PR, Marketing, & Networking
Getting The Word Out: Publicizing Your Project
You’ve worked hard to create your art and develop a project, and now you want to let the world know about it. In order to let the most people know about your work and attract the appropriate crowd of visitors, collectors, press, and curators to a venue or studio visit, you’ll need to develop a PR campaign.
Great PR generates a buzz by notifying the right people and the right media outlets about events they are likely to want to attend or write about. A good PR campaign is targeted at these individuals and focuses on getting people interested in your work.
The first thing you want to do is identify your target audience. These are the people you ABSOLUTELY want to reach. Everyone outside of this target audience is an added bonus. The key to developing your PR strategy is to cast as wide a net possible to attract your target audience without overreaching and going over budget or expending too much effort.
Figure out your target audience by thinking about who you want to see your work. Do you want to attract a certain kind of crowd? How old is your target audience? What is their background, community, culture, income, or education? What language(s) do they speak? Where do they live? Where do they work? All of these elements will factor into where and how you publicize your project.
The language you use to describe your project or event should be both interesting and easy-to-understand. Use descriptive language and short, concise phrasing. Include images whenever possible. (This is art, after all!)
There are lots of techniques you can use to get people to attend and/or participate in your project, including:
Send out press releases and event info to local press outlets, like newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and television networks.
Use email and websites, like Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites to let anyone and everyone know about your event.
Mail postcard invitations to your mailing list and the host venue’s mailing list.
Put up flyers in places your target audience is likely to be, like coffee shops, places of worship, theaters, businesses, gyms, clubs, libraries, etc.
Insert your flyer as a “stuffer” in the Sunday newspaper.
There are thousands of ways artists have publicized their projects, from simple word-of-mouth to skywriting. The trick is figuring out what method will reach your target audience.
Create a PR budget before you begin publicizing your project as costs can quickly get out of hand. When creating your budget, also create a “time budget” to determine how much time you are willing to spend publicizing your event, and help you allocate your time efficiently. Sending out emails can take a few minutes, but putting up flyers can take hours, even days.
Press Mailing Lists
One of the best ways to let people know about your project is to send press releases to local newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and other publications. For more information on how to write a press release see the Press Release chapter.
Begin compiling your own press list by imputing these contacts into a database like GYST’s software provides. Putting together a press mailing list, in addition to and separate from your personal mailing list, is a good idea. Many artists rely on gallery press lists, but if you are working independently, or showing your work in a non-art space, a comprehensive press list may be unavailable.
If you are starting your press release from scratch consider doing the following:
Visit your local library and ask for a local and national media directory. This will list up-to-date information on news editors, writers, and reviewers working for major U.S. and international publications.
Visit the website of every publication you would like to notify about your project. Get names and contact info for reviewers, critics, and editors. A great resource for doing this research is http://www.newsdirectory.com.
Collect contact info for local non profits.
Make sure to include university newspapers, small neighborhood newspapers, and newsletter services. A great resource for finding alternative press outlets is http://www.altpress.org.
Get the contact info for all your local radio and TV news outlets. For radio station contacts, visit http://www.radio-locator.com.
Go online and download advertising specs from print publications. These usually include information about the demographics these publications cater to. Knowing this can help you craft a more targeted and effective press release.
You can also ask around for press contacts. Ask a local nonprofit if you can borrow its press list. Ask other artists, schools, or even galleries you have exhibited with for their press lists. If they don’t want to give you the list in digital form (on a CD/DVD/email) ask if you can provide mailing labels and pay for printing so that you won’t actually have access to their computer files.
You shouldn’t ever have to pay for a mailing list, but some cities have arts organizations that keep track of mailing lists that are for sale. A frequently used resource in the Los Angeles area is the CARS list, which rents out names and addresses of people who voluntarily sign up to receive information about arts and culture.
What to send out:
Event Fact Sheet
Public Service Announcement
Email Save the Date
Email Event Announcement
Personal Mailing Lists
Your personal mailing list is probably your most important marketing tool. You want to keep your personal list up-to-date and private. It is never too soon to start your own mailing list. Start with your friends and family, and then research other venues that might be interested in your work.
Word-of-mouth publicity is priceless and hard to generate. Here are some tips for ensuring that your personal contacts help you in creating a buzz about your project:
Send individualized emails to your friends, family, and colleagues. Start with a short note asking them to personally attend your opening. You absolutely don’t want them to think you just cut and pasted an introduction. After this you can paste a standard invite to your show.
Don’t send press releases to your friends and family or colleagues. PR is meant for the press, send an email invite or personal postcard to the above.
