Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Life of Persuading

After 30 years as a freelancer, you'd think I would know better how to convince an art director to hire me. Why would I want to send yet another promo postcard or purchase another directory page, when I know it doesn't do any more than add to the clutter? What new methods of promotion can I adapt? I'm making a New Year's resolution to find ways to promote myself more effectively and intelligently. Inspiration came in the 90-minute PBS documentary I watched recently called the New Persuaders.

In it, marketing and advertising experts (I use this word loosely) describe the new ways that corporations use to study and sell to their products to consumers. They studied the "idea of choice" and what motivates people. Apparently their answer is rooted in emotion.

What these savvy ad men say is to try the opposite of broadcasting. We should develop a strategy of narrowcasting. This direct approach seems to makes sense. We only need a couple of dozen choice clients who love us and want to pay us, in order to have a career. We just have to find them and give them what they want.

Corporations pay millions of dollars to have these marketers assess their products and come up with strategies to seek and sell them to the right consumer. I'm no Fortune 500 company, but the process is no less significant. I too have to take an inventory of what I have, what I like to do and what I can offer. I know I deliver on time, on budget and on message. I'm clear about my brand. But what am I missing? The New Persuaders might say my marketing lacks an informed and established emotional connection.

Read some of the commentary from the program available on It tells us they studied cults such as the Moonies and Harley owners. Commonality was found in how the cultist's object of desire made them feel. Car owners in particular were studied. They found that Hummer owners want to dominate. Saturn owners felt they were part of a family. Although it may not have been obvious to them it's clear to me. I just need a few Bill Russell illustration fanatics. What are the unconscious desires of editors and art directors? I hesitate to guess. Short of setting up a focus group, I ponder the thought of having to pick their brains.

So here's my pledge. I am putting together a small list of trusted clients for a small email survey. I intend to question them about what really gets their heart pumping? Which object of desire would they want to covet? Given an unlimited editorial budget, what kind of art or artist would they want to commission? Then I'd have to figure out if I have what they want. If I have it, I'd sell it to them over and over again like Chicken McNuggets. I'll report back in this column in six months.

I'd like to hear from some of you as well, my fellow graphic artists, on what new strategies for promotion you are pondering. Does my approach have any value and integrity to you? I imagine N.C. Wyeth may be turning over in his grave right now at the mere thought of this inverted approach to art making and art selling. We're not in a golden age anymore where great art finds great fortune naturally. Right now I'm willing to try a more pragmatic form of persuasion.

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