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 ’90s, 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.

28 Comments

  1. Sorry, but I would be annoyed to get an email every 2-3 days. For me, one would be enough. Maybe another follow-up in a month. Otherwise I would be hesitant to visit the gallery again. I hope you give them an option to unsubscribe or decline further emails.

  2. Thank you. I’m just starting to sell my sculptures and do a combination of the above, but always hate getting a lot of emails, so always reluctant to send out continual follow-ups. So I guess I need to work on that.

  3. i find the brochures and cards are good for direct mail campaigns but are virtually useless for contacts when handed to the client as they do not want to carry anything else. . the email approach works better for direct contact/..

    1. I think this makes a lot of sense – people love the pix they take themselves on their phone!!! This is not like an email pix- people open their own images tons of times, rarely throw them away, and often look at photos they took months ago – in fact lots of people have an almost encyclopedic knowledge of their photos, even thousands of them. So the image they have of an artist’s work will continue to have a sales effect days, weeks, or even months after they visited the gallery

  4. I have a different take on this – first, as Tom Reynen pointed out, getting an email every 2-4 days would put me in “unsubscribe” mode immediately! We all know how many unwanted emails we get everyday – for me any repeated unwanted email is an absolute end to my willingness to interact with that particular person/business in any way. I know that it’s considered “best practice” to be continually in contact with potential clients – I find this to be the stupidest selling idea ever created, unless its VERY infrequent – once you turn off a potential client with over-contact (and you never know for any particular person what constitutes over-contact – it could even be 2-3 times total – people resent being “pushed” ) you have lost that person forever.

    Plus, even if one’s emails are not resented, they usually don’t remain in “selling mode” more than a few seconds – the time it takes for a person to open it and then “file it away” by closing it. Whereas a brochure or card or other visual image usually remains sitting around the person’s house for a least a few days, sometimes forever – after all they did have interest in the artwork (image) in the first place – and here they have a small version of it on their desk, coffee table or wherever, which over time may get them thinking about actually buying the work. Usually the reason they didn’t buy the original artwork at the gallery has to do with finances – they weren’t ready to commit to paying the asked sum for it – this can be because they felt it was priced too high or it can be because they really didn’t have enough disposable income at the time [artwork is almost exclusively purchased with disposable income, unless it’s a professional art dealer/collector buying an investment grade artwork, which for the sake of this discussion, I’m going to assume none of the artists reading here or in Xanadu or other non-famous galleries are involved with] – but a person’s feeling about their disposable income varies, even dramatically, over time, sometimes over a very short time. Someone might have felt their stock portfolio was getting battered this week, only to see it recover, or even increase, next week and now the card with the artist’s artwork on it siting on this person’s desk suddenly will seem a lot more appealing, the image is right there in front of them – they knew they liked it the week before- they just couldn’t purchase it – now they may feel very differently, I don’t think emails have the same effect – who goes back to last week’s emails????

    1. I was on professional sales for years. Consistent follow up is successful. Its a basic necessity if you want to make a sale. There are ways to email follow up & not” over communicate”. So if every 2-4 days is an issue with you, make it once a week. Find that sweet spot of communication that works for you. But don’t make it too long between emails or they will forget about you. It tapers off with time so you are only contacting them in short time spans until they get familiar with you & communicate back. People buy from people they like. How are they to get to know you if you do not communicate with them? They will tell you to get lost if they are not truly interested but if they are interested they will appreciate being kept in the loop of whats going on in the gallery & the artists work. Frequent emails generally only put you off if you are not really interested in what they are offering. I have had clients become good friends with my initial introduction to them through this method. I am retired from sales & a artist but my client friends are still with me and great supporters of my art. The hardest part of sales is getting beyond the fear of pissing someone off cause you are too aggressive, so it immobilizes you & you do nothing or not enough, which gives you crap results. Then you tell yourself you are just not good at it & give up. Sales is about reading people, studying body language which tells you alot. Actually listening to what they tell you. We all innately understand body language its just focusing on it. Good listening is much harder. It requires conscious practice. Most important is not being intimidated to ask for the sale. I had an issue with this when I first started until a seasoned sales person told me that clients actually expect you to ask & if you don’t can impact the relationship negatively. Initially they seldom will tell you they want to buy but will wait for you to ask, it makes the commitment easier. Once I realized that, I forced myself to ask & my sales improved greatly. Yes, occasionally you will get someone who is unamused with the whole process but they are few. Just remember that most people have to justify to themselves the purchase of art. Its a luxury item. Not like a a vacuum cleaner that has a specific function that is a necessity. Art is an esthetic. Its a necessity to us the artists but not to most. Its your job to help them see that value in the art piece so they can justify to themselves the purchase. Following up is essential in doing that. Its reminding them in a gentle way how much they really loved that piece & want it. If you don’t follow up, they will forget about it and you.

