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About My Professional Photo- Dear Ginny, WTH?

dear ginny series

Dear Ginny WTH,

Business has been kind of slow, and I am a pet lover.  In fact, my dog is a big part of my life.  I was thinking about having my picture taken with my dog, and using it on all of my marketing.  It might set me apart from the competition.  What do you think?

Pet Lover from San Francisco

Dear Pet Lover,

No you just didn’t? It is not my goal to ever offend anyone in this column; it is my goal to be straightforward and advise. This may be the exception.

Listen to me…do not now or ever include your dog, your cat, your hamster or any other prop in your professional photograph, which would be the one you use for business. I thought we had gotten past this. I guess not.

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Meaning of the word professional: One that engages in the pursuit of an activity professionally. Ok, you’re right it depends on what profession you are in as to how your “professional photo” should look.

If you’re Carrot Top it’s okay to have rabbits and wild hair in the studio when you get your photograph taken. If you’re a pet sitter, it’s okay to have small animals at your side.

Ok Ginny, if you’re stuck on this no pets thing, how about something that relates to my business like my PDA or notebook computer? That’s okay right? NO. Props is props.

Would you like to see your doctor wearing a rubber glove with his index finger extended in a picture of him in the lobby? Snap!

Realtors have typically been placed low on the list of the Harris Poll in which people were asked to rate the prestige of various occupations. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, military folks all rank high. Realtors, not so much.

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Not saying that the picture determines this overall bad attitude towards real estate agents, but it certainly plays a role. If the first impression a consumer has of a local Realtor is them with their pet puggle, is that good? You’re selling a professional service that takes intelligence, strategic thought, detailed coordination and financial acumen. If a picture speaks a thousand words, what is it that you are saying? I’m a professional Realtor or I’m a dog lover?

I can hear some of you now: Ginny shouldn’t people be more real in this transparent world and somehow shouldn’t that be reflected in my photo? Real means never having to shove it down my throat. Dog in photo, not subtle. Not real.

Let’s raise the professional up. Let’s all vow to extricate the props from our professional photos forever. Please will you join the cause?

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Ginny is a 360 degree marketing specialist with over a decade of experience in real estate-related fields. She’s held senior level marketing positions at Alain Pinel Realtors and Prudential California, Nevada and Texas Realty. She left the corporate world in 2007 to start her own marketing communications company, Cain Communications. She markets to segments that matter using media that matters. Follow her on Twitter @ginnycain.



  1. Tina in Virginia

    July 7, 2009 at 9:15 pm

    OMG! I just spit my dinner across the table when I read the “doctor with the index finger” line! I love the agents with the corded phone attached to their ear in their pics. Doesn’t that just SCREAM 1980?????

  2. Ken Brand

    July 7, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Ummmm…..OK. I get “no dogs”.

    Could be there are hundreds of dog types. If I pose with a poodle and my suspect runs with a Rottweiler, well, we both love pets, but my pose will expose me as Fe-Fe Realtor instead of something more fierce. So I agree. No dice on the dogs.

    If you love animals, I recommend posing with something more universally one-breed, like a hamster or maybe a bunny.

    OK, even more seriously, I completely agree, pets, kids, boas, hats, tuxedos, wedding dresses, over the shoulder coats, Jolly-Green-Giant Keys, cleavage, radically photo-shop-filtered should be avoided.

    The goal is to create recognition and recall. Branding should be created by mind-set and skill-set benefits.


    Nice post.

  3. Marla

    July 7, 2009 at 10:41 pm

    My 2 cents as a layperson: only use a prop/pet if it’s relevant to what you do.

    For example, pet-friendly rental housing is scarce. If you set yourself up as a “pet-friendly” specialist, adopt a slogan such as “finding homes for people and pets,” and so on — THEN by all means put the dog in the photo. But that’s about the only time it would make sense to me.

  4. Michelle DeRepentigny

    July 7, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    My 6 dogs, 3 horses, and multitude of cats are going to be so happy that you nixed this idea, now they won’t have to pretend to like each other and pose pretty for the photo.

  5. Dan Connolly

    July 7, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    And once you get rid of the props you might think about getting a photo that actually looks like you (not you 25 years ago but you today!)

