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How to Advertise in Art Magazines

by Clint Watson on 6/6/2007 9:13:37 AM

Today we look at the subject of advertising in art magazines.  In a recent art gallery panel discussion I attended, every single one of the five gallery owners agreed that advertising in art magazines is "important" because it developes "name recognition" for the gallery.  They all seemed to agree that a gallery should advertise repeatedly "as much as possible" to increase the "reputation" of the gallery.  That's a lot of money to throw at something to increase your "reputation"...especially when most galleries ask the artists to split that cost with them.  I say there is a more disciplined approach that is results-oriented. . .

Those of us who've advertised in print publications have all heard it.  When we whine about not getting results, people are quick to say that we must advertise repeatedly to get results.  Those who sell ads want us to sign contracts to advertise on a consistent and repeated basis.

Don't misunderstand me, consistency is great if you are getting results.  However, if an ad does not generate results, my experience has been that simply running it again is a waste of money. I am a firm believer that every single ad should generate measurable results ... not necessarily immediate sales, but there should be some real, measurable results.

Step 1 - Indentify the right publicaton

It seems that the first mistake artists and galleries make is not carefully identifying the best place to run their marketing messages.  The best place is always going to be their house mailing lists, but when moving to print publications, more thought should go into the WHERE.  I recently read in Robert Genn's Twice Weekly Letter about an artist who plans to advertise in local newspapers.  He's wasting his money and his time.  Newspapers are not targeted to people who buy art.  He needs to look for publications that have art collectors as subsribers and better yet, try to find publications that are most likely to have the type of people who have already bought his art work.

Step 2 - Design a compelling ad

Most artist and gallery ads all look alike:  Name at the top, a current image, some contact info at the bottom.  Boring.  No compelling offer, every ad looks like all the others.  Essentially, unless someone just loves the one image the ad is displaying, they flip right past it.  I know, I do it all the time.  It's almost like the art magazines have become "catalogs" with each advertiser paying for one page in the "catalog"  This problem comes from the fact that most people think "Run Ad, Sell Painting."  Wrong strategy.  The purpose of running the ad is to get contact information of POTENTIAL collectors.  I would suggest artists and galleris think about how to structure the ad to capture contact information of those people who would be most likely to buy their artwork.  

Perhaps this could be a small free gift that the collector could get by going to the artist's or gallery's web site.  Perhaps it could be inclusion on an exclusive list of people who will have first shot at purchasing work in the next show.  The idea is that it should be an easy "baby step"....a free or low cost step, mainly to ascertain interest and get contact info.  After all, if I see a Mercedes in a magazine I don't pick up the phone and say "Put it on my credit card." No, I order more info, go see it at the dealer, get on a mailing list etc.

Let's move on to the image shown.  People always think it has to be an available image.  That stems from the "Run Ad, Sell Painting" mentality.  If I were an artist or gallery, I would figure out which was the most popular painting I ever did.  The one I could have sold 25 times in one night -- that's the one.  That would be the image I ran with my "Come to my site and register for exclusive preview access of my next show" type ad.  I would always try to pick the image with the most appeal, rather than one that is simply "available."  By limiting yourself to an "available" image, you often don't offer the most appealing image possible.  And if it happens to be a good image, it's always sold by the time the ad comes out anyway (due to the two to three month lead time when placing an ad).

The ad would probably contain some sort of "promo code" to enter on the web site to receive the free gift or exclusive access.  This is so that you can count the number of people who came from this specific advertisement.

Now I have an ad I can measure.  I know how many subscribers the magazine has.  And I can count how many people register from a specific ad.

Step 3 - Refine and Repeat

The next step, if I'm confident I've got the right publication and have designed an ad that is producing reesults, IS repitition.  I might try adjusting various aspects of the ad. The free offer might by adjusted.  Try out a different image (if it's appealing), etc.  Once I've figured out the "best" combination that pulls the most people per insertion - I would run it as often as I could, making my ad rep very happy indeed.  In fact, I am doing this now in promoting my online service, FineArtStudioOnline.  Since my clients are artists, I run in magazines aimed at artists, not art collectors, but the idea is exactly the same.  I can look back on each ad and tell you how many people signed up for the free offer and how many of those people went on to become paying customers.  I usually make an upward adjustment when thinking about if the ad was "worth" it, because paying customers tend to refer other paying customers.  So if you get five buyers for your art work from a particular ad, you might ultimately garner anywhere from 5-25 more buyers if you handle getting referrals correctly (but that's another article).

Step 4 - Nurture Your "House" List

Now that I have a list of potential buyers (known as a "house" list), I can do so much more than just "make a sale." I can do all kinds of stuff on a regular basis until I convert as many of them as possible into buyers (and ultimately regular buyers) of my artwork.  I can try to segment my new "house" list into original buyers and print buyers.  I can offer note cards, books, posters to those who can't buy originals.  I can also provide free information on a regular basis to "nurture" this group.  If some part of the list happens to be artists, instead of blowing them off with the "artists don't buy" mentality (which is wrong by the way), I can save those names until the point that I have a workshop to teach, or a book to offer get the idea.

If all of this is done, then frequency and conisistency will pay off....and the artist's or gallery's "reputation" will be built with those people who really matter - the people most interested in buying art work.

However, if the ad isn't compelling, if the image isn't appealing, or the ad is in the wrong magazine, then no amount of frequency or consistency is likely to make much of a difference in sales. 


Clint Watson
Software Craftsman and Art Fanatic

PS:  When I was part-owner of a national art gallery, what I have outlined here is not what we did.  Our ads looked pretty much like everyone else's.  I wish I knew then the things I know now . . . .


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Topics: Art Business | Email Marketing | Marketing 

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Max Mckenzie
via web
Dear Clint,

Since you are a former gallery owner maybe you can give me some advice. I read all of your articles and try to apply them to my situation but I am getting nowhere. I have tried most of the galleries in Chattanooga but no one
will give me a chance. The same goes for
my web site. I haven't had the first
inquire. I know, word of mouth and out-
side advertising, still I wonder, am I
wasting my time and money? Please look
at my work and give me some honest advice. Thanks, Max

M. Darren Holden
via web
Hello, Mr. Watson!

I was tired of going unnoticed as an artist so I started researching how to market/advertise myself.

In doing so, I stumbled upon this blog.

Many thanks! I'll take this advice and sync it with the other advice I'm getting.

Alright, off to work I go!


Jackie Ivey-Weaver
I feel just like Max.I sold well at the Richard Schmid Fine Art Auction for 5 or 6 years.Then,my husband became very ill.
I went from Artist to nurse.
I didn't have a painting that I thought was good enough this year, so I didn't send anything.
I feel time on the computer is time I could be painting(born slow and had a relapse).
I sell more paintings in CO. than in Macon, GA.
I am a FASOL artist.
Jackie Ivey-Weaver

Andrew Osta
I'm an artist and I also collect... In fact, I think collecting artwork of his or her contemporaries is one of the best things an artist can do.


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