Naturally a given marketing assistant may not pan out

Do you need a marketing assistant to help promote and market your work? Here are some things to think about before you go down that road:

With respect to selling art there is a sense in which the work speaks for itself and there is also a sense in which it is a commodity that, like any other commodity, is more likely to sell if it is promoted and marketed properly.

Let’s take the case where a work is “objectively excellent.” It is a really good realistic painting or abstract painting or three-dimensional construction or whatever it happens to be. It can speak for itself.

Is that enough? In some circumstances it is. If you are a well-known artist represented by multiple galleries, if you have a following eager for your next work of art, if the economic climate is such that folks are buying art, then this will probably be snapped up. In this case the work can speak for itself and garner top dollar.

But what if you have this excellent work but no gallery, no following, no collectors, no cachet, no history of sales or of your paintings appreciating, and no particular presence in the wide world? Then you must act like any other unknown producer of a product who wants to insert that product into the marketplace.

You must either learn how to market and promote, whether through information gathering, trial-and-error experience or both, or else you must hire someone who knows (or can learn) how to market and promote.

Hiring someone is typically very expensive and it isn’t at all clear who that “someone” would be in the context of selling art. If you were selling cars or refrigerators, you would budget for an advertising agency or a marketing department or a modern hybrid version of in-house and in-the-world marketing help. But for art? Galleries are the traditional art dealers, art advertisers and art marketers all rolled into one, and apart from them, who fulfills that role for artists?

One such person is the “marketing assistant.” Hiring an assistant to focus on marketing your art is the equivalent of creating a marketing department inside your business. Many artists can’t afford to employ even one person but your assistant doesn’t have to be full-time, in your physical vicinity, or high-priced. What you are looking for is a savvy, energetic person who is willing to try things. Like you, she may have no clear idea which efforts are more promising than which others or what exactly to do. But she can learn and she can try, and her efforts may just pay off.

You are not turning this over to her as if you’ve managed to wash your hands of the matter. If she garners you studio visits, you must make the most of them. If she gets you a print, radio or television interview opportunity, you must deliver on the interview. It is on your shoulders to make sure that she is trying things (and not just spinning her wheels), that those things seem reasonable to you, and that in general she seems on the right track. You have both a monitoring and directing function and a delivery function.

Naturally a given marketing assistant may not pan out. She might not pan out for any number of reasons — for all the reasons that a given employee might not pan out — and including that she has tried her best and nevertheless not produced any tangible results. That is a genuine possibility. She may spend weeks or months in your employ and not generate anything that you can really hang your hat on (or pay your bills with). That can certainly happen.

It is a painful reality that making sales is often a long, drawn-out process of making initial contacts and nursing relationships over long stretches of time. So the fact that she has not produced any tangible results yet may only mean that more time is needed. But it is so hard to wait and wait and at some point you may decide that it “just isn’t working” even though it might actually be right on the verge of working. If you feel that she is really trying, you might want to give her “just a little more time” — that just might suddenly pay off!

It is on your shoulders to present your marketing assistant with ideas to try, as she may well not have any clear ideas of her own about how to proceed. If she is experienced and she does have ideas of her own that is excellent, but as likely as not she will have interest and enthusiasm rather than real art world experience. Help her help you. Try to ferret out the smartest things to try. Try not to get too hooked on some pronouncement of the day like “You must have a Facebook presence!” but rather try to read between the lines and discern what is actually working for artists. Share what you learn with your marketing assistant.

If you’ve had some experience with hiring a marketing assistant — good experiences, bad experiences or indifferent experiences — drop me a line at [email protected] and let me know what transpired. It will be my pleasure to share some of those experiences in a future column.

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