Jasmine Star: Marketing Machine
by Jacqueline Tobin
June 01, 2012 —
If you’ve ever heard Jasmine Star speak at WPPI or in one of her own workshops, chances are you know her back-story: she was 25 and attending law school when her mother suffered a relapse of brain cancer. At the time, Star was already questioning whether or not she really wanted to pursue law as a profession, and with her mom gravely ill, the decision was made for her—she left law school and moved back home.
“You could say I was having a midlife crisis at 25,” Star laughs. “My mom was 50 years old at the time and it made me think, ‘Hey, I don’t want to die at 50 and I don’t want to die a lawyer.’ My mom [who survived brain cancer], was the impetus to getting me where I am today.”
Six years later, Star—who had never picked up a camera before getting married—has become fascinated with photography, first after David Jay shot her wedding and then after receiving a Canon 20D from her then-new husband, and current business partner, J.D. De La Torre. She is now known not only as a successful wedding photographer, but also as a wildly popular blogger and extremely savvy marketer of her own brand. (As of this writing she had 60,000 Facebook fans and 40,000 Twitter followers.)
“When I first got into photography, I started a blog to document my failures because I was convinced at the time that I was destined to fail,” Star describes. “My blog was going to show readers that I took a chance at a dream and I failed.” Of course that was hardly the case. But writing about her personal shortcomings, struggles with achieving success and even about her dog struck a note with her audience. Star, by her own admittance, may not have known a heck of a lot about photography six years ago, but what she did come to realize is that if she could reveal herself as a regular person with trials and errors, weaknesses and strengths, then photographers just starting out could relate to her journey.
“I hoped that by unveiling a new side of my life, photographers could look at me and think, ‘If that hot mess of a girl can do it, then I totally can,’ ” says Star, who readily admits that she really didn’t know what she was doing when she first picked up a camera. “I take comfort in the notion that I am a work in progress, a lump of clay being squeezed, pummeled and molded into the person I am destined to become.”
What she has become is a marketing machine of sorts, capped off by her latest venture—a super glossy, 165-page magazine titled Exposed, in which Star herself graces the cover with the tagline, “The Biggest Mistakes, Loneliest Heartbreak & The Small Victories Along The Way.”
Star refers to the magazine—which debuted in November 2011, sells for $22.99 and mimics the look of her current blog and Web site design—as “an inside look at playing by my own rules and changing the photography industry.” Along with her editorial and lifestyle imagery, the magazine features articles on subjects such as “The Art of Confidence,” “Action & Previsualization,” “Working With a Difficult Vendor,” and “Digesting Criticism,” among many other topics in which she says her target audience—photographers within their first five years of business—would be interested.
“I was receiving a lot of questions from emerging photographers about starting a business,” she explains, “and then I was also getting questions on branding and marketing from photographers who had three to five years of business experience already behind them. Exposed is my outline of how I started my business and it helps sort out the struggles I endured along the way. I tried to expose the mistakes I made and the resistance I encountered from other photographers growing their businesses in Southern California. I was really open and honest…hence the name ‘Exposed.’ ”
Star says the idea for the magazine didn’t necessarily originate at point A and go straight to point B. “I didn’t wake up and say ‘Oh, hey, I’m going to do a magazine,’ ” she explains. It actually started off as a writing project with her friend Gail Warner, who encouraged her to sign up on the Web site 750words.com, where you make the commitment to write 750 words a day for the entire month. “I started off in January of 2011 and I wrote for the first two days, just what ever came to mind…short stories…stories about my life…and we started realizing that maybe I should have a more linear direction with it,” Star says.
She then started writing stories about how she started her business. At the end of her 31-day commitment (“February would have been a smarter month for my commitment, only 28 days!” she jokes), she had quite a bit of content collected. “I wrote for seven days a week and during that time, I shot an event in Hawaii; we had a wedding in California; we had engagement sessions; and I was still writing. By the time I had finished the writing project, I realized I had amassed so much information about my business that dealt with a lot of the questions I had been asked by photographers up to that point, so initially I got it all together in a Word document and sent it to two of my friends for feedback.”
Her friends were honest and told her it was a good start, but needed work. Star went back and worked another month on it, then sent it to her friends again. “This time they came back with a ton of revisions and at that point I just wanted to stop because the whole thing was taking so long; it was kind of sucking the life blood out of me,” she laughs. She decided to take a few weeks off, all the while feeling a bit defeated, but her outlook changed after speaking about it to her husband. “He really encouraged me and said ‘you have put so much time and effort into this, I think a lot of photographers will benefit from it.’ So then I sat down for anther month, and I finished it in its entirety and sent it back to my friends. They proofed it and then I worked with a graphic designer (Promise Tangeman Design) to lay it out.”
Reading like a “Best of” compilation of things that Star learned and encountered along the way, in one article she breaks down the “challenging landscape of the wedding day” with a timeline of how she likes to shoot, while in another piece, she discuss how to create a brand and help it grow. “Don’t be afraid to spend money where it’s most important—Web site, logo and blog,” she writes. “So often I see photographers get caught up in buying the fanciest gear and the biggest lenses. The key component to branding, however, isn’t sharing the same thing everyone else has (I mean really, there are thousands of photographers using the same camera); it’s showcasing what makes you different. And that’s you and the experience you create. After all, you can always rent a camera or borrow a lens. You can’t rent your brand.”
Every image in the magazine is by (or of) Star or her husband, and she and De La Torre wrote all of the articles as well. There’s no advertising of any kind, and the look and content is not only engaging, but has a stylish feel, the likes of Vogue. “This was the one really cool thing about Exposed,” says Star, “that because we didn’t take on any ads, we could control 100 percent of the design and layout.” She adds that while they did charge more than the average magazine, no one seemed to mind. The first run sold out immediately and that first edition is now on its second run.
As Star continues to build and expand her brand every year, she says her friends tease that she is a vampire who never sleeps. In reality, Star maintains her business with a sensible 20 to 25 weddings a year, which allows her to speak at various photo events, and to divide her year into quarters. “The first quarter for 2012 was really dedicated to pouring ourselves into helping other photographers,” she says. “So that started with WPPI in February, and then I went on a one-month [self-funded] photography tour entitled ‘The Fix,’ where we went to 12 cities and met with close to 3,000 photographers to discuss how they could work on their business, how to brand themselves online and when, in the face of resistance, [how to] overcome obstacles and still pursue their dreams.”
So what does the future hold for Star? Is there another issue of Exposed on the horizon? “I would definitely need more time to come up with more life experiences before a next issue comes out,” she admits. “And whereas a magazine has an entire team of writers, of graphic designers, with editors, and a publisher…this was just me, I did everything, I wore all those hats—me and J.D.—and it was one of the most rewarding projects, but also one of the most stressful.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean Star is ruling out anything: “Most of the time, though, I’ve proven in my life that the hardest projects are the most rewarding. I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished so far…but at this moment we need a little more time—and a vacation!”
For a behind-the-scenes look at how Star compiled Exposed, or to buy a copy, go to www.jasminestarblog.com/store.
Jacqueline Tobin is currently the executive editor of Rangefinder. Previously, she was an editor at PDN for 26 years. She can be reached via e-mail at Jacqueline.Tobin@nielsen.com
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