Why you should approach magazines to feature your work (and insider tips on how to get published)
You might think an interview or article about yourself in a magazine won't directly result in some paid creative work, but you'd be wrong. Raising your profile in many different places helps build your brand and put you in front of many relevant people. They might not remember how they discovered you, but as long as you get the work, who cares?
The secret to self-promotion is knowing that you need to be seen in all the right places, and you need to make a big impact, too. You achieve that by pushing out a consistent message or story each time. For example, your latest update on Instagram should relate to the stories written about you in magazines and blogs. And your newsletter should share the same content, too.
Why is this important? Because people are bombarded with information these days. You want your name to keep cropping up everywhere and for your work to be instantly recognisable. So that art director you've been trying to impress spots you on Creative Review and goes, "Oh, I remember her! She sent her portfolio last month, and I've meant to get in touch!"
And it's not just about making people aware of you; it's the credibility you'll gain, too. A story on Creative Boom, Digital Arts or Design Week will give you extra credit. People will think, "Well, if they're writing about her, then we need to hire her!"
What if you haven't got anything to shout about? Sometimes sending your latest portfolio isn't enough to grab the attention of busy magazine editors. It would help if you had an angle, a hook – something that is irresistible to an art and design journalist. What you need is a story. How? Some artists and designers create special side projects or one-off series, while others might launch something like a survey for illustrators, like Ben the Illustrator.
In fact, Ben has recently released the 2019/20 survey results and, although he's doing it to support the creative community, an added benefit is that his name is everywhere. People are retweeting his updates, and his story has been featured on a wealth of leading magazines.
But amongst the many interesting insights, we were alarmed to discover that 86% of illustrators never approach blogs or magazines to feature their work. Why is that? The survey didn't reveal anything further, so we can only assume people either don't have time, don't know how, or don't think they're good enough.
Perhaps they think firing out updates on Instagram is enough. Sadly, the days of incredible organic reach are over. Social media is on a downfall. And "traditional PR" – the effort to get featured in the printed press and online media – that's where the magic still lies. These publications have niche audiences and communities that put the likes of Facebook to shame.
Want to PR yourself but not sure how to start? We'll happily share our tips, and we've asked a few of our friends at Digital Arts, Design Week, Elephant, and Eye on Design to share theirs, too.
Understand what each journalist, blog or magazine wants
Don't think you're special! You are, naturally. But not when it comes to a journalist bombarded with emails every single day. Their swollen inboxes would make your heart bleed if you knew what they had to deal with. But you can get their attention; you just need to know how to cut through the noise.
A good starting point is to see if the magazine has provided any submission guidelines. For example, Creative Boom's How to Get Featured instructions offer a little insight into what journalists require. We might want specific image sizes. It could be that we require a press release. Find out the criteria and send them everything they need.
Keep it simple
Tom Banks, Editor of Design Week, says: "Keep it simple. While we seek out many of our stories, we also get a deluge of pitches every day. You don't necessarily need an enormous press release – unless that's required for client sign off. A few lines in an email setting out who the project is for, the brief, and your creative response covers the basics. Some decent images or videos go a long way too.
"Our inboxes are swollen and our phones off the hook, so I'll probably regret saying this, but it is worth following up rather than just sending something into the abyss – we're all very approachable."
Remember you're dealing with humans
The person you're emailing is human, so treat them with respect and understand that they are just trying to do their job, like you. Make an effort to research whoever you approach. Understand the types of stories they cover to see if you're the right fit.
"Having a good chance is pretty basic stuff, spelling names right for instance – I get a lot of 'Emmas', which sounds petty but is pretty annoying!" says Emily Gosling, who is editor-at-large at Elephant magazine and editor of Type Notes. She writes for Creative Boom, AIGA Eye on Design and Computer Arts, too. "Also, say which publication you're pitching the work to, as I write across a few different ones. Explain why it might work for them and which section it might fit in to show that you actually read and are familiar with the site."
Other than that, Emily says she isn't fussy at all, that there's no big "secret". She adds: "Be brave, get out there and send it over! The very worst that can happen is that no one replies; though, in my opinion, that's pretty rude, even if it's not right – it's always polite to get back to people."
Don't make the writer work too hard
Tom May writes for Creative Boom and Creative Bloq, as well as print magazines Computer Arts, ImagineFX, net and Professional Photography. With lots of projects to juggle, he has limited time to consider speculative emails and suggests that you take that into account when contacting any journalist.
