10 Things I Wonder About Illustration Marketing for 2010
posted: December 29, 2009
1. I wonder if source books work any more.

2. I wonder if direct mail works any more.

3. I wonder what reps do these days.

4. I wonder if social networking brings home any cabbage.

5. I wonder if big portfolio sites like theispot and folioplanet deliver a return on the investment.

6. I wonder if blogging pays.

7. I wonder if dropping off a portfolio actually exists any more.

8. I wonder if winning awards still means anything.

9. I wonder if just sticking with it still works.

10. I wonder if it's even possible to answer any of the things I wonder about.

John Hendrix December 29, 2009
I still tell my students to do drop-offs, as some of my best early breaks came from drops. But, in truth, I have NO IDEA if the places I dropped at 4 years ago are still taking portfolios. REALLY good questions. One thing I do know: Blogging is worth it. Big time.
Kyle T Webster December 29, 2009
I have no idea if blogging is worth it (John, can you elaborate?). I always ask art directors where they saw my work and they will say one of two things: 'online somewhere,' or 'NY Times, The New Yorker, BusinessWeek, etc.' - so, the 'online somewhere' answer is not very helpful. The other answer lets me know that simply being published in magazines or papers with high circulation is great for business. But, I always blog, just in case. I also use Twitter, just in case... and Facebook... just in case. Any illustrators out there use Flickr? I have never used source books, but that could be a mistake on my part. Who knows? These are all great questions, Zimm - I hope some art directors will read this post and give their opinions.
J.D. King December 29, 2009
Zimm, like the song says, you are some kinda wonder-full! I just wanna give you a big hug an' a kiss for New Year's!
Leo Espinosa December 29, 2009
Kyle, for me is not being everywhere but being wherever I feel there's an audience for what I like to do. I would not go the Facebook way but have a Flickr for very free form stuff (mix of pics with words and drawings) and without any expectations from Flickr, it has brought me fantastic projects. Drawger is a mix of work and personal stuff and I guess that's appealing to some art director and designers because I've gotten jobs from here too. I haven't send a promo in years and just this morning I was thinking of doing one. I think I'll do a post about it instead :) Keep breaking the mold, Master Zimm!
Rob Dunlavey December 29, 2009
In the 90's and early 2000's we maybe got lazy and just did mailings and then internet stuff. It seemed everyone was too busy for flesh and blood meetings. I think the best strategy is to be as "present" as possible in whatever medium you choose to represent yourself. I think portfolio drops and interviews are the most fun and worthwhile. I still do a few direct-mail things a year and I'd feel cut off if I didn't blog somehow. That may change though. flickr has been nice for me. It's brought in some projects but maybe more importantly, has put and kept me in touch with some great artists that I wouldn't ordinarily have met. Thanks Zimm. Happy New Year!
Paul Rogers December 29, 2009
1. no 2. yes 3. good ones still matter 4. cole slaw 5. no 6. yes 7. yes 8. yes 9. yes
Jason Crosby December 29, 2009
I've asked myself many of these same questions recently. Besides my personal website (, I also use theispot, altpick, blogs, and send promo pieces several times per year. Promo pieces and word of mouth are said the most when asked how ADs found me. I think in two years, I've had ONE AD say they found me through online portfolios. But just this week, I got their renewal forms. To pay or not to pay? I also blog by having one on my homepage (shows new, completed pieces) and one for sketches. I'm not sure how much they help, but I figure the people who do visit my site would like to see the most recent pieces front 'n center. 'Keep on keepin on' is my daily moto. I'll keep drawing and trying to get better as long as it seems I'm taking steps forward (even if they're baby steps a lot of times).
Ellen Weinstein December 29, 2009
Very thoughtful questions, Zimm. I would love to hear feedback from some art directors/ designers on these.
Victor Juhasz December 29, 2009
1. Doubt it. 2. YES. 3. Your guess is as good as mine. 4. Not edible. 5. No. 6. Yes, in ways you don't even think of. 7. ? 8. Maybe. 9. What's the alternative? 10. See answer 3.
Daniel Pelavin December 29, 2009
