Power Corner

Focus on . . . Michael Warshall

I met Michael a couple of years ago after one of my programs at WPPI. After spending some time with him in Australia on a speaking tour I did last summer, I can say without a doubt that this man is the most successful photography marketer I have ever met! He not only is known as one of the most successful photographers in the entire world, but also as a savvy lab owner who has revolutionized the Australian photographic industry. Everything about this man is top-rate and you can't help but walk away from a conversation with him a better person. For more information on Michael Warshall's workshops, products or services, log onto www.nulab.com.au.

Mitche: What would you say was the biggest change that faces our industry?

Michael: The major thing is providing a product and service that consumers cannot create for themselves. We no longer have the magic hand—there are kids out there who understand Photoshop very well, and consumer cameras provide some pretty good images. I think that for the industry to survive as we know it, we will have to provide an exceptional product and service.

What kind of products?

The photo book is going to be very big; it is here to stay and grow. The pre-pressed products are also emerging— calendars and personalized products with your work displayed and personal data displayed can be produced fairly economically. This is not something that is going to go away. These products will help out tremendously.

If you were to wrap up your marketing philosophy, into a nice little package, how would you describe it?

Personally, our philosophy is to educate our customers, by moving up the food chain rather than down the food chain. If you go down, the only difference is price, whereas going up there are a lot of perceived differences. At NuLab, we work very closely with our clients and I consider them my focus. We help them by educating them on sales, marketing, product development, and technical support. The last two years we have worked on providing them with work recognitions for the customers.

I have been photographing professionally for over thirty years in the portrait/wedding industry. I was the photographer who arrived in a Fiero or Porsche with two assistants. It was a choreographed performance. We charged accordingly and the studio was ahead of its time.

It all started with my education—I started right out of high school. I was overseas for ten years and spent all my money on education. I was lucky to meet people who changed my outlook on photography. I studied with Monte Zucker and spent some time shooting weddings with Rocky Gunn. Frank Cricchio, Don Blair, and Phil Charis all taught me the value and worth of photography.

I operated several studios in Australia until around 1989. In 1990, I started developing a market in Asia, which was mainly in portraits. I spent all day photograph ing the rich and famous. With the average wedding budget about $150,000US, it was easy to make lots of money. We did that until I decided I didn't want to travel anymore— plus my kids wanted to see their dad more often.

What do you see happening in our industry today?

It's all about automation today. The companies that can automate and stay ahead of their competition will be the ones that will survive. It's also about education, and we provide a tremendous amount to our customers. The more we can help them, the better they will do, which means the better we will do. It's all part of the same game.

For a new person in the industry, what are the most important things you can recommend to them?

First of all, you have to have some skill sets in sales and marketing. Photography is secondary. I have seen people all around the world who were average photographers but had great sales and marketing skills and did very well. On the other hand I have met some exceptional photogra phers who are broke. The key is to understand what the client wants and then figure out a way to give it to them.

What do you see as the future of photography?

The problem with that is that the consumer can take the same photographs as we do because it doesn't take a lot of skill to follow someone and take thousands of pictures and have a few reasonable photographs. The ones that will make it are the ones who understand lighting control, both indoors and outdoors, and the art of good posing. This is something that the "happy-snapper" can't produce.

Can you learn how to be a Power Marketer?

Yes, but it helps if you already have the right set of skills. You need to like people and be able to get along with many different types of clients. It's easy to teach the technical aspects of sales and marketing, but you have to start with the personality and build from there. If you don't like talking to people, it's very tough. If you don't like people, then hire someone who does.

Tell me about your family.

I've been married for over thirty years to the love of my life, Barb. I have two kids who grew up around the studio. We traveled all over the world—a month in Australia, a month in the Philippines, a month in Australia, a month in Borneo, etc. After doing this for a long time, we wanted to just be back in Australia and tried to retire. That lasted an entire three days. I didn't know what to do. I was sitting on a beach in Borneo one time, just itching and wanting to get back to work—new products, new promotions . . . my mind wouldn't shut down.

How do you balance the professional and personal?

I think in my case my personal and professional lives are intermingled. I'm a socializer. I love people, I love to travel, I love good food and good wine. I also love running workshops for our customers, which is part of the marketing strategy for our lab. You can't help but get the two lives mixed up with each other.

How many days a week do you work?

On average, probably a little bit every day. I might go to work and spend ten hours, or go to work and spend two hours then go for a drive and lunch with friends. I'm a car fanatic. I use to race cars when I was young and restless, but now I'm a bit more mature. One of my great joys is to take my car and go driving with my wife or son, and sometimes I will even rent a race course and go driving on weekends..

What other kind of hobbies do you have?

I like to sit by the pool and read, and listen to good music. I used to play jazz in Latin America, so I'm particularly fond of the bossa nova, rumba, samba, and salsa. I could be sitting there drinking a nice glass of wine, or a singlemalt, which I have been known to enjoy, and listening to good music.

Who are your biggest inspirations?

The people who probably influenced me the most were Monty Zucker, Frank Cricchio and people like that. Photographers like that allowed me to separate myself from the masses. From the business world, people like Richard Branson and Lee Iacocca from Chrysler. Even Richard Miller from Miller's Lab in the states taught me quite a bit about running a successful lab in today's competitive environment. I'm always open to suggestions and I'm not afraid of change. If someone can show me a better way of doing something, I will change. Many photographers today don't want to change with the times, and are afraid of change. Those are the ones who will go out of business.

What do you think is the biggest reason for failure among photographers starting out today?

The biggest key to success is perseverance, so the biggest key to failure in not trying hard or long enough. Keep trying until you get it right!

Do you still feel like there is money to be made in professional photography?

There's a load of money to be made! It all has to do with being able to understand what the customer wants, and then providing it to them. If you want to be in this industry, your main job is to get bums in seats for the rest of your life. That's all there is to it!

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