You Promise Exposure, We Want to See Results

You think you’re doing artists a “favor” by “giving us exposure that we can’t get ourselves.”

You want us to pay a monthly fee for your nothing-else-like-it (ha!) online art gallery, enter your art competition for exposure, design your new logo for free, or purchase booth space at your event. You promise “exposure” in return for our art or our money.

Think again.

Artists are all kinds of tired listening to lines like these. We know how the world works and we know you’re trying to make money by – in part – using our art.

Let’s Be Partners

We’re trying to make money, too. Acknowledge that. Acknowledge that we have something you want in the form of talent and ideas. Acknowledge that we are valuable to you and your business. Acknowledge that we have gifts.

Don’t pretend we can’t see past your motives.

Don’t present your idea like you’re doing us a big favor in the form of “more exposure for our art.”

You’re using artists to help you make more money. That’s fine, but be honest about it.

Why not try something radical and create a partnership?

Why not treat us as equals as you would with other business relationships?

Instead of: “I’ve got a great idea that will give you lots of exposure for your art” . . .

Opt for: “I have this great product. I’d like more people to buy it and I think you can help me. How can we work together so that we both benefit? What do you need right now?”

This is not only an honest approach, it’s a keystone for a stronger relationship. If we like you, we’ll help spread the word. If you’re just another salesperson, we’ll figure it out.

A lot of people want our money or talents and we seem to be disappointed more and more frequently. Signing on for “promised exposure” hasn’t yielded great results to date.

We’re tired of it. We’re not dumb. We see through the marketing speak.

Prove It

Give us the numbers. You want our money, art, and talents? We want cold, hard facts.

We’d like to see a screen capture of your Google Analytics in detail.

We want to see your click-through rates from your email marketing campaigns.

We’d like to know exactly how you’re going to promote your art competition: advertising, mailings, frequency, etc.

We’d like to talk personally with 5 highly satisfied customers.

We’d like to know precisely how many people walked through your doors during your last exhibit and how much art (in $$) was sold.

Any other smart businessperson would demand these statistics. We are smart businesspeople.

Stop making promises. Start showing us results. If you don’t have the results, be up front. Tell us why we should take a chance on you. Make your case.

Let’s Talk About This

I’m feeling feisty and hope this post starts a conversation. I receive these pitches just like you do. They come to me when people want access to you via this blog. They want me to write about their great new product or service for artists that will give you lots of exposure.

Most of them are well-meaning. They don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t understand that I’ve heard it all before and get pitched to several times a week.

Others are just bad at what they do. They’ve obviously never looked at this blog. They just know it ranks high and that it has “art” in the title.

One poor, genuinely nice guy last week got an earful when he pitched his idea to me. Normally I wouldn’t even bother responding. But I sensed authenticity in his email. I just told him he needed a different approach – that artists are tired of hearing about promised exposure.

Was I right? Are you tired of hearing about promised exposure and not seeing results?

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143 comments to You Promise Exposure, We Want to See Results

  • Yes, yes, yes! Very timely, thank you.

  • Vered Galor

    This article is and will ever be timely and “right on”!
    I am not a “”, so to speak! In the 80ties I worked as a curator and consultant in the LA area and did my best to help artists with exposure and sales. It was NOT easy then.
    Today I do my own artwork, show with galleries and try to get some sales. It is still just as almost impossible task.
    Like in all professional fields it is not what you know and do, but WHO you know and what THEY do!

  • Alyson- from the number of comments alone you have pushed a hot-button issue! I hope I have learned my lesson (in Kenya the craft fairs always want you to donate something to the “tombola”- that is one thing when you’re selling wine or manufactured items, and quite another when you have only original art.) I have decided to donate a few greeting cards going forward- I just can’t give away original paintings or sketches like that. I hope artists will continue to value themselves enough to resist “exposure” and start partnering with businesses…. great post!

  • Good points Alyson. The first thing I thought of is the scenario you outline as ideal is exactly what the *good* art galleries have done since the invention of the art gallery. The gallery thinks the artists’ works have value to their clients and the artist thinks the gallery’s clients have value to his/her career……..they strike up a mutually beneficial deal to put those two together and share the revenue.

    Good galleries also do what you suggested – encourage prospective artists to talk to existing artists to get proof that they can deliver results.

    Loved this post, thanks.

  • Dear Alyson,
    Amazing, I opened my E-mail just 15 minutes ago and there were two adds of the type you just described in your comments. Thank you for all you write and do, and for confirming what I’ve felt for so long now.
    Phyllis Solcyk

  • ok. read all 103 previous posts, and i agree in the aggregate, if something has value, it has worth. insightful as the reparte’ has been, however, i haven’t seen one solid solution being put forward. i understand that you can’t solve a problem if you can’t identify it. having said that, who out there has a workable solution?