  6. Joe Loomer

    July 8, 2009 at 8:03 am

    Dangit Ginny! Snorkle the Anteater is NOT going to be happy – he loves the lens!

    @Ken, Fe-Fe Realtor? Thanks for making me lose my coffee over THAT one!

    I have a white Jack Russell and a Black Min-Pin, I was thinking of little Ebony-Ivory marketting campaign. Nix.

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

  7. Elaine Reese

    July 8, 2009 at 9:35 am

    Oh, The Murph is going to be so hurt as he thinks he’s so important. As cute as he is, he’s NOT part of my professional photo. I did photoshop one that I did strictly as a joke where he has a blazer & glasses just like me. It’s only used on his page on my blog. Surprisingly, it’s the photo people most often mention when they first meet me. Go figure!

  8. Susie Blackmon

    July 8, 2009 at 10:06 am

    Excellent advice. I have another picture pet peeve but will refrain …. 😉

  9. Matt Thomson

    July 8, 2009 at 10:18 am

    You’ll notice from my photo that I disagree. I’ll even throw some #’s out to back up my thoughts. I’ve been in real estate for 6 years, have had the photo you see here for 3. In those three years, I’ve closed 7 transactions where it was SPECIFICALLY stated that the dog in the photo played a role in my being chosen.
    4 of those 7 were referrals from agents around the country, and all 4 said, “My folks are dog people and I knew you’d be a fit.” One saw my dog on Flickr, was excited because he has a Chesapeake as well, never interviewed another agent. The other 2 both found me via my blog, loved the articles with my dog in it, and that’s how our relationship started.
    Now, on my business card the dog is cropped out, but all my social networking sites and my personal websites he’s there.
    Super professional? Maybe not. Making a connection? Definately. Have I LOST any business due to the photo? I don’t know. But 7 in 3 years (one for $1.26M) makes it worth it to me.

  10. Dr. Rich

    July 8, 2009 at 10:18 am


    I have a rapidly growing proctology business. Thank you for the glove idea.

    Dr. Rich
    L.A. Proctology
    We are “deeply” concerned.

  11. Elaine Reese

    July 8, 2009 at 12:09 pm

    Have to agree with Matt regarding The Murph bringing in business. In fact, he’s received two gifts from blog readers. One was a sculpture the reader made with a doxie-like dog resting on a peanut butter cup. I use a photo of it on the front page of my blog. Another gift he received was a Hershey’s dog pillow with the Reese logo. I don’t know either reader, but was very touched that the readers would either spend their time sculpting or their money to buy something.

    Doesn’t Coldwell Banker use a golden in their ads?

  12. Steven Noreyko

    July 8, 2009 at 4:42 pm

    Ginny hits the nail on the head with this post. Absolutely no props/pets in your headshot/avatar unless they are a crucial part of your business.

    Yes, pets can soften the stuffy “professional” feeling of most headshots and make you seem more approachable, but at the cost of looking less… well… professional.

    If you want a great picture of YOU that is not too “stuffy” or “posed” – Seek professional help! Search around for a good portrait/headshot photographer in your area. You’d be surprised how good we photographers can make you look – casual, friendly, confident, professional… or all of the above! 🙂

    steven noreyko :: photographer
    austin :: tx

  13. Mark Jacobs

    July 8, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    Absolutely no props or pets in my headshots. The goal is to create recognition and recall. I want people to remember me not my props or pets.

  14. Benn Rosales

    July 8, 2009 at 8:58 pm

    @laniar has a cow prop, is this workin for her?

  15. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    July 8, 2009 at 9:40 pm

    Benn…it’s not working for @laniar…she looks like a ravinous wildebeest.

  16. Benn Rosales

    July 8, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    oh then it’s workin, @Ginnycain lol

    btw you should log into ag and update your profile with your sm links 🙂

  17. Austin Smith -

    July 9, 2009 at 1:39 pm

    I agree w/Matt Thomson. The whole point of including your dog in your photo, or any other prop for that matter, is to set yourself apart from the competition by creating an Individual Brand. Mr. Thomson has done this with his Chesapeake. An ex=AG contributor did it with his beagle, Toby. Gregg Swann did it with his bloodhound Odysseus. Matt Stigliano did it with his RERockstar brand. Mr. Rothamel did it with his Real Estate Zebra theme. All are successful agents who have gone out on a limb and basically created their business around a personal memory, friend, or pet.

