Unsolicited Marketing Advice for Galleries

Last fall I was asked, by a national publication, to write an article about innovative marketing by art galleries in this economy. I said I couldn’t. I explained that I have yet to see galleries doing anything truly innovative, so it would be impossible for me to write such an article.

The truth is, artists are far more innovative with their marketing than galleries or museums are. Perhaps it’s because they aren’t constrained by institutional traditions. Nonetheless, galleries need to take note of what is possible. They need to watch how artists are promoting themselves.

Here are some ideas for galleries.

Make education a core mission.

Fact: Most of the US population does not have a visual education. They don’t know how to look at and appreciate art. Every museum professional knows this, which is why curators and educators create public education programs. They understand that the better people understand the art, the more likely they will grow into museum patrons. One could (and I’m doing it right now) translate this to the gallery world: The better people understand the art and how to look at it and talk about it, the more likely they are to be comfortable in the gallery and buy art.

Think more creatively when planning events

I GUESS it’s kind of nice to know that we can count on having wine and cheese at an opening, but couldn’t you throw in a twist every so often? Every marketing guru in the world knows that new ideas=better ideas. In fact, most galleries know this. That’s why dealers spend a lot of energy trying to find new, young talent. Take a lesson from your own playbook and give us something new–and I don't mean JUST new art.

Read business publications about marketing, PR, networking, and building customer relations.

Art publications on these topics will show you the same tired ideas over and over again. The general business section at the book store will yield more fruit.
Try anything by Seth Godin.

Get thyself into social media. Fast!

Create profiles on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. And write a thoughtful blog, would ya? I dare predict that most urban areas–outside of the largest cities–have a dearth of online intellectual dialog about art. A thoughtful gallery dealer could fill the void.
Check out gallerist Edward Winkleman’s blog to see what's possible.


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7 thoughts on “Unsolicited Marketing Advice for Galleries”

  1. The most innovative marketing idea for galleries in this tough economy? Fire all of those mean people who are the first ones you meet when you walk in to the gallery…Hire one sincerely nice person…Let that nice person be the first person everyone speaks to…

  2. I find it interesting that an art gallery seems to be to so many people a place that is intimidating. It shouldn’t be. And I think that ties into some of what you are saying here, in that galleries don’t always make it easy to approach them, whether it’s as an artist or as a potential client. That isn’t always the case, but it seems to be more often than not (or maybe I’m just off-putting in some way and they don’t want to approach me when I enter the gallery). As far as innovation goes, I have to wonder that a gallery being innovative must be tied to how it contracts out with the artists it works with. That’s one advantage that other retail businesses may have, in that they can try interesting and innovative approaches to moving the stock they’ve already paid for. Working out consignment deals with artists means that the gallery has to keep in mind that relationship, with every artist they have, when coming up with ways to promote and represent the work. Maybe a lack of innovation is due in part to an ongoing effort to keep the stable of artists happy, not wanting to do something that would make one happy but another annoyed. Or maybe it’s just that it’s an entrenched business model that hasn’t had to adapt or grow with the times because for years the gallery has mostly pursued certain client types and hasn’t had to adapt to a changing market.

  3. Alyson, Although I totally understand your frustration, I think that to be useful to galleries, this post needs offer more examples of how to live up to the issues you’ve raised… Yes, wine and cheese can be dull (and in fact there were a few years where I couldn’t even look at brie after eating too much of it during openings). But it would probably be of great use to point out a few things you’ve seen artists do differently at open studio events to give an idea of what a new thing would be. It’s like the old street theater koan: you walk up to a stranger and demand “say something smart!” Almost no one can be witty off the cuff when put on the spot like that, and then they end up just feeling like an idiot. It can be amusing for the perpetrator, but it isn’t actually helpful in any way to the person it’s thrown at. Your suggestions about marketing and social media are totally valid, and you provide examples or links, but at the same time both of these can be as damaging as they can helpful when rushed. How many stories about social media gone wrong have we seen? I use marketing and social media almost exclusively to promote my art and I make a good living doing it, but it took years to actually get there… It wasn’t instant, I made some mistakes, I tried different approaches and eventually it worked out. But it’s not a cure all, it’s not fast and it’s not as easy as it looks really. Even after writing IRBITS, for example, I bet you still know way more than you actually realize you know because it’s so easy to take it for granted once it becomes part of your routine. Why am I ranting back to your rant? Just because I’ve spent so much time bringing people into social media only to see that the learning curve and the social expectations make it very hard for them during the first couple years. Gallerists who aren’t yet using these tools need, I think, to be led to them more gently at a pace that they can absorb the new. Just a thought. One gallery that seems to be a very good example of what you’re looking for is Tinku Gallery in Toronto: http://www.tinkugallery.com http://www.twitter.com/tinkugallery If you haven’t met Amrita on twitter yet, you should. I think you two would get along very well and find a lot in common.

  4. I’m inclined to agree with both Alyson and the previous poster Yes – most commercial galleries are very detached from thw wonderful world of web 2.0 and are still stuck with very traditional marketing practices. They call them “tried and trusted”! 😉 Yes – some artists are being much more innovative about how to market art to potential customers. However I do think John has a point. Galleries need to learn to walk before they can start to run. Here are some of my thoughts: – a lot of galleries are doing less than they could to make their websites helpful to their marketing process. For example, next time you visit a gallery website check to see how many of them have got their latest exhibition online or a good selection of work they hold by their current artists – I’ve been trying for some time to persuade some galleries to start a blog as a way of providing a drip feed of updates about their gallery and their artists. I’ve been successful with one – and they want me to help set it up. However before we launch a new blog I want to make sure that they first understand what makes blogging successful and what makes for a successful blog. There’s absolutely no point in a gallery starting a blog if they’re not going to keep it up. It just looks unprofessional. – which is why I’m inclined to think that the newer web 2.0 channels are also maybe a bridge too far straight away. Making changes to marketing channels needs to be done as part of a marketing plan which has been thought through, connects and supports the business goals of the gallery and can be supported effectively by the technology and skills of the staff. In my view, the first thing galleries need to do is get to learn about and get to grips with how marketing channels have changed since the advent of web 2.0 social marketing and to understand more clearly the pros and cons of different ways of getting the word out. Then gallery owners and their staff need to acquire the technology, knowledge, skills and confidence to support marketing through web 2.0 channels in the future. I can’t help feeling that process will take some time judging by how far many of them have moved to date. Which of course could explain why we’re seeing so many galleries going out of business. Put bluntly, my feeling is that many of them will need to invest to survive – but may well want to conserve cash and be reluctant to do so.

  5. Great tips. Social media/social networking is important not only for artists but for galleries as well. Masterpiece Online, an online art gallery by Masterpiece Solutions, has recently added social networking capabilities for artists and galleries on its newly enhanced website (www.masterpieceonline.com). Other handy new features include:

    · Redesigned website
    · Enhanced consumer navigation
    · E-commerce and low-cost lead generation options for galleries
    · Google Site Search
    · Comprehensive Integration with Art Gallery and Artist Management Software (Masterpiece Gallery Manager and Masterpiece Artist Manager)
    · Merchant Integration


    Emily (Masterpiece Solutions)

  6. Pingback: Unsolicited marketing advice for galleries « The Galena Artists' Guild

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