Thursday, February 25, 2010

For What It's Worth No. 14

Times are tough, budgets are tight and illustrators find themselves with fewer and fewer ways to promote themselves in a meaningful way. We know about this firsthand as we're facing an ever increasing problem recruiting illustrators to fill our advertising sections in the magazine, and our problem isn't unique all print publications have seen a dramatic drop in advertising support. So when I'm told by someone I can't afford to advertise I want to say you can't afford not to. This is not a time to hunker down and lay low this is a time to promote in any and every way possible, paid and non-paid. I know it's a tough decision to make but by laying low illustrators are making it more difficult on themselves when times get better. Right now it's the safe bet for any art director to use people he or she already knows, if you're not out there letting them know you exist the ones getting the work today will be the ones getting the work tomorrow.

So you may say to yourself here he is just being self-serving, just like every other publication he's looking for ad buyers. Of course I'm always looking for illustrators to take that next step to promote themselves in our magazine but I'm here to tell you that you must find ways to promote yourself other than just putting your site up and hoping someone will find you. There was a talk last week at the Society and while I agreed with 90% of what was said about promoting yourself I disagreed with two statements. The build-your-site-and-they-will-come approach for those just starting out in the business and the avoidance of sending emails to art directors.

I'm afraid I've heard the build-it approach from way too many entrepreneurs in my past days as an ad exec and creative director. Too many people new to business believe so strongly in their product or service that they are convinced everyone will be flocking to their door starting day one. It just doesn't happen. Somehow you have to get the word out about yourself. As illustrators a non-proactive stance does nothing to build your reputation or to gain awareness of your talent. You must think of yourself as a brand, how is your talent different from every other illustrator? why should or would an art director commission you for a project? By just setting there waiting in cyberspace you're doing nothing to gain visibility. Or to get work.

There is a strong misconception that art directors are actively perusing the web for illustrators, it's just not the case. Art directors in the New York area certainly may have more time to spend on projects than outside the city but even they won't be spending time looking for new illustrators. And outside the city they are all too busy with ongoing projects--I'd be working on four or five projects at once while my New York counterparts may be only working on one or two. But we all had creative briefs to look over, meetings to attend, research to read, presentations and the like that can eat up pretty much any and all days. So don't think you can just sit idly by waiting for the phone to ring or the you've-got-mail chime. Go out there and generate some buzz.

Now is an excellent time for established artists to explore new directions, do self-generated projects, create a whole new body of work, just be sure to share those with art directors, The only caution I have is that if you feel your style has shifted significantly then you need to consider adding a non-de plume to avoid any confusion out there.

You're short on cash, what do you do to promote yourself? You use email blasts at least once a month to announce new projects, show new personal work, promote a show winner...whatever that makes relevant sense to use to promote yourself. As an art director/design director I am constantly being sent email blasts from photographers from around the world, however very few illustrators are using this method.

The nice thing about emails is that it doesn't interrupt the day of the art director or art buyer, they can read it whenever they choose to. Many times I'll grab all the photographer's emails and drop them into a separate folder to look at later. Many times I will look at an email when something else is uploading. It makes it so non-intrusive that it makes good sense to send emails out. Just don't send out too many a month, once or maximum of twice a month makes sense. But be consistent, don't do it one month and forget the second. Mark it down on your calendar, make it the second week of the month and send it out on a Wednesday. And make it personal, address it to the person you want to reach, use their name in the body of the email. Remember the desktop--virtual or physical--of any art director is littered with briefs, layouts and stacks of mail--you have a better shot at getting noticed with an email than you do with a tiny postcard.

Entering shows is another perfect way to get in front of art directors who are serving as part of the jury, an inexpensive and tried-and-true way of getting noticed. Send out quarterly promotions, but make them special, not just a postcard. Every art director knows when they get a printed postcard that you've done a mass mailing, it just doesn't make it special. Shrink your list every so often to a smaller number and send out something original.

So start an active promotional campaign. I know what will happen if you don't promote yourself, nothing. I do know if you promote yourself you at least have a shot at getting work.