    I think it is less of a cut and dry “no dogs/props/fun” in your professional biz card photo, and more of a “What can I do to set myself apart from the competition?’ There are about 30 RE/MAX agents here in Missoula, MT, but there is only one Wayne Smith (my dad) and everyone knows it because everyone hates his discounted commission model that generates a large chunk of his business. He has a classy biz card photo devoid of dogs and cell phones, but he has still managed to set himself apart from the competition.

    It is not important what your photo looks like or whats in it (to a point). What IS important is what you are doing to define yourself as an individual agent. If branding yourself as “Matt Thomson, your Chesapeake-owning and -loving REALTOR” is what you have to do to stand above the agents in your area, so be it. There is no downside to taking the extra step in defining your individual brand.

    The only danger comes when your personal brand is something completely ridiculous, for example “Ken Brand and his poodle will sell your home faster than you can say BARK!” – Marketing FAIL

  18. Brandie Young

    July 9, 2009 at 2:06 pm

    Question for Matt – re: the referral from your blog.

    Do you think if your post(s) framed you as unintelligent/inexperienced people would have contacted you anyway b/c of your dog?

    Put another way, based on your blog posts that show your acumen in your profession, would they have chosen to contact you if you didn’t include the dog’s pic?

  19. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    July 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Austin, I agree an agent has to create a value proposition/brand image for themselves. Where I disagree is in how they do it. Resorting to hokey-ness to attract doesn’t represent the industry well. And perhaps we disagree on what constitutes hokey.

    Each time I see a dog or any other prop in a real estate agent’s photo I wonder what the world (not the one in 100 Chesapeake lover) is thinking of that person and the industry in general. Also, what are the opportunity costs? How many people do you attract versus those you detract? Being hokey and outrageous is not a new thing, but can’t we save it for the Sham-Wow guy at the county fair?

  20. Austin Smith -

    July 9, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I think to an extent you’re right. In Swann’s case, molding his business around Odysseus is far from hokey, borderline brilliant. But the line of ‘hokey’ is easily crossed, and I would imagine you’re right in that such personal brands turn away potential customers. On the other hand, excessive hokey-ness can be a brand in and of itself. Check out Mindy Palmer, Prudential agent in Missoula, MT. Her advertisements for the past few years have been pretty outrageous. Some consumers are turned away, while other more eccentric buyers appreciate her sense of humor and go along with it.

    But, regardless of their their viewpoint, EVERYONE in Missoula knows who Mindy is. So in a way, while she does run the risk of turning people away, she also succeeds in maintaining an effective ad campaign by securing top of mind awareness in the entire Missoula Valley.

    I wholeheartedly agree with you here: taking a photo of yourself with a phone stuck to your ear is in no way effective marketing. BTW, nice post/response Ginnie!

  21. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    July 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

    OMG… is exactly the kind of schtick I’m talking about that gives the industry a bad name. I so don’t take this seriously. Too bad she didn’t go into used car sales instead of real estate.

  22. Brandie Young

    July 9, 2009 at 4:03 pm

    I think it gives Montana a bad name, too.

  23. Benn Rosales

    July 9, 2009 at 4:08 pm

    Huge difference in Swanns representation, his dog is regal, anyone seeing that sign knows exactly who that is- the dog himself stands for something which he writes about often, and when I see that dog I see exactly that- proud, and strong- I especially love his illustrated representation of it on signs and business cards- that ain’t cheesy, hell, Prudential has a rock for Christs sakes- they’re logos.

    There is a huge difference between a logo and a tactic to get a phone call.

    If you all don’t mind, let’s keep to talking about ourselves or generalities, these are folks livelihoods we’re talking about here.

  24. Ginny Cain McMurtrie

    July 9, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    ah…the calmness of the voice of reason. thx benn

  25. Ian Greenleigh

    July 9, 2009 at 4:44 pm


    Might there be the slightest possibility that you’ve been had? It seems like someone just wanted to lob the perfect softball at you to see you go off. Either that, or they had no idea what they were in for. I’ll send you a pic of my slow loris and I.

