Self-Promotion in the Modern World by Maria Piscopo

Direct Marketing Definition and Tips for Artists

Maria Piscopo

Maria Piscopo

With all of the social media platforms available these days, you might think direct marketing a thing of the past. Think again. Direct marketing tactics such as sending artist postcards are still an effective way to get your work in front of art buyers. Most art directors are inundated with email, Facebook posts and Tweets, so physical promotional materials get their attention. In her article “Self-Promotion in the Modern World,” creative services consultant Maria Piscopo provides a direct marketing definition and tips on creating and sending artist postcards. Read the complete article on direct marketing below. Learn more about promoting your work in the 2014 Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market.

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Self-Promotion in the Modern World by Maria Piscopo

Direct marketing can be an effective way for artists and designers to attract clients. The term “direct marketing” simply refers to sending self-promotion material—anything from postcards to brochures—to current and prospective clients with the goal of having them respond to you (and hopefully give you work).

Burton Morris Blue Coffee Cup

Burton Morris uses artist postcards to get art buyers to look at his website.

“I think it’s important to send out something that an art director or new client could hang up on their wall or give to someone to display that is unique in both image and design,” says pop artist Burton Morris. “I send out e-mail postcards to generate interest in my website (, as well as printed postcards through the mail to attract new clients. Due to postcard mailings, I have gained attention and earned jobs creating signature clients. Due to postcard mailings, I have gained attention and earned jobs creating signature artwork for the 76th Annual Academy Awards, the 2004 Summer Olympic Games, the 38th Montreux Jazz Festival, and the 2006 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.”

But postcards are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to contacting clients through direct mail. “Our best success story was a direct mail piece that was a quart-size paint can designed with a custom outer wrap,” says designer Ron Leland. “Inside the can, we placed a paint swatch designed with ‘hip’ copy, where each shade of color featured on the card conveyed an element of the services we offer. The response from this mailing was tremendous, and much of the feedback pointed toward that proverbial ‘Oh, it’s way too cool to throw it away, so we’re keeping in on our desk’ sentiment.”

Before you begin, says Burton, “write down your goals and think about who your target clients are. A strategic business/marketing plan is always a good idea, and focusing on what images you send out and why someone would her you is crucial. Also, it is necessary to be consistent in your marketing efforts and send out mailers and e-mails quarterly to keep your work in front of potential clients.”

When it comes to promoting design, “Target your audience,” says Leland. “Share not only the results, but the process of design; tell a story visually, with text supporting those visuals; find a way to differentiate yourself; and close with a call to action.”

Design considerations

When you’ve put together a mailing list (see sidebar below for tips) and are ready to contact potential clients, it’s time to think in terms of design. When creating direct mail pieces, choosing the right design is important if you want to attract potential clients in need of your talents—and entice them to contact you. “We like to call our direct marketing piece a ‘Trojan Horse,’” says Leland. “It’s the piece that’s so compelling, the recipient can’t help but take it in. Once we’ve gained attention, the message can be shared.”

“Good design plays an important role in making a piece of direct mail stand out amongst the competition,” says Fred Hernandez, Marketing Communications Manager at Modern Postcard ( “Every day our mailboxes are full of direct mail, but think about the ones that catch your eye—usually because of good design combined with a compelling message.”

Before you begin designing, Hernandez says, be clear on your objective. “Are you trying to get a job, secure new clients, or simply stay in touch with your existing clients? Answering this question will determine the rest of the campaign,” he says. “If you’re trying to get a job, your mailer might include some resume-type information along with samples of your work and a link to your portfolio or website. If you’re prospering, it will be more like an advertisement that could include an offer or promotion. A mailer to existing clients could focus on work you’ve just completed or an award that you’ve won.”

When deciding on your design, also consider what kind of response you want from your client. What is it exactly that you want people to do when they receive your mail? How many response choices can you give them? These choices can range from a “low-risk” response, such as Wait for our next mailing, to a “high-risk” response such as Call when you have a job! There is no right or wrong response to use. However, the lower the risk to your client (or the more passive they get to be), the more people will respond. The higher the risk (or the more proactive they have to be), the lower the response.

Again, both will work, but which one is right for your direct marketing campaign must be determined by your overall marketing plan objectives. One factor to help you decide is the size of the mailing. For a very large volume of mail, you may want as many people as possible to inquire, so lower the risk.

Make it easy for potential clients to respond by including the maximum number of contact options on the printed pieces. If you’re sending material in envelopes, it’s important that all your contact information be on the promotional material itself so if the envelope gets thrown away, clients can still find all the information they need. Be sure to include your firm name if applicable, your name (so they know who to ask for when they call or e-mail), your full address with nine-digit zip code, phone and fax numbers with area code, e-mail address and website.

And make them an offer they can’t refuse. The customary offer, Call for a portfolio, has become all too common. If you want a better response, be more interesting. The offer should be about the client and their needs, not about you. For example, in a message such as, When you need a website designer to help promote your company, give us a call, the “you” is the client.

Something else to keep in mind as you design promo pieces, are postal regulations, says Hernandez. “The U.S. Postal Service is very specific about postcard layout and how it needs to conform to their requirements in order for it to be mailed,” he says. “We provide handy templates for all major design programs that designers can use to make sure they are in compliance.”

Selecting images

Choosing the best—and most effective—images for your direct mail campaign materials is important. Be careful not to send too broad a message to your prospective clients. This means offering a narrow selection of images. You may want to consider a separate campaign for current clients that are used to seeing a broader selection of work.

