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Artists and Publicity

We’ve been talking about marketing, and how that’s the larger term that includes: advertising; publicity and probably things like branding and communications as well.  But today I want to talk about publicity, and PR.

We’ve discussed before that some people distinguish between advertising and publicity by saying that advertising you pay for, and publicity is free.  While I’m not certain that’s always true, there does seem to me that advertising is looking inward, while publicity is looking out.  I can plan and coordinate my advertising campaigns tightly, but it seems to me that publicity is just blind luck.  You throw your marketing into the wind, and hope that something good comes of it.  But that can’t be true, can it?  The issue is that I view publicity as problematic because it relies on someone else to get my message across.  That bugs me, but it’s probably a fault in the depth of my understanding of what publicity really is. 

While there are a variety of forms of publicists, today we’re only looking to focus attention on those working with creative businesses, and that sort of publicity usually means tapping into print and broadcast as well as social media platforms.  So we’re not talking about the publicist who is called in to handle a PR scandal, or to smooth things over when a hooker overdoses in your hotel room.  That may well be part of a Hollywood or Washington publicist’s routine, but hopefully not something we will need at this stage of our creative careers.  Come to think of it, probably not good at any stage of our careers.  We’re talking about a deliberate, strategic, and purposeful media relations campaign that engages with journalists to draw attention to our marketing goals, to ourselves, and our creative businesses.  So for our discussion, publicity means taking advantage of the press opportunities all around us.

So there you are.  Add that to the many jobs you already are doing as a creative entrepreneur.  You’re now a publicist too.  So, what exactly does a publicist do?  Anybody watch AbFab?  Remember when Saffi asks her mother what she actually does for a living?  Eddie replies indignantly: “PR!  I PR things!”  I found a link to the scene on YouTube.  In case that didn’t help clarify the question, your role as publicist means that you will need to draw media attention to yourself, and to your business.  Yes, I said it, to yourself as well.  See the trick is that all of publicity is storytelling, and you will need to be able to tell your story in such a way to interest the audience that a reporter or influencer is trying to reach.  That means developing a relationship with journalists, editors, and bloggers and offering them content that makes their job easier.  You have to give them the story they need.  

The problem with storytelling as a creative, is that we like to think that our stories are about how fabulous our art is.  And though our creative work may be amazing, that doesn’t mean an editor needs that story.  They say a story needs legs.  It has to stand on its own, and has to be able to last a long time.  That may mean that you would need to tell your story in a variety of ways, stressing different aspects depending upon the publication and the audience.  So a story about an art exhibition may sound interesting to you, but you might need to write about a single mom having her first solo exhibition, or an immigrant who had to fight his way to freedom to present his first solo exhibition, and that means you’ll have to do your homework beforehand. You need to know the audience, and the kinds of stories that reporter tells.

Like we have that kind of time!  Why not just hire out a publicist like I do my accountant?  Even if I had that kind of money, it’s more a question of scope.  If I am an author, I stand to sell millions of copies of a best selling novel or memoir.  If I’m a musician, I can fill a concert venue with hundreds to thousands of fans, and take my show on the road across the globe.  But as a visual artist, what’s the most I can hope for?  Even if I’m wildly popular and successful, how many people does a painter draw to an opening?  I do know one “celebrity” painter who has a publicist, and it’s amazing what she is able to add to his career.  For most visual artists though, it just doesn’t make sense to hire a publicist… from the artist's perspective as well as from that of the publicists. The numbers just aren't large enough.  

But regardless, you still need publicity. So my friend, like so many other things in your creative business, this one’s on you.  That means we all need a strategy.  How do I go about getting press coverage for me and my business.

One of the first steps is to create a Press Kit, or an Electronic Press Kit (EPK).  If you’re a musician, or an actor, you’ve probably already done this.  We need to create a collection of documents that someone in the press can get to, and find all of the information they need to proceed with their story.  A press kit will contain a professional photo, how to contact you, a biography, a resume, social media handles, your website, any branding or logos you use, some sample artwork, your artist statement, a history of your publications, exhibitions and/or awards, Your current shows (keep that up to date), and any previous press you’ve received.  The idea here is to give a reporter or publisher everything they need to make their job easier, and make it simpler to write a story about you.  I have to do this as well, so I’m not being preachy here.  There may be times when we need to have this packet printed up to hand to someone interested, but more often this is a collection of information that is available on your website.  I think the trick is to have it all together, so that a reporter doesn’t have to move all over the website to find my resume tab, and my gallery tab, and my “about” tab for a biography…. Make it easy to get to, and put everything together, even if that means repeating some of that content under a Press tab on the menu.

Do some research to find journalists and publications, or social media influencers to contact.  Find out what they write about, follow them on social media, and read some of their work.  Make it easy for them to write about you, or better still, write the piece for them.  There are also some paid services that will distribute your press releases to journalists, but you’d have to determine if they are worth the expense.  One is, but there are others: PRNewswire, EIN Presswire, Prowly, Prezly and Muck Rack.  Be aware though that these tools are often priced for professionals who are working with large corporate clients.  They are phenomenal resources, but they don’t come cheap.  The best way to reach journalists is still to develop relationships, and give them stories that write themselves.

Good luck, and I'll be looking for you!

John Bishop Fine Art's "Conversations for Freelance Creatives" is a weekly blog/vlog/podcast that creates a community, a conversation, between creatives in all sorts of fields at all sorts of levels.  We want to discuss what we’re learning, what we’ve experienced, and whom we’ve met in our journey of running a freelance creative business. John Bishop is a visual artist living in Houston, Texas. His work is largely abstract, and explores how to turn mythic, archetypal symbols into individual experiences allowing us to see them in a new way, with fresh eyes. His work can be seen online, or at his studio at Silver Street Studios, 2000 Edwards Street, Studio 108, in Houston.

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