Re-branding a Photographer: Conversation with Marilyn Cadenbach and Jennifer Robbins

Jennifer Robbins is one of our very favorite fashion/lifestyle photographers, and Marilyn Cadenbach is one of our very favorite agents. So we were pretty excited when Jen joined Marilyn’s award-winning group of international commercial photographers last year.

Before signing a new photographer, Marilyn carefully considers more than just their style, talent and how they might fit in with the rest of her group. She also goes through a step-by-step process of evaluating their portfolio to determine how much work it might take to get it in shape for her to feel great about promoting them. For Jennifer Robbins, she recommended a total redesign of her book, her identity and all her promotional materials. The project took four months and the results are absolutely stunning (to match Jen’s images)!

We caught up with Marilyn and Jen recently to hear more about their new relationship and the re-branding project.

How did you and Jennifer Robbins first connect? What originally drew you to her work?
Marilyn Cadenbach: Susan Baraz, the Director of Photography for AtEdge, had been talking to me about Jen for some time.  I looked at her work and thought it was brilliant – the energy, her sensibility, the rawness, the looseness of her composition, the irreverence. It all appealed to me, but I wasn’t looking to add any new artists at that time, so I filed it away.  I first met Jen at the AtEdge Face-to-Face event in Minneapolis in May of last year, and we hit it off immediately.

What do you think differentiates Jen from other photographers, and what was the deciding factor in bringing her into your group?
Marilyn: Jen is a big personality, and that comes through in her images. They are bold, sexy, kinetic, seductive, irreverent, and let’s not forget, a little bit naughty. That’s Jen! As far as the deciding factor, there are a lot of things that are a part of that thought process. Do I love the work? Do I like the photographer? What kind of rapport do we have? Is there mutual respect? Is there a sense that we could work together as partners? Is there a market for the work? How committed is the photographer, both in terms of making a financial investment and in terms of doing the work, whether it be shooting for the book, going to meetings, or any other variation of getting in the trenches that may be required?

© Jennifer Robbins

© Jennifer Robbins

Before signing you on, Marilyn recommended a total re-branding of your identity in addition to a complete portfolio redesign. How did you feel about that? Were you on board with it from the start, or did she have to convince you?
Jennifer Robbins: I was ready to do what Marilyn believed was the best thing for me. Marilyn’s approach factored in not only the artist but also the human in me. She knew how to present it in a way that wasn’t demanding, threatening, or even overwhelming. She really explained it with her years of experience how she saw great talent in me and that presenting it in a certain way would change the nature of how I was received by people. It wasn’t that I had to be a different artist; it was just that I had to put it in a different package. I don’t think she had to convince me very much. I really just trusted her immediately and implicitly.

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Jen’s first portfolios, before working with Marilyn

Old Business Cards

Jens old business cards

You pulled together a fantastic team for this creative makeover. First, you recommended Edoardo Chavarin to design Jen’s new identity (branding, logo concept, business cards, etc). Tell us a little about his process. 
Marilyn: I loved being exposed to Edoardo’s creative process. At our initial meeting, we sat and talked for a bit as sort of an exploratory process.  During that meeting, he asked Jen to show him what inspires her, in any form whatsoever – photography, music, food, architecture, design, people, destinations, culture, color, anything and everything. Jen pulled together her sources of inspiration, and they took it from there.  Edoardo delivered an amazing array of options initially, and it was fascinating to see how he took the concept that was most fitting for Jen and distilled it down to something that embodies her and communicates her “brand” so impeccably.

Edoardo’s first step in working up concepts for your new identity was to ask you to provide visuals to illustrate who you are and what inspires you. They could be images, buildings, logos… most anything. What types of things did you show him, and why?
Jennifer: It actually started off in a way that was obvious– things that I clearly like in the present day. After that, it just became a very strange stream of consciousness. I started off with different shades of pink and one of Madonna’s album covers. Then I showed him photos of Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani’s pink hair, Barbies, paintings by Toulouse-Lautrec and Georgia O’Keeffe, a pair of shoes, Helmut Newton’s photos, and even the movie Annie Hall. There were so many random images and they all made sense to me, but the question was what were they going to say to Edoardo about me?

Business cards 1

Jen’s new business cards

Once Jen’s new identity was developed, you recommended Mary Ann Guillette to help redesign her portfolio. Tell us about that process. 
Marilyn: Ooooh la la. This was quite a process. I have known Mary Ann for years. She’s a talented Creative Director and Graphic Designer with an amazing sensibility for book design and photo editing. Mary Ann also has a very clear understanding of the printing process and can foresee potential pitfalls before going to press which is really helpful. She’s worked with me on John Huet’s books as well, and I really enjoy the collaboration.  In addition to the book, Mary Ann designed Jen’s leave behinds, a series of potential source book ads and her new promo which we are super excited to send out!

