Dear Artist Friends,
I hate marketing.
There, I feel better now that I’ve said it.
I hate marketing when it’s sleazy. I hate marketing when it’s dishonest. I hate marketing when it exaggerates. I hate marketing when it lies or it misleads.
Most of the artists I know also hate marketing. They think it’s dirty.
In fact, most of the artists I know believe that art should sell itself. That someone should see it, respond to it, and buy it.
I’d like that too.
I’d also like it if I sat down at the counter of a soda fountain in Hollywood and had a producer walk in, discover me, and make me famous. That’s what supposedly happened to Lana Turner, a 1940s Hollywood star. But it turns out it’s a myth — it never happened. It was crafted by a Hollywood PR agent so people would feel more connected to this new star as “one of them.”
Tens of thousands of young wannabe stars show up in Hollywood hoping to be discovered. And those tens of thousands get whittled down to a few hundred who ever get a part, a few who become famous, and a tiny number who stay famous.
Though most in Hollywood want to believe that luck plays a role, most Hollywood agents will tell you that the ones who succeed make their own luck because they outwork everyone else. These “lucky” people do 20 times more auditions, they meet 20 times more people, and they work 20 times as hard. And once they get famous, they keep working 20 times harder because they know that Hollywood is littered with out-of-work “has-been” actors who got lazy once they got famous.
It turns out that marketing your art is similar. The ones who succeed, the ones who get “discovered,” work 20 times harder than most. The ones who succeed continue to market for as long as they plan on selling artwork.
In Hollywood, once you get one part, it helps you to get another and another, if you keep working the system. Art, too, has momentum. Sales lead to sales, as long as you remain visible and continue to get attention.
Marketing is NOT about luck. It’s also not about needing to do anything dirty, sleazy, or dishonest. Most marketing isn’t that.
It’s also not always about talent. There are lots of success stories about people who are not the most talented.
Like the Hollywood actors who are showing up and promoting themselves, it’s the same for artists. Show up and promote yourself. Do it over and over and over.
Showing up in the case of an artist means being seen and finding appropriate and tasteful ways to get noticed. Nothing more.
Showing up can mean mounting an exhibition or show and making sure the world knows about it. It can mean advertising. It can mean social media. It can mean direct mail … postcards, letters, personal notes.
Of course, massive action can work best … doing them all (and more) all at once.
Luck comes in when you get fast results, which is rare. Most get lucky by building and keeping momentum … showing up again and again, day after day, week after week, year after year.
I watched an artist’s career launched by massive action … showing up constantly and consistently for about five straight years.
Then I watched that career decline because the artist decided he was famous and known and no longer needed to do all that hard work. Today no one knows his name, and he is broke. We mistakenly believe that we can market till we see success, then stop.
A commitment to marketing is no different than opening the doors of a store. If your doors are open, the store has to work hard to keep people walking in those doors. Than means continuous advertising, creative promotion, and other things to draw attention for as long as you want customers. When you stop, they stop showing up.
Believe it or not, people are not thinking about you or me all the time. In fact, if we’re not visible, we’re out of mind. (We mistakenly think we’re being seen on social media, but social isn’t being seen by everyone, or even everyone on your friend or follower list.) Therefore we have to determine who the buyers are, where they spend time, and that’s where we need to be … constantly.
In Hollywood it’s considered career death if your face stops appearing in People magazine. As an artist, if they’re not writing about you, if you’re not advertising and not being seen by the people who continually spend on art, if they are not reading about you (people often confuse advertising with editorial, and that makes them feel like they’re reading about you), and if you’re not staying visible and generating publicity with new shows and exhibitions, you can easily be forgotten.
If you’ve ever found yourself confused about marketing or what to do, just know that anything consistent and frequent is better than waiting around doing nothing because you’re not sure what to do. I’ve built entire careers on advertising alone, which is the most powerful form of marketing other than editorial. The difference is that you can’t get publicity consistently and can’t control if or when you get it. But you can control your advertising.
Consider this. If you want to make a living as an artist, you have to open the door to your “business” and continually work to get people to walk in the door. You can do it tastefully or distastefully. You can blend in by being like everyone else, or you can stand out. But if you do it consistently and never stop, you will be the success you’ve always dreamed of.