The Importance of Being Visible

I’m formulating a ‘marketing strategy’ this week – which all sounds very grown up and cynical. Unfortunately, getting your work in front of people is one of the most important parts of being freelance and it can get expensive with limited reward; unless you’re smart about it.

This is an over-saturated industry, no doubt about it, and anything you can do to get in front of people is a help. Those who commission work can occasionally be guilty of only seeing what’s immediately in front of them and, unless you remain in front of them, you get forgotten.

My US agents sent me a list at the beginning of the year asking which of their recommended marketing mediums I would be taking part in for 2012 – and for the first time in 7 years I declined to take part in any. Having been agency side for the majority of my career I’ve observed the fate of a lot of these ‘marketing mediums’, as I’m sure a lot of you will have too. In particular I’m talking about those extremely heavy, 400 page thick illustrator, artist and agency directories that cost you around $750 every 6 months to take up one page (or less) with four small images next to whoever your name is closest to alphabetically on your agents’ roster. They basically operate under the idea that, if you throw enough shit at a wall, some of it will stick.

They are un-curated – any Tom, Dick or Harry can be in them – and you’ll have seen them propping up short legs on desks, acting as door stops, languishing unopened on creative director’s desks and, ultimately, being dropped lock stock into the recycling bin (with a heavy thud) when someone’s PA or the Office Manager decides to do a desk amnesty/clear out.

It’s a real shame as a lot of artists pay to be in these books but I really don’t feel bad about not taking part this year. They’re rough on the artists’ work inside and I have severe doubts about their effectiveness. It’s like sending someone a phone book and expecting them to notice your name out of the 20,000 other people it contains.

I think I maintain a pretty consistent presence in the public eye and online; I’ve built a strong presence on Twitter and Facebook where I’m vocal about new work and projects. I send out quarterly emails with recent projects to industry contacts and I update my website as often as I can. In addition, you’ll have seen I give talks from time to time (incidentally I’m speaking at a TED conference in Philadelphia in May and the Apple Store in SoHo, NYC in September) and take my book to agencies to meet with art buyers and creative departments. I contribute occasionally to industry journals such as Creative Review and Computer Arts and make sure the design blogs and such are aware of what I’m up to from time to time. It’s basic stuff but a lot people forget that this is how the majority of work is consumed these days.

This, I think, is just about enough. It is global in it’s reach and a far more effective way of engaging your potential audience. The cost, of course, is $0. God bless the internet.

With that said, I still place a lot of faith in printed matter. I do have some money put aside for marketing and it’s my intention to create a series of targeted, bespoke mailers (possibly a boxed set of numbered and signed prints) that I’m going to be sending to the 50 top creative directors, brands and companies that I really want to work with in the future. Working with my agents on both sides of the Atlantic I’m putting together the mailing list now – and that’s really what your agents are there for; making the contacts in industry that you can then use. That’s why they go to all the parties.

Well targeted, nicely presented work will always yield more reward than carpet bombing. I can’t stress this enough. It’s the same with emails (students take note).

When I sent my first, pre-agent mailers out in 2005 (15 sets of 5 postcards that I had letterpressed by hand) I did it the old fashioned way. I went to the newsagents with a pen and paper, picked up magazines I wanted to work with and took down the name of art directors, designers and such that worked at them. Within 2 weeks of sending them out they had led to my first ever commissions –  the ‘On Language’ section of The New York Times Magazine and a double page spread for the UK edition of GQ entitled ‘The Science of Sex’. I feel like that was a pretty good hit rate for my first go and I’m hoping this new set of mailers will be as successful if not more.

_ C