The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of shifts in many industries around the world. One particular space that was greatly hit is the photography scene. For someone who made a living as a professional photographer for 30 years and goes out every day finding creativity and shooting scenes, Jack Hartzman has had to make a huge shift when his incredible business that revolved around the creative event space was taken away by the pandemic. Today, he joins Juliet Clark to talk about his shift to podcasting and using the platform to bring a positive message to people in the event and hospitality industry.
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From Photography To Podcasting: Making The Shift Successfully With Jack Hartzman
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I have my accidental guest. I was out prospecting, which I do on LinkedIn pretty frequently, and I ran across Jack Hartzman. We jumped on a call and we have so many people in common, which was surprising. I also love that he has a new podcast and a book coming out. He made a big shift during COVID. Jack is a professional photographer with more than 30 years behind his Canon cameras. Jack’s decades of experience in the industry range from portraits, weddings, conferences and live events. He’s a coach, mentor, motivational speaker, producer, director, podcaster, and a great all-around guy. In that last part, I swear I didn’t make that up. Jack, welcome.
Juliet, thank you so much for having me on the show. It’s neat to be on the other side of the microphone, so they say right about now. I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing a couple of podcast hosts myself. It’s always fun when you get to be the guest and not the host.
I frequently host, and it’s a lot more casual. You don’t have to worry about, “What am I going to say? What am I going to do?” You just show up and go. I love that part of it.
I was having lunch with my wife and I said, “I have to get ready for a podcast.” She goes, “There’s nothing on the calendar.” I’m like, “No, not our calendar. My calendar. I’m a guest, not a podcast host.” She’s like, “That sounds cool.” I’m like, “I have no preparation because I have all the answers to my own questions, I think.” I appreciate you searching me out on LinkedIn. It was fun to find out that we do have many people in common. It’s great what you’re doing. You promised me that if I came on your show, that my book would magically appear on the bestseller list of the New York Times. Isn’t that the way this works now?
I must have misunderstood the pitch. Thanks for having me on the show. I’m glad to be here with you.
You’re welcome. I thought you were going to say, “I have to go now, interview’s over. Thank you so much.”
Your intro is very similar to mine in the fact that we try to find commonality with our audience and figure out what they’re in need of. The book process is something that I continue to struggle with. Our mutual friend, Doug Sandler from TurnkeyPodcast.com, I watched him write his book for three years. I remember the painstaking efforts that he went through, and it’s a challenge. Most know that unless you make the bestseller list, it’s not a goldmine, but it is a great vehicle to get to your audience and to distribute your message. It validates who you are and what you are in your particular discipline or industry. I’m a big fan of what you’re doing and what you’re all about. I’m trying to do my own thing as my industry of 35-plus years has been taken away from me for many months. Here we go, trying to wait for the vaccine to catch up to the rest of us.
That’s why I wanted to have you on the show. One of the reasons is you made this huge shift, you’re somebody who goes out every day and you’re there. You see the creativity on the scene, you shoot it. All of a sudden, you can’t go anywhere and do this anymore. What was that thing going on in your head that brought you to podcasting, which I know Doug was a part of?
Doug is from Baltimore, Maryland, and I’m from Rockville, Maryland. We used to work together in the same company. We were actually business partners many years ago. He saw the longevity of being the number one Bar Mitzvah DJ in the Baltimore Washington area. For more than twenty years, Doug Sandler was doing between 100 and 150 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs every year. Let’s do some simple math. There are only 50 weekends a year, and Doug was doing more than 100 Bar and Bat Mitzvahs every single weekend for years. When we hit our mid-40s, he saw the writing on the wall. The longevity of a Bar Mitzvah DJ is a little bit shorter than a photographer.
I do weddings and corporate events and Bar Mitzvahs and portraits. I do all sorts of stuff. I’m now in my mid-50s, and I don’t have any issues with thinking and enjoying the fact that I’ll be shooting for another decade or two. Doug saw the writing on the walls and I watched him and Strickland Bonner launched Nice Guys on Business and then Turnkey Podcast. I followed their progress. About years ago, Doug and I started talking about me podcasting because I’ve already done motivational speaking and speaking at conferences, and I’m not afraid of a microphone. July of 2020, my wife and I went out to stay with Doug and JJ. Doug moved out to Los Angeles.
I actually wanted to see somebody in the podcast space. I wanted to see how he had transitioned from events into this wireless world of podcasting, where you could pick up your digital recorder and go on the road to a wine tasting and do podcasts wherever you go. That’s how it happened. Years of talking about it, then going out in 2020 and watching him and JJ, and then a bunch of personal stuff got in the way. My wife and I run a seven-figure photo business. We don’t do everything, but you still have to keep your finger on the pulse of it. It’s all-encompassing, and then came the pandemic.
