Five Marketing Tips to Master Creativity and Commerce

While many students this past aTVfest weekend indulged in glamourous screenings and Q&A’s, one particular panel got right down to business about what can often make or break an artist: marketing. As a college full of creators, most of us cringe at this concept and would rather focus our time and energy on making art instead of figuring out how best to promote it. But the art world can be cruel sometimes and while musicians, writers and actors can shoulder marketing duties to agents and managers, visual artists are usually left to fend for themselves.

Image courtesy of Aspen Cierra Photography.

Last Friday, SCAD Atlanta tackled these issues head on at “The Near Future of Media, Marketing and Creativity” aTVfest panel. Moderated by Former Chief Marketing Officer for The Weather Channel Scot Safon, the panel featured a bureau of seasoned experts from some of the top creative companies in the country including:

These moguls were recruited for their knowledge and experience in creating content, greenlighting content and analyzing how content will sell at their workplaces. They began by stressing the top things rising artists must consider when trying to earn a living: what we should be learning as students, what we should be making and who's going to pay for it. These three ideas were then broken down into five practical concepts over the course of the panel as the best way to master the intersection of creativity and commerce.   

1. Play

Yes, it really is that simple. How else will you get to know your strengths, interests and niches than through messy experimentation? College is really just one big playground meant to help you discover your brand, build your portfolio and test drive internships. But we already knew this. What was really eye-opening was how strongly these big cheeses emphasized the open market and how to embrace no rules. They told us to tell stories, get ahold and play with new technology and go on creative retreats with friends and colleagues. Dan Ferguson and Dinesh Dave, who work in the virtual reality and interactive design businesses respectively, talked about the impact of wearable tech and virtual reality (interacting with an artificial environment) vs. augmented reality (interacting with artificial objects in the real world) in entertainment and business. These digital novelties like Second Life and Pokémon Go would never have been conceivable 15 or 20 years ago and by playing around, we’re most likely training for the next generation of jobs that haven’t even been invented yet.

2. Be Flexible

It can be stressful and ultimately damaging to try and envision a marketing campaign for your creative idea before it’s even developed. That’s why most panelists advised us to create a piece of content first without thinking about where it’s going to live and then cultivate it for a specific audience. Those who focused more on brand building like Freddy James and Ben Lebovitz also suggested that we be open to tailoring our ideas across many opportunities in terms of marketing and monetizing them.

3. Content Must Work With the Space

Everyone knows that a strong idea behind a piece of content is essential, but the space the content is promoted in may be an even bigger player in its success. Think about it, there were so many business ventures that had potential but were executed in the wrong fashion: Pay by Touch, Google Glass and Friendster to name a few. That’s why it’s important to play around with format and environment to determine which space – virtual reality, video, print, podcast, app, augmented reality etc. – compliments your idea the best and challenges your content and design to be beautiful and purposeful.

4. Practice Screen Management

One of the top questions asked during the panel was how much tech is too much? Right now it’s only logical for people to be concerned with the prevalence of screens in our daily lives. IPads and IPhones now act as babysitters and it’s become conventional to manage dual screens for work and pleasure, such as watching TV while reading articles on the computer and doing social media on our phones. This swarm of screens has even led to a trend of digital detoxing, where people attempt to kick their addiction to technology by handling it in moderation. However, even though most content is created on a computer for a digital environment, Scot Safon noted that nine films nominated for Oscars this year have no CGI which gives us hope that technology hasn’t become a necessity yet in everyday life. Many of the panelists also agreed on how it’s still important for them to take time to build things with their own two hands as opposed to on a computer.

5. Do Your Homework on Companies You Like

When one audience member asked point blank what advice these creative giants have for artists just starting out, the panelists appeared to answer in complete unity. They suggested to start by researching companies and organizations we really admire and track down who made what content we are particularly impressed with. Then, they encouraged us to reach out to that contact to give them a thoughtful review of their work. This extra-mile effort will make us stand out as capable and driven artists as well as assure employers that we are (or have the potential to be) the best at what we do.

As much as we don’t like it, the challenge with being a successful artist boils down to one part creativity and one part promotion. But the sooner we learn to balance those skills, the sooner we can make an impression on the authorities in our field that may hold part of our future in their hands.