  • Erika Kohr Island

    I personally have run into the problem of fund raising events having the fantastic “original” idea of having an art auction…of which they plan to have artists donate all of the work. While my heart goes out to all of these well deserved organizations that promise great exposure, I’ve come up with a basic policy for my own consideration: Generally I only will consider 2 donations a year…when I am contacted by others, I inform them that I have hit my annual quota…thus helping them to understand that artists are getting hit up more than they may know. Next, for a more valuable piece of work I will only donate to an organization that publishes a catalog that is viewable on line and that will have my work photographed for me. The auction must be artwork only…attracting galleries and art buyers only. The other type of donation I will do is of inexpensive production oriented work that I do under a business name…this work I will donate to local non profits within my community when requested. This is what I can do to support my local community as they support me as an artist.

    • This very issue of art donations for charity has haunted me for years. My gallery has been in business for 37 years and at least twice a day I get a request for an art donation in “exchange” for some type of publicity. I want to help because am I blessed and able to help…but giving my artist’s work away and losing control over the very thing that I work so hard to protect is unthinkable. I have come up with a solution that works.
      1. NEVER donate artwork! This applies to both galleries and artists…your art has value and must be treated as precious and unique output, never to be given out for free. Once the art is donated, you have no control over anything that happens to it. A $3000 piece could sell for $300…years of marketing and calculated pricing out the window. So what to do with donation requests?

      I give gift certificates. If one of my artist wants to donate to a certain charity, they determine a dollar amount they want to donate and I will issue a gift certificate for that amount from the gallery for that artist’s work. The “winner” of the certificate redeems the certificate for the specified amount OFF that artist work…its a win-win all the way around. The gallery gets a new client, the artist has the power to choose a specific and ascertainable dollar amount… that they can deduct for taxes, the client gets to choose the art they like from the collection and last but not least price consistency is maintained!
      I cant tell you how much heart ache this has saved me.

  • So true Alyson…completely over listening to it!

  • Nice one Alyson! This has needed saying for a long time. I’ve said bits of it myself over time but this is an excellent summary – and I’ll be including it in “who’s made a mark this week?” on Sunday and also on relevant other websites.

  • You know as I reflect back on my gallery days. I would add something to the “prove it” section.
    That works both ways. The “partner” may need to prove the size of their mailing list and the effectiveness of their salespeople. It seems they would then have the right to ask the artist to prove they, the artist, can deliver the number of pieces needed, the quality needed, on time and in good condition.

    I’m not saying this to be antagonistic in any way. But I remember getting burned a few times after investing a pretty good chunk of change.

    I guess my point is, when you ask the other party to prove it, be prepared for them to make the same demand of you.

    On a tangential note, I don’t know if “We’d like to see a screen capture of your Google Analytics in detail.” really proves much unless all the other party is promising is eyeballs. Traffic != Sales, and, in my past experience, the two are fairly often, not correlated. You’d need proof of actual sales or, at least, traffic from qualified buyers. By the way, If you want to jack up GA numbers go buy stumbleupon ads, your visitor counts will go through the roof, and your sales will stay right where they are as people “stumble” away.

    Again – I agree with the concept of getting proof, it’s just that I see so many articles that use web traffic as a proxy for “success” in some way (I’m not saying Alyson is suggesting that) that I’m kind of sensitive to that issue.

    • Clint: You’re exactly right. It’s a two-way street.

      And you’re right about GA, too, of course. I do think, though, that promising exposure is promising eyeballs.

      • Well I’m not sure what you mean. You say you agree about GA but then qualify that promising exposure is promising eyeballs. Does that mean you agree but don’t like the word exposure? Or does it mean that promising exposure and eyeballs is enough as long as you deliver the promised traffic (even if not qualified)?

        The word “exposure” is so loaded and broad. I’m assuming most artists, when they say “I need exposure” really mean “I need exposure to more people that might actually be interested in my art.”

        If that is true, then promising exposure really isn’t just promising eyeballs IMHO. It’s promising the right eyeballs. If I put your work on the home page of, maybe that’s the right people. If I put it in a stumbleupon rotation, you’ll get tons of eyeballs but no sales I suspect.

        So if I go to an artist and promise exposure, show them GA numbers, and then stick their work on pages that get high traffic but no qualified prospects, then, have I kept up my end of the bargain? My answer would be no, I haven’t kept up the bargain because I wouldn’t have delivered any value to the artist.

        Or put another way, if I told an artist – you have a choice of two options:

        option 1 – I’ll get you 100,000 visits to a page featuring your art but to get the traffic I have to buy a bunch of ads with google and stumbleupon.

        option 2 – I’ll introduce you to the person whose bought the most art from my gallery over the past five years, he’s actively building his collection and I think he’ll love your work.

