With limited clients and projects up for grabs, it can feel like a dog-eat-dog world out there – certainly when it comes to graphic design. But are those who have fame, recognition and awards more talented than those who don't? Maybe. Perhaps it's also something to do with their awareness of the PR machine.
If you're reading this and nodding along, you'll know there's a game to be played – one of savvy marketing and self-promotion. You finish a project, and you know you should be sending the info and pics to those creative magazines and blogs. But something stops you. Why would anyone want to read about you? And do you really want to open yourself up to the scathing blood bath that is other designers?
I get it. It can often feel like a scary playing field. Like you're stood on the sidelines, hoping to be picked for the A-Team, but secretly wanting to stay hidden from view, where it feels safe and warm. You might even loathe the idea of shouting about your work as it might feel arrogant. Whatever the reason, if you don't put yourself out there, how is anyone going to know who you are and what you do?
I've known countless unheard of, talented designers over the years who are creating brilliant work but are paralysed by the PR and marketing process and all it might entail. If you're one of them, allow me to put your mind at rest. I'm a qualified journalist with two decades of experience in journalism, public relations and marketing communications. I know how the machine works.
The following tips will help boost your confidence, make you realise you deserve to be heard like everyone else, and get you on track for sharing your work in future. And hopefully result in lots of positive press, awards and recognition – the benefits of which will help boost your reputation, your clients and your freelance business.
1. Know thyself and thy strengths
Before you can pitch yourself to journalists or win awards, you need to know who you are and what you're about. Because if you can't confidently talk about yourself, how will you get anyone's attention?
Confidence will get you places. Believing in yourself and having a purpose, knowing who you are and what you stand for – these will all help you to win bigger projects, build a network and gain publicity in your favourite magazines. If you've not yet done so, figure out what makes you unique.
One way to kickstart this process is to sit down and write your "pitch". Yes, your sales pitch and why you're so awesome. You could base it on a 'value proposition'. What does that mean? It's the sole reason why someone should hire you. It's a clear positioning statement that explains how you solve other people's problems or improve their situation (relevancy), deliver specific benefits (quantified value), and outlines why clients should hire you and not the competition (unique differentiation).
Type it out on screen. Jot down ideas. Keep leaving it and coming back to it. The more you play with this statement, the more you'll understand your strengths and weaknesses, your value and your worth. Once you're relatively happy with it, add it your About page on your website. Create a shortened version for your social media bios. Practice saying it out loud. Have confidence and consistency through all of your communications – even when you meet people in real life, and they ask you what you do.
And hey, if it's uncomfortable at first, that's normal. We all struggle with this. Even the famous artists and designers you've all heard of – some who have confided that it "all gets a bit much" sometimes.
2. Stop saying the word "just"
In emails, in conversations, stop it. You deserve to be heard. You have a place at the "table" as much as anyone else. So you don't have to be so apologetic. Ok, so it takes guts to hold your head up, be proud of who you are and what you do, knowing you've got something valuable to give. It's something we all struggle with.
Reframe how you see yourself. You aren't "just" a graphic designer. You're not "just" getting in touch with a potential client. You're a seasoned professional with heaps of experience behind you. Remember, you're all-powerful. And you count. Change your mindset. Because if you don't believe in yourself, how can anyone else?
3. Ignore the competition
They can be brutal. Or they can just be there, sharing yet another "amazing" project on their Instagram feed, and boom! Your imposter syndrome kicks in again, and you wonder why you bother to even design at all.
The competition will always be around. Ignore them. Support others, yes. Champion emerging creatives, definitely. Be a shining example of inviting others to the "table". Give back. But don't jeopardise your productivity or happiness by obsessing about others doing well. On the surface, they might be ruling the world, but more often than not, they're trying to keep their heads above water, just like everyone else.
4. Add PR and marketing to your job list
Ok, so now we've tackled the mindset, let's get you thinking about PR. Whenever you begin a new project, think promotion! Write down notes along the way, prep photographs and videos – don't just create stuff to add to your portfolio. Think about what the magazines and blogs might use, too. Browse their sites to see what others have done. It's all there.
