Which is Better for Self-Promotion: Email or Mailers?

Self-promotion is an ordinary and necessary aspect of doing business as an independent creative professional. Unlike social media marketing, self-promotion campaigns are targeted to contacts who have either opted in to your email list or are art buyers with businesses and agencies. Self promotion is generally done via email or direct mail using a physical mailer. So, which is the best distribution channel to get the word out about what you offer?

What is the purpose of self-promotion?

You promote your work for the following reasons:

To introduce yourself;
To stay in touch;
To show you’re still around and working;
To showcase new work;
To enter a new category;
To ask for an assignment.

Self-promotion is not advertising in that it is not paid placement. While you will need to allocate a budget for it, your recipients should be people who have given permission to be added to your list, or who are regularly engaged in handling freelance talent.

First, lets talk about who you are targeting. For illustrators, photographers and designers, you will want to target art buyers, for the most part. Art buyers, art producers and photo editors are different titles for the same role. They act as the liaisions between art directors and freelance talent. They collect and curate self promotion materials for the purpose of matching the right talent to a project. They will search through their files (digital and physical) and pull promotion pieces that fit the need of the assignment and make recommendations to the art director. They screen portfolios and negotiate contracts with the freelancers or their reps. They handle all the business aspects of a creative assignment.

Art producers are very busy people. They can receive more than 100 emails a day from illustrators and photographers, not to mention postcards and other printed promotions. Being assigned a project relies on getting your promotion in the right place at the right time. There may not be an immediate need for your work, but there may be in 2 years. You might not be the right illustrator for a current project, but you might be the right one for two projects down the road.

If you are a designer, you may target art buyers, but you may also promote your work to heads of departments, business owners, marketing directors, and others who are potential clients.

Your first take-away on that is that you need to be consistent with your self-promotion efforts. You can’t send something just once and stop. Create a campaign of 4-6 related pieces sent at regular intervals throughout the year. Your promotions should reflect the kind of work you want to get. You won’t be assigned something that you offer no visual proof of.

Your second take-away is that your promotions need to be appropriate for the agency or publisher. If you want to illustrate children’s books, do not waste time or money sending promotions to buyers who focus on adult trade books. If you shoot product, do not promote to agencies or companies that create lifestyle campaigns.

Should you send email or direct mail promotions?

My recommendation is to do both. Each has advantages and disadvantages.

Sending HTML email which includes an image, links and contact information is more immediate and requires less effort by the art producer. Text-only email with a link to your web site requires more work by the art buyer’s. Text-only emails with attachments may not make it past some email security filters. If you use an email service such as Mailchimp or Aweber, you can track opens and clicks.

Direct mail makes a different impact. It is physical, which means the recipient needs to touch it as well as look at it. Postcards seem to be the preferred direct mail choice among the art buyers in my research. Brochures, query letters and anything in an envelope require more work for the recipient and cost you more in postage and materials. Postcards are budget-friendly. Standard 4-inch x 6 inch or A-6 format is the most common size. Print on both sides and be sure to include a mailing panel on one side. Note: sending postcards via bulk mail puts them in the category of junk mail. So send to a small list of select recipients using first class or postcard rate postage. If you send a particular art buyer a personalized mailing, using an envelope is acceptable. Otherwise, stick with the postcard format.

You cannot track what happens with a direct mail piece. Don’t worry about it. Really, don’t. You can follow up by phone or email in a week or 2 to inquire if your promotion was received. But given the fact that yours will be one of hundreds, the art buyer may not remember it easily.

How are self-promotions curated?

Many art buyers sort and catalog promotions by style and subject. Postcards are sorted into categories and may be kept for years. Websites are bookmarked and categorized as well. THere’s a strong hint in this: If you send email, help out the buyer by including a category name in your subject line. For example: Food Photography… or Celebrity Portrait…  Fill in the blank with an expanded description just to make it exciting. For example: Food Photography: The Latest in Hand-Held Desserts Photographed by (insert your name here).

How often should you send promotions?

Most art buyers agree that quality is key, and consistency trumps frequency. Send email or direct mail no more than once each month but no less than 4 times per year. Plan your campaigns so that you send at regular intervals. Do not send a promotion in January and then another in May, June and September. Instead, send every 3 months like clockwork.

Four times a year is the minimum if you want to be remembered. Once a month can be excessive, depending upon the art buyer. Decide what frequency is the best fit for your market, and be consistent about it. Send at regular intervals (4—6 times each year) and be sure to follow through as scheduled. Calendar your promotional mailings and keep to the schedule. Use alerts to remind you. Here’s a tip: Set aside 2-3 days once a year dedicated to creating and scheduling your promotion campaigns for the entire year. Then, on each day scheduled, end them out.

Set aside 2-3 days once a year dedicated to creating and
scheduling your promotion campaigns for the entire year.

If you create a campaign that includes both email and direct mail, I recommend alternating between the two, and sending every 2 months. In that way, your recipients receive 3 emails and 3 postcards in a year. At minimum, send 4 times a year, alternating between email and direct mail.

Should I send the same promotion more than once?

Do not send the same email or card multiple times to the same art buyer. Develop a series of promotions as a campaign of related pieces. For example, if  you are sending 4 times a year, create 4 different promotions for that year that are related in some way. Your visual brand needs to be recognizable and consistent across all you marketing pieces.

As mentioned above, make it a regular part of your annual calendar to spend a few days to develop all your self-promotion pieces for the year. Set up the email or get them printed, and simply schedule distribution in advance or follow through on your mailing date for postcards.

What should self-promotion include?

A clean, consistent look to all your email and mailers is the goal. You should visually brand your business, and your promotional efforts need to align with your brand. Size, format, color, fonts and layout should be the same on all your postcards and emails. If you send both cards and emails, the designs should be recognizably similar. You don’t want a recipient thinking they’re receiving your promos from several different people.

Text should be minimal. Let the illustration or photo do the communicating. A single image, or one large image with 2 or 3 smaller ones works best. Don’t clutter the promotion with too many images or a lot of text. They are not advertisements or brochures. When you include more than one image, they should be the same or similar subjects. Make the mailer easy to look at, understand and file.

Include your name, phone number, email and web address. Include your social media links: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SnapChat, etc.

Include a call to action.

Always include an Ask. Encourage a response from your recipients. You may not get one, but ask anyway. What do you ask? Well, what do you want the recipient to do? Join your newsletter list? View your reel? Give you an assignment? Ask!

Building to a consistent self-promotion schedule will help let art buyers know what you do, that you’re still in business, and that you want to work with them. Be deliberate and intentional. You may or may not get an assignment right away, but stay with it. It can take up to 20 points of contact before you land an assignment. Nothing will happen if you are not in it and consistent with it over time.

Your Turn:

What questions do you have about self-promotion? Have you run a campaign? What were the results? Share your stories in the comments.