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.

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About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of Dad was an Artist | A Survivor's Story and best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of ARTsala. 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. Connect with Jason on Facebook

21 Comments

  1. This makes complete sense to me. In a completely different line of work, we organized campaigns to work with absentee landowners to learn more about their farmland. Some would respond immediately. But many would not respond until about the 6th – 10th contact. Many people need to hear something 7 times before they act.

  2. Hi Jason -what an interesting article – I wonder if I could get your thoughts on how I am planning to use a post card . It has my photo on the front and a couple of examples of my art and my artist statement on the back along with the web site address. Next month I will be painting live ( performance on stage) at a heritage festival put on by the city where I live. I plan to put out the post cards on the chairs before the performance starts so spectators have a little information about who I am am. Do you think this will be effective or should I just have them available at my table after the performance?

  3. I find that people don’t want to provide an email address or be on a mailing list, for the most part. They just take a picture of the piece that they like with their smart phones, with or without permission. And how does an artist decline a request to photograph his work? A refusal just causes bad feelings and awkwardness with the potential client!

    1. I have found that 90% of the folks that I request an email, give it to me. If they say no, it means they are not interested in m my work. Some say yes, and scribble so, that is the same as refusing. But, I only want emails of folks who are interested. So, it all works out.

    2. On a positive note; if someone wants to carry a pic of your work around in their phone then at some point they may want to come back to purchase that piece. Else, they may be showing their friends that pic and a friend may come buy it. The question is this: Is your name and location firmly attached to this piece?

  4. Yes, I wonder too, after reading your text, what to answer if the client asks for permission to make a photo of the work which interests him/her. Until now I have never refused.
    Saskia

  5. Hi Jason. Thank you for sharing this detailed information. I especially appreciate the part about follow up. Interested parties have sent emails about available paintings and I have responded politely with information about the painting, then not heard back from them. Sometimes leaves me wondering if they ever received the email or are just not interested anymore. The follow up emails also allow the opportunity to send additional information about the artist and/or the painting that caught their eye.

  6. Thanks, Jason, for this very helpful article. One small thing, though. I feel very uncomfortable with the number of times you recommend for followup emails. 8 to 10 times!!! Sounds like hounding to me and I would be reluctant to annoy someone in this way. I would venture 4 times only. Perhaps, however, if the email is in the form of a newsletter, then that wouldn’t feel to a potential client as if they’re being stalked. 🙂

    1. Thanks Marianne. We’ve found that as long as we are offering useful additional information with each email, clients don’t feel hounded. Sometimes our clients just get busy and we don’t want to have them miss out on owning artwork that would enrich their lives because we’re too timid to follow up. Clients will let you know if they’re no longer interested, but until they do, I feel it’s our duty to follow up.

  7. This is excellent advice. It could apply to artists working festivals and fairs. I will share with other gallery owners that have my work. Thank you for another great article.

  8. Jason- I have to say, you have this habit of always offer pragmatic info! I also appreciate that you’re succinct and provide personal stories. I identified with Marianne above, but you make a great point that if the emails contain useful information, then you’re not hounding people. That does challenge us to know our customer such that we do offer info useful to them; it’s actually a good thing, as we should know our customers, right? How often do you recommend emailing a customer?

    1. We send them out to our mailing list, and we use them in the gallery to show visitors a wider array of art. I consider the Catalogue to be different from the brochures I’m talking about here.

  9. I am terrible at following up with potential customers, mostly because I don’t want to feel like a pest. Recently someone contacted me about a work hanging at a show, to ask if it was for sale. It was, and I replied with my price, which I knew was on the steep end, because my prices take into consideration the pigments too (which I make from local rocks, etc.). I was afraid that would be the end of that. She replied that she was still interested but wanted to go take a longer look at it, and then wrote back with some more questions about the nature of my pigments, which I answered. She did not reply since then, and this was several weeks ago now. I let the ball drop, I know. So when this painting was placed in one of our local galleries, I did write to her again to let her know where it was going so if she were still interested, she could find it there. I haven’t heard back, but I am reluctant to email her again about it. It seems like if she were interested in it, she would have responded to my last two messages.

  10. Recently, I had someone trying to take a picture of my artwork during a large art sale. She didn’t ask permission. I told her that I preferred she didn’t take photos and gave her a business card and invited her to view the paintings on my website. She was happy with that. She was also very young and looking for inspiration.
    I think the advantage in referring to a website is that there are far more paintings to see. It also has more information about me and my art.
    On the other hand, this whole taking photos of my art is an area of conflict for me. I feel like a meanie if I refuse photos to be taken but feel uncomfortable if I allow it.

    1. A solution I found for those wanting to photograph a painting is to allow it after I place a business card on the painting. This way they will have my information and the card will act something like a watermark. I work mostly in smaller size paintings so this works well. Not sure how well it will work for larger pieces. I started doing this after several potential customers said they didn’t want a business card or other marketing materials as they say they useually end up throwing them away. They did like this method though.

      For collecting visitor information I prefer to use a tablet they can type their info into. Beats trying to decipher someone’s bad handwriting.

        1. You could also to invite them to go to your website and sign up for your blog, which is another reason to have one. As with other things the more someone interacts with you on their own the more they become personally involved. Thanks to all for your experiences and advice.

  11. I like the idea of emailing, it really helps rather than paper & it also helps the environment. But in follow up part, you really need to be active all the time & try to not get unsubscribe.

  12. Hi Jason,

    8-10 email follow-ups seems like a lot to me. As there is just so much information you can share about a particular painting that someone is interested in, can you offer suggestions as to what to say in these follow-up emails so that the emails aren’t redundant?
    Thanks.

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