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:


10 Requirements for a Successful Art Show Item

In over five years of selling photography at art shows, I’ve had the opportunity to make a lot of friends, and to observe many more artists and their handiwork. I got to thinking about why some kinds of art seem to sell better at certain shows. Things like garden art, for example. Or jewelry. The art show world is evolving in many ways, not all of them good. For example, the proliferation of imported “buy/sell” items from Asia has impacted craft artists. Technological advances in digital cameras have made it simpler for the average person to make good photographs. Many more shows & many more artists have increased competition for patron attention and dollars.

So what makes a good art show item? After thinking about it, I came up with several criteria that are critical to success as an artist.

  1. Demonstrates YOUR skill and expertise.
    Years ago, painters and potters got together on blankets and spread their work out on lawns. Art shows today have gotten much more sophisticated, and so have the products. Some things are more easily made than others, and require less of a commitment to education and skill. Certain types of jewelry fall into this category, as does travel photography. Choosing a niche that requires a higher level of skill insures that your work will be regarded as special, and will make it less likely that amateurs will attempt to emulate it. Whatever you choose to create should demonstrate YOUR individuality and creativity, and a high level of technical expertise. The best work is not duplicatable — although the Asian factories can copy most painting styles, ceramic objects and anything else you can think of.
  2. Easy to make with accessible materials.
    It should be easy for YOU, based on your experience, expertise and skill set. This doesn’t mean that it’s easy for anybody. The things you choose to make should be repeatable, from a process standpoint, so you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you start out making a new item, or designing a new line. Keep track of the little things you do to enhance the production process. That might also include the ideation process: how you come up with new ideas and new techniques. If it’s too easy to make, it may be easy to copy, as well.
    You should be able to get the materials you use in your work easily. Find sources for the things you use every day, and strive to build relationships with your vendors. Lead time between ordering and shipping should be days, not weeks, unless it is such a unique material that there is no other substitute. If an item is unique, it may take time to find new sources if an old source runs out just when you need to reorder. Develop backup vendors for your key items.
  3. Unique, hard to copy.
    The more unique, the better. Originals have more intrinsic value than reproductions. Limited editions with smaller numbers of prints are more highly regarded by collectors than lithographed posters. Many people like to know that theirs is the only one of its kind in existence. This generally gives painters, glass blowers and sculptors an advantage. But you can add unique qualities in other ways as well. Choose subject matter that is yours alone to sketch, to paint, to photograph. Own your niche. Choose not to follow the crowd.
    Almost anything can be replicated in Asia nowadays. Special, hard to duplicate techniques, a signature style, niche subject matter — all of the above can help to shield your work from copyists. Copyright your images. For photographers and 2-D artists who publish on the web, TinEye.com can check to see if other sites are using your work without your permission.
  4. Demand.
    It helps if your art widget is something that people actually want to buy. You can spend all the time in the world developing unique processes, wonderful technique and beautiful finishes, but if no one wants your widget, you’ve spent your time fruitlessly. Do a little research. See what sells at art shows. There’s a reason that doggie visors, scented candles and yard sculpture fly out of the crafters’ booths. There’s nothing stopping you from making art that pleases YOU, but if you want to be successful in the art fair world, other people must want what you’re making.
  5. Portable.
    The easier your artwork is to transport, the easier it will be to get to shows and setup your display. And easier for your customers to carry home with them! Large work, such as heavy metal sculpture and big canvasses are at a disadvantage here. Jewelers have it the easiest. Most of their inventory can go home in a suitcase every night! Of course that leads to the need for increased security. If your items are too small, it will increase the possibility of them walking away on their own. Systems to pack and transport whatever you make need to be taken into consideration. Even the simple act of changing a frame size may have ramifications on the way you pack your van or trailer. The more you carry, the more expense you will incur going from show to show.
  6. Easy to display.
    It goes without saying that your display should look professional. But some art is fragile (glass, ceramics), or requires special lighting. Take into account how your display will be unpacked, set up, and repacked at every show. Most artwork is not designed to be carted around forever — the more it gets moved, the more likely you are to incur incidental damage.
    Your work should be visually  appealing. A mix of larger and smaller pieces helps to create contrast in the retail booth environment. If all of your work is small, consider what will draw potential customers into the booth. If it doesn’t look good, chances are, it’s not going to be of much interest to casual passersby.
  7. Resists weather.
    Weather is a fact of life at most art festivals. Rain, wind, humidity, sunlight all play a factor in how well your artwork can survive before it finds a home. Some work is very susceptible to damage — pastels, for example, are extremely fragile. Other work, like ceramics, sculpture and glass are subject to wind damage, but can withstand moisture fairly well. Think about what venues you are likely to be exhibiting in, and plan accordingly.
  8. Value at an affordable price point.
    Art fair shoppers are always looking for great values. This doesn’t always mean that they are looking for “cheap”, but that they are looking for that special find. Adding value through your experiences in creating the work is a bonus. Tell your stories. Spin your web of romance. Unique materials, and special techniques add value to your work. Make sure your prospective buyers know about your secret sauce. Give your customer something to brag about when they proudly display that new piece on the wall.
    Don’t price your work too high or too low. One mistake that beginners make is assuming that their work is less valuable than experienced artists, and price lower to “get in the market”. Others will price themselves out of the market by placing too high a value on their prized work. Every market has a price comfort zone for specific types of work. Your work may not fit every market. Do some research and don’t be afraid to negotiate price. Remember, you made the piece. You can always make another. If you’re in it to make a living, you are in it to sell your work, not hoard it.
  9. Can be sold for a profit, including cost of materials, and labor.
    If there’s a demand for your item,  you need to make a profit. You can’t sell each piece at a loss, and make it up on quantity, as the old saying goes. Take into account ALL of the factors that go into your work, including the cost of your materials; fixed costs like studio space, insurance and equipment; and make sure that you pay yourself for your labor. There are many formulas out there to calculate what you should be making. Just keep in mind that you will spend a large amount of time your art, marketing it and selling it. Unless you are a highly unusual individual who only makes art as a labor of love, you will want to get paid for what you create.
  10. Love what you do.
    The most important factor of all: you must throw yourself into your work with a passion. Just making objects to sell will not help you sell them. You must have strong emotions about your work. When you talk about how you create your vision, people must hear the emotion and feel the romance behind the work. Without passion in your work, you might as well be flipping burgers.

Take a few minutes and evaluate your creations with this handly little worksheet,using a scale from 1-5 for each factor. The higher the score, the better a fit for the art show market. Not everybody is going to score high on all ten of these factors. What is the perfect art show product? Some might say jewelry — small, easy to transport, always in demand. Others might opt for large paintings, or sculpture because of the high price point originals can command. Whatever you choose, have fun doing it, and sleep well at night, knowing that you don’t have to sit in an office from nine to five!

As always, comments are welcome. If you have some thoughts to add, please do so!

Four reasons why art shows may be a good fit for your work

How often have you heard an artistic friend say that they don’t sell at art shows because [insert reason here]?

Overheard in a forum today:

I have not been successful with art shows, because I have only done flee [sic] markets and Craft shows with very poor results. I have had success in the Commissioned paintings dept. I visit people I know with 3 or 4 of my latest pieces. If they like it, they commission me to do a painting for them at reasonable prices. This saves on the very expensive overhead of having to do shows where you invest a lot of money upfront.

From the sounds of this statement. the artist is probably approaching the art fair market from the wrong direction. Flea markets and craft shows typically don’t attract patrons willing to spend lots of money on original art, but typically are looking for small bargains and “finds”. Fine art festivals, on the other hand, pride themselves on quality artists. You have to find a good fit between your work and the potential audience.

Reason #1 — Quality. If your work is really original and unique, you have a great chance of standing out at an fine art show. Shows that are 1) juried and 2) fine arts and crafts only, will attract customers more amenable to browsing thoughtfully, and spending on art that appeals to their decorating tastes and emotions. Juried shows are also tougher to get into which may eliminate some of the low-end imported crafts. IME, it’s impossible to compete with dried flowers and manufactured cutting boards if you’re an artist. The top shows weed out the buy/sell junk, and feature only the best of the best.

Wells Street, Chicago. Saturday crowds make it hard to walk -- too much of a good thing?

Reason #2 — Traffic. Fine art shows are one of the best ways to attract buyers and potential commission sales. It’s one of the few ways an artist can expose his work to a mass audience in a few days. Most of the people that come in your booth and speak with you are qualified buyers. They may not have the money now, but they are interested in YOUR work, otherwise they wouldn’t have walked in. Many people are there for entertainment value, it’s true, but there is always a small percentage that is there to consider and purchase art.

Nowhere else can you get the maximum amount of exposure for as little money as an art show. Some top shows attract as many as 70,000 people in a good weekend. If only 1% of those people come in your booth, that’s still 700 interested people. If you make sales to only 10% of those interested people, that’s still 70 purchasers. Many galleries don’t see that kind of traffic in a week!

