Guest Blogger Robert Pizzo Advises On the Etiquette of Email Marketing
For the past 30 years Robert Pizzo has been one of the country’s leading, nationally recognized illustrator/designers. His client list would make any creative the envy of their peers and he has garnered awards for his illustration in nearly all the major creative competitions, including Print’s Regional Design Annual, Graphis, Society Of Publication Designers, Society Of Newspaper Designers, Creativy Awards, Annual Report 100, Desi Awards, Ozzie Awards and more.
But as anyone who knows the illustration industry will tell you, just being talented is not enough to make it for the long haul. The talented illustrator must equally be the talented businessman. You need to constantly stay before your existing buyers while you reach out to generate new leads.
One of Robert’s best promotional methods has been email marketing, so we are happy to share some of his thoughts on how to use the medium properly.
Robert: Are you looking for cheap “enhancement” meds in your inbox? Maybe a phony degree from a prestigious college? How about a can’t-miss scheme to collect millions from the government of Nigeria? I didn’t think so.
If you’re anything like me, you find this common email spam a daily annoyance. It’s something we dismiss out of hand like the latest Lindsay Lohan news while we sort out the more important correspondence.
Which is why, as artists with something to promote to an art buyer, we never want to end up in that irritating category. But what are the rules governing email promotions? What’s the etiquette here? I’m reasonably sure Amy Vanderbilt never wrote a book on the subject so I think we have to tread carefully lest we wind up annoying the very people we want to work with.
Why is it up to me to take a crack at what the proper manners are regarding email promos, a guy who still doesn’t know (or care) what side of his plate the dinner fork should reside on? Well, because I get asked about my email promos quite frequently from other artists, I’ll give it a shot.
On Direct Mail: I had always been pretty good about promoting my illustration work at regular intervals throughout the year but sometime ago I was faced with the reality that some of the traditional methods were yielding diminishing returns. The big directories were still costing big money but it seemed like art directors were recruiting mostly from their computers these days. Plus, in this instant electronic age it felt like a lifetime waiting up to a year for a directory to be published. By the time it came out the pieces I had chosen to represent my current work weren’t even my favorites anymore.
I started making what I call “Instant Custom Promos.” These were simple 8.5 x 11 directory style pages, cleanly designed, with my name, phone number, email and website along with space for 3 to 5 images. “Instant” because I could drag and drop any one of thousands of my digital images into the promo at any time and “custom” because I could tailor it to a specific prospect or client. If I saw a great looking magazine about finances I could grab a few financial themed illustrations and drop them into the promo, print out one copy on a nice glossy stock and mail it off to the art director. Since I even live across the road from our town’s post office, it couldn’t be easier. Or could it?
On Emailing Existing Clients: What if, instead of printing and mailing I simply fired the promo off to an art director’s email address? Easy, but would that be OK? And what if I sent it out to a few art directors, or a few dozen, or a few hundred? Did that make me a dreaded spammer? Technology made it simple to mass broadcast via email but was it polite to?
I’ll never forget a Pre-Email Era day way back in the late 1980s. I was in the offices of Business Week magazine frantically working on a sketch that would soon have to be approved by editors on the spot, while the art director ran to take care of some business in another room. This was right around the time that consumer fax machines were first becoming available to the public. I would soon get mine down on the lower east side of Manhattan for the “bargain” price of $1,000. I say bargain because this meant that you’d now be able to fax in your ideas instead of commuting to the magazine to personally deliver sketches – an amazing breakthrough. As I was penciling, the art director stormed back into the office looking really ticked off. I asked her what was wrong. She replied, “I am trying to send a letter out but the line is tied up by some illustrator faxing us his unsolicited 30 page portfolio.”
Ouch. I didn’t want to ever be that guy.
So, for my first foray into email I assembled a custom promo that was generic enough for anyone and sent it to a handful of good steady clients.
Since these were all people I had a long, great history with there was no spam factor to worry about. I took my Illustrator document and “saved a copy” as a PDF, which made for a really small file size – around 100k. A JPEG or GIF would’ve been fine for screen viewing but I was gambling that some people might actually want to print the piece so I wanted better quality if that was the case. In the subject line I simply put “Pizzo Promo” and I attached the PDF with a short list of my instructions:
Instructions for “Pizzo Promo”:
1. Click tiny attachment to view
3. Staple to forehead
Finally, I made sure to include my website link in the signature.
The reaction I got was pretty good. Most people sent back a simple reply like, “Nice piece” or made some other positive comment. Some said, “It’s now hanging above my desk”. I immediately learned a little etiquette when one art director said he loved the promo but asked to be blind copied in the future so that others wouldn’t see his email address. A few started longer conversations that volleyed back and forth for a couple of days and then even lead to assignments.
Naturally, the whole point of the promotion is to get some work but there’s more to it than that. In a business that can be very isolating for an individual toiling away in a remote home studio, email promos are a great way to keep in touch with the good clients you’ve worked with over the years. It’s just a way of strolling down the virtual hallway, gently tapping on their virtual office window and holding up a little virtual example of what you’re working on. “Hey, look at this!” Otherwise, clients tend to only see the art that you’re working on for them. “But don’t they see all the new pieces you regularly post to your website to keep it right up to date?” you ask. Answer: “Um…well, I’ve been meaning to. Pretty soon, pretty soon!”
