Implement a Postcard Strategy

Most artists have postcards printed from time to time, but very few consider a postcard strategy.

Where do postcards fit in your marketing plan?
Think about adding postcards to your regular self-promotion efforts. Email, Facebook, and Twitter are great, but you should mix things up a bit. Get offline from time to time and interact in the real world—especially when it comes to your marketing. Send postcards to your mailing list three to four times a year.

Vala Ola, Sensuality
Vala Ola, Sensuality. Bronze, 29 x 11 x 11 inches. ©The Artist

Postcards are relatively inexpensive to print and mail. Yes, postcard mailings still cost money, but they’re cheaper and more personal than buying an ad. Postcards are real mail sent to real people who know and like you. They have an image of your art on the front (hopefully with your name there, too) and are likely to stick around longer than email in an inbox.

“What if I don’t have anything to say on a postcard?”

Ha! That’s a cop-out. There are endless reasons to send postcards—as if staying in touch isn’t reason enough. Here are some ideas to get you started.

This one is easy. Send postcards as invitations for exhibit openings and closings, sales, arts festivals you’re participating in, open studios, tours you’re leading, and workshops and classes you’re teaching.

Mail postcards trumpeting awards you’ve received, a recent acquisition by a corporation (get permission), completion of a public art piece, new gallery representation, new studio, new address, new baby, new book, new pet, or new you.

It’s easy to send postcards for the usual holidays, but you’re more creative than that! Don’t forget your favorite artist’s birthday, your birthday, a holiday related to your niche, and Happy July 23rd! (I’ll bet nobody else gets Happy July 23rd greetings unless it’s their birthday.)

FINAL WORD: Don’t wait for something big to happen to send postcards. Send them three or four times a year as part of a marketing strategy to keep your name in front of your fans. Get out the calendar and see what makes sense. If you need to get straight with your plan, take a look at the Blast Off class. Grab the lessons online at your convenience beginning May 19.

There's more about using snail mail in Action 9 of I'd Rather Be in the Studio!

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38 thoughts on “Implement a Postcard Strategy”

  1. Thanks for this write-up. I am a big fan of post cards and always send them for each show I have, whether in a gallery or at a fair. I usually use the standard sized ones, but sent out the large ones one time because there were five of us showing and it represented our artwork much better. I agree that it is great advertising for the money spent, and it is fun to go to somebody’s house or studio and see my card perched on their refrigerator or memo board.
    I always get positive feedback from people who attend my shows and love the cards. Emails are good reminders, but cards have a better chance of being saved. I think people are pleased to receive a card and appreciate the extra effort it takes to do them.

  2. Completely agree with Alyson about the importance of cards. These days I think fewer artists are mailing out announcements as postal rates for first class mail are getting really pricey. And when they do, they’re mailing out fewer than they used to.
    So these days. postcard announcements stand out in a way they never have before.
    Most of the good things that have happened in my career got their start from postcards. It ain’t glamorous work, but it does build a following for the art you’ve made.
    Just last week I ordered announcements to send to my list announcing my upcoming solo show at the Midwest Museum of American Art. I know something good will come from my sending them out- sooner or later it always does.

  3. I leave a stack out whenever I have a show. I also try to carry a few with me in my purse so if i run into someone I can give them one. My goal is to get them all and print new ones. they do me no good staying on shelf in a closet.

  4. We often create postcards for our artist clients using the same files we made for printing their fine art digital reproductions. After nearly 10 years of creating cards, about one year ago I began offering a new strategy, that has proven popular and successful. So often artists have cards leftover that have limited after life due to event or show specific dates and information. So we began suggesting that artists make total use of both sides of a card to display their work and contact information. Depending on the card size and your layout, a short bio can also be included. Basically think of your card as a blank canvas, that without event information, or the need to leave room for an address label, provides more space that can be put to better use. When the card is no longer event specific it has a longer, more variable life span. What if you want to also use these for a show? Simple, desk top print a companion invitation on paper or vellum and insert it with the card into an envelope (we typically recommend using an attractive color envelope that compliments the card). If you are producing cards that are larger than 4 x 6 (another thing we feel is best to do), the cost of the stamp is the same as the card alone. This approach sets you apart and appears more professional and special to the recipient.

