As with so many things in life, there’s no such thing as an average portfolio meeting. I’ve shown my portfolio in the waiting room, reception, the corridor, the boardroom, in the local café, at the editor’s desk and many places in between. Likewise there’s no set pattern for who will be looking at your book. Some places (particularly those who commission tons of stuff) will have just one person who looks through your stuff, and you’ll be kept fairly separate from the rest of the office. In others it’s almost like the ice cream man’s arrived – “there’s a photographer in the building, does anyone want to have a look?” and you can find several people (from various places) looking through your work. It’s quite common to be shared around as well – many magazines work in offices where there’s another title just around the corner, and after having a meeting with your initial contact, don’t be surprised if you’re ushered into the next office and thrust in front of another art director or similar bod.
As the art director (or whoever) is going through your work, offer comment where necessary, but don’t bore them to death. Much of this should come under the remit of basic social skills, but standing there in stony silence isn’t going to promote “you” as a photographer anymore than not letting them get a word in edgeways will. If they show particular interest in an image then flesh it out a bit for them – tell them what problems you had shooting it, or what a laugh you had. Beware of being bitchy, as the industry is much smaller than you think, and a rude comment about someone in the photograph, or someone who commissioned it, may blow up in your face when you find that the person you’re showing your portfolio to is related to them. From their side don’t expect any great insights or constructive feedback, particularly from those who commission work all the time. If they happen to offer some you should be very grateful indeed, and pay close attention, but usually people will stick to polite comments, and save any bitching (or compliments) for when you’re out of earshot.
On the whole you can expect portfolio viewing appointments to be quite short. At one end of the scale you’ll get those mentioned above who see a lot of work, will flick through your book with what seems like dismissive haste, and at the other end of the scale there will be people who’ll take you round the office, go through some ideas with you, and even occasionally take you out for a coffee/food and commission you on the spot. Generally though you can expect a portfolio viewing to last about 15 minutes.
It may sound a little cheeky, but it’s often worth asking, “Is there anyone you know who’d be interested in looking at my work?” Art directors do actually talk to each other, and this is an ideal way to generate “warm” contacts. Being able to call someone up for an appointment and say: “person x at magazine y said you might like to see my work” is far more likely to yield results than a random call out of the blue.
Staying In Touch.
I’m in the process of writing a whole piece (expect the usual delay) on the subject of keeping work ticking over and staying in touch with your clients, much of which goes beyond the basic remit of “portfolios”, but there’s still that immediate post-appointment period that needs to be mentioned. If you’re lucky enough to get commissioned by the person you’ve been to see fairly quickly, then little of this need apply. Otherwise it’s very sensible to try and stay in touch and keep your pictures at the front of the commissioner’s mind. Of course, you’ll come across as pleading and pathetic if your only phone calls after the event consist of saying, “got any work I can do?” It’s here that your personal/social skills come into play, as if you’ve established a good rapport with someone during the portfolio viewing you may already have a good excuse to call them up again and discuss how Arsenal are getting on, when the band you both mentioned are touring again, and so on – all obvious stuff really. The easiest way to contact someone again after an appointment is with new work, particularly if it’s along the line of something they remarked or commented upon when they saw your portfolio. These days this is very easy to achieve with an email attachment or two.