A few thoughts on marketing

Asked in a online forum recently:

I am thinking about what I could do differently for the next year for my shows and I am thinking about whether involving a marketing company to do some marketing in the city where the show is held would make a large enough difference to sales to cover the costs. […] Not sure how much the cost would be, but my thoughts are to do a test with a local show, use a marketing company to work on a solid branding as well as get an article in the paper as well as give me a couple of ads to run, that I could then in other towns/cities in advance of shows there. Has anyone had any experiences with this to say that the increase in sales outweighs the cost for the kind of business we do.

Based on my experience in agencies as a creative director, you may find it difficult to find a full-service marketing company affordable enough to make it cost-effective. It sounds like what you may need is a freelance public relations person, who can get you placements with the local media. Buying ads is probably not going to help you as much as personalized appearances and mentions in the news. Think about your audience. Do they read the newspaper? Is there a local magazine? Will they see your ad and remember it when the show comes around? Radio and television advertising is too scattershot to do you much good, except as news.

Free Publicity

If you can get interviewed a day before the show, or during the show on the local news, that’s always good. Free publicity will work better than paid advertising IMHO. Even advertising in the local show program is not generally as effective as you might think. Sure, you’ve got targeted eyeballs in the show program, but most people spend a few seconds at most with each page, often scanning the information, and saving it for when they get home.

Develop Your Own Brand

You might be better off hiring an artist consultant rather than an agency to help you define what differentiates you from similar artists. If you’re creative (and what artist isn’t?), you can do a lot of the marketing part yourself. Especially the branding and design of your materials. (See http://www.wishfulthinking.co.uk/2010/06/07/artists-creatives-internet-marketing/)

Most importantly, you want your brand to reflect your work and your personality as an artist.You may want to hire a designer to help you work on your branding, if you feel that you can’t handle it on your own. Designers, while good at working with the look and content of your materials, may not be the best fit for ad placement and media advice however. It should start with a logo that clearly defines you as an artist, and extends to the look and feel of all of your marketing materials. This includes your business card, letterhead and envelope, your artist statement, booth signage, price tags, your postcards, leave-behinds, portfolio, web site  — anything that finds its way into your customer’s hands. Separate your branding assignment from your advertising needs. Once you have a solid brand, then think about how best to increase awareness of it. Is advertising the best vehicle? or should you spend more time working on direct marketing? What about social networking?

Advertise Only as a Last Resort

If you do decide that you want to run some advertising, make sure that it matches the rest of your branding. Developing ads takes a while — there is a systematic process that you go through to determine what you need, how to get there and how to execute. Many marketing companies do this in a similar fashion, but call it different things. Essentially: Discover, Define, Design, Develop, Deploy. (An example can be found at re:group, an Ann Arbor marketing agency). If you shortcut the process, especially the first two, you may not get what you need. The main thing to remember in advertising that multiple impressions is what usually drives traffic (and sales). And for artshow artists, that’s difficult to do on a limited budget.

Focus on Public Relations

My suggestion is to work on your brand, and focus your attention on public relations & networking activities in those cities that you want to target, rather than spending your hard-earned money on fleeting media placements. Work on getting in front of your target audience through local appearances, interviews, speaking engagements and social networking.

For more advice on marketing, check out Alyson Stanfield’s web sites, or sign up for Ariane Goodwin’s Smartist Summit 2011:


Alyson’s book “I’d Rather be in the Studio” is also a good read and well worth the money.

Ariane Goodwin’s blog can be found at:


Printer calibration image

Many times it’s hard to tell if your inkjet printer is spitting out exactly the color it’s supposed to. Having a test image that represents the full gamut of the color spectrum may help to check that. You can make your own, download them from various color labs, or use the one I’ve used for landscape work over the years. Accurate color chips representing all the major inks, their combinations and a grayscale ramp are good to include in your calibration image. Flesh tones are also helpful if you do a lot of portrait work.

Basically you open the file in your printing application, set your printer driver the way you normally do for making prints, and send the test file to the printer. If it looks like the image on the screen, your workflow is calibrated. If it’s off, well, something’s off in your setup. I’ll leave that thorny issue for another post.

Here’s what my image looks like. To download a full-size 8×10 printing image, click it to open in another window, and right-click it.

Calibration image

All images ©James W. Parker, 2010

Anatomy of my booth labels

Design for a booth label

Example of a booth label

One of the things that is useful in the context of any art exhibition is to identify the artwork and provide some details to the viewer. In a gallery setting, these are most often white, with black type, set in a consistent location to the lower right corner of the artwork. In an artshow setting, I use 4″ x 2.5″ labels on the wall in my booth to help identify locations and titles of my work to customers. I’ve been using this design for a while now, as I carry several different sizes of matted prints as well as the framed work on the wall.

I designed them so that I could hang different sized framed pieces on the wall and yet only need one tag. Many people find this confusing, even though the size is ticked with a red marker (at shows), and will inquire which size is hanging on the wall. I’ve found that people will also ask the location, even though it’s on the tag. The design states it on the tag, but still encourages conversation, as the type is small and reversed out of the background. This is partly by design, to match other branding materials, but also to make it a bit harder to read. Counter-intuitive, maybe, but it does encourage conversation.

Spam, ham and how to tell the difference

Lately there have been a few comments made here that could conceivably be construed as real comments, and not spammers looking for another site to link to. It looks to me like the spammers are getting cleverer with the wording of completely non-related comments posted merely to get a link back to some crapola site selling penis drugs or weight loss.

We all know the definition of Spam — it’s unwanted junk that clutters our inbox, and now it’s starting to clutter our blog posts as well. Ham, according to Akismet, a well-known spam-blocker, is a comment that is mistaken for Spam. Comments are always welcome on the blog, especially if they relate to the article being discussed. While comments like, “Really love your content, going to follow your example” may be nice for the ego, in my definition these fall into the “Spam” category, not the “Ham” category. And since I’m the moderator here, I get to say which is which.

I’m only going to say this once: if you want me to approve your comment rather than sending it permanently to spam hell, then say something worth repeating. Make some constructive criticism. Compliment the work. Add your own thoughts. But don’t just expect your silly little automated bot links to be posted automatically. It ain’t gonna happen. Sorry.


Quick Tip on squaring up stretcher frames

I wrote a couple of instructional posts on doing gallery wraps a while back, here:

How to Make a Canvas Gallery Wrap

and here:

Adding Borders to a Gallery Wrap

I use Dick Blick heavy duty stretchers, but the medium variety are almost as good, just not as deep. They slot together quickly without tools, although a square and a rubber mallet come in handy.

Tip: to make sure that the stretchers are square all the way around, use a tape measure and measure diagonally from one corner to the opposite corner. Then measure the other two opposite corners. The figures should match. If they don’t, then tap the frame on the side that needs adjusting and remeasure. You should be able to get within an 1/8″ or better tolerance with good stretcher strips. Generally, if you tap the corners and square it up first with a small try square, you will be close. The tape measure trick works best as a final check.