"For instance, when creatives contact me, I am constantly surprised by how difficult it is to find out much about them," he says. "So at the bottom of your message, I'd always recommend you provide links to LinkedIn (so I can get a handle on your career to date), Instagram/Twitter/Vimeo or whatever social platform you use (so I can see your latest work and what you've been involved in) and of course your website if you have one, or a portfolio page on something like a Behance, Artstation or DeviantArt if you don't.
"Yes, I could spend extra minutes Googling for this information, but I don't have the time," he points out. "Especially if you have a common sounding name that could be confused with other people. Similarly, if you have a website or a social media account, make sure you include your email address somewhere visible. It's very frustrating when I can't find one for you because I prefer to keep all my work communications within a (searchable) email rather than scattered around the internet, and I'm sure I'm not the only journalist who works in this way."
Giacomo Lee, a staff writer at Digital Arts, takes a similar line. "For artists, all we need is an email with links to your Instagram and portfolio. I'm more likely to cast a keen eye on a creative's personal website than a social page. Why? If your website's well-organised - and they usually are - then I get a much better idea of who you are as an artist, animator or designer. Instagram is good, but it only gives me your recent stuff to look at without much context.
"A website's much better to see who've you've done commissions for, what you're passionate about, and where your strengths lie. When illustrators get in touch, it's usually for an interview on their oeuvre and techniques instead of running a story on their most recent project. As such, we need to find the 'story' about you to facilitate that narrative, so make sure we can find the threads of that tale with a decent homepage."
Make sure you stand out
What else can you do to ensure you get featured? "Offering something as 'exclusive' helps," says Tom Banks. "Chose the right publication for the right project and give them the first choice on the project."
Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression. That means you should try and provide everything you need the first time.
"Don't use Wetransfer links!" says Emily Gosling. "Make images easy to see in an email so it's immediately clear what work they're sending over rather than spending a while downloading huge files that might be completely irrelevant."
Giacomo Lee takes the same view. "If you as an illustrator, designer, animator or even PR are keen for us to feature a project, then please attach images of it with the email," he pleads. "I'm more likely to click on a WeTransfer link if I like the look of what you've sent me. Also, please make sure that the project is timely and not something that's been released aeons before you've sent the email!"
Also, Tom May suggests you personalise your message a little so it doesn't read as you've just copy-and-pasted the same text into 100 emails. "Journalists are people too, and want to feel some connection, even if it's via email," he reasons. "So check out our social media, see what we've been up to and are interested in, and figure out if you genuinely have anything in common. It's a great way to get a conversation started."
Offer a comment
"I get a lot of creatives emailing me to ask: 'Please can you write an article about me?', and in all honesty, the answer is usually no," admits Tom May. "But there are other ways to get your name out there. I'd recommend, for example, offering to provide journalists with a comment on a range of issues, for features like this one. If you have specific knowledge (such as "freelancing as a single mum") or a particular skill set (e.g. Giclée printing), then make that clear too.
"I'll be honest; it may take some weeks, even months, before anyone takes you up on such an offer, but most of the time, it will pay off in the longer term. One tip is to follow journalists' Twitter feeds and see exactly what they're looking for right now. Here's an example."
How does providing a couple of quotes in an article help your cause? Well, for a start, employers and clients will take you more seriously, as it proves you know your subject and are respected within the profession. Also, you may be asked by the journalist for the visuals of your work to help illustrate your thoughts.
Still not convinced? Maybe these stats will tip you over the edge.
Creative Boom has an established audience of nearly 700,000 monthly readers. We're one of the leading publications in the UK for the creative industries and have almost 250,000 followers on our social media channels. We reach a big audience, which means a story on our site has the potential to be seen by hundreds of thousands of potential clients.
"At Digital Arts, we have a million readers per month, and combined socials equal over 470,000 followers," says Giacomo Lee. "That means new people will definitely see your work, and those people could be art directors or potential new fans. That's also helpful for your SEO, should an art director or brand be googling certain art styles."
Meanwhile, Design Week attracts a quarter of a million people to its website each month, leaving more than 550,000-page impressions. It also sends a daily newsletter to 80,000 dedicated readers and tweets to more than 550,000 people. That offers a massive opportunity for creative professionals.
"We cover the breadth of the industry sector-wise and try to tackle all topics progressively. We're also keen on taking design angles on national and international stories," says Tom Banks.
"We always speak to everyone we write about and cover everything in as much depth as we can. Our readers are designers at all levels, and we have a particular focus on creative directors and design business owners. An increasing part of our readership is in-house. We're also read by a lot of design buyers and would-be clients."
Why else is getting featured so powerful?
Emily Gosling adds: "It brings people's work to a wider audience, showcases it to potential clients who often use sites like Creative Boