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How to Approach Art Directors Without Being Annoying

September 20, 2010

(Illustration by Michael Byers)

Art Directors are busy people.

This should come as no surprise, because Illustrators are busy too.

Obviously, part of your job as a creative professional is to put your work in front of the right people and hopefully inspire them to hire you for their next project. As with anything, there are both right and wrong ways to do this.

If you’re not careful, you run the risk of annoying Art Directors and burning bridges forever.

Here’s a look at 5 things to consider when approaching Art Directors and other potential clients:

1. Target Your Audience

The absolute first step you should take is to narrow your contact list to the Art Directors who are actually looking for the type of work that you do. You’ll only be wasting their time, and yours, if you are soliciting clients who have no interest in hiring you.

Examine the work that they’ve done in the past and consider whether your work or approach fits within that scope.

Having some knowledge of an Art Director’s work is obviously a good practice anyways when building your mailing list, but it’s also the best way to make a good first impression.

2. Find Out How They Want to Be Contacted

Every Art Director is different in the ways that they prefer to be contacted and the ways that they prefer to seek out new Illustrators.

Some publications and other organizations post ‘Submission Guidelines’ on their websites, as well as in resources like the 2010 Artist’s and Graphic Designer’s Market.

If this information isn’t readily available, be sure to ask this question in your initial contact. If they are open to further contact, they’re likely to appreciate the gesture and let you know the best way to keep in touch.

3. Start a Dialogue

Remember that an often overlooked element of marketing is building relationships.

That’s why it’s so important to try and make a ‘human’ connection with Art Directors, Editors, and other potential clients. Social networking, online forums, and industry blogs are making this easier every day.

Participating in conversations will help you to build memorable bonds with your target audience.

4. Don’t Sell Too Hard

Rather than coming on too strong like an overbearing salesperson, keep things simple by telling the Art Director about yourself, showing some of your work or linking to your website, maybe asking a question or two, and leaving it there.

They may not respond on the first contact, but they’ll probably turn their back on you forever if they feel unwanted pressure.

5. Don’t Overdo It

As stated earlier, Art Directors are busy people, just like you are.

Imagine if you got an email every week from someone wanting to sell you something. It’s pretty annoying isn’t it? And, it probably makes you never want to do business with them, no matter how wonderful their products or services are.

Instead, send semi-regular (perhaps 60-90 days), relevant updates on your work to stay on their radar, while being very careful to not overstep the boundaries.

How do you approach Art Directors while respecting their boundaries? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments section of this post.

Special thanks to Michael Byers for providing the artwork for this post.

About Michael Byers: Michael Byers is a freelance illustrator living in Guelph, Ontario with his fiance and two cats. He spends most of his time in his studio creating whimsical images for editorial and advertising clients. He loves to draw, drink coffee, and collaborate with other illustrators, art directors, art buyers, and anyone else who loves to create.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. September 21, 2010 5:38 AM

    Excellent post on a delicate subject.

    I would also stress the supreme importance of adopting the right “tone”: stay cheerful and upbeat, and banish any trace of pleading– which only makes an AD feel pressured, and you look desperate.

    A big thumbs-up to Michael Byers for that great illustration, and thanks, Thomas, for all your helpful posts.

  2. September 21, 2010 4:23 PM

    How exactly does one start a “dialogue”? I mean I agree, it is great to do that, but some people (like this guy here) may not know the best way to start a dialogue with an art director.

    • January 27, 2011 2:30 PM

      You could strike up a conversation about a project they previously worked on. Let’s say you saw a great editorial piece in CA or AI (and let’s face it, you’d rather work with award-winning art directors who inspire their artists and let them push boundaries anyway). You could find out who art directed it and send them a succinct, but well written, email. Don’t just heap generic praise on them though or it will come off as creepy and brown-nosing. Really talk about what you liked, focusing especially on the thought process that went into the project. Yes, art directors hire for style, but they are also very concerned with your ability to think conceptually and problem solve. There’s no guarantee that they will hire you, but I am sure they would click on any website links you include and at least look at your work.

  3. September 28, 2010 2:24 AM

    @ Cullan

    Good question. I usually start by asking them for some kind of advice.

    Maybe a question like, “what are your thoughts about doing illustration as a volunteer where there is no fee? What are the pro’s and con’s?”

    These sort of questions can be quite good because it shows that you are valuing their opinion which shows that you respect them and what they have to say. There’s a good chance that they’ll be happy to help as long as they’re not suddenly feeling pressured to do something for you.

  4. January 27, 2011 7:03 PM

    Is there an effective way to use twitter and other networking sites to engage in dialogue with ADs?

    • January 27, 2011 9:24 PM

      I think the best way to use Twitter in this way is to begin to build a real relationship, carry on a conversation as best you can with the limited medium, and try to supplement it with email and print correspondence.

    • May 3, 2011 7:00 AM

      Two years ago I started using Twitter, in conjunction with Twitpic, as an immediate method of getting current samples in front of existing and prospective clients.

      Here’s a link to a fun story about re-connecting with a client using Twitter:

      I wouldn’t recommend this approach to everyone for every situation. Reaching out to AD’s using Twitter can work well, or can also go badly. IMO it really depends on the personalities of those involved, and how each communicates. Communicating effectively via Twitter requires the illustrator to be a great observer and do some homework prior to initiating contact.



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