I’ll give you this brief cliff notes. We were in the middle of photographing a national dance competition in February of 2020. First, we went to a conference in Las Vegas around the 20th of February 2020. We went on to Austin, Texas around the 26th. My client came to me and said, “The Orlando job next week was postponed. This virus thing is getting out of control and people are starting to cancel.” I said, “A friend of mine is having a surprise birthday party in Israel. I’m going to jump on a plane and go to Tel Aviv on one day’s notice.” I was there for a week and I came home and the world shut down. All of a sudden, this incredible business that we had and revolved around corporate jobs, weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, quinceañeras, and sweet sixteens, you name it in the creative event space, it was gone.
If you ever want to know what Deep Therapy is all about, listen to a bunch of event professionals get together in a Zoom meeting. It doesn’t matter if you’re a caterer, a florist, a guitar player, a photographer, a videographer, venue owner and valet parker. Around St. Patrick’s Day, March 17th, 2020, our entire livelihoods got taken away, followed immediately by the restaurants and the movie theaters and the bowling alleys. There’s no recovery for us. Even though it’s been about months that the word ‘vaccine’ has come into the marketplace, people have started booking a little bit more optimistically for 2022 and 2023.
My personal optimistic pessimism, and I always walk on the sunny side of the street, but I don’t see the event business coming back until the spring or the summer of 2022. 2021 as far as I’m concerned is over already. Until all of our kids are back in school, until we can all comfortably hug and kiss when we see each other on the street or go to a restaurant without a mask on, I don’t see 200 people packing themselves into a hotel ballroom, whether it’s for a wedding or a corporate conference. We’re a year in almost, and in my mind, we’re at least a year to go. That’s tough on anybody in hospitality. To all my brothers in the hospitality world, I feel your pain. We will get through this, just stick together and keep a smile on. Enjoy your next round of PPP like I will.
Tell us what brought you into the podcast. Why podcast and how did you decide on what it was going to be about? What did you use it to build your audience for?
A couple of reasons. As I said, I’ve always wanted to walk on the sunny side of the street. Back in March and April 2020, cards on the table, I was depressed. I’m used to working 60 or 70 hours a week. I’m a guitar player in the ’80s band, and I always find time to practice somewhere along the line. I squeeze in a Friday night bar gig when I’m between weddings or corporate conferences. When my calendar got completely wiped out, I didn’t know what to do. I was in a tailspin. I ate myself into oblivion for two months. We had built a great new patio in our backyard in 2020, and it became our complete living space when COVID first started. I got wind of a friend of mine who took his own life in early May 2020 because he couldn’t see past the pandemic. It wiped him out that quickly, emotionally, just couldn’t see it.
Event professionals, many of which who live week-to-week, they’re used to it. That’s how we live. Our company, we don’t live that way. We don’t live on our deposits, we’re pretty financially set. That all said, my wife and I have the time and we took the teachings that Doug and JJ had helped us with so much of the year before. We said, “We got nothing but time on our hands. We need to carry a positive message to our audience, to our friends, to our family.” That’s it. The driving force was therapeutic for us to get our calendar to have some structure again, and to bring a positive message to people in the event and hospitality industry.
How does that lead into the book you’re writing? A podcast is such a great way to build an audience. When you’re getting ready for a book, it’s a great platform-building way to have content and a way to get out there and connect and build. What is that book you’re getting ready for?
I have got two and a half projects going on at the same time. Anybody who does quick mathematics in their heads, I spend $300 a month, times 12 months a year, to store 20 years of negatives that I will never ever need again. That’s $3,600 a year times the last about 20 years to store negatives from the ’80s, the ’90s and the early 2000s before we went digital. I have many experiences from the galas of the Washington DC area throughout five administrations, to sporting events, world history events, the world travels that my wife and I have had a chance to do through our corporate clients.
What it all comes down to is that photography, picture taking, which before the age of the cell phone was something that was not as commonplace as it is now. Picture taking was the way of communicating timeless stories through images. What I’ve tried to show in the book that I’m knee-deep in now is we always find a way to rally around life memories, and showing that through both corporate and social event photography, how we all celebrate. Even if we’re doing an award ceremony for a law firm or an accounting firm, we’re still celebrating people’s achievements. It’s no different than a quinceañera, a Sweet Sixteen, a Bar Mitzvah or a wedding. It’s all about celebrating life, and recalling and reliving lifetime memories.
That is very cool. I never stopped to think for a moment that you have to save all those negatives. Can you digitize them or it’s not the same?
One of my favorite lines that my partner and I always use is, “There’s a cost-benefit analysis to everything.” Which is harder, $4,000, $3,600 a year for storing everything, or probably $8,000 or $10,000 of hard cash outlay to have somebody digitize those pictures? In which of that entire lot of negatives, I probably want 200 images. Finding those 200 images is a whole other conversation. It’s painstaking, but we’re doing it because it’s important. We’re doing it because we’ve had the opportunity in our career to document some amazing things like Ronald Reagan’s last public appearance, a birthday party for Jim Kimsey, the Founder of AOL, when The Beach Boys played in his backyard party. There are amazing things that we’ve had a chance to be a part of that tell an incredible story.
