Marketing Mondays: Promotion

Boston sculptor Donna Dodson asked the question that prompted this week’s topic:

“I was wondering about self-promotion versus promotion through a gallery. Do these work together or do they conflict? What are the boundaries?”

As a self-promoter with a wonderful network of galleries supporting me, I can answer this one with confidence. The short answer: Self promotion and gallery promotion go together, hand in glove.

A slightly longer answer: Communication between you and your gallery will tailor the fit. A smart dealer understands that the efforts you take on your own behalf will ultimately benefit the gallery too.

Here’s Valerie McKenzie of McKenzie Fine Art in Chelsea: "It's always enormously helpful when artists participate in the promotion of their work, and by extension, promotion of the gallery. So it's important for artists to maintain as broad and meaningful a professional and social network as possible."

Do you have a website or a blog?
Then you’re self promoting. If you are represented, provide a link to the gallery. If you should be contacted by someone who has found your website and likes the work, direct them to the gallery.

It would be a mistake to think, “This collector found me through my website so I’m going to make the sale myself.” If you’re represented, work with your dealer. If you work with several galleries, direct a potential client to a) the dealer closest to them, or b) if they have seen a specific piece they really love, to the dealer who has that work.

Once you direct the collector to the gallery, it is the dealer who will complete the sale, collect the sales tax, deliver the work. It may well be that as a result of this kind of attention, you’ll get the solo you’ve been wanting, or the ad to go with the solo, or a catalog raisonne of the show. Success breeds success. On the other hand, if you find that your website is consistently directing more sales to the gallery than the gallery is generating on its own—and you’re getting no perks, such as a nic(er) ad or a catalog—it may be time to renegotiate the relationship. Perhaps you can suggest that the gallery take a smaller commission on those sales. Or maybe you'll realize it’s time for a different gallery. (Another topic for down the road.)

Are You Showing in an Open Studio?
If you’re gallery represented, you really don’t need to go the Open Studio route anymore, but if it’s one of those yearly events that your studio building or artists’ community participates in, go ahead. Cross promote with the gallery, working out ahead of time how you will deal with a sale. It might be as simple as calling the gallery to have them complete the sale over the phone--they take credit cards; you probably don't--or you having the collector make out a check to the gallery. Let the gallery deal with the business issues and the sales tax. The gallery will also maintain the relationship with the new collector in ways it’s set up to do: previews, special events, regular newsletters and such. And the signal to the new collector is, ‘If you want more work from this artist, come see it (and buy it) at the gallery.”

Having a Gallery Exhibition? Coordinate Your Efforts
Why duplicate when you can coordinate? If your gallery has exhibition PR taken care of, maybe you send a short handwritten note to a few critics or curators, inviting them to come to the show. Announce the show on your website or blog, again providing links to the gallery. Or maybe you promote yourself in an area outside the conventional parameters of gallery PR: your local paper, if it’s not in the same city as the gallery; a national publication whose demographic is specific to your identity or interests; even to your personal groups that might not go to a gallery if not for the fact that you re showing in it. "Tap into your network," says McKenzie.

Are You in An Exhibition Outside of the Gallery?
If you’re actively working on your career, it would be unusual if you didn’t show outside your gallery once in a while. It could be a solo or group effort, an invitational exhibition or independent curatorial effort, in an academic gallery, a non-profit, a co-op, or a regional museum. Depending on the circumstances, it might even be in another local/regional commercial gallery. Make sure your primary gallery (or the one that has facilitated the delivery of the work, or the one closest to the venue) is identified as representing you. For instance, I’m in a group show right now in a museum on Cape Cod. I have made sure that the work is identified as Courtesy of my gallery in Boston.

You should know under what circumstances and for how much your primary gallery will share in the exhibiting gallery's sales commission if work is sold. A contract will spell this out. Since most of us don't work with documents beyond a consignment list, or a contract for a specific show, it's essential that you have a conversation with your dealer. (My feeling is that if you secure the show and the dealer will get a commission from the sale, that dealer should cover the cost of shipping the work if the second venue doesn't. I have also found that in galleries outside of New York it's unusual for the dealer to expect a commission on a show you secure on your own.)

Take Initiative
A few years ago I had a modest retrospective of 10 years' of encaustic painting at an academic gallery. It was the kind of show that my dealers were unlikely to put on, since much of the work had to be borrowed back from collectors, but all of them were excited for me. That being the case, I worked with the director of the academic venue to create a catalog of the show—and I asked each of my dealers to pre-purchase 100 copies of the catalog at cost. I got a great catalog for my time and effort, and they got many copies of a catalog at cost, which they were free to either sell or give away to collectors. Everyone was happy.

Or maybe you’d like a bifold or trifold card when all the gallery is prepared to pay for is a postcard. It happens. Most galleries don’t have your personal self promotion built into their budgets. Maybe you design it. Or split the cost above a certain amount, or you pay for the essay if they pay for the catalog. Or maybe all your self promotion has brought your career to the point that they take on the cost of the catalog themselves. There’s no hard-and-fast rule here, so a request, a discussion, some give and take, may result in some or most or all of what you ask for.

If you’re in a group show at a venue outside your gallery, I think you are perfectly free to make up a postcard with your own work and name on the front, with back-matter info that says you are participating in a group show. If appropriate, include the name of the juror or the curator, and if it’s a small group, it would be a generous gesture to include the names of the other artists. Some galleries have a “Gallery News” section on their websites noting the activities and events in which their artists are participating. If not, they may be willing to keep a stack of cards at the gallery. Again, if you’ve indicated that your work is Courtesy of that particular gallery, it’s a nicely reciprocal promotional opportunity.

Apropos of promotional postcards, McKenzie suggests you distribute them judiciously: "I discourage the obnoxiousness of handing out your own announcement card at someone else's opening! "

Unsure of Your Parameters? Talk to Your Dealer
The artist/dealer relationship may have its roots in business, but as a relationship it is interpersonal. And in any interpersonal relationship, communication is essential. Bottom line: It’s a rare (and myopic) dealer who doesn’t welcome your own promotional efforts.

Artists, how have you handled this issue of promotion? And as always I’d love to hear from folks who have a different take on the topic—that’s you, dealers and curators.



Donna Dodson said...

Thanks, Joanne, for discussing so many great ideas on this topic and sharing your experiences to help other artists. It is much appreciated!

Patty said...

Excellent post. I'm in a fabulous relationship with my gallery director and I always - always look for ways to strengthen that relationship. Artist's need to remember that it's not always about them. It's about being professional and gracious as well.

Casey said...

Hi Joanne,
This was quite the hot topic on the Art News Blog.

Evidently some galleries are very protective of cyberspace.

Joanne Mattera said...


Thanks for this URL. Readers, you might want to take a look.

There are so many kinds of galleries at so many levels, in large cities and small, and so many different kinds of contractual (and non contractual) relationships between dealers and artists that it's quite impossible to describe one way of working together.

But I'm always a bit shocked when artists see dealers as the enemy and dealers see artists as people not to be trusted.

Personally, I don't want to be involved with the retailing of my work. I want my retail specialists, the dealers, to do that. We're working together. I make the work; they place it. We may work together on some aspects of promotion, but they are handling the retail end of things.

I know there are dealers out there who do nothing and expect a 50% commission. If your dealer never picks up the tab for shipping, doesn't do PR, doesn't have the contacts that get critics and curators in to see your work, and doesn't sell--or takes forever yo pay--then what's the sense of staying? But be up front about it if that's the case.

Anonymous said...

It isn't directly related, but...The link to Susan Boyle is fantastic!