Thursday, March 03, 2011

creating your own PR department

Not too long ago, I had a public relations meeting. It was with myself, and we drank a cup of coffee and determined that since we can't afford a PR department, it was time to get serious about doing it ourselves. Publicity is one of those things where the more you have, the more you get. The first time I received some good publicity was back in 2004, and since then I've had a steady stream of press attention. But it's always pretty random and I have to wait for it. I never know where it's coming from or when I'll get more. In this, I'm kind of like a horny high schooler with no boyfriend. The goal is to be more like a popular cheerleader type with the football team following me around.

I've seriously considered hiring a publicist for my business. I even went as far as talking to a local public relations firm that specializes in working with small, art-based businesses like mine. They named a fee so high I actually considered paying it, I thought the sum alone would have to make it worth it. The problem is, no matter how much you pay a publicist, there is no guarantee that you will get the publicity you want. We've all heard "there's no such thing as bad publicity." That's bullshit, but what the artist has to think about is worthless publicity, publicity that does not generate interest or sales, especially when you paid for it!

I'm no marketing genius, but I'm sharing the list of things that my PR department needs to work on, maybe this stuff you need to work on too:
  • Making an effective press packet: I've never had a press packet, but I've been thinking I need one since about 2002. It's a handy tool to convince editors and writers you have your shit together and ready when press comes knocking. Whether you have an actual physical press packet or a digital one, a press packet should contain:
  1. Images of your current work. Rather than have a bunch of images of everything, it should be only your best images of your best work, and be representative of your overall body of work.
  2. A clearly labeled list of the images, along with material, dimensions, price.
  3. Artist statement. Every artist needs one of these.
  4. Recent press clips, if any, including press releases.
  5. Your artist resume. I thought I didn't need a resume because I just work for myself, but a resume explains your history of accomplishments and career trajectory.
  6. A postcard and business card with ALL of your contact information.
  • Milking the press contacts: Have you ever had a bit of press before? That's your first press contact, and it never hurts to send that person an email with images of new work. I have never once sent an email to the people who have written about me, asking them for more coverage. That's ridiculous. It's even more ridiculous when I consider that I almost spent 9 months studio rent to have someone do it for me. Bringing another high school analogy back, it's like waiting around for the hot guy to ask me to prom when I can just invite him to the Sadie Hawkins dance.
  • Brand identity: The internet is choked with people who promise to help you with brand identity. The funny thing is their websites look awful, their exhortations are uninspired, and they all want money. I like this site and this site for free help, though there are paid options too. My own thoughts about brand identity are that you need to spend some time and/or money on business cards, post cards, and website so they look professional and like they are all part of the same family. Going deeper, your brand identity is also your story about who you are and why you make art. Why do you need a brand identity? Because when people buy your art, they are also buying a piece of you. Let them know who you are so that piece is more valuable.
  • Better newsletters: It took me about over a year to get into the swing of writing my blog and figuring out my "message". I still have not figured out how to make a really great newsletter, though I am making progress with my new email service which has made it super easy to make it look pretty.
Having your own personal PR department, headed and run by only yourself is the reality of most artists. Take yourself seriously enough to do some work on PR, and let me know what you've done lately or what else should be added to this list!


  1. Anonymous9:33 AM


    thanks for your post. i've had a lot of the same thoughts, and i'm comforted to know you're in the same boat. i'm making a concerted effort to improve my website content, and then i'm going to get press via bloggers. so far i've done a lot of work on my facebook page and's all part of my 'big plan!'

    i think half the battle is deciding you need to do something and making a plan.

    good luck with your pr!


  2. Whitney, you never cease to surprise me with articulate posts that reflect my own experiences and issues.
    Thing is, I think you are better organized and more focused than most of us.
    I spend my days juggling Etsy, family, custom orders, and trying to develop new work.
    PR was just like you said random and at the whim of the individual press person. I have read the guidelines for press packets before and not followed through.
    Perhaps you will have nudged me enough to do it.
    ...after I fill out that application to work at Trader Joe's :)

  3. Sounds like it was a good meeting! I'm still trying to get my blog in a groove...the PR will have to wait a while longer. Best of luck with your new plan :)

  4. I would chime in on the brand identity issue, take the time to also make sure that your online presence is unified: take time to design the banner/headers for your etsy shop, your blog, twitter and anywhere else you can to have the same look and branding as your website. You want people to immediately recognize you whenever they see you online!

  5. Anonymous1:39 PM

    hi whitney, sounds like you have a good handle on it. my only comment is in reference to hiring a PR person/firm. in my previous life, a friend and i owned a relatively big internet dev company and we hired a pr person in house who in turn hired a pr company out of house and i can only say that i never saw any quantitative evidence that things were different or better after they had worked for us. an enormous amount of money down the drain as far as i'm concerned. the upshot is that hiring a pr person/firm is kinda like buying the perfect mattress for you bad back. you have to spend the money to try it out and if, after some time, you realize it isn't working for your back you have to get another. expensive to say the least. so it seems that it's hit or miss and in addition there should be some way to account for what one considers progress.

  6. I did some research with some fellow clay artists who had hired PR firms, even one who was with the firm was considering, and everyone said the same thing: expensive, and not sure if they got enough press to make it worth it. I always have the same feeling about ads on design blogs-- they bring traffic, but sales? Hard to tell.

  7. I don't know much about PR firms, but I do know a little about art agents. My husband is a license artist. Many of his colleges use agents with amazing results. These days it's almost always about who you know.

  8. I just linked to your Etsy site on my blog. I love your cake stands, and lotus bowls... all of it really! I look forward to having some in my kitchen when my birthday comes around. I think I made the hint obvious enough for my husband. ;)

    Rosa @

  9. This is something I've been thinking about myself lately now that the Christmas sales have slowed down quite a bit.

    Its important to always be promoting though even during busy times. I'm hoping to be more proactive in the next few months!

  10. Anonymous6:24 AM

    Great suggestions--I appreciate your putting these together while talking about your personal experience. I'm just getting started with a blog and website. After 20+ years as a corporate graphic designer and technical illustrator, I'm happy to be making my own art...and your ideas really hit home!

  11. Whitney,
    Thanks for taking the time to write this.

  12. I'm still trying to figure out my message. My posts have a tendency to be all over the place. Some about pottery..some about my daily health struggles.. and some just because! o you really think that it is beneficial to narrow the point/audience of a blog, or will the "wide net" approach I've got going on work?