  5. Fact: Once a gallery owner asks for all the information you are suggesting, the gallery owner is also liable if any of that information gets out and especially “HACKED” from the gallery’s computer and server. Are you willing to insure and secure all that private information you’re collecting…??

    How do you know if a client actually receives your marketing/advertising Emails..?? Placing a ‘special alpha-numeric code” on the printed piece will entice a client and potential clients to either call or re-visit the gallery.

    If your “stable” of artists agreed to pay 50% for their brochure to be printed, would you pay for the other 50% of the printing….??? Keep in mind, you are asking each artist to decide if they want to have a page in your gallery’s catalog for marketing and advertising your gallery. A small fold-out brochure featuring just one artist should be no big deal.

  6. Always love your comments and suggestions!! You have been in the business a long time!! Best wishes for continued success in 2023!!!!

  7. My future planning is to move away from business cards and brochures with my info and to have QR codes for people to scan. It would directly give them my website, email, phone number, and other contact info that would be put in their address list.

    1. This can definitely work, and people are becoming more accustomed to using QR codes. I would still prefer to have the opportunity to follow up though, so I still suggest asking for email addresses.

  8. I hate getting emails after shopping casually anywhere. Especially if I get it on a daily or weekly basis. I usually just delete them after getting a few

  9. Hi Jason
    I am in agreement with your way of marketing.
    I’m also in favour of the printed material. I have contributed to the catalog as an artist in the past.
    It’s a great way for the gallery to to be remembered by the general public as well as those that visited your galleries.
    I enjoy all your artists only emails, I do not get the client/potential clients emails.
    You do an outstanding job with all the marketing that you do for the gallery.
    On top of that, you do an extremely impressive job sharing your wealth of knowledge and wisdom with artists.
    I am so very grateful to be part of this community
    Thank you Jason and your team of amazing staff.

    Kind regards

    Olaf Schneider
    Toronto, Canada

  10. In your discussion, you use the pronoun ‘her’. From this I would gather that the preponderance of the gallery visitors are female? Or are least decision -makers. What research, data, etc. (if any) points to art sales methodology in gender direction? I would think someone has examined this avenue.

    1. Fair question, but I’m unaware if there is research on this. I just like to spread pronoun usage around – “he” and “him” get boring if I use them all the time 🙂

  11. Thank you for this blog post. I’m a new gallerist and was contemplating creating a brochure to hand out, especially at a show or large artist reception. Then I looked into all the time and costs of creating the brochure and decided against it. Since all our artists have their own page on our website that lists their photo, bio, and a photo and specs of all of their pieces, and believe me, maintaining that has been a chore in itself.

    So here is what I do instead. On my gallerist business card which I pretty much give to anybody that comes into the gallery, I include a QR code on the back that links directly to our website. Yeah…QR codes are back in fashion. I used to ask people to just take a picture of it and the site opens up on the phone. But, that took a while to finally get to the right artist so I started thinking… how to make it easier.

    So here’s what I do. Next to each piece of art on the wall, we list the title of the piece, etc. just like all galleries do. I now include a QR code on each of these wall “plates” that says, “Scan this QR code to keep a photo of the image.”. I tell the potential or returning client (and often I don’t have to because they’ve already figured it out) to scan it and it takes them directly to the piece on the site. This works especially well if they’ve already used the “I have to talk it over with my spouse excuse”. I say, just share it with them right now and see if they love the piece as much as you do. This has worked wonders and must people do it. Some don’t and they probably weren’t serious about the piece as they said they were. We’ve had many instances when before the person leaves, they get a call from the spouse with a “yes” and the sale is made.

  12. And one more thing to my last post. People used to be reluctant to give out their email address when I used to ask, because they were probably thinking I’d harass them. Now, I just say, “Would you like to be invited to our next artist reception party? We serve great food and wine(and we really do), and you could meet the artists in person.” I haven’t had one person decline. I mean…who wants to be left out of a party invite. Not only that, we have a small gallery and we usually get at least 300 people at each artist reception/show/exhibit party and they some how extend the party from a 2 hour event to a 4 hour event(no one wants to leave) and with lots of sales.

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