  5. A few years ago my strategy was to send out 5.5″ x 8.5″ postcards four times per year. (that’s half a letter sized piece of cardstock) Since people are more likely to keep something with a calendar on it, I put three months calendars on each, surrounded by my artwork. I printed them myself, since having a thousand or so printed would be a waste and I have a color printer.

  6. I hear you regarding the use of the mailing list! My problem, (perhaps others have encountered this), is that getting people to give me their email address is not easy. My sign in guest book, which I always display when I am exhibiting, has a place for email addresses as well as street addresses. Hardly anyone gives me that information! They write their names, where they are from, and nice comments about the work, but do not give me contact info. I don’t like to push or impose upon people. I do mention my newsletter, etc., and that I would be happy to contact them about future events and work I’m doing but maybe people don’t want more “stuff” in their mailboxes? I always talk with people who seem genuinely interested in the work and seem to want to know more but how do I persuade them to give me email addresses without forcing the issue?

    1. At your next show have a lucky prize basket of treats or other. In order to put a name in the draw the patron has to fill out a form with his name, phone number and email address.

  7. I love designing postcards and feel it’s a fun medium for my work.
    I always print some for art shows and events. Then, once the event is over, the left-overs make great mini “art pieces” to give away at future events (with the out-dated info crossed off the back).
    I used to mail out a lot more, but recently, I face the same issue that Karen mentions: People aren’t as eager to give up their mailing address these days. It’s hard enough to get permission-based email, much less someone’s home address.
    I guess it comes down to the old adage, “Hit them where they are.” If people prefer receiving email over snail mail, that’s where I hit them. And, I make sure my email marketing is engaging and personal and ALWAYS keep my eye on What’s In It For THEM.

  8. This was a great post, Alyson. Can anyone share a resource for printing a small amount of postcards for me (less than 100) without my having to mortgage the house??

  9. Diane- (it’s a service the Modern Postcard company set up aimed at artists wanting smaller press runs). I’ve used it a dozen times and have been extremely pleased with their work.

  10. Debora L. Stewart

    I have just started doing postcard marketing. Don’t know what they effect will be but it has not been expensive so thought I’d give it a try. I put my mailing list in Vistaprints online data base and design on line and they mail. So it has been very easy and I think they look very nice and can also get a small number.

  11. For Diane & others, I have recently discovered They do small runs of postcards as well as business cards. The cool thing about them is that if you order 50 cards, say, you can have 50 different images on those cards! Down side is that they have only one size card. Also, card stock is very heavy and probably wouldn’t feed thru a printer if you wanted to print on the address side. (They will do that, but it’s a single message, I believe.)

  12. I really enjoyed reading this post and the comments. Thank you for sharing! I haven’t started mailing my postcards yet, as I’ve run into the same problem as Karen, people not wanting to leave their mailing address. Part of me struggle as well with not wanting to spam people, so I haven’t pushed it either.
    What I’ve done is giving 10-15 cards to friends and family, who are interested in using them as ‘thank you’, happy birthday cards etc. Some has come back for more 🙂
    A couple of weeks ago I signed up to participate in a promo swap run in in a group ‘Unique Women In Business’ (UWIB) that I belong to .
    Packed each card incl. a business card in a cellophane bag. It actually looked quite nice 🙂 The cards will then be send out with the other participants orders, as well as I’ll of course will be sending theirs out.
    Just a couple of ideas.
    By the way, ‘Art Van Go’ does small number of prints as well. Usually batches of 24 cards.

  13. I always send a postcard as thanks for a sale or a commission. Slowly building a mailing list by getting addresses from checks. I also try to be generous with blank postcards sharing them and pointing out that they are nice thank you notes: cheaper than a card and more personal than an email. Suddenly they are distributing MY postcards for me!! Make the postcards fun to receive and soon people will be asking to be on the snail mail list. Ask friends to share snail mail addresses of folks they think might be interested and don’t forget to check membership rosters of organizations you belong to.