In the world that we live in, it doesn’t matter what side of the aisle that you’re on. We have a new president. We all are looking for something to revel in, to be celebrating about and sink our teeth into. If there’s one thing we do that well about, it’s positive life memories. We like to see people achieve. Why is the Super Bowl such a sought-after event to watch? Why do we care about the Olympics? It’s because we all thrive on the adrenaline of success and the win or the medal. For the last few months, we haven’t had much of that to celebrate. The world is thirsting for good information.
I remember during the beginning of the lockdown, I accidentally watched the first episode of Tiger King. It was so crazy. I was talking to somebody about it and he said, “Why did you keep watching? What do you mean it was accidental?” It was such a shit show, you couldn’t look away. It was like, “Who are these people in this time and age who still have mullets and wear those sweatshirts?” We are thirsting for good entertainment when we actually watch things like that.
As we come around through February and March 2021, and as we hit that annual for the pandemic, we’re going to see some subconscious, emotional reactions of some people, realizing we’ve been at this for a year. That is a lot to wrap your head around. Kids being out of school for a year, not being able to go to your favorite steakhouse or burger joint, go out for a milkshake or comfortably hug somebody that you see on the street, it’s a lot. We are all creatures of habit. By no fault of our own, we have all been put into a cage. The cage may be different sizes for different people, but my livelihood has been gone. The podcast has been a great pivot for us. I’ve also become a digital producer. I produced Zoom events for people left, right and backwards for weddings, Bar Mitzvahs, funerals. I do 2 or 3 funerals a week now. I can’t control people dying with COVID or otherwise. I’m sitting in front of my computer, helping people from all over the world celebrate the life of somebody who would not normally have made it to the cemetery anyway. We do what we have to do to stay positive.
If you’re in the creative field of any sort, if you’re in hospitality in any way, creative and depression, those two words are not supposed to be in the same sentence. Depression and creativity do not go well together. The Visual WOW Podcast is a way for us to bring great messages to people in the event community. We focus on event professionals on Tuesdays and photography-centric stuff on Fridays, and then a few extra stuff in between. We’re 60 episodes in and we’re having a great time, and we enjoy it. Our numbers, according to my mentor, Doug Sandler that we keep talking about, are the numbers that took him three years to get to. Here we are in a few months and we’re in fifteen countries and almost 10,000 downloads. We must be doing something right. People seem to be thriving on the message.
I enjoy doing this as well. When I hear my clients come in and content is always a big thing with them, there are a lot of excuses, “I don’t have time. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what to say.” The podcast, just opening up the mic and talking, and having guests being able to talk to people you probably normally would not have talked to, makes my day. It’s not something difficult that I dread doing. As you probably know, if you don’t enjoy the content you’re doing, you’re not going to put it out consistently.
I’ll share this one little story with you. I interviewed a photographer from Houston who was dating a photographer from Milan, Italy, and went to visit him before COVID and got stuck in the lockdown. They fell in love. They got engaged during the lockdown. I know what it did to us in the DC area and most of the United States. I said to him, “Your country shut down a month and a half before anybody else, how did they get people to not do micro-events? Ten people in the backyard, something in the living room.” He said, “It was very simple. The government basically came to all the event professionals and said, ‘If you get caught helping someone do their backyard wedding, it’s a €500 fine. Every time after that, it’s an additional €500.’” All of a sudden, you realize that as spoiled as we can be in our country with all of our civil liberties, and all the things that we want to do to be Americans, in Italy, they weren’t allowed to leave their home except to go to a grocery or a pharmacy. We’ve had our ups and our downs in this country, but they took it hard. In that interview, I got a feel for what it would be like if I was living there when something like this happened. For us here in the States, we’re doing the best we can, and that’s all we can do.
I’m in Utah, we’ve been open since May 2020. Nothing has changed, we wear masks and that’s it. I know California and some East Coast places, you guys are on much stronger restrictions. It’s not a lot of change here.
I went out with one of my coworkers and we shot a real estate job together. I said, “You want to go get a cup of coffee? We don’t have a way to go out and get a cup of coffee now.” She ended up coming and we sat on my patio and had a cup of coffee. There’s no indoor dining within 40 miles in my house. That’s hard to wrap your head around, especially if you’re living in a place like Utah, where I’m going to be there for an event. It’s a strange thing for me to understand that we’re shut down this way and our numbers are spiking. I haven’t actually looked at what the numbers are in Utah now. It’s a scary time and it’s going to be scary for the next several months. It’s going to start getting better after that, but that’s my personal opinion and we all have them.
Jack, where can we find you if we want to reach out?
I am pretty much one of the easiest guys to follow, and you can hit Google and type up, @JustAsk4Jack, that will get you to me. Otherwise, you can catch the podcast at VisualWow.com. I’m an easy guy to find between that and my photography stuff, you’ll find me.
Thank you so much for being a guest.
It’s absolutely my pleasure, Juliet. Thanks for reaching out. I hope I get to see you when I get to Utah.
I hope you guys have time.
I look forward to it.
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About Jack Hartzman
Jack Hartzman is a professional photographer with more than 30 years behind his Canon cameras. Jack’s decades of experience in the industry range from portraits and weddings to conferences and live events. He is a coach, mentor, motivational speaker, producer, director, podcaster and all around really good guy.
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