Write short personal notes to friends and family on postcard invites.
Send a save the date up to one month before your event.
Let your personal contacts know that they can forward event details to their own contacts. Thank them for doing this, and offer to assist them in any way you can.
Buying Mailing Lists
While a mailing list is important, buying a gallery list or other type of mailing list is usually a waste of time unless you are a well-known artist. If the receiver has never heard of you, it will probably end up in the trash, electronic or otherwise. Save your money (not just on the list but also the printing and mailing costs) and make connections by networking and attending events. No one likes to get emails from someone they do not know unless there is a good reason.
Generating a Mailing List
Always have a sign-up mailing list at every event or exhibition. Get names from other artists or art organizations, dealers who represent you, or other sources. Have a subscription button on your website to gather visitors’ email addresses.
Marketing Your Work (finding an audience)
Selling work takes great effort but it is important to sell it professionally. If you stay in your studio and do not get out much, selling your work will be more difficult.
Is your portfolio up-to-date, including a recent artist statement, current résumé, work descriptions, and images?
Do you have a 30-second “elevator speech” prepared so you can quickly tell someone about your work at a moment’s notice? (See Elevator Speech chapter on page 127)
Do you have a website you can direct collectors to?
Is your name and contact information on everything you send out?
If you found out that there was a show that your work would be perfect for, how long would it take you to put a package together for a proposal that includes images, work descriptions, artist statement, résumé, annotated work description list, etc.? If you cannot do it in a few days, you need to improve your organizational and professional practice skills.
Have you taken the time to figure out what work is for sale and how you would price it?
Is your work on display now or do you have a show, studio visit, or open studio event coming up in the future?
Is your mailing list updated with possible collectors or buyers?
Have you sold art in the past or are you just starting to sell work now?
Publicizing Your Artwork
The best way to sell work is to first let people know about it. To do this you need to get out there and make connections so that people know you have work for sale.
Have you told everyone you know that you are a working artist and selling your work?
How recently have you attended an art show or gallery opening?
When is the last time you had a studio visit?
Do you have a business card with your contact information and information about your work?
Are you applying for shows?
When you introduce yourself, do you let people know you are an artist?
Do you go to lectures and events?
When is the last time you contacted existing or potential collectors?
Things You Should Never Do
Direct mail marketing or spamming
Over-market. (People will get tired of you pushing them to buy your work.)
Use pretentious language
How to Market Your Work
Build relationships with potential collectors and buyers over time. Sometimes it takes a while for people to either make up their minds, or to learn enough about you to feel comfortable investing in your work.
Have an open studio and invite people on your mailing list who might be interested in buying your work. Don’t fill up the studio with friends who will hang around and occupy your attention.
Learn about collectors and find out what their needs are.
Encourage word-of-mouth referrals. Ask people to bring a friend to a studio opening.
Cultivate relationships with collectors who have bought your work before and maintain contact with them.
Sell work from your studio at a discount or on a payment plans, or consider other ways of selling your art by package (e.g. two or more works for a larger discount).
Do not do anything to damage your reputation. Your reputation is the one thing that you can control, for the most part.
Have the utmost integrity at all times.
Have materials ready at all times to either send out, give to those who come to your studio, or to include in proposals.
Always offer a money-back guarantee. Often it is hard to make a sale if you do not, particularly if you sell work online.
Describing Your Work
It is nearly impossible to market your work if you don’t know how to describe it. Write a short, interesting paragraph that will invite more questions. Practice saying this out loud until you do not need to refer to your notes any longer. Use this description with your friends and family before you try it on strangers or collectors. You can always refer to your artist statement if it includes a well-written description.
Always be truthful about your work. Make sure the description you have come up with truly represents your work. Many times an artist statement has not truly represented the work, which is vital on a grant panel or exhibition proposal. If the work does not match up, change the statement. (Or make more work!)
Introducing Yourself to Others
Artists are often uncertain when to introduce themselves to curators, dealers, and other art world people. The answer is: introduce yourself if you have a reason to do so. If you do not, then don’t. If there is a common interest then introduce yourself with confidence. Introducing yourself with “Hi, I am an artist” is not a good reason. If you are introduced by someone else, or have been introduced before, be sure to have your elevator speech ready.
If you have a mutual acquaintance or you have pertinent information, start with that. You want her/him to feel comfortable. If you are thinking of yourself and not the other person, forget about it. If you need to, find a way to get introduced by someone she/he knows, but only with cause. Be sure the person who introduces you is respected because you will be professionally connected to her/him.
