66: Mug Shot Marketing
On the way home from a North Carolina airport Monday, I passed a vibrant-red billboard (similar to the one above) with a giant human head pictured next to an insurance company logo and white letters that spelled something like, “You’re a name not a number.”
I found it ironic, since the appeal was made impersonally to a bunch of cars probably sold to the advertiser as “traffic count per day.” It was trite—a line entrepreneurs have made meaningless right next to “We specialize in customer service.”
But it got me thinking about a question I’ve been asked multiple times from small business marketers: “Should I put my picture in my advertising?”
The answer to that question depends on your profession and sometimes—hard truth—how attractive you are.
So, who CAN market themselves with portraits?
Politicians & Professional Speakers
Politics is big business, and your brand is wrapped around your personal image. That doesn’t mean all political materials need to have your likeness to be effective; but you get a pass on marketing with your pearly whites. If you have ever earned a sizable appearance fee, your audience already knows you like the spotlight. In either case, selling your face won’t make you seem any more arrogant—I mean, confident (sorry)—than you already are.
Athletes & Famous Chefs
If you’re trying to extend your financial security in your free time—and leverage your personality or body of work, your image might help sell your product or service. It has already been sold by TV networks and other appearances. You’ve got a photo excuse, even though your name may be enough to sell what you’re selling.
Media Celebrities & Personalities
If you’ve appeared regularly or significantly on screens or through speakers, pictures of you might help sell your work. More than likely, though, you’re not making the advertising decisions and answering the phone, as someone else is marketing your appearance. But if you’re pushing a post-reality-TV career, help yourself to public face time. And if you’re Chuck Norris—well, just know that everyone is too scared to buy what you’re selling.
Gynecologists & Proctologists
Some (though not all) women I know say they prefer women OBGYN physicians over their male counterparts; and maybe guys feel better about prostate rectal exams administered by other dudes—don’t know . . . haven’t crossed that bridge yet. If you work in gender-specific professions, you’ll get a pass, too. You may not always be able to illustrate exactly what you do with stock images, but you may be able to find a creative solution to illustrate the end result. Otherwise, your public proof of gender may be an asset to you.
Personal Trainers & Nutritionists
If you’re the result of what you’re selling, illustrate it. It doesn’t hurt to show the ramifications others have experienced; don’t neglect those—especially if they’re famous. But people want to see that you practice what you preach. That said, your picture doesn’t need to be the brand; so, don’t shy away from logos and other creative campaign imagery.
Baby Sitters & Nannies
Baby sitters don’t buy billboards or wrap their cars. It’s probably best for parents to use other family members or someone from a trust-fostering social group rather than strangers. But if you’re putting fliers in newspaper boxes or selling your child-supervision door-to-door, you might want to show that your face isn’t pierced too much to make it through airport security or framed in skull and evil clown tattoos.
Who should NOT market themselves with portraits?
People like this local entrepreneur, pictured on a Kroger waiting bench; if you need me to explain, your friends may be carrying secret cameras for Stacy and Clinton. Faith healers who wear glasses—still don’t understand that visual irony. All ministers, actually. (If Mother Teresa wouldn’t, you probably shouldn’t either.) Divorce lawyers like this fellow. People who previously appeared in post office wanted posters. Currently-profitable drug dealers.
And probably you.
Sorry. If you don’t fit squarely in one of the above-bolded categories, your face is probably taking the place of either (1) more and better sales content and/or (2) white space to give your advertising breathing room. I know what you’re going to say: “But I’m an agent trying to sell myself, not just my [umbrella] company.” But does your face sell what you sell? Could you, instead, create a personal logo or advertising theme? Could you brand a creative URL or phone number? If you work for yourself, you hopefully passed on the chance to name your business after yourself and grabbed something memorable. This will give you more flexible branding options. (I have never regretted naming my design company after an open-cockpit aircraft.)
See the problem is that your brand should be uniform and everywhere, and we humans age faster than our logos. Your profile shot can sit next to your bio on your web site and maybe even on your business card, where people interact with it only by choice. But if people don’t want what you’re selling, more than likely, they won’t buy it because “they look like a nice person.” Don’t kid yourself: if your looks don’t get you a free lunch, they probably won’t get you business.
If you are going to market your mug shot, here are some tips to keep in mind.
- Pay or barter for professional photography.
- Have pictures taken from both right and left angles to give future advertising more flexibility.
- Request both full body (preferably standing) and head shots.
- Ask your photographer for high-resolution, masked images (those cut out from their backgrounds), and request both .JPG and .PSD versions of such. Even if you can’t open the files, keep them on hand to give to your designer and media outlets. (An advance thanks on behalf of whichever graphic designer you hire to handle these in your advertising.)
- And go all in. If you do signs, billboards, vehicle wraps, brochures, newspaper ads, etc., you want your marketing to be consistent. Use the same look across all media as closely as possible, and realize that you’ll need to update your materials on an annual or biannual basis.
I’ll just put it on the table: one of the hardest parts of the Christian life is living in full, willing understanding of the fact that our lives our meant for one purpose: when people see us, they should see Jesus. I pray for that on Sunday mornings, when I take my directional antics to my church’s parking lot. Sometimes, I even pray that over my hangar time.
But it’s too easy to work on my Ryan brand, the one I’ve so well crafted and curated for public consumption. As an often-insecure business owner, sometimes I take biplane’s image-building past healthy levels, too. My mug gets in the way.
Thankfully, we are not without example. Christ came and showed us what a self-abandoned life looks like. While people knew him for his miracles and captivating oratory skills, Jesus was able to say with heaven’s approval: “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.”
I’m not there yet, but I hope that each year the people around me can see more and more of the one who planned my birth, my life path, and my gifts—for his glory. How ’bout you? What parts of your life are obstructing other people from seeing God alive in you?