Your marketing message dictates your image selection and is very narrow compared to the range of images you are actually capable of making. But your marketing message needs to focus on what you want to do—not necessarily what you’ve done in the past. If your marketing message is visual style, then show it. Push it to the edge and show your style in as many situations as possible. Remember, style is not specific to any subject. But if your marketing message is a subject (for example, “children’s book illustration”), show that. Focus, focus, focus on the type of work you want to get.

Also, since you will most likely have more than one marketing message, look for crossover images for your direct marketing campaigns. Crossover images allow you to use the same image for more than one target market. For example, a photo-realistic illustration of a corporate executive may work in a campaign for both “people” illustration and “annual report” illustration.

Printing & mailing

Once your direct mail piece has been designed, you must consider printing. “I always look for the best-quality printer to reproduce my artwork,” says Morris. “It’s very important for me to make certain that whatever image I send out on a postcard or brochure catches the attention of anyone who receives it. I discovered Modern Postcard early in my career, and they’ve printed all of my postcards.”

When you plan your direct mail campaigns, design them for staggered repetition and frequency. Be sure to schedule design and production timelines. Take out your calendar and create a timeline working backwards from the date you want the pieces to be mailed.

When you want to re-use past mailers, plan on re-packaging them in some way. For example, take leftover postcards, trim the images to fit, and bind them in some way (e.g., wire or plastic, ribbons or lace). This re-packaging of your direct marketing piece alters the client’s perception and allows you to use the same piece twice.

Probably the biggest mistake artists can make in their direct mail marketing is the lack of consistency and quality of design and production. If you cannot do it well, don’t do it. This does not mean spending a lot of money. It does mean getting a good design concept and quality production values. As soon as you have the concept, find out how much the entire campaign will cost and start setting that money aside. Plan a budget for your mailings by getting design, production and printing estimates in advance of needing to spend the money.

“A final important point for artists and designers is the idea of frequency,” says Hernandez. “As with any form of marketing, a series of frequent and consistent mailings is far more powerful than one mailing. We see our top artist and designer clients send out as many as a dozen cards a year to their clients and prospects.”

Assembling a Mailing List

Successful direct marketing always starts with a targeted list of prospective clients. In addition to creating mailing lists based on researching Artist’s & Graphic Designer’s Market listings and your own networking, some artists purchase industry-specific mailing lists or labels.

There are many industry-specific sources for your mailing lists. You can just buy the labels or e-mail addresses from these firms, but consider buying the database to use on your computer and make your own labels. Another option is to import the data if you’re already using a compatible contact management software program for a database (e.g. Filemaker Pro or Microsoft Access). When buying data, look for individually prepared lists targeted to your marketing message.

Make sure the company updates their database at least two to three times a year. If you are buying the database, make sure you can add your own sales leads, contact names and even mail/merge for printing custom letters and envelopes. Check out the search and sort capabilities of the program before you buy so that you can search the data by company name, city, state, zip code, area code, type of client, contact name or any of the other popular fields of information used for mailing lists databases.

Here is a partial list of companies that sell targeted databases of clients that buy art and graphic design:

·     ADBASE:

·     Adweek Directory:

·     Agency Access:

·     Agency ComPile:

·     ArtNetwork:

·     Bizjournal’s Book of Lists:

·     Creative Access:


·     Gale Directory of Databases:

·     The List:

·     Workbook Mailing Lists:

More Direct Marketing Tips

Fred Hernandez, Marketing Communications Manager at Modern Postcard (, has worked with innumerable clients creating direct mail pieces for all kids of direct marketing campaigns. Here he offers his checklist of tips that are generally true of any good campaign:

·     Have a clear objective. Effective direct mail depends on having a specific purpose as opposed to other advertising, which is usually very general in nature. This step is crucial in setting up the rest of your campaign.

·     Know your audience. A clear objective will usually determine who your audience will be. One of the strengths of direct mail is the ability to target only those prospects that are most likely to respond. For example, if you’re marketing children’s book illustration, you’ll naturally only mail to companies who publish material for children.

·     Keep it short. Resist the temptation of packing too many messages into one mailer. Remember your objective? That’s the only topic you should be addressing in your mailer so that the reader is clear about what you are trying to tell them and what you want them to do.

·     Include a strong offer and call-to-action. A crucial, and often forgotten, component of good direct mail is a compelling offer. Think about what will get a prospect to act. Discounts and the word free are always powerful offers. Also, you’ve gone through the trouble and expense to reach potential clients, so ask them to do something. Invite them to call, visit your website, view your portfolio, etc.

·     Don’t forget your contact information. Seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how often this happens. Burying your contact information is just as bad. Make it really easy for the recipient of your material to contact you—include your phone number, e-mail address and website prominently.

·     Test, test, test. The ability to test smaller campaigns to evaluate effectiveness before you roll out a larger mailing is an important strength of direct mail. Test different elements of your mailers—creative, messaging, offers, audience—and determine what works beset. This is where it really outshines other forms of advertising, which are usually all-or-nothing ventures.


Maria Piscopo ( has been an art/photo rep in California for over 30 years. She writes magazine articles and columns for industry publications such as Rangefinder, STEP inside design, Dynamic Graphics, Shutterbug and Communication Arts. She is also the author of The Photographer’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion and Graphic Designer’s and Illustrator’s Guide to Marketing and Self-Promotion (both published by Allworth Press). She gives lectures, seminars and workshops on business and marketing for artists and designers around the world.


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