You were the creative director and chief editor?
Marilyn: Yes, I functioned as the Creative Director and Chief Editor, and I love putting on those hats. Michael Wilkerson, who works with me, did the initial edit on the book, and I took it from there, refining and shaping the direction.  I can’t edit in a vacuum, and Michael and Jen were an integral part of the process. Once we had the image sequence finished, everything went to Mary Ann who then put it into layout form.  She made some changes on the first round and also offered her input on where we might make further improvements.

How many rounds of revisions did you go through?  Is that typical?  
Marilyn: I believe we went four rounds from the time the edit went to Mary Ann to final. Absolutely.  The adjustments are usually pretty minor at this point, but there’s still tweaking that needs to be done.

Front inside of book

Front inside of Jen’s re-designed portfolio

Tell us about some of the miscellaneous pieces that a third designer, Alexandra Tumbas created to help pull Jen’s brand together in a thoroughly integrated presentation.
Marilyn: I constantly have new ideas, and Alexandra has collaborated with me on things for everyone I represent. I think the first thing that she did for Jen came to me in the form of a challenge from a Digital Assets Manager at an ad agency who told me that when we came in to meet with them on Monday, she wanted to see a certain sticker.  It was a joke, but I of course took the challenge and asked Alexandra if she could design the sticker over the weekend.  We talked back and forth, and she delivered exactly what I had in mind. That spawned more stickers for Jen which will eventually be wild postings.  Alexandra also designed her mailing label, PDF covers and layouts, etc.

What do you think were some of the greatest improvements made to your portfolio?
Jennifer: Everything felt complete from the color choices, to the type of font, to the incredible icon that Edoardo came up with. Even the layout structure of the book is something I would have never come up with by myself. I’ve always been proud of my photography but I never understood the power of presenting it the way I do now.

Leave Behinds 1

New leave-behinds

What was the most important thing you learned from this process?
Jennifer: Having great photos is paramount but presenting them as a professional packaged creation is part of the responsibility of being in this line of work. Another thing I learned was trusting people who are outside of my work but still within the industry. As a photographer I get very attached to certain images. Letting go of that control and allowing Marilyn and her team to come in and rearrange was a necessary discomfort, which I think paid off.

How do you feel about the new Jen Robbin’s package? Do you think that you have undergone a bit of a personal transformation as well?
Jennifer:  I feel thrilled with the new packaging. There is no doubt that I’ve gone through a personal transformation from even before the inception of the brand. Through Marilyn I have been inspired to step up my game in every way possible. The new packaging allows me to show part of who I am as a photographer, beyond the pictures.  It communicates who I am and things I don’t always get to say even when I’m not there to communicate for myself.

You have been showing Jen’s new book for a couple of months now. How has it been received by art buyers and creatives so far?
Marilyn: The reception has been great! As I mentioned previously, Jen’s work is a reflection of Jen’s personality, and people respond well to both.  We’ve met with some people who saw the ‘before’ and the ‘after’, and everyone has applauded the transformation!

Front of Book

Front of Jen’s new portfolio

What’s the most notable difference you’ve seen in Jen and her work since completing the re-brand and starting to show her new book?
Marilyn: Jen now has something to show that is not only an impeccable and professional presentation, but it’s a true reflection of her, from her logo, to her business cards, to her portfolio, leave behinds and promo, it’s one seamless package. When you have something that you feel good about showing, it instills confidence.  Jen takes the book to all of her shoots and shows it to the talent so that they have a sense of who she is and what she’s looking to create. She hands out her leave behinds at shoots, she loves her promo.  Recently she had a publicist at a shoot ask her where she could buy a copy of her book. I think that speaks volumes. Jen is very tall, and she can command any room, but I honestly think she may be standing a little bit taller now.

What advice would you give to photographers who are trying to crank it up a notch in the development of their image and brand?
Jennifer: I would say that if you can find the money and find a creative team that you trust then definitely put your efforts towards creating a complete package. There is no doubt in my mind that allocating money to create your brand is ultimately necessary, especially now that there are so many more photographers in the world. I fully believe it will come back tenfold.

Many thanks to Marilyn Cadenbach and Jennifer Robbins for taking time out of their busy schedules to fill us in on this fantastic project!

Jen Heels

© Jennifer Robbins

View more of Jennifer’s commercial work here: 

AtEdge Portfolio

www.jenrobbins.com

 www.cadenbach.com

Her client list includes: All Clad, Bloomingdale’s, Cosmopolitan, Elle Mexico, Essence, Fitness, GQ Italy, Glamour, Interview, La Blanca Swimwear, Maxim, Mimi Jewelry, Neiman Marcus, Rolling Stone, Seventeen, Vanity Fair, Boston Magazine, Bollman Hat Company, Bridal Guide, Carolee, Gotham Magazine, Mandee, Ocean Drive, The One Group and Vodafone.


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