsletter, or Blue Planet Photography Workshops. I don’t want to try to be cute or ‘catch-phrasey’, just straight forward about the content. Honestly, I can’t think of anything more catchy (and not trite or ‘sales’ like) that I could use that would be consistent and applicable every month or whenever I sent a newsletter out. A consistent and accurate subject line, I think, makes it easy for subscribers to recognize it, it’s regular so they expect it, and that makes them more prone to open it and read it because they know what it is. At least that’s my opinion based on how I’d like email newsletters to be sent to me. If the subject line changes every time, I have to be able to recognize it’s from someone I’m interested in receiving things from. But, if I don’t, it’s likely to go unread and immediately or at some point into the delete folder.

I’m looking into redesigning my newsletter template to be wider to accommodate the more prevalent use of wider screen resolutions, and changing the graphical look. But the subject lines will likely remain the same or very similar. Like I said, I’m not as creative when it comes to thinking up a catchy phrase and I don’t want my newsletters to be seen as a sales pitch. At least for my monthly newsletter, the content I provide is what I like to see in newsletters and what I expect to get from a newsletter.

Newsletters I receive that only include links to content or are simply announcements don’t resonate with me (unless I’ve subscribed to a strictly announcement-style newsletter). So, my hope is I’m providing something of use to my subscribers (I’ve heard from a few that it does, so I’ll keep doing it), it helps let them get to know me through my writing, and keeps them informed about what I’m up to just in case they’d like to join me on a workshop or trip someplace.

3) You use a paid service, MailChimp, that provides lots of cool stats. What kinds of statistics do you find most useful?

I do use MailChimp, and Agency Access. I look at the opens and clicks mainly (I like the click map that shows the links with the most clicks in each newsletter). I can also look at campaign performance over time. There’s a seasonal fluctuation, and since I haven’t changed my subject lines (which don’t indicate content other than generally) changes in open rates aren’t related to content. Click rates, on the other hand, could be related to content. So, I’ll look at click rates and adjust content by providing more or less information, better description, more easily seen links, links to outside content or to my blog for further discussion.

Site Analytics360 is also pretty nice. Tied into my Google Analytics, it allows me to see the influence my email campaigns have on visits to my website relative to other referrers like search engines. I also auto tweet newsletters and Site Analysis shows if that has any effect on visitation and clicks. There’s also a world map graphic that shows where people are located who have opened a particular newsletter. The map shows me the reach my newsletter has and if I was going to target a workshop newsletter, for example, to a particular region of the planet, I could see how many people there might be in that area who are reading my newsletters and determine if it would be worthwhile to send them something specific.

Overall, the stats and tools I have available to me now so overshadows the capabilities I had before when I was trying to do it all myself. I can concentrate on the newsletter content which, I think, has made them more useful to the people receiving them.



Speaking of email, you should also get your hands on Email Marketing for Photographers, another FREE guide that will teach you how to turn your client emails into an effective marketing tool. Produced by the PhotoShelter research team, this 15-page guide shares valuable information that will help you grow your business using proven email marketing tactics.

Download this free guide right now!

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