P.T. Barnum, of the internationally famous circus, once said something to the effect of, “Half of every dollar I spend on advertising is a complete waste. Unfortunately, I can never tell in advance which half that will be.” Advertising is full of such mysteries and no one has the correct approach all the time. It can also be a depressing aspect of your business, feeling that you could be doing better if your work were better known, and not being able to afford to advertise until your work starts to sell better. What can you do?
To start with, there are two broad categories of advertising to be considered. The first, name recognition, affects everyone in the ceramics professions and can be as simple as wearing your name tag at workshops or conferences. Meet people, learn their names, have them learn yours. Whenever possible, it’s nice when people can associate images of your pots with your name and face, but at this level the important thing is to be known at all. Until your fellow professionals have some sort of name for you, you don’t exist. Sure, that’s still you in the mirror, but an absolutely private artist is merely a hobbyist, no matter how good their work may be, posthumous fame notwithstanding.
This stage of your “advertising campaign” may seem very simple but you still have decisions to make. Most people have variations to their names. For instance, I can be, in different situations, “Larry Brow, Lawrence Michael Brow,” or “Lars.” My nephews refer to me as “Uncle Lars” because they have another Uncle Larry. As a toddler in Latin America I was, “Miguelito.” For some people I’m probably just, “that chair guy.” That’s fine. It’s all part of the process. Choose how to present yourself. Are you “Algonquin Remington Artfreak III” or “Butch?” Which “you” goes best with your pots and your profession?
Physical descriptions can be important, too. The same person can be either, “that tall guy, clean-shaven, always wears a nice black leather jacket,” or, “you know, the tall guy, scruffy beard, doesn’t own any pants without holes in the knees.” What’s your artist’s uniform?
What do you have to advertise? Until you know enough to be a useful information source, or until your pots are worthy of praise, all you can really do is be good company. Be a good listener. Be polite. Keep yourself and your work area tidy. Be an active student.
You may be tempted at this stage to have business cards. Are you in business? Before the phone companies stole the term people had “calling cards.” These occasionally quite elegant cards included a name and address and perhaps a phone number. They were not printed to promote business but rather as a gracious way to introduce oneself or to indicate that one had tried to visit but found the host absent. What information should you include? You may wish to add a phone number or an email address by hand for the benefit of a particular person but you’re not allowed to cross out such printed information unless it really is obsolete.
Which brings up quantity. If you’re completely stable, getting the good price on a thousand cards might seem like an excellent idea, but few of us are that stable. If nothing else, the phone companies keep making cards out-of-date by changing the area codes. I’ve been happiest lately buying cardstock and printing my own business cards with my computer printer at home. Do what you’re comfortable doing. Recently, I’ve received business cards from fellow artists that include full color images of their pots. It’s an amazing world.
In the second stage, sales advertising can be much more particular and much more expensive than simple name recognition. Your business name and any logo (or trademark visual) come to play here. What are you hoping to achieve? Keep in mind, you only advertise in an effort to sell additional inventory or to justify price increases on your current level of inventory. If you are selling well, on prices you feel happy with, without advertising, then you don’t need to advertise.
You still need good signage and displays, but don’t waste money advertising to sell pots you don’t have. First you must have good inventory and excess production capacity. Only then will you need to stimulate customer demand to meet your over-abundant supply.
This is where careful research and understanding of your potential customers will be most important. Sure you could mortgage your house and buy television advertising during a four a.m. bass fishing show, but how exactly would that help you to sell more tea sets or casseroles? Think it through.
In general, the Fairs you show at and the galleries you sell through all do their own advertising. Your single most effective way to assist them in those efforts is to keep your former customers informed. Your former customers are your potential return customers and the engines behind the word-of-mouth advertising you really want.
Give people the chance to be on your mailing list. Also, note the addresses on any checks you receive. These people have already proved that they like your work and are willing to pay to own it. Isn’t that wonderful? If you have a sale coming up at your studio, or a Fair in the area, let them know about it with enough advance notice so that they have time to make plans to attend (and to tell their friends, as well).
Of course, none of this is worth a nickel until you’ve got the work and the business habits to back it up. Word-of-mouth can also spread complaints, so be careful. Do not pull the spotlights onto yourself until you and your work can stand the glare. Why be the instrument of your own suffering? Mr. Barnum may have also asserted that “there is no such thing as bad publicity,” but he was not selling pots or advertising himself as an artist. You are. Pay attention. Look around. Ask questions. Be careful. Don’t frighten the fish. Advertising inappropriately can be the very thing that destroys your business.
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