Exhibitions Promoting your Art What is Art

The whole Circus around promoting your art

There is an old story that compares the cycle of marketing with a circus coming to town. In the times of PT Barnum, the example was a great tool to explain how it all worked. It went something like this:

“If the circus is coming to town and you buy a billboard saying “Circus Coming to the Fairground Saturday,” that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of an elephant and walk it into town, that’s promotion. If the elephant walks through the mayor’s flower bed and the local paper picks it up, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations. If the town’s citizens go to the circus, you show them the many entertainment booths, explain how much fun they’ll have spending money at the booths, answer their questions and ultimately, they spend a lot at the circus, then that’s sales.”

There have been many updates to this story through the years. As a new twist to this account I would like to propose, with much respect to the original author and subsequent updaters whom I owe for their inspiration and clever twists, a new art related version which could go somehow like this:

“If you have an exhibition coming to town and you print a sign saying “Great Art Exhibition  opening on the City Gallery Saturday”, that’s advertising. If you put the sign on the back of a truck together with images of your work, and drive it through town, that’s promotion. If the truck is driven by accident through the mayor’s flower bed, that’s publicity. And if you get the mayor to laugh about it, that’s public relations.

If you run the truck through the mayor’s flower bed on purpose, that’s guerrilla marketing. And if you run a contest and ask everyone to send their own videos about artistic generated endeavors that have run amok, that’s user generated content. If they post their videos and forward them to their friends, that’s viral marketing. If they tweet their friends about the contest, that’s micro blogging.

If they post those same videos or pictures on Facebook, that’s social networking. If you have used guerrilla marketing, user generated content, viral, blogging or a social network, that’s word of mouth.

Finally, if you can get people to visit the Gallery, show them your imaginative endeavors, explain your motivations and answer questions, explain what a great investment your art is, and they end up buying and spending lot’s of money on your art, that’s sales.

As an alternative, if they don’t want to leave home to go to the gallery, and you show them your virtual gallery on the internet, and you put 100 pieces when in a traditional Gallery exhibition you may show 20, and provide them with unique views of your work, then that is creativity and allure; and when your paintings look even better on your virtual gallery than live because the visitors have had time to reflect on your art on their own, then that’s the online experience. If at the end of their virtual tour, they spend money on your work, prints and merchandising using a credit card, pay-pall, or other payment methods, that’s e-commerce.

But if they do not want to spend money on your virtual Gallery, you will nevertheless post more advertisements and fancy merchandising like virtual post cards and screen savers and backgrounds, and track their every movement, you will then sell the information to others who will post more advertisements, and that’s behavioral targeting. Those marketers will use the behavioral targeting to send you specific messages just for you; that’s addressable advertising. You’ll even get messages on your iPhone or Blackberry; that’s mobile. You’ll access all this information about you from your terminal that contains no programs; that’s cloud computing.

The lessons from this story are several, but today I am going to concentrate on just 4. These would be:

1.    “Build it and they will come” (Field of Dreams). Never truer than today. But do not expect them to come using the road you planned for their arrival, it does not work that way.

2.    NEVER give up unless you have tried traditional as well as non- traditional methods of promotion, marketing, and sales. And if they didn’t work, there are always ways to profit from all the time invested. It is just a question of looking for the way to do it.

3.    The virtual way is tempting, and it works, but it should be done professionally, thoroughly, and always taking into account that it is not as free as it seems (time in itself IS money and it takes lots of time). Otherwise, you may well find yourself in front of the computer, on your own, wondering where all the time and money you spent has gone.

4. Place yourself in the media to get your buzz going, but to do it you will have to be smart. The press release has been on life support for a long time (I would say at least 10 years) and it does not work. Today’s media require CONTENT, and readymade CONTENT at that. Interesting pieces that bring something fresh and new, and which require little or no work (because they do not have the budgets or staff to do it). Think of clever things to say about subjects you love, mix your work in it, show some magic (we artists are the world’s greatest producers of creative magic), sign it and send it out, ready to print, to online media and traditional outfits. You may be surprised.

In short, today it is like being a one person Circus (wouldn’t PT Barnum be envious if he knew!), becoming an expert in artistic magic (real and virtual), keeping all promotional and publicity balls in the air while we walk the tight rope between traditional methods and new virtual ones. And as always, at the end of the day, it is finally a matter of not letting the lions  eat you.

Good luck!