  14. Alyson Stanfield

    Jean & Tsandi: Do you see a good return on your postcard investment?
    Philip: Do you have a “postcard list” targeted in your database? In other words, VIPs that get the postcards while others get email? Thanks for answering Diane’s question.
    Katharine: Hopefully you’re putting some in the mail, too. Yes?
    Susan: Nice idea! Would love to see pictures of that.
    Karen: If someone left a guest book out and asked for your email address, would you give it? I wrote about this in my book. Do you have a copy?
    Nikolas, Sew (& Karen): If someone is reluctant to share their info for you, keep in mind that they’re probably not good targets for you. They probably saved you a bunch of money in the long run.
    Diane: Looks like Philip had the info. I’d also contact a local printer for short runs.
    Debora: Yay! Remember that you’re just keeping your name in front of people. You won’t be able to see the effect for some time, I imagine.
    Richard: Moo is a good resource, though a little pricier. I thought they were doing full-sized biz cards now. No?
    Cindy: I love this: “Make the postcards fun to receive and soon people will be asking to be on the snail mail list.” Yes! You have to show people what they’re going to get.

  15. Postcards are the best marketing tool. I HAND WRITE them to everyone on my mailing list for a particular area announcing a local show. There is no way to overstate the impact of that personal touch from the artist and it can easily be done over an old movie or a ball game that only takes 10% of your attention anyway. People come to the show carrying the card and then I give them one with a different image. Once you’ve paid for the layout and printing of the first one, the rest are almost free, so print a lot and always have an answer to that “What kind of work do you do?” question.

  16. Great reminder on the value of postcards Alyson. I now plan to put this into my calendar. First up: May, for a new body of work in my studio!
    But I also want to give folks some tips on getting email addresses. I use a Constant Contact email which I send out to my list once a week. Since my last career was in electoral politics, environmental policy and community organizing I KNOW the value of getting those email addresses! And I never hesitate to ask for the email address – EVER – because I think what I send out is fantastic. But what I don’t do is leave the list out in plain view. I won’t write my email down on an open list so I would never ask anyone else to. Either I or a helper (AKA my husband) hold the list close to the chest on a clipboard and say this: “Hey I send out a beautiful painting once a week via email, a painting in your inbox, and I’d love to add you to that list. Could I get your email and contact info for that?” They nearly always say yes. And, they rarely unsubscribe. And then – bonus – many of them buy paintings when the time and the work are right for them.
    I also keep a lovely little sketch journal with me at all times and when I meet and chat with people & tell them what I’m up to, I have them write their contact info down in that. So it’s a lovely book, nice paper, and with that, they always say yes. It’s so clearly kept private since they can see it’s my sketch journal.
    Yes, I do hand out lots and lots of beautiful moo cards, but this all works much better when I actively get their info, rather than hoping they won’t lose the card and that they’ll later remember to go to my website or blog.
    So I would really encourage folks to think through how they can make gathering email addresses more comfortable for them and for prospective clients. The new email marketing programs these days give us the tools we need to do that well. All we have to do is produce great art and gather the email addresses.

  17. This post highlights a wider point that you have made in that the Artist has to get out from behind the computer aka Facebook , Twitter etc and put in the personal touch through networking. Postcards are excellent marketing medium and with so much issues around email spam, direct mail will be on the rise and can be very effective.

  18. Alyson Stanfield

    Sid: Thanks for that. Yes, handwriting is key if you just need to do a few at a time.
    Lisa: Wonderful points. So, good, in fact, that I think I need to write about them. You’ll be hearing from me.
    Juzer: Personal touch is key. That makes it about a relationship rather than selling–more comfortable for all involved.

  19. Hello! What great comments everyone is making about postcards. I want to add something to what Susan Fader said. She mentions using envelopes. I always write a cover letter for anything I send about me to galleries. This means I always use an envelope for the letter with the postcard. On the one hand, I realize that it would be nice for the recipient to see the image right away and not have to open an envelope. If the card is to promote a show, this works for people who know me. On the other hand, if I want to use a postcard to introduce new work to a gallery, I think it’s best to include a cover letter. A cover letter allows me to get a little info in on me (short bio), explain why I am sending them the postcard (if I just discovered them in person/on the internet/through a friend, or if I am following up on something I’ve sent them in the past, for ex.) and thank them for their time. The postcard serves to show the art and give all contact information. If money allows, since this postcard is not event specific and can be used for a long time, it can be printed with a smaller image on the text side, too. The front is a big image with the website url, and the back has all the contact info with a smaller image and even some white space to be able to add a short handwritten note.
    One more thing I’ve done, is to take old outdated show invites and have the text side covered with white cardstock. These cards didn’t have my contact info on them because they were printed by galleries. Now with the back in white, I have a nice blank side to write a note on and use with family and friends, who always love getting images of my art.

