Marketer’s Guide to Working With Artists – Part One

Lesson 1: Don't use the c-word.


by Dave Robson

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We’ve said that it’s important to write to your audience, and we suspect that two major groups make up the audience for this blog: marketing professionals and artists. Both are necessary for making content marketing work, but sometimes these two groups don’t see eye-to-eye. That’s the hazard of dealing with different disciplines. So, in the interest of building better relationships, here are a few things marketers should know before they start working with artists.

Artists Hate the C-Word

Lots of artists hate to hear their work referred to as “content”. We get it. It makes their work sound like a commodity when it’s anything but. “Hey Ted, we need twenty-five hours of content by the end of Q2. Do you know if there’s a discount if we buy in bulk?”

Bruce Springsteen sings songs, he doesn’t sing content. Steven Spielberg shoots movies, he doesn’t shoot content. Margaret Atwood doesn’t create content, she writes novels. It’s perfectly true that all those things are content. They’re content by our own definition. We spend more than a little ink outlining that definition at the beginning of this book. But here’s the thing: artists don’t think of what they do as content, they think of it as art, and they’re right. It’s up to Springsteen’s label, Spielberg’s producer, and Atwood’s publisher to think of what they do as content and sell it. Artists make art, businesspeople sell it.

Remember and respect that an artist you hire will have a different perspective on their work than you do. After all, that’s why you’re hiring them.

Look At Their Portfolio, Not Their Resume

Marketers are almost never guilty of this, but their non-marketing bosses or small business owners who juggle a lot of jobs sometimes are. An artist’s resume isn’t a terribly useful thing. Most of the relevant details about an artist, like for whom they’ve worked, can be gleaned from an artist’s portfolio, which has the added bonus of all the examples of their work that you need. When you’re hiring an artist for a gig, it’s perfectly fine to ask for references, resumes, and cover letters—just know that the real important information will be found in a portfolio.

A portfolio should give you an idea of an artist’s style, versatility, capacity for big projects, and more. It should also be easily available online—or, at least, your artist should be able to email you a digital portfolio or links to their work. Beware someone without a portfolio.

Never hire an artist without looking at their portfolio.

Pay Them

Artists are frequently asked to work for free. Or, to put it another way, they’re offered a “unique opportunity”, “an exciting new platform for their work”, or worst of all, “exposure”. Those are all code words for “we don’t really want to pay you”.

Don’t ever be that person.

We know award-winning bands, thrice-published novelists, and profiled-in-national-magazine visual artists asked to work or perform for free. Ask literally any artist you know about being asked for work for free and they’ll have an entertaining story for you.

Here’s a real example. Take Wil Wheaton, a cult actor known for Star Trek: The Next Generation, his entertaining blog, massive social media presence (he was a celebrity active on Fark and Reddit before other celebrities realised you could do that), and countless appearances at fan conventions the world over. Wheaton wrote a fairly popular blog post called “Seven Things I Did To Reboot My Life”. It’s pretty good; stories about famous actors struggling with things like working out and eating right are very popular. So popular that the Huffington Post approached Wheaton and asked for the right to republish. When Wheaton asked what he’d be paid, the response was: nothing. Actually, they wrote: “Unfortunately, we’re unable to financially compensate our bloggers at this time. Most bloggers find value in the unique platform and reach our site provides, but we completely understand if that makes blogging with us impossible.”

Does that sound like bullshit to you? Well, it sounded like bullshit to Wheaton, who responded via his blog and twitter, saying: “Huffington Post is valued at well over fifty million dollars, and the company can absolutely afford to pay contributors,” and “The fact that it doesn’t, and can get away with it, is distressing to me.”

Did we mention that Wheaton has a massive Twitter presence, what with his four-character handle and three million followers? It wasn’t a great moment for Huffington Post.

Granted, there are times when it makes sense for an artist to work for free. Maybe they’re doing some non-profit work and donating their time, or they’re building a portfolio by working for themselves. But this is a blog about content marketing. If a company can afford to pay for marketing, they can afford to pay for content too.

Putting aside the fact that it’s wrong to ask someone to work for free, you probably don’t want to employ an artist who works for free anyway. Show us an artist who’s agreed to work for free and we’ll show you an artist who isn’t very good, won’t respect their deadline, will be hard to work with, or all of the above. You don’t always get what you pay for, but that’s a real danger when the pay is nothing.

The only time you should be getting content for free is when it’s already on the internet and under a creative commons license that allows for commercial use.