1. Good for flattening curled photographs 2. If you make it special enough to be worth receiving 3. Cementing relationships with your clients 4. Not if that's all you use it for 5. They let people know you're not dead yet 6. Can't hurt 7. I wonder how many portfolios got dropped off and picked up without ever being opened? 8. Never meant anything (unless you appreciate admirers who will rip you off cheap) 9. Not just sticking with it but, giving all you've got 10. Some, not all, but don't ever stop wondering
Michael Sloan December 30, 2009
Hi Zimm - Great post and questions, all of which nag me often. I'm looking forward to hearing what others think, especially art directors and designers as Ellen suggests. I've avoided social networking, and don't want to get into it at all - I have so little time to draw and paint as it is. I don't know anything about Flickr, but should perhaps check it out? For me, small (less than 100) targeted mailings still work, especially those that are special/personal in some way as Daniel suggests. I still do postcard mailings and I think they help. I haven't done much email campaigning because I hate getting spam myself, though I'm reconsidering and would like to know what others feel about this? I've started using the illoz newsletter tool (is anyone else?) with some success. Drawger and illoz (which is currently my main website) are both great and invaluable. I try to blog in moderation (my time is limited and I'd rather be drawing and painting) and I only blog here on Drawger. I think this very post is a perfect example of how terrific and vital a blog can be. I'll still continue subscribing to theispot. Folioplanet seems more and more insignificant to me as a promo tool (I don't have a portfolio there anymore), though I do use it often to manage my stock collection. Source books aren't on my radar at all anymore. I don't have a print portfolio anymore and don't feel like I need one - my online portfolios do the job.
Bryan Gray December 30, 2009
I don't think my situation is typical but here's one ADs take: 1. I haven't used a source book for years but it makes me feel good about myself when I drop them off for recycling. 2. Direct mail serves as a very short term reminder of those I'm already familiar with and occasionally turns me on to someone new. I don't mind receiving postcards and they may be marginally effective. 3. Reps are a mostly a barrier for me. If I'm choosing between Artist A (with rep) and Artist B (without rep) for an assignment with all else being equal, I'll always go with Artist B. Just less hassle, direct communication, and I know the artist is getting all the $$. Since I'm not a major-market player I almost never have reps contacting me for their clients. Maybe they do work for the A-list Art Directors though. 4. I think social networking does work and you can't beat the price. This business is all about mind share and the more I see your name on FaceBook the more likely it is that your name will cross my mind at the right time. 5. ? 6. ? I think Drawger works but I don't follow individual blogs. 7. ? 8. Awards make good filler for your obituary. 9. beats the alternative 10. nope
Stephanie Glaros December 30, 2009
Of course all ADs are different, but here's my two cents: 1. I used to use them a lot, but not anymore. They are not targeted enough towards what I'm looking for (editorial). 2. Most definitely, as long as they are targeted (again) towards the type of work I need. I am thoroughly unimpressed by mailings intended for advertising or children's work. When I see these, I have to ask myself, have you ever even picked up our magazine? Also, PLEASE keep it simple and just send a postcard or something similar. No need to waste paper and postage on a big package (unless it includes candy). Your work speaks for itself, I don't need anything clever. 3. Good question. I don't receive nearly as many solicitations from reps as I used to. 4. Can't say I've ever hired someone this way, but I do enjoy being Facebook friends with artists whose work I admire. 5. I haven't searched either of those sites in quite a while. I prefer and 6. Blogs are great because they feature the artist's latest work (versus websites that are not updated as frequently). 7. Not so much. I'm too busy. 8. Nice validation, but they don't mean that much to me. All I care about is the work itself. 9. For sure! Persistence still pays off. The one idea missing here is my favorite: Just shoot me an email with a link to your work online. Blogs, websites, Flickr pages, it doesn't really matter to me (as long as the images load quickly, if it's slow, I'm outta there). If I'm interested, you'll hear back from me. Oh yeah, and don't ever send me to your MySpace page. Hope this helps.
Doug Fraser December 30, 2009
The are as many answers as there are illustrators. There are media whores, and reclusives, but the changing vogues of the latest look would be hard to define. I do feel that the source books, and winning awards have become almost irrelevant outside of an every shrinking audience. There are just so many more ways to find what one wants. It's actually better in many respects. Hell, the term illustrator is pretty stretched out, it's almost quaint.
SooJin December 30, 2009
1. No 2. I look at all mailers. 3. I call on them to get industry insight. 4. Check FB and twitter accounts regularly. Nice to know what people are up to. 5. I confess, is my home page... Love the Shuffle Tool! Used it at least 100 times today. Not exaggerating. I do go to as well. But not as often. is up there as well. 6. Love blogs. Don't go often enough. 7. Sometimes get asked about drop offs, and I just ask for their websites instead. 8. Look at annuals all the time. Latest AI, SI and 3x3 annuals are on my desk permanently. Call me vain, but I frame all my certificates from CA and SI. 9. Definitely. Sometimes it takes many many encounters (digital, mailers, or just meeting the artist in person) before I actually work with them — even if I'm a big fan of their work 10. For what its' worth, here are my answers to your wonders. Thank you, Zimm for all you do..
Kyle T Webster December 31, 2009
Really glad that Bryan, Steph, and SooJin chimed in here - thanks to all of you for your posts.
Scott Bakal January 1, 2010
1. I wonder if source books work any more. I am sure ad agencies may flip through them but really, eh. One would need to ask yourself why they all have website portfolios too associated with it? They may see their own irrelevance. It seems to have become an unneeded expense now. 2. I wonder if direct mail works any more. Yes. 3. I wonder what reps do these days. Except for the one's that are actually hustling to get their artists work, many I've discovered just place ads places and wait by the phone. 4. I wonder if social networking brings home any cabbage. I've started disliking it but I think it is beneficial. Stuffed cabbage is nice though. 5. I wonder if big portfolio sites like theispot and folioplanet deliver a return on the investment. ROI better than sourcebooks. 6. I wonder if blogging pays. Yes. (See social networking) 7. I wonder if dropping off a portfolio actually exists any more. I call it the 'martini lunches' now. I usually make appointments to hang with A/D's more socially them formally. 8. I wonder if winning awards still means anything. Did it ever, really? My first time felt they always do. 9. I wonder if just sticking with it still works. Of course...but don't kid yourself. 10. I wonder if it's even possible to answer any of the things I wonder about. No. Everyone is so different with different styles of promotion that work for different markets. My marketing is simple but probably more costly than what the average illustrator out there spends. But, it brings home the 'cabbage'. I like cabbage. Cabbage allows me to have nice things. And it tastes good too. Anyway, do amazing work and you're already ahead of the pack.
Dave Stolte January 5, 2010
Great questions, impressive responses. I've wondered all of the above myself... wondered if I'm kidding myself by pursuing my passion. Glad to know at least I'm not alone. :(
michael kline January 27, 2010
I tried Facebook ads, direct mail, portfolio sites, bla, bla. But the best luck I've had is wandering around the BEA with a manga-size color portfolio to hand out. Be careful though... folks are there to sell books, not buy illustration. In other words, don't get pushy. Offer some solutions.
Christopher Peterson May 4, 2010
I often wonder the same things myself. There are some good ideas in these replies. I recently returned from New York where I visited with a new rep, and it became very clear what she does these days. The whole idea seems to be to drive people's eyeballs to a web site. Sourcebooks are not as important. The Society of Illustrators is unfortunately not all that vital any more. Direct mail is still a valid way to reach qualified client types, but of course it is sometimes expensive to make it special enough to matter to the recipient. Relationships matter. I am personally blog deficient- I'll have to focus on that. I like Sticking with it. It's the only thing I know how to do.