These days a lot of people like Roger J. Greiner, Art Director at Shostak Studios in New York City, prefer getting email to regular mail. “If I like the style I see in the email promo, I will click on the link in the email, and go to the artists’ web site, and at that point, if I really like what I see, I will bookmark their site in the appropriate folder,” he says.
I’ve found that events on the calendar like “Spring Ahead” or “Fall Behind” are a good excuse to whip up a timely promo. This way, they feel fresh and current like little public service announcements.
Mary Zisk, Design Director of Strategic Finance magazine & IMA Marketing in New Jersey, told me “I like your promos because they celebrate a season and have something clever to say.”
So the email verdict for good regular clients is: no problem. I believe this holds true for anyone who’s ever given you an assignment more than once. Generally speaking, if they keep coming back to you it’s reasonable to assume they like your work and chances are they’ll eagerly look at the promos you send them, even if they’re not particularly fans of email promos.
That said, even with good steady clients I wouldn’t push it. The art directors I talked to seemed to agree that, like the cable bill, once a month is enough. Roger adds, “Once a week/fortnight (is) really annoying!!!” An extremely favored client of mine just told me outright that when it comes to emails, “Bottom line: I don’t like ‘em except for yours. They feel like a violation.” I’m not exactly sure but I think that’s a compliment and a warning. Hey, don’t shoot me; I’m just the messenger.
Jane Firor, principal of Jane Firor & Associates, a Washington DC firm specializing in strategic and creative services for magazines had some unique insight regarding email vs. snail mail. “I prefer the email, perhaps because they come from some of my very favorites, plus a B list and new folks come in every so often. I print the images and stick them on my wall. When the one piece of white tape gives out, they fall down and make room for others. Super selects get two pieces of white tape and stay up longer. Sometimes I print them out and put them in a plastic holder in our co-op’s elevator; if they are winners they stay until I replace them and if they are losers they get turned upside down or backwards usually within 12 hours. I don’t know what to think about the ones that disappear,” she said. Talk about letting the marketplace decide!
On Emailing New Prospects: Now, when it comes to people you’d like to work with, the etiquette shifts a bit. What’s the rule for prospects?
I cringe when I think of how, when I first started out, I tried cold calling.
The conversation usually went something like this:
Me: Hi, this is (I’m withholding my own name to protect my dignity. No fair peeking at my credit.)
Art Director: Uh, yeah. Who can I transfer you to?
Me: Um, I was wondering if you had any assignments for me?
Art Director: (click)
Me: Hello? …hello? …I’m gonna take that as a “no”.
There’s no way I’m going down that path again with email so I came up with a very simple strategy, and I think if there was only one rule to follow this would be it: Be extremely discriminating when collecting emails in the first place. Yes, you heard me.
Strict adherence to this guideline will save you embarrassment while ensuring that the target of your promotions can forgo that restraining order on you. All of the art directors I spoke to said it was OK to approach them for the first time via email but you have to be careful not to be a pest. Remember, these are busy professionals who are subject to a daily bombardment of Inbox Inundation. Mary Zisk summed it up: “To be fair, if an illustrator is being too persistent, I can ask to be taken off their list.”
When it comes to people I’d like to work for, I’ll start by checking their website. If I see that they’ve listed their email along with their name then I’m guessing they’d have to know that someone might want to get in touch.
It’s the reason I’ve got my email on my site. Still, the prime directive is always in effect: Never Intentionally Annoy.
I’ll very carefully approach an art director I’ve never worked with this way: First off, I only send to one at a time so I’m literally never spamming. In the subject line I’ll write something like “Got Illos?” to at least let them know this is not junk mail about increasing their um… girth. Then I’ll introduce myself as a freelance illustrator in two sentences or less and invite them to see my work by clicking a website link or an attached PDF. The PDF will be a one page custom promo or a mini PDF portfolio (about 20 pages in one document) but in either case the file size will be small, under 2MB. Many art directors echo Jane Firor’s wish that things are kept simple. “I don’t like it when the attachments open to something huge or something tiny and I have to fiddle with the image,” she says.
I’m sorry to be the one that breaks it to you but after that initial introduction it’s in the hands of The Almighty. If the art director contacts you to say they love your work and would like to use you in the future that’s great. Drop their email into your address book and email them a promo every once in a while. But if they don’t contact you to say they’d love to hear from you again it is of my opinion that you walk away, electronically anyway. Without permission it’s (Soup Nazi voice:) “No email for you!” Back to snail mail for that prospect, my friend.
Have I put forth The Gospel of Email Etiquette? Probably not. But these are some things I’ve learned from trying to refine the process and I hope I can be of service by passing it on. If you have any ideas don’t hesitate to let me know, especially if you’re an art director who’d like to see what it’s like to get a few of my promos now and then. I sincerely hope they’ll be worthy of two pieces of white tape.
Robert Pizzo always tries to mind his manners. To see more of his work (and without receiving one of his emails), visit www.robertpizzo.com