  26. Austin Smith -

    July 9, 2009 at 4:48 pm

    Yep good point Ben.

    My purpose in directing everyone to Mindy was to illustrate the variety of brands out there, and the effectiveness of ‘full-throttle’ launch into such brands, no matter how ridiculous they may seem.

    Ginnie, I gotta say I think you may be coming down a bit hard on Mindy. Sure those shoes may be beyond outlandish, but I reiterate: EVERYONE IN MISSOULA KNOWS HER NAME. Steve and Mindy are also one of the top producing teams in the area, and have been around for quite a long time. Selling homes gives a good name to agents everywhere… (not to say I would ever wear those shoes or back that marketing campaign, but you see my point)

    Benn – agreed Odysseus is a pretty awesome looking dog. If only we could all land on such a ‘personal brand goldmine’ as Swann found..

  27. Benn Rosales

    July 9, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    Sometimes you’ve achieved or are achieving your reputation as a producer despite your awful branding – I’ve actually heard this quote “what’s that bitch with the cleavages name?” from a consumer trying to remember the name of a top producer 🙂 They remembered her bewbies and that she looked bitchy, but not the name of her or her company.

    What’s the name of that chick scuba diving with the sold sign? <- can you google that?

    The message you're sending is the point of the post, and when you go back to the point of the post, the message is clear. If your brand is bitchycleavagechic, then it aught be your domain name too, then again, what does cleavage say about your business?

  28. Austin Smith -

    July 9, 2009 at 5:13 pm

    “<- can you google that?"

    I Googled it, came back with a blogspot blog entitled "Musings of a Fat Chick"…close, I guess?

    Haha, I can't believe one of your clients said that…but hey, at least her brand is working for her, however inappropriate it may seem.

  29. Benn Rosales

    July 9, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    isn’t that the point? it wasn’t working because the only impression made upon this couple was her bitchy look and her cleavage. I actually met the couple in a focus group on exactly this subject, and it was a question they asked because they wanted to talk about a postcard she sent them the month before-

    so, they remembered the following:
    her bitchy look
    it said top producer
    colors were black and red

    and nothing else…

  30. Austin Smith -

    July 9, 2009 at 5:28 pm

    Ah I see now…you’re right that is not a good referral. Mindy’s brand isn’t near as bad as cleavage lady though, IMHO.

  31. Benn Rosales

    July 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    okay sweet, let’s talk about brand impression:

    if your post card says silly with 10% unemployment abound, foreclosure rates beyond measure today and into 2010, and people are destitute and possibly homeless, layoffs like crazy all around you and you want to sell or buy, what message are you looking for?

    In 2002, 03, 04 you could get away with a lot, but what about today? do you risk silly, or do you go with certain? Strength, dependable, certain, calm, stable, or funny shoes and socks, scuba diving, cleavage, dog on a leash, rock in hand? What’s the message you want?

  32. Austin Smith -

    July 9, 2009 at 5:48 pm

    Hmmm that IS the question..

    What if one man’s silly is another man’s certain? I think the best personal brand is one that fits you as an individual, one that can easily be connected to the job you do, and one that conveys the right impression, as you said.

    Case by case basis?

  33. teresa boardman

    July 9, 2009 at 9:35 pm

    There is a competitor on my market who has the worst professional photo I have ever seen and she is pictured with her dog. I love the photo. I figure more business for me.

  34. Ken Brand

    July 9, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    What kinda China Syndrome would we create if we threw up a page where you could post a .jpeg of “The fugliest, most heinous business card you’ve ever seen?

    I’m also thinking that if we had enough of them, we could put them in a big book, a kinda thing. Bet it’d be a best seller Coffee Table/Cautionary Tale book. No doubt it’d be a super stickey web site, like (guess it’d have to an anonymous to protect the innocent & the un-innocent.)


  35. Doug Buenz

    July 14, 2009 at 2:23 pm

    Excellent post Ginny! I think it comes down to what your target audience is. If you are trying to appeal to dogs and militant PETA members who are in the market to buy a home, it might be a good strategy (I’m willing to bet that neither group is strong target market). I guess I better air brush out the photo of me with my cell phone in one ear and a thumbs up with my free hand…

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