A serious and thoughtful artist will always leave a better impression than one who is inappropriate or pushy. Take your time, as you have the rest of your life to make a good impression. Avoid trying to sell too much too fast.
Selling Your Work Online
Never send out emails unless you have a good reason or noteworthy news. It is a good idea to always send out mail with a subject line, as some people will not open it unless they recognize your name. Be sure the subject line is something to catch their eye, and make it as far from spam type titles as possible. (Some words are keywords for spam filters).
Within your emails, be sure to include all relevant content, even if it is in the attachment. If all the information is in the attachment they might skip over it and never return. Include contact information and a link to a website if they want more details, but the basics should be in the body of the email.
Keep the message short and precise. Who, what, when, where, and why is a good phrase to keep in mind. Extra descriptive text can be put in an attachment or on your website.
If you are announcing a new website or an addition to your site, direct people to it, but also tell them where to look and why. Do not just direct them to the site and expect them to figure it out.
Do not send large files, and never send more than two images at one time. Twenty to 30 kegabytes is optimal. Keep them under 60 to 80K at the most. Note that a larger image is available, if they would like to receive it.
Target your recipients carefully, and create a separate list for those whom you email about your art. Be sure to use the BCC (blind carbon copy) address field for emails so that the recipient does not get everyone else’s email addresses. Not only is it annoying, but you may also be giving away private information.
Avoid mass emailing. Adding a personal note in your email can make a big difference, and will make your recipient feel like they have been singled out, instead of lumped into a bulk mailing.
If you make regular announcements or updates about your art life, you might want to consider sending a weekly, monthly, or quarterly newsletter or posting one on your website. You can send an introductory copy and ask recipients to subscribe, but do not send out the newsletter to anyone else.
Using Art Marketing Agents
Some companies make money by marketing art and artists. They may offer to create advertising for several thousand dollars, and do a mailing with a brochure featuring photos of your work, a cover letter, and a résumé. They usually have a set list to mail to, and will give you a number of brochures to mail yourself. Be very wary of these companies. You can market yourself for significantly less money and towards a more receptive audience.
If you decide that you just do not have the time, and you have the money to spend, be sure to check the company’s references before you engage them. Find out how many artists they have promoted and who the artists are. Contact a number of these artists and ask what results they got. Find out if they recovered their money, or if it increased their sales at all.
Be sure the company sends you at least five mailers that it has created for other artists. Check similarities (if all the brochures are the same, this could be a bad sign that things are not tailored to each artist). If the company mails the same brochure for every artist with small changes, it probably has a direct exit to the trash can.
You can also check out the businesses that receive these mailers and ask for their opinion. Make sure they do not mail a whole bunch of packets together with other artists. If you are paying for individual treatment, then demand it.
Most galleries, agents, dealers, and other arts people are not usually impressed by slick advertising, as it comes across as trying to buy your way into the market. Networking is still the best policy, and your work will pay off in the long run.
If you need brochures printed, but you do not have the skills or the time to do so yourself, and you lack a lot of funds, try contacting a local school with a graphic design department. Students are often looking for jobs, and a good graphic designer can be recommended by a faculty member.
Brochures and Catalogs
Catalogs are very expensive to print in large quantities, but there are other options for you to consider, such as a small publication (8 – 20 pages) with just a few images and your artist statement, or an essay by someone you know. This could be a great collaboration with a writer, and you may be able to split the costs. If you create a digital book or print-on-demand publication, it is much less expensive.
A good catalog is useful in promoting your art. You can use it to reach people who live in other places, and it is a great gift for someone who may be interested in your work. Catalogs can also be good records of your work, and they are used extensively as research tools for curators, scholars, teachers, and libraries.
Be sure to include your artist statement, résumé, and other writings as well as images. Consider what you put in the catalog carefully, and do not overload it with information that does not show your work in the best light, or that will embarrass you later. No long diatribes about your childhood or other personal information unless it is relevant to the content of the work. (See Artist Statement section.)
Before you publish the catalog, have a number of people look at it, read it, and give you their opinions. If you hear criticism, consider it carefully and consider making changes. Although color is most striking, black and white can be more affordable. There are conventions for catalogs that every good graphic designer will know. Do some research and look at other artists’ catalogs to get some good ideas before you start.
Press Releases, Fact Sheets & Press Packets
About Press Releases
A press release is the most important part of an effective PR campaign. Like everything else it takes time and practice to write a good press release. If a news outlet doesn’t cover your event, don’t get discouraged. There’s a lot of news out there. The important thing is to be persistent. The more times your name/organization comes across the editor’s desk, the more recognizable you will be and the more likely you are to get coverage in the future.
