The Changing World of Promotion for Artists

Illustration by Michelle Kondrich ©2017

Promotion. Or more specifically, self-promotion, is something that all illustrators have to do at one time or another. Some of us feel good about it, some of us try not to think about it and some of us can’t stand it. Regardless of how you feel about it, you are likely getting very little work without it.

Historically, the advice has been to set up meetings with Art Directors (especially pre-internet) and to send postcards or other physical mailers 2-3 times a year. Once the internet was firmly in place, sending emails 3-4 times a year became the standard advice. We were always trying to walk that line between staying top-of-mind without being annoying. Then, of course, came social media.

The world of promotion is not what it was even when I started in illustration about 9 years ago. So how do we navigate this new world?

Portfolio Reviews

Some art directors still take portfolio reviews but they are often unable to take the time out of their busy day, even if they wantn to. If you are visiting (or live in) a large a city where there are art directors you’d like to work with you should absolutely give them a call and try to get some time with them. Getting to know you in person can really help you and your work stick out in their memory.

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t get any meetings scheduled, though. If they don’t do portfolio reviews they will likely tell you. Otherwise, they are probably just genuinely too busy.

Michelle’s advice: Do these if/when you can but be sure to come super prepared, preferably with a physical portfolio, keep it brief and always bring postcards or something that you can leave behind.

Postcards and Other Physical Mailers

The postcard is still a popular way to contact potential clients and there are still some who prefer it to email. Sending something physical in the mail insures that your image won’t end up in a Spam folder or be left unseen for weeks at a time. Not to mention, a lot of art directors like to hang up postcards from artists they are interested in working with, which really gives you an edge.

Some people like to go above and beyond the postcard and create unique gifts or printed objects to stand out from the pile of postcards. These can be incredibly costly, though. Naturally, art directors appreciate gifts like that (and it could get you some extra social media love) but ultimately, no matter how much the art director loves your work they will still have to wait for a project that is the right fit for you.

There are a couple of downsides to physical mailers. If we’re talking postcards, you can get them pretty inexpensively without sacrificing quality but the shock comes when you need to buy the postage. So be sure you calculate that into the cost when building your list. Also, physical mailers can be disappointingly devoid of any feedback. Even if an art director hangs your postcard up on their wall, you won’t know about it until they find something that fits – and that could take months.

Michelle’s advice: Definitely consider doing postcards, even if it’s just for art directors you’ve worked with before as a way to keep the relationship strong. Just make your mailing list carefully. If you do mailers, try to commit to at least a couple of times a year for the sake of consistency.

Email

Emails are exactly that, a simple email sharing your work with a potential client. You should also be keeping past clients on your email list so that they get updates when you have new work to share. The standard wisdom is to send emails every 2-3 months and be sure you keep your file sizes small. And always remember to include your portfolio address.

Emails should be brief but friendly. When emailing an art director for the first time you should introduce yourself while also showing that you are familiar with the kind of work they commission and that you would fit in well with that work.

Similar to physical mailers, it’s common to receive mostly crickets in response. Don’t let that get you down. I’ve been hired by plenty of art directors that I’ve emailed many times without a response. Art directors receive thousands of emails from artists and don’t always have time to respond. You might be filed away in their folder of illustrators, you just don’t know it. My response rate for emails is way ahead of that for postcards. Even a response of “Thanks for sending!” makes me feel like I’m getting somewhere.

Michelle’s advice: Emails are a MUST. Not to mention it’s free so your list can be a lot larger than that of your mailers. Be sure to pay attention if someone asks to be removed from your list, tells you that they don’t commission illustrators or if they give you direction as to how often they’d like to be emailed.

Social Media

This is the new frontier of promotion for a lot of people. Social media can give art directors and illustrators an even more direct and personal line to one another, but that access can be dangerous. When you see someone you’d like to work with actively posting at any given moment, you may feel tempted to respond to them in a way that can feel spammy or creepy. It’s easy to overdo it.

On the other hand, social media provides us with a way to share our work to a broad, sometimes unexpected audience. Some platforms, like Instagram, are starting to be used as portfolios and are helping people get work they may not have otherwise.

Michelle’s advice: Be a part of social media but in a truly social way. Build relationships with other artists, not just with people you’d like to work with. And share others’ work often. If you really want to maximize your impact with social media, look into the various algorithms each platform uses in order to help your posts be seen by the maximum number of people. I hate the algorithms with a fiery passion, but I have to work within them if I want my work to be visible to more than 4% of my followers.

Content Marketing

Content marketing is: a type of marketing that involves the creation and sharing of online material (such as videos, blogs and social media posts) that does not explicitly promote a brand but is intended to stimulate interest in its products or services.

Illustrators have always been encouraged to use side-projects to get the kind of work that they would really like to be hired for. Content marketing takes it one step further. You can use a side-project to provide your followers with content that is of value to them. This is far more meaningful and more likely to be shared than simply sharing images of your own illustration or series of illustrations. Rather than dive deep into this myself, I will direct you to Creative Pep Talk. It’s a great show and most recently Andy J. Miller has been talking a lot about content marketing and how to design a project that will get noticed.

Michelle’s advice: Use content marketing if you can and if it feels right for the work that you do. Be sure it’s something you are passionate about and not just something you think people want to see. This can also be looked at as a way to build a passive income stream if you have a product or premium content you’d like to sell.

There is a lot to consider when you are promoting your illustration business. It may seem overwhelming, but try to do what feels right for you and your work. It will take some trial and error and every so often you will need to reevaluate what’s working and what isn’t.

Be bold, be nice and be professional. Then be persistent. Promotion rarely equals instant gratification, so stick with it!

 

 

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Categories: business

Author:mkondrich

Michelle Kondrich is a commercial artist and animator specializing in editorial illustration. She is also skilled at creating animated GIFs, storyboards, and whiteboard animation/video scribes. Her work gives a narrative feel to even the most conceptual ideas and she is passionate about solving problems in often surprising ways. Michelle is the creator and host of Creative Playdate, a podcast for people pursuing creative careers while raising children. You can find her portfolio and the podcast at MichelleKondrich.com

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