Monday, December 7, 2009

For What It's Worth No. 13

We're right in the middle of putting out our third 3x3 Illustration Directory and I'm a bit puzzled by a recent email I received, not only because as a design firm we wouldn't be advertising in their directory but also in looking at their claims I find them hard to believe.

When directories first came out they were thin and only featured the very best illustrators and photographers in the field. There was certainly some sort of selection process that unfortunately doesn't happen today, now it's merely a pay-to-play scenario. Though just as a plug, that's not the case with 3x3's. Now directories look like strip malls, way too many images per page, every page is a different design and there is way too much mediocre work being shown. Again, in 3x3's directory it's curated, I personally select artist who are shown–-they must have been winners in our shows or have been in the magazine and I may add illustrators whose work I admire to join this group but it is definitely not pay-to-play.

Coming from an advertising agency background I've been around market research for most of my career and understand the basics on how to select a target audience. Relying on the best list source is certainly the first step but then analyzing where the potential market is is the next step. I don't buy that there are 18,000 to 20,000 creatives in the US that have an interest in commissioning illustration. My research just doesn't support that number, in fact it's in the thousands and not the tens of thousands. Sure I can get to the 20,000 number but that includes those who have no interest in hiring illustrators. Marketing is about targeting, being specific instead of being broad--a rifle shot not a shotgun blast. Making sure you have a valid list is key. From personal experience our ad agency always received way more directories than we had people and in many cases addressed to individuals no longer working with the firm. So buyer beware.

Also if there were 20,000 art buyers out there then we'd all be a whole lot busier. And don't be fooled by the suggestion of sending directories abroad as a source for work, first of all while it is a global market, the fees are much less outside the US and there are other issues to consider such as language and collection of your fee. The US market still offers the best source for illustration work.

There are those out there that say directories are passé, that art directors only look at the web for artists. I do agree that the current state of directories are out of fashion and they should be. But I'm not buying that art directors only surf the web for artists. First of all there are way too many sites for an art director or art buyer to look at. That option becomes a laborious waste of time. Secondly, until now there hasn't been a directory that only showcases the best work; for far too long art directors were left with a poor taste in their mouth about illustration since the directories were filled with marginal work. Lastly, illustration is not on everyone's radar; we're trying to shake that up by sending a well-designed, well-produced, minimalist directory--one image per page-- to a select group of art directors and art buyers in the US. I'm convinced that seeing illustration in a better context will help to change the minds of ADs and designers who are not using illustration today. And we haven't ignored the web component, our site has direct links to each artist's web site.

I'm all for more promotion of illustration in as many places as possible--I think that illustrators don't do enough promotion. And I realize that directories are a business. I just think the cost to play is too much if you buy the fact that very few of the 18,000 or so recipients commission illustration and fewer still even have illustration on their radar. Our directory is a break-even proposition, our page costs are one-tenth that of other directories--hundreds of dollars, not thousands of dollars and while I can't guarantee that an illustrator who appears in our directory will get work I do believe we are presenting their work in a much better light. The more I can show really interesting images the more chances we all have that art directors will wake up to the benefits of hiring illustrators.

This year's 3x3 directory will be mailed free to 6,200 art directors and art buyers in a variety of industries in the US. We have selected the top ten advertising/media markets as the basis for our list and cherry-picked individual markets and titles. Of those on our list we found only 1,500 were in editorial which offers an untapped market out there for illustration beyond magazines and newspapers. There are a number of reasons to consider good directories, there are a innumerable reasons to promote your work; spend wisely.

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