Reason #3 — Cost Effectiveness. Balance the overhead of exhibiting at a good show with the added benefit of post-show sales and you have a very effective advertising opportunity. Not all good shows will cost an arm and leg for booth space. Local art museums, community organizations and non-profits often stage very high-quality opportunities at low cost, to support their artistic community. But the bigger shows tend to attract more people than the smaller local shows. You want enough people attending to make it worth your while. A show with only 2,000 attendees is not going to generate the sales that a show with 10,000 people will. Sunshine Artist, The Art Fair Sourcebook and other resources can help you research a cost-effective venue.

And, while it’s true that doing shows carries with it its own overhead of canopy, panels, bins and transportation, this is an amortizable business cost. After all, you are in business, right? Here’s a post I wrote a while back with some useful reading on getting started.

Reason #4 — Exposure. In our increasingly visual world, artists are competing not only with themselves, but with Target and Walmart, television, the internet and social media. Everywhere you look there is visual stimulation. Broadcast advertising is simply not cost-effective for most small-business owners, unless you buy many spots on late-night cable. Art shows and galleries are two prime areas in which people actively seek art in which to create a calm oasis for themselves. They choose to be there, to view art. Maybe your art. You owe it to yourself to seek out markets in which your work will be a good fit for the audience, and to take steps to expose yourself to that audience.

Sure, you can do it one person at a time. In fact, selling is all about conversations between you and the prospective buyer. But in order to make sales, you gotta have leads. And the more exposure you have, the more leads you will generate. Remember, if you’re keeping your paintings stashed in your studio, no one is seeing them at all.

I have a friend who is a painter who has been doing shows his entire life. He and his wife work as a team, and typically the Monday after a show, they will be showing paintings at two or three private residences. If those showings don’t generate an immediate sale, often they will generate a commission. This is frequently the only way to sell larger work, as the customer can’t carry it home in her Porsche Carrera convertible!

You have a Facebook page. So now what?

Patience, commitment, belief


Your business page is up on Facebook, and it looks fantastic. Now you need to tell people about it.

First off, you can invite your Facebook friends to become a fan. Send them a link to the page and ask them to refer you to anybody else who might love your work. Add some content to your main page — talk about what you’re doing now, your marketing ideas, your current projects, the meal you had last night — anything. Keep it short, and try to tie it into what you’re already selling. Remember, anything you push to Facebook is public, so keep it clean.

You can promote it on Twitter (sign up, and link your FB page to your Twitter profile, or use ping.fm). Tweet about your new page and your work, and what you’re doing. This doesn’t need to take much time, but it may help you get connected to other sources. Try signing up with as short a name as you can, cause Twitter messages are only 140 characters long, including your name if folks reply to it. Follow other people with the same interests. List yourself  at wefollow.com.

Keep adding comments to your page’s wall. Practice writing a little bit on a regular basis. Keep feeding content to your other streams. You can add status updates to LinkedIn, Plaxo, Facebook and Twitter simultaneously using Ping.fm. It’s bit tricky to set up, but if you follow the directions precisely it is a timesaver.

Start building an email list. Use it to send out regular updates on your business, what you’re doing, promotions, whatever, to clients, potential clients, whoever. Vertical Response lets you pay as you go, has templates, and makes it easy to manage your list as it gets larger. Emma and Constant Contact are also good. You can do this on your own, but after trying this route, I do think that the online method is more efficient in the long run. It’s very tough to keep up on this.

Check out these inspirational resources:
http://chrisguillebeau.com/3×5/ – Chris Guillebeau
http://www.fluentself.com/ – Havi Brooks & Selma
http://www.ittybiz.com/ – Naomi Dunsford
http://www.problogger.net/ – Darren Rowse
http://www.artbizcoach.com/ – Alyson Stanfield
http://www.artbizblog.com/ – Alyson Stanfield

Chris Guillebeau’s blog is awesomely good. Check out his free guide to World Domination. Seriously.

Havi Brooks is just plain fun to read. Like Chris, she’s from Portland. Must be the water. She always, always makes me think, and always makes me smile.

Alyson Stanfield’s book, “I’d Rather be in the Studio” is VVG, even though it’s slanted at artists. She has a lot of useful information that relates to marketing, working practices, etc. (artbizcoach.com)

Naomi Dunsford (ittybiz) has great insights into marketing. Plus if you buy Darren Rowse’s book from her, she donates the full price to charity. Wow.

Squidoo is a new kind of site dedicated to expert opinions — a little like about.com, but much much better. Started by Seth Godin. Oh yeah, he’s a good read too:


That should give you plenty to think about it. More than I can handle in a day. Be patient. It takes time to build a following, but if you truly truly believe in what you’re doing, business will come your way. Have faith.