Everything you need to know about getting yourself featured in the press is here, including pointers about understanding the life of journalists and getting the PR basics right, to learning how to write a press release and creating "press packs". Repeat after me: win client work, create work, promote work – repeat!
Not getting the press you want? Or winning the awards you deserve? It's nothing personal. There is a lot of competition out there. The good news is you can be proactive and build your own table.
5. Enter industry awards
Yes, do it. Ok, so they're not everyone's cup of tea. In a survey for Creative Boom, over half of respondents said they didn't think awards were important. As one designer said: "I personally feel that your work should make a difference in someone else’s life; awards are not that important if you have the zeal to keep working for what you stand for and see the broader scope."
And that is certainly true. More on this shortly. But if you've done something you're especially proud of, why not put it forward for an accolade? Even by entering, you make people aware of you. And if you're shortlisted, you get to go to the awards ceremony and network. It's great self-promotion, even if you don't win the trophy at the end of the night.
6. Think about your own reputation
Dislike the negative characters on Twitter and LinkedIn? The ones who might moan about the industry or criticise other people's work? I don't either. In fact, when I'm researching someone, the first thing I do is look at their latest updates. It's amazing how quickly our chimp brains can get an impression of someone (rightly or wrongly) based on their tweets.
You risk becoming notorious for negativity, and someone people avoid. Do you really want that? What's the end game here? Your reputation is something to protect. People talk. So before you share anything, consider how it might be perceived. We all mess up sometimes – we're human! And this industry can feel tough. But remember, people are listening. Clients and journalists, too. Be kind, and you'll reap the rewards.
7. Redefine success
Success means different things to different people. Winning awards, getting recognition from your peers or being invited to give a talk at a local event – these might seem like glorious achievements (and I'm not saying they aren't), but essentially, if you're designing for clients, making a living and keeping a roof over your head, does it matter if your name isn't known?
I suppose it depends on what your goals are. If you want notoriety, then you have to ask yourself why? Because if it's just to boost the old ego, that's hardly productive. But if it's because you're aware that having a little fame in this industry could lead to bigger and better projects, then go for it.
If fame isn't what you seek, then you'll be happy to know it isn't the only route to winning impressive clients. There are other ways you can get that lucrative work. Networking is one option. When I ran an agency a few years back, we ended up working with the BBC and Manchester City Football Club, not because we were famous, but because we knew people. And there are plenty of other unknowns doing great work for big brands, making a difference and doing what they love.
Get out there and enjoy making friends at all the local creative events. Be a champion for others and be a positive force for good. Which leads on to my next crucial point.
8. Build your own damn table
Are you not getting the press you want? Or winning the awards you deserve? It's nothing personal. There is a lot of competition out there. The good news is you can be proactive and build your own table.
Whether it's something like Creative Boom or a creative community like The Arena...a meet-up event such as Jessica Walsh's Ladies Wine & Design or Jaheed Hussain's excellent Fuse directory – creating something positive that helps you to meet others while boosting your reputation is a win-win.
You'll soon find a friendly network of your own, along with renewed purpose. Perhaps even some new friends. People who look out for each other. Who share knowledge, experience and sometimes clients. It's amazing how quickly you can boost your confidence and business – even your skills.
Yes, self-promotion helps. But getting out and meeting people in real life is so worthwhile. It's how people have been doing business for years.
To recap, know yourself and remember you deserve to be heard, just like anyone else. Reframe your mindset to one of confidence and self-worth. Ignore the competition and find your own path. Give PR and marketing a go, enter awards and don't give up – publicity comes to those who are persistent and don't let the occasional setback stop them from promoting their work.
Finally, fame might be a nice tick for some, but it's not the only route to success. Build a network, help others and start a side project of your own. Rest assured, some of the biggest names you've never heard of are doing great work out there, yourself included.