"If you build it, they will come" was the haunting message from above in the movie "Field of Dreams." However, clients are not magically going to appear unless they know about what you have to offer. The reality of the business world—including the design world—is a bit harsher than Hollywood with its instant, magic following. That is where marketing principles come into play. Designers must consider a myriad of methods to get the word out, from direct mail to press releases.
Press for Success
Designers must constantly promote themselves—especially when conditions are at their best, so work will be coming in the door when the economy takes a turn for the worse. I think the biggest mistake regarding self-promotion that most designers consistently make is to wait until there is no work on their desks before beginning their own marketing efforts.
In her book, BRAG!: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn Without Blowing It, Peggy Klaus writes: "Promoting ourselves is something we are not taught to do. Even today, we still tell children 'Don't talk about yourself, people won't like you.' So ingrained are the myths about self-promotion, so repelled are we by obnoxious braggers, many people simply avoid talking about themselves."
Still, you must make your potential clientele—or employer—aware of who you are, your capabilities and what you have to offer. Doing so may require walking a fine line between coming across as an obnoxious braggart or presenting a finely honed, savvy marketing message.
What Works for You?
Hey, this marketing thing really works. Do good work, put a bit of an unusual spin on it, schmooze a little, make others aware of what you are up to and people will take notice.
You don't necessarily have to use tried-and-true methods simply because that's what everyone else is doing—or has done in the past. Test various marketing tools over time, determine what you are comfortable doing and evaluate the results on an individual basis. Do what works for you and give whatever methods you select some of your own personality.
Marketing to the Office Down the Hall or Upstairs
Marketing one's design abilities, efforts and accomplishments does not always mean establishing campaigns or programs to take on the world at large. For the in-house designer, there is often a need to prove the value of one's work to the "suits" in the head office of a corporation, business or organization. Such marketing may take the form of one-on-one meetings or large gatherings in a conference room.
It's important that in-house design departments learn to promote themselves within the corporate structure, to foster greater understanding of what they are doing at their computers on a daily basis. Most of the firm may see the end product of a project some time after its completion, have little knowledge of how it evolved, who was involved and the result of the completed effort.
"It's a matter of selling our value to upper management. I've learned that I need to manage up as much as I manage down," says Andy Epstein, Creative Director for Gund, Inc. "That means I take time to meet with the VPs in our company, both formally and informally, to discuss their needs even beyond the established relationships we have and to find ways to help them. I also proactively take on brand- and marketing-related projects and research and present them to upper management at every opportunity."
"Open your doors, get involved in projects that aren't assigned, and people will see what you and your group can offer," suggests Austin Baskett, Brand Manager for American Crew. "You become known as the place to solve people's communication problems."
In the end, designers must not forget the true goal of their endeavors. Marketing and promotion are necessities; awards and pats on the back are all gravy. However, as designer Art Chantry summarizes, the most important thing is "the work itself. There is nothing more thrilling than doing good work. In a way, it's the ultimate triumph."
Note: This excerpt from my book The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success: Ideas and tactics for a killer career originally appeared on the Graphics.com website. It also appeared on Commpiled.com and in the Fall 2005 issue of “Designer,” the publication of the University & College Designers Association.
The Savvy Designer's Guide to Success was released in 2009 as a PDF on CD from HOWBookstore.com
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