For those serious about sustaining and building their businesses, smart marketing is more crucial now than in good times. Maintaining your marketing edge now will, when the economy turns, put you far ahead of those who hunker down and do nothing.
Signs of changing times:
- The announcement came last week the French government is so distraught over slipping in worldwide art sales, falling to third behind China, it is offering interest free loans for its citizens to buy fine art.
- It in a sad, but not completely surprising item, the Las Vegas Sun reports the Guggenheim Hermitage Museum there is scheduled to shutter next month…sigh. But, in the perfection of hindsight, looking at Vegas marketing then and now, it seems logical it would not work.
Sin City Is the Name of the Game
You may recall Las Vegas formerly tried to tout itself as a family friendly destination with water slides, the Wizard of OZ’s Yellow Brick Road at the MGM, roller coasters and so forth. However, it didn’t take long for the shine to wear off that idea before Vegas reverted to true form. It is, after all, called Sin City for good reason. The popular and effective “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas” slogan that replaced the family theme has been successful because it pointedly captures the allure of Vegas.
In retrospect, the familiar saying, “You can’t make a silk purse out a of a sow’s ear” now seems appropriate to putting one of the most prestigious fine art museums in Vegas. As the Las Vegas Sun article points out, there were other problems, but at the heart of it, it just wasn’t a good fit. The closing of the Guggenheim speaks volumes about culture, or lack thereof, in Vegas, and to a degree how specialized the interest and marketing of fine art is. The wisdom of crowds theory dictates the taste for Vegas is gambling, dining, nightclubbing, extravagant shows and forbidden fruit with not much energy or enthusiasm for fine art experiences.
In the tradeshow business, the take on destinations such as Las Vegas and San Francisco is they are great convention, but largely lousy tradeshow towns. Simply, the distractions are too powerful to keep crowds on the floor for smaller shows. Behemoths, such as Comdex, draw so many attendees they override the common wisdom. That said, it is only fair to note some small tradeshows such as the annual West Coast Art & Frame show do well there regardless. And in fairness to Vegas, there are but a a handful of cities worldwide that could sustain a Guggenheim museum.
You Can’t Put Round Art into a Square Frame, No Matter How Glittery the Frame
The moral of the Guggenheim Vegas story is you can’t force something where it doesn’t fit. Put another way, swinging for the fences in an attempt to clear the bases with a Grand Slam homerun grandiose idea is not always a winning strategy. For art marketers, this lesson could not be more true, especially in a down economy. Looking back, the concept of an exquisite fine art museum in Vegas was a grandiose idea gone awry. The baseball analogy provides a nice segue to discuss employing a strategy called “Whitey Ball” for art marketers in a down market.
The Whitey Ball Strategy for Art Marketing in a Down Market
In the 1980s, the St. Louis Cardinals baseball team didn’t have big hitting sluggers on its roster. Its huge ballpark with faraway fences didn’t suit having them on the payroll. Instead, the team’s wily manager, Whitey Herzog, used his creativity to build a team around speed and slap hitting singles batters. During his tenure, Herzog picked players who were fleet of foot with the ability to steal bases, move fast to plug defenses and thwart their opponent’s offenses. Whitey always sought as many chances at bat he could get for his players. Essentially, he adapted his strategy to conform to what he had to work with. The results were spectacular with three National League pennants and two World Series appearances, including a World Series Championship in 1982.
Piling Up Singles in Today’s Economy Is a Great Strategy
Whether you are an independent self-representing artist or a big time publisher, this is a good time to employ your version of Whitey Ball marketing. For those serious about sustaining and building their businesses, smart marketing is more crucial now than in good times. Maintaining your marketing edge now will, when the economy turns, put you far ahead of those who hunker down and do nothing.
NINE IDEAS FOR USING WHITEY BALL MARKETING WITH YOUR ART BUSINESS
- Accurately assess your resources, opportunities and goals. Doing so serves to keep your expectations real.
- Give your business every chance at bat it can get. Look for all the publicity and media notice you can garner – there are more opportunities than you realize. It all matters and it all adds up when you find and use them.
- Shore up your defenses by tightening non-essential spending keeping funds available for the best opportunities.
- Go for the single when you get to bat. The first step to getting a run is to get on base. The first step to getting repeat sales is to establish a relationship with a potential collector or gallery
- Carefully weigh your options. When it comes to deciding how to allocate your marketing budget, employing the carpenter’s credo to measure twice and cut once is a wise idea.
- Renegotiate with your suppliers to get every discount, value added service and the lowest prices they can provide you.
- Explore every viable means to diversify your distribution channels. Going forward, alternative, creative marketing is a fact of life no matter what the economy is doing.
- Do whatever you must to make sure your customers are happy and your service is par excellence.
- Don’t buy into fanciful untried ideas (Or, if you must, start small and play conservatively. If it’s good, you’ll have time later to ratchet up your participation.)
Your Best Ideas Likely May Come From Doing Something You Were Sure You Would Never Do
To get creative, it helps to get outside your comfort zone. Try thinking about doing things differently, much differently. For instance, consider where have you not been, what have you not done and what you would never do. A marvelous brainstorming activity is to take a large sheet of paper and write down all the people, places and things you would never approach or do in your business. The harder you think about it and the more ideas you conjure up, the more likely your best out of left field (baseball pun intended) idea will come.
ArtExpo Las Vegas is a Conservative Go
Is there a correlation or lesson about the ArtExpo Las Vegas show and the closing of the Guggenheim Hermitage? Of course, especially if you believed Vegas had become an art mecca. I fell under that spell. Like many others, I was a strong proponent of the ArtExpo Vegas show last year. I devoted several encouraging posts on Art Print Issues and another on the very popular AbsoluteArts.com blog, where I contribute frequently.
My post show follow up was more sanguine. Like the folks at the Guggenheim and many others, I felt Vegas offered promise. Seeing the museum close and the ArtExpo show last year come off smaller than anyone would have hoped for and now in tougher economic times, it’s hard to muster great enthusiasm for the 2008 show. Still, the industry is down to few choices for shows and this is one of them.
If you have the resources, ArtExpo Vegas can work to your advantage to exhibit there.
I met several self-representing artists who were thrilled they made the decision to go. The smartest advice is to go expecting the best, but also be prepared for something less than that. By doing so, you are poised to react to a good outcome and will negate the deflation of a bummer experience by having acknowledged the possibility of it. Exhibiting there, especially as unknown artist is akin to gambling, don’t play with money you can’t afford to lose. Go with a good marketing plan, use solid money management to keep losses to a minimum and play hard and smart and pray for a hot streak
What the artists with whom I met that had a great ArtExpo Vegas show had in common was they had unique well developed thematic styles that appealed to certain buyers with substantial open to buy budgets. In other words, in each case it was a single buyer that made the difference for them. This scenario is likely to happen again this year, but understand the buyers are selective. It doesn’t mean your images aren’t good if you don’t succeed. It could be they are not right for those buyers who attend. Being able to know the difference only comes with experience. If you lack it, seek the advice of others to get an honest, if not brutal, assessment of where your art comes in.
The art print market is evolving and so are the venues and media that report on, promote and support it.
What we are witnessing is the rapid deconstruction of how things were done in the past. It is far from an art industry problem. You can find reports of all kinds of shows and media contracting from their once bulging sizes. It’s harder to find where the business is going. Some to the Internet, some to targeted marketing and some to marginal players folding their tents.
To maximize your return, you need to pay close attention to help you understand how the business is evolving. Playing Whitey Ball with your marketing will help you sustain your business as you wind through the challenging times we find ourselves in today.