A press release gives reporters a one-page summary of your event or exhibition. It should be “scannable,” which means it should use key descriptive words and short, concise sentences. It should clearly state the basic features of the event:
Who: The artist or performer, and the organization.
What: The title of the event or exhibition and what it will present.
Where: The venue.
When: The duration of the exhibition, hours of operation, and opening dates.
Why: Why the exhibition or event is important, and why it is occurring now, in the space where it occurs.
Contact info: The person who will answer questions from the press.
The press release should describe the audience the work is geared to. Most importantly, it should set your project apart from the rest by relaying clearly and succinctly WHY YOUR EVENT IS WORTH COVERING. The more your press release reads like a ready-to-publish article the better, as this makes for less work for the media outlet’s writer.
Press Release Contents Checklist
Date for release of information. (e.g., For Immediate Release)
Contact name, phone number, and email.
Title of show or event.
Dates of show or event.
Hours the show or event will be open to the public.
Date and time of the opening reception.
Directions if needed.
Parking info if needed.
If the space is wheelchair accessible, note this on the press release.
State the availability of photos or transparencies.
Have any images you are including ready for the release date.
Rules for a Press Release
Use 8.5 x 11 inch white paper, or A2.
Use a standard font, like Times, Helvetica, or Arial.
Use a minimum of 10pt. font.
All body text should be, at minimum, 1.5 spaced.
Use one-inch margins on all sides.
Type your press release (no handwritten text).
Print on one side of the paper only.
If the press release can be listed immediately in a calendar or a review write FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE at the top.
Keep releases one page long, if possible.
If your press release is more than one page long put the word “MORE” at the bottom of the first page.
Have an eye-catching headline at the top of the release.
Give a brief synopsis of the show or event in the opening line.
Use descriptive language so the reader can “see” the work.
Don’t use overly verbose language, and don’t be overblown or dramatic; e.g., “The best artist in the universe.”
Don’t be artsy or poetic—cut to the chase.
End your press release with a “boilerplate,” which is a one-sentence description of your artistic vision or practice.
Put three number symbols (###) at the bottom of the last page of a press release to indicate the end.
Event Fact Sheet
An event fact sheet provides the minimal information needed about the exhibition or event. It can be sent along with a press release, or in place of it when only basic info is needed. It answers the important five W’s: Who, What, Where, When, Why, and provides contact info. You can send an event fact sheet to a Calendar/Events editor instead of a press release. Send event fact sheets to newspapers at least three weeks before your event. Send event fact sheets to magazines three months ahead of time.
Press packets provide all the necessary and relevant information different press outlets might need when reporting on your event. They can be quite expensive to produce, so choose who you give them to wisely. If you are sending valuable materials and you want them back, consider sending a self-addressed stamped envelope (SASE) along with the packet. The news outlet might not mail it back but it’s worth trying, especially if you are sending books or DVDs.
A Press Packet can include:
Introduction or cover letter
Table of Contents
Letters from donor organizations, or a list of sponsors
Past reviews of the artist(s)
Information about the venue
Images of the work on a CD, and an Image Inventory list
Images should be both “print ready” at 300 dpi and “web ready” at 72 dpi
Business cards for the artist and venue
Catalog or pamphlet from the show
Containers for press packets can be as simple as a plain folder in a standard manila envelope, and as complicated as a custom-made shoulder bag with multiple programs and press releases included. While professional presentation is important, remember that it is what is inside the press packet that really matters.
How to organize your Press Packet
From The New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA)—a press kit should be organized in a folder and should include all of your promotional material including:
Organization Info (in left side of folder)
Event Info (in right side of folder)
Organization’s brief history
Board of trustee list
Misc. marketing materials
Any relevant or recent press coverage
Press release for current event
Program for event
Bios for artists, if applicable
Images from event
In general, press kits are made available for attending press at the opening night of an event or at a press preview. Press kits do not need to be sent to press ahead of time unless there is a particular media contact that you are expecting or hoping will review your event.
Be sure your information is correct and gathered together a week before you need to send it out. Have someone else look over all your press materials to make sure your project description and venue information is clear.
3 months before the show or event
Most magazines have a three-month (at least) publishing deadline. Call publications for their requirements. Provide the venue with information about the project way ahead of time.
3 weeks before the show or event
Most newspapers and weekly publications require a three-week event deadline.
1 week before the show or event
Send out an invitation to your emailing list. Remind any reviewers via email.
After the event
If a reviewer writes a favorable review about your show, send a thank you email. This shows that you are reading her/his writings and will establish contact for the future.
Feel free to share this article with other artists.