Back to Print: The Making of Ian Spanier’s Promo Magazine

Posted by on Monday November 23, 2015 | Business

Sponsored by Blurb

Ian Spanier is a photographic chameleon. One day he’s shooting a magazine cover of UFC superwoman Ronda Rousey, and the next he’s shooting advertisements of Danskin ballerinas or U.S. Navy servicemen in the Gulf of Oman. While he always saw his eclectic work as a strength, it often confused clients. “For a long time, I struggled to explain that I shoot a lot of different things. People would wonder which photographer they were going to get when they hired me,” he says.

Spanier decided that he needed a new promotional tool that would champion his diverse photographic voice—the traditional 5 x 7-inch promo cards that most photographers send out weren’t cutting it.


IAN, issues 1 through 4 / Photos © Ian Spanier

To come up with a solution, Spanier brought in Warren Mason, a veteran creative director and designer. The two weren’t brainstorming long before the idea hit them. Spanier had spent more than a decade at magazines like Esquire, GQ and Men’s Journal before becoming a full-time photographer. Mason had even more experience in publishing. The two realized that a custom magazine printed-on-demand was the ideal format to engage clients with Spanier’s voice and versatility. “Once we decided on a magazine, the ideas started flowing,” Spanier says.

First, Spanier and Mason decided how to design and print the magazine—Blurb, the creative self-publishing platform, was the first and only choice. The printing quality and the paper offered by Blurb immediately stood up to the discerning eyes of both Spanier and Mason. Blurb’s plug-in for Adobe InDesign made it simple to create and upload original layouts, and the streamlined print-on-demand capabilities met their needs. Finally, Blurb’s Economy Magazine printing option allowed Spanier to make the magazine the length he wanted—from 20 pages to 240 pages—while keeping the price affordable.

“There was no thought to do it with any company other than Blurb. Their paper and printing quality stands out. They stand behind their product and work with me to make sure it looks the way I want,” Spanier says.

The genius of the magazine is in the details. While it is called IAN, the magazine is a true collaboration that joins Spanier’s photography with Mason’s design and editor Brian Dawson’s copy. Advertisements come from actual advertisements from Spanier’s ad work, while editorial spreads are “features” that Spanier and Mason create from Spanier’s wide array of work. Each issue has a theme, a knockout cover photo, and recurring “columns,” like “Behind the Scenes,” which gives readers a peak into Spanier’s copiously annotated shoot notebooks. Another recurring column is “Client Speak,” where he asks one of his clients to provide their own testimonies.


An editorial spread in IAN. / Photo © Ian Spanier

“I want the magazine to help clients and potential clients understand who I am as a photographer and what I am like to work with,” Spanier explains. “Each aspect of the magazine is meant to tell viewers who I am.”

Since IAN began in late 2014, Spanier and Mason have published four issues—one for each season—and the plan is to continue to do so in the coming years. Each new issue focuses on a different aspect of Spanier’s photography, from travel to sports to portraiture, and work is chosen from Spanier’s portfolio to reflect that. The magazine evolves each issue, with new columns being added as Mason and Spanier come up with new ideas. In recent issues, Spanier has shot entire editorial features solely for the magazine. For Issue 3, Spanier worked with make-up artist Michelle Coursey to shoot portraits mimicking a set of vintage 1920s-era mug shots that had gone viral on the Internet earlier this year.

“I’ve always been a photographer that pushes myself to do personal work. I think it’s important so that people can see your vision as opposed to those assignments when you are solely completing someone else’s,” Spanier says.


IAN editorial spreads and a client-testimonial page. / Photos © Ian Spanier

Though Spanier is able to publish multiple issues annually thanks to the ease of production, he says it’s especially important for photographers to connect with clients at the year’s close. “I know it’s pretty ambitious putting out a quarterly issue,” he says. “For photographers who can’t do so, I would recommend producing a magazine at the end of the year. It’s always a great time of year to make sure clients and potential clients get a little reminder what you can do for them, and it doubles as a holiday gift.”

IAN gives Spanier another way to communicate with clients, complementing his marketing on Instagram, Twitter, Tumbler and Facebook, and in e-mail campaigns. Spanier sends out personal emails to each member of his extensive 2,000+ person mailing list of clients and potential clients to give them sneak peeks of the next issue of IAN, to send them electronic versions housed by Blurb and Issuu and to solicit feedback. For Spanier, it’s an excuse to check in every couple of months with people he works with and wants to work with in the future.

The response has been very positive. “When people write me back, their response, across the board, is: ‘Wow, this is great. How did you come up with it?’ People love to ask questions about it,” Spanier says.

The effect is even more pronounced in person. When Spanier takes personal meetings, he always brings copies of IAN along. After walking photo editors, art buyers or creative teams through his extensive portfolio, he closes by handing everyone at the meeting a copy of IAN printed by Blurb. Getting in-person meetings is hard, according to Spanier, so when you have face time, you want to make sure clients won’t forget you. For Spanier, IAN does the trick.

IAN Cover.indd

Ronda Rousey featured in IAN, issue 1. / Photos © Ian Spanier

“It’s a memorable product. People want to know how I made it,” Spanier says. “Everything is digital these days—having something tactile that I can hand to someone as a ‘thank you’ and a product they keep on their shelf really makes a difference.”

Best of all, IAN has allowed Spanier to show off his versatility—what he thinks is his greatest asset—without confusing clients about the type of photographer he is.

“No one is confused anymore as to why I have so much different work mixed together,” Spanier says. “Instead of carrying around 45 pounds of portfolios, I bring an iPad and a few issues of my magazine, and people really understand my work.”

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