  20. This has been a valuable thread! And, DUH, Karen! Of course people don’t want to put their email or street address out there in public for just anyone to see. It didn’t occur to me as being a problem until now. I am going to implement some of the ideas mentioned here and help prospective clients to feel more comfortable giving me their information. I realize now it isn’t enough just to talk with them and ask them about themselves, …they need to feel secure about how I will manage their contact info. Also the mentions of good, affordable places to have post cards made up is a big help. Thanks to everyone who commented.

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  22. I’ve enjoyed reading everyone’s posts on the subject of postcards. I have recently used for their mini cards (100 for $20 plus postage, and all 100 can be different images), their normal size business cards and postcards. I will use my postcards (20 in a pack, each one a different image) for thank you notes, and as enclosures when I contact a new gallery. But the big hit has been my mini moo cards…when I bring them out to show people, EVERYONE is enthusiastic about holding them and picking one or more…I suggest they take more than one and pass out the additional ones to friends. When I then show them the regular business card size, they like them too, but always say, they LOVE the mini cards much more, even though the normal size card has a larger image of my painting. There is just something intriguing and special about a slice of painting that is little. On the back I put an art quote (from me) and my web site. The next batch I order I will also put my new email that I’ve created through my web site.

  23. This topic has had a wealth of info ! I normally send out a card early in the year with my show schedule (so far as I know it.) But I can see that doing more mailings would be better. I’m confused about one issue. When you say that other people use your cards for postcards or whatever, how does that work with having your info, e-mail, website, etc. on the card? Do you leave the back side blank entirely ?

  24. Alyson Stanfield

    Alex: What results have you seen from that strategy?
    Carol: Ditto. Do you see evidence that people are sharing your Moo cards and keeping them to stay in contact with you?
    Lynnda: Lots of artists keep the backside of their postcards blank so that they can be multi-purpose.

  25. If you mean the results I’ve seen from using a cover letter with my mailings (to galleries when I am introducing my work)… My impression is that people appreciate getting a letter that shows you have taken the time to look into their gallery. In my cover letter, I usually mention if I have been in the gallery and what I have seen there, or which artists I like on their website. And as a result, I get very polite rejection letters. Recently, I even got a suggestion to send my work to a different gallery. If you think about it, that is pretty cool. It was a rejection, but I made enough of an impression to get a reply offering help. As busy as galleries are, I think most of the time they don’t respond to a lot of the mail they get from artists introducing their work.

  26. As I’ve just begun the process of sharing, I’ve started with friends, and I don’t have any feedback yet about them passing them on to others. I did send a group of 25 to a good friend in California, to get people there looking at my web site, but as yet I have nothing to prove “this works!” However, in talking to a friend in Massachusetts yesterday, who I had mailed some to, she spoke of them as being precious little objects, which kind of sums up the reaction I’m getting. This makes me believe that people who receive them will want to hang on to them. I live in SC, so I’m trying to spread them in a wide way.

  27. I have used postcards for years, I make a generic set.I put four examples on the card. People want to see what I make artwise. They have paid off in may ways.
    Constant marketing as an artist matters. I always have some postcards in my glove box. I won’t leave home with out them.
    Bob Ragland-NON-starving atist on purpose.

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

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Your Artist Mailing List: Rethinking + Assessing

Get a transcript of episode 182 of The Art Biz (Rethinking Mailing Lists for Artists) followed by a 3-page worksheet to evaluate the overall health and usage of the 3 types of artist lists.

Where can we send it? 

To ensure delivery, please triple check your email address.

You’ll also receive my regular news for your art business.

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