Thinking About Europe? Plan before you plunge into international markets

Wednesday October 21, 2009 by Angela Kryhul,

Posted in: Marketing Planning

There may be a hundred good reasons why an artist would like to work for European clients... but hoping to make a quick buck shouldn't be one of them.

Building one's brand in international markets doesn't happen overnight. It takes time, focus, financial commitment, and it can sometimes mean stepping outside one's comfort zone. But like all successful business activity, the desire must be backed up by a strategic plan.

Why Europe?

Key Points

It all starts with a plan

  • Pick three major cities in Europe and the United Kingdom where you'd like to work. Research extensively and identify the clients you want to work for.
  • Create a really tightly edited portfolio that communicates your unique selling proposition.
  • Forget "spray and pray" marketing-target and pace your messages. Spamming potential clients is always a bad idea.

There are as many reasons why an artist may pursue European clients as there are photographers and illustrators. Those reasons usually stem from a personal desire or circumstance.

Perhaps you're moving to the United Kingdom or Europe and would like to develop a client base, or you may simply want to travel to Europe a couple of times a year. Perhaps you have established your career in North America and want to broaden your experience and reputation, and demonstrate greater flexibility or range in your work, by adding an international perspective to your portfolio.

"It comes from a desire to do business in the world... and it's got to be evaluated. Does it do something for me?" says Janie Hewson founder of Marketing Creatives in Los Angeles. "I don't think you can make a decision about Europe outside of your own personal plan."

It also can depend on the kind of work you do. If you're a fashion photographer, for example, you'll want to spend time in Milan, Paris and London.

Some artists think they should start marketing to Europe because their North America business has fallen off, says Carolyn Potts, a Chicago-based photo rep, now a photography marketing consultant and business development strategist. "I've seen that happen where, out of fear-based thinking, people look around desperately for other markets."

Fear is not a good business strategy. "The reason to expand into a different market is if you have a valuable service to meet that market's needs," Potts explains. "And in order to effectively market to a new industry or location, you need to really understand that market before you raise your hand and say ‘I can give you something you can't get in your own backyard.' "

Get Connected

If you haven't worked outside of North America before, consider hooking up with a good rep or consultant who is very familiar with your targeted markets, comfortable with the languages and adept at navigating business and cultural expectations.

It's crucial to identify what you bring to the table that is really unique or meets a specific need, Potts explains. If, for example, you're an "A List" shooter with access to top celebrities in the U.S., "you certainly have something that is unique and that would be of value to gossip magazines in Europe," Potts says.

In some ways, marketing in Europe is no different than marketing in North America. "You have to understand who you are as a service provider, what the unique value proposition is that you bring to the market and why anyone should pay attention to your offering from among the thousands they get each year," Potts advises. It's crucial to really understand what would be the "buy trigger" for a European art buyer or editor, she adds.

Once you've got some international experience under your belt, think strategically about how you will promote it going forward.

There's a caché to having, for example, French or Italian representation, says Hewson. "What happens is your American market sees you differently. You are global because you are going to foreign locations."

International experience tells some clients that you, and your work, are more valuable, Potts says, while others may decide you've moved out of their budget range. "That's where I work with my clients to know when it's good to tout international experience."

It all comes back to one's personal plan and business goals. "I'm not sure anybody could really tell you the payoff," Hewson says. "For some people, to be able to work three or four times a year in whatever cities or countries they like, could be amazing for them."