Why we Don’t Hand out Photos or Brochures in the Gallery

When I first started in the gallery business over twenty years ago, it was common practice to hand someone printed materials when they expressed interest in an artist’s work. When I was working with a client and she said she liked a particular piece, I would first try to close a sale, but if I wasn’t successful, I would hand her a printed copy of the artist’s biography and a photograph of the piece that had caught her attention.

I suspect that this remains a common practice with many artists and galleries today, but I feel that handing out printed materials is an ineffective selling technique, and today I would like to share an approach that I’ve found far more effective.

Let’s begin by exploring the problems with handing out printed material. First, and most importantly, handing out printed material and letting the client walk away deprives you of the opportunity to follow-up. In the vast majority of cases, as soon as a potential client walks away, you will never hear from her again.

Another problem with printed materials is the production and organization. From a gallery perspective, we would need to keep a stock of brochures and bios for dozens of artists, along with boxes and boxes of photos. Back in the 90’s, when I began in the business, we had to organize and store both prints and negatives for each of the several hundred pieces of art in the gallery. Digital photography made this a little bit easier, but it is still an organizational challenge.

The solution? Email!

Now, instead of handing someone a folder full of bios and photos of artwork, we let an interested client know that we would be happy to email her the information. Emailing the information is better for everyone involved. The client doesn’t have to carry a folder of paper out of the gallery, and we now have an avenue for follow up.

You might wonder if some people are reluctant to provide their email address. Actually, very few visitors to the gallery decline an email follow up. People have become accustomed to interacting through email, and most look at it as a convenience rather than an invasion of privacy.

IMG_20150112_111450[1]After a client agrees that she would like to receive an email, we provide her with a contact card to fill out. This card asks for not only her email, but also her other contact information, including her mailing address and phone number. The beauty of handing someone a form asking for all of her contact information is that she will usually simply fill the form without even thinking about it. Even though we don’t need the additional contact information for our email follow up, it’s very valuable for us to be able to add that information to our database for further follow-up.

When the client hands the card back, we ask if she would like to be added to our mailing list. We keep the invite very simple: “Would you like to join our mailing list to receive updates about new artwork?” You don’t need to sell this too hard – you only want people to join your mailing list if they really want to. Never add someone to your mailing list without their explicit permission.

We try to send the follow up email with an image of the artwork immediately after the client leaves the gallery, while the interaction is still on their mind, and on ours. Most of our clients have smartphones, so many of them can view the email immediately.

Your follow-up email should be simple and too the point. Thank the client for visiting your studio, show, or gallery, and provide the information about the artwork in which they expressed interest, along with the image. I prefer to have the image show up inline in the email, rather than as an attachment.  Close by letting the client know you would be happy to be of service. In other words, don’t be too pushy.

If you don’t hear back from the client within 2-3 days, send another quick email with an image of the artwork. You might also provide additional information about the artwork if available. Your inspiration for the work, a copy of your biography, or some other detail you feel might be relevant to the client.

Follow-UpEmailKeep following up until you hear back from the client. Start out with follow up every 2-3 days, and then begin stretching out the intervals between follow up as time goes on. I will talk more about the follow up process in future posts, but it’s important to note here that some sales require 8-10 follow up emails before getting a response. Don’t allow your sales to fail because you aren’t being persistent enough. If you keep your emails short and courteous, you can be persistent without being pesky.

And there you have our replacement for brochures and photos. Email follow up has been far more effective than handing someone a brochure could ever be We have the added satisfaction of knowing that we are, by some small degree, reducing waste and helping the environment.

To be clear, brochures and catalogs do still have a valid place in your marketing efforts. Brochures and other printed material can be a great way to send images to clients to update them about new available work. We do a lot of marketing through printed catalogs and brochures – but the key is that we use brochures for our marketing efforts, not for our sales efforts.

Finally, the last caveat. If we have sincerely tried to get follow up information from a client, but for some reason they refuse to give it, we may hand them a brochure as they are leaving the gallery if we felt that they were truly interested in a particular artwork or artist. This, or handing someone a card should be an absolute last resort after all efforts to sell and get contact information have been exhausted. These last-ditch efforts are only rarely effective, but if we’ve tried everything else (sincerely tried) it’s better for the client to walk away with images and contact information than nothing.

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.

9 Comments

  1. I have found the same thing through experience. The vast majority of people picking up image cards in a gallery are simply picking them up to take something with them. They can be a good tool to use as a rack card in a local inn or coffeeshop for example, or when someone truly seems interested, however will not give you their e-mail address. When I see someone in the gallery taking a photo of a work of art, I tell them that I can send them a high resolution image of that work if they would prefer. Then, as you do Jason, I offer them a card to fill out, make note of the artist they were interested in, and ask if they would like to receive additional e-mails on other works as well. I let them know that it gives them with the opportunity to see the work in advance of the general public.

  2. Dear Jason,
    Thank you for this information. I own a small art space in Boulder in the new art district. I am trying to figure out how to let people back into the space, to see art, but still be a safe and not spread the virus. I feel like I have let many a potential client go with out getting their follow up information. I like this idea of the form, as to my guest book that I try to get people to sign. It seems more concrete then me pointing to the book and running away. Happy sales and stay healthy.

  3. I agree with the email solution you mention as I did that for years when I did art fairs in Hawaii. Even when people did not buy a piece but appeared interested in my work I asked if they would like to be on my mailing list. I prefaced with I would never give out the email to another party and they could ask to be dropped from the list at any time. I said I send out an email about once a month with a new offering or sale towards the end of the year. Most people were happy to give their email. Other artists thought I was nuts to spend time getting this information from people who had not purchased anything. Well quite a few of those no sales people eventually bought prints and some originals sometimes a year or two later. Others who had expressed interest had given me a good way to follow up as you have indicated. So I never handed out printed material, just my business card. As you mention, the internet is a great way to keep the work out there and stay in touch with potential customers.

  4. I have been getting contact info from prospective buyers as well as giving cards out for years. Although I am pretty good with initial follow up, I confess that I am not the best with on going long term outreach.

    However, so far this year, I have made 4 sales each in the low to mid four figure range from people who took a card from me 5 or more years ago (one couple saw my work 10 years ago but couldn’t afford it until now.) Surprisingly each held onto my postcard during that time and reached out to finally purchase. I mention this because had they not had a postcard of my art, they were not as likely to remember me or my website.

    Needless to say, with out a way to show my work to new prospective buyers, these sales have been a life line. My advice? Keep getting contact info and keep handing out cards. You never know when someone is going to be ready.

  5. You give great advice based on your years of experience. I hope to find it all very helpful. As we face a future with new concerns, how do we adjust for instance to the reality that clients entering our art space hesitate to take a card to fill out for transmission concerns. How would you advise exchanging personal information under these new guidelines? Would sharing such information through your cell phones be appropriate while the potential client is still standing in your space?

    1. Keep it simple. Yes, you could use mobile devices to share information, but I would suggest that it would be simpler to ask the client for their contact information verbally and fill out the card for them. They don’t have to touch anything and you get the info!

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