        I’m suggesting go for option 2, even though option 1 is a whole lot more “traffic.”

        So I guess what I’m saying is GA numbers aren’t enough, they need to be coupled with other data that proves your “exposure” will be the right kind of exposure. Of course the best proof is sales data. (If the goal is selling)

        • Peter Worsley

          Clint: A great answer. Qualifying the exposure is much more difficult without the cooperation of the owner of the website or gallery (online or brick). Of course, if the website or gallery has only anemic useful traffic, the owner does not want to let on as it might cut into his income. The problem for the artist is no different than that of many other marketing decision makers in many other fields. There are plenty of scams, and very few really good opportunities. One should always be skeptical until proven results are offered. And in general, go with your gut feel when gambling with your promotional (and hanging fee) money.

        • Clint: Trying to formulate a response to this and realized I’m too tired to be coherent. Great points, as always. I think you took what I wrote to its ultimate conclusion, but my point still stands that these people have to be willing to prove what “exposure” means. And artists have to ask for that proof and to decide what kind of exposure is best for them.

          Let’s hope they choose Option 2.

          Thank you for being part of this dialogue.

        • Obvious Clint you know your stuff. Asking galleries to “prove” themselves is meaningless. A gallery “proves” itself to the artist by taking on their work. The overhead associated by representing an artist should be all the proof an artist needs if they have chosen the gallery wisely. I can tell you that I would never take on art that I didn’t believe was beautiful, would sell, and be worthy of the substantial financial and personal resources I invest to make the sale and further our mutual reputations. Why would I consider art that I cant sell, of poor quality and created by an untalented and uninspired artist? The only “proof” I ask for is obvious in the quality of the artists work, and their commitment to our partnership for mutual benefit. Demanding these “proofs” would be insulting to me as a gallery owner and businessperson.

          • Sylvia: I never mentioned galleries in my post and didn’t intend to include galleries in this dialogue.

            Galleries prove themselves by staying in business, caring for the art, and promoting their artists work. A gallery’s track record is quite public.

            But perhaps there is a different burden for newer gallerists to prove themselves. Do you think?

            I’ve heard from too many artists whose galleries have gone bankrupt or have sold work without ever paying the artists. Of course, many of those artists have admitted that they didn’t do enough to stay on top of their business dealings with the galleries.

            What do you suggest in those instances? When galleries aren’t responsive to the artists’ questions?

  • You have a valid points by business point of view I’ve just read your blog and I thought it was very well presented, with some excellent ideas.

  • Thank you for this post! Yes I’m so tired and frustrated by people who just use artists for their own gain. I’m sick of being treated like I deserve to come in last because I’m “doing what I love”. I say NO to these people. What makes me sad is that there’s always another artist lined up ready and willing to be taken advantage of. As artists we must demand the treatment we deserve or things will never change.

  • Go Alyson! Thanks for being a fearless leader.

  • No doubt the “opportunities” for artists are just staggering…and if all of these were accurate…well…

    I wrote about this yesterday…yet about online art consultants…and how an ever increasing number are cropping up…just dying to help create that business that we artists lack the acumen for…

    I read 7 art consulting blogs every morning…each fundamentally trying to stimulate my already stimulated brain in and around art…marketing and sales…each consultant has the “answer” to success or at least the direction to the road to getting there…and for such a small fee per month….yet my question is what have these consultants done…prior to art consulting…are they versed in art and marketing… business…what are their credentials…track record…past glories and success stories…we hire based on history and reputation….not flash and stimulation…

    The online gallery opportunities don’t seem that far removed from the online consulting opportunities…I am bombarded with solicitations for classes…seminars…tutorials…video podcasts….etc…and often wonder who is the true beneficiary….

    I realize we all have to make a living…as an artist for many years…part of my thinking is helping those who have been where I have get where they want to be with no expectation…or strings….because in the end the payback is enormous…

    Great article…thanks for the insight….

    • You’re right to demand that, Robert. Always ask for the success stories.

      I feel that I somehow need to defend Art Biz Coach, which has been growing strong since 2002, after reading this, so here goes.

      If you go to Art Biz Coach you’ll see that I have testimonials on most sales pages (I’m slower getting some of them up!). And whenever someone tells me how wonderful something was, I ask them what was most helpful. I want to know if they got results. Still, it’s hard to quantify some results. I keep trying. Keep pushing my clients and asking them to measure.

      My story is everywhere about what I think my strengths are and my experience in those areas: building relationships and communicating about art. I’m very clear about how I can help and when it might be better to go with someone else.

  • Oh my goodness! On the nose, nail on head. I don’t know how artists
    make ANY money! Exhibits now require payment for shipping- both ways! Galleries take up to 50%!! Show exhibits are very expensive. Forget advertising!
    Great post!

    • Wen: That’s why I’m all for selling directly to people unless you can deliver to a nearby gallery. Otherwise, it’s cost prohibitive.

    • I”ll tell you what, I will take you on as an artist and not take my 50% when these things happen:

      My employees work for me for free.
      My mortgage company will no longer require payment for the gallery.
      My insurance company will insure your art for free.
      My gas and electric company will offer service for free.
      My van loan is forgiven.
      My vendors will supply all the necessary products and services to run a gallery for free.
      I decide that I love your art so much that I will sell it even if I don’t make any .money.

      • Sylvia: I’m a big advocate of responsible gallerists. No one can replace the professional gallerist in an artist’s career, but not every artist is cut out to be a gallery artist – as I’m sure you know far better than I.

        And I’m very well aware that galleries have high (!) overhead. I educate my artists about this whenever I can – and about the connections that a gallerist will have.

        My comment immediately above wasn’t in response to the 50% earned (not taken) by the gallery. It was in response to the shipping costs, which have gotten prohibitive for many artists.

        Notice that my post didn’t say “galleries” anywhere.

        • Alyson, I am happy to answer any “gallery perspective” questions that you or your readers may have. Misunderstandings and lack of knowledge on artist/gallery collaborations sadly, happen too often resulting in many lost opportunites. My gallery frequently offers Professional Development seminars, especially to university fine art students. It is critical that emerging artists have a realistic understanding of how the “business of art” works and how they can successfully navigate this world…especially if they intend to make a living with their art.

          • Vered Galor

            Silvia and Wen,
            Artists need to price their work to cover materials’ cost, time and the shipping expenses. They also need to remember that it is the whole sale price and double it because the gallery will take 50% off for the sale, to cover gallery’s expenses. That is how it works. The problem is that many times it makes the artwork too expensive and it does not sale, so no body wins!

  • I agree with Wen. Thus, I have cut back on entering shows. With entry fees at $30-40 and having to pay shipping both ways it is too expensive. In several years of showing my work, I have had one sale from an exhibit and that was Fiberarts International. I decided the “fame” of exposure was not worth the cost.

  • Karen

    Timely, well-written and entirely to the point – great piece you’ve written here! As an artist who has heard all of these lines time and again, I have found myself very jaded to the whole concept of “exposure” from a source other than my own efforts. There are a few very good friends who share my work, and I share theirs in return, but every other venue that has promised exposure has produced nothing in terms of sales for me. I recently responded to a request with, “Thank you, but I don’t see how your proposal benefits me or my business. I appreciate the compliment of your asking, but I must decline.” What I got in return was being written up in the askers blog and Facebook page as “grasping” and “selfish.” Yes, I guess I am. I work hard, I’m raising two children with a husband who works hard to provide for our family. The money my business generates helps to ease that burden on him and I will not give cheapen his sacrifice by giving away what I can sell. I spent 15 years in corporate sales and have managed to translate a lot of that experience into the online marketplaces. I find myself getting very tired and very frustrated with those who promise what we both know they cannot provide.

  • Wow! Thank you – from so many artists. I don’t know why we are so taken advantage of. I have taken it up the you know where so many times.

    I do want to say, a professional appearance in forms of a good looking blog and website really helps. Collectors can take you more seriously. Before onliney stuff – it was far more difficult to prove you were good at your craft. Before, good looking marketing ate up so much of your profit. It was hard to work and eat.

  • Asking artist to donate art to silent auctions, live auctions and raffles is standard operating procedure around here. I appreciate the various responses the participants in this discussion have offered.

    I simply say, with a kind smile, “I don’t give my work away. You are welcome to buy it at a discount; that way you will have a write-off and I will still earn a living.”

    Usually, they are very understanding. Occasionally, they say, “Don’t you just have some cards or a print?” Then, I get pulled into giving it away again, or feel like a jerk.

  • […] has an amazing, right-on post about exposure for artists and the pitches that are thrown our way: You Promise Exposure, We Want Results.  This really resonates with me, as we have had issues with folks from quilt guilds asking for […]

  • This post is well overdue! Art students need to hear this when they are still in school. Why should everyone else get paid except the artist?

    My most valuable piece of advice to artists is to work with people who are going to pay you.

    I have been given the excuse, “We’re not making money now, so we don’t have the money to pay….” or “We’ll pay you on the back end.” Haw about giving those lines at the gas station when you need gas? or at the supermarket when you buy food? It doesn’t work anywhere else and shouldn’t work with artists!

  • Very timely. I am constantly being asked for donations, with the consistent sales pitch of “It’s a great opportunity to get your name out there” The truth is, it rarely is. I typically lose a potential customer in the process, and locally, my customers get the impression that if they wait, they will be able to purchase something as a write off.

  • […] from participating in a contest or competition without receiving an award or commission by gaining exposure and experience. Whatever the case, know what to expect from the […]

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