A Strategy for Asking People for Their Contact Information

Guest Blogger: Lisa McShane
annotated by Alyson Stanfield

Email is a useful part of an artist’s marketing plan and works well when combined with a good postcard strategy, exhibits, a well-designed website, and an active blog.

My last career was in electoral politics, environmental policy, and community organizing, so I KNOW the value of getting email addresses! And I never hesitate to ask for the email address–EVER–because I think what I send out is fantastic.

[I love that Lisa is confident in what she shares with her mailing list. Without this confidence, artists often send wimpy email newsletters.]

What I don’t do is leave the list out in plain view at events. I won’t write my email down on an open list so I would never ask anyone else to that.

[Duh. Why didn’t I think of that?!]

Either a helper (AKA my husband) or I hold the list on a clipboard close to the chest 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 my list of recipients. Could I get your email and contact info for that?” They nearly always say Yes. They rarely unsubscribe, and many of them eventually buy paintings from me.

I also keep a lovely little sketch journal with me at all times. When I meet people and tell them what I’m up to, I pull out the journal and ask them to share their contact info. They always say Yes after they see the pretty book with nice paper. It’s clear that their information is kept private since they can see it’s my sketch journal. (This me with Anne-Marie Faiola, who is writing her information in my 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.

Two things about my process for collecting contact information are key.

1. There is no sign-up in full view, so the information remains private.

2. The request is active and in person. When people give us their email, they know they’ll be getting a “painting in their inbox” (and an immediate thank you for stopping by the show) and nothing more.

This works in community organizing, it works in politics, and it can work in the art world!

[The most important aspect of Lisa's strategy is that the request is active--not passive. It's in person, it comes from her lips, and it occurs after a conversation. It's not a sign-up book or a fishbowl full of business cards. It's the personal touch.]

What do you think? Can you follow this advice?

Lisa McShane is a Washington artist whose Fresh Highway (oil on canvas) is pictured here. ©2009 The Artist. Visit her blog, 1,000 Paintings.

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5 comments to A Strategy for Asking People for Their Contact Information

  • Brilliant! I have a solo show coming up and would like to try this out.

  • I agree that the personal aspect of the 1-on-1 clipboard or journal is a nice touch.

    However, dismissing the idea of including an open guest book at a performance or art event is going to cost you contacts for a couple reasons:

    1) Regardless of your best intentions, you may not have time to talk to EVERY interested person (and procure contact info) during a busy event.

    2) Your guests may not have time to find you & chat with you, OR they might be interested in your work, but may be a bit shy and prefer a more passive exchange of their info.

    I performed a Pecha Kucha event last week and got 7 new contacts on my mailing list: I asked for 2 of them with the personal, clipboard technique. The other 5 came from audience members who liked my presentation and signed an open guest book on the merch table at their convenience.

    If people respond to your work, they will be happy to leave their names on your mailing list, even if it’s out in “plain view.” Utilizing ALL available techniques makes it easy on your audience and maximizes your opportunities to connect.

  • This is a great idea but I agree with Nikolas that you still need to have an open guest book for people you don’t have a chance to talk to. But I will use the “little black book” idea at my next show. And it’s a good reminder not to leave email addresses out in the open.

    One other point here — I learned a hard lesson a couple of shows ago when two people left e-mail addresses in my guest book (and no other information other than their name) and I could not read the handwriting when I went to add them to my mailing list after the show. I now check every entry (if I can) as soon as it is made, hoping I can clarify any messy handwriting before the person gets out of sight. Lesson: When putting information in a guest book, write legibly (preferably printed)!

  • Great idea! Every artist needs to gather names for a mailing list. I love the personal approach. Some of my older fans don’t have/don’t want to give up email addresses, so I put out index cards on a clipboard. One side asked for email, and there was a note that said “Rather use your P.O. Box? Use other side. I don’t share either way.” I used the phrase “P.O. Box” because it’s a safer form of address, which addressed the concern of many. I had a rubber stamp to stamp both sides. People would pull them off the clipboard and hand them to me. I also gave away a pack of cards at each show, drawn randomly from the names I collected. I announced the winner in the next newsletter, just by initials and show name, e.g. “J.S. won a pack of cards at ArtFestival in Somerset New Jersey this week. Congratulations!” I used to get a lot of requests for where my next show was and how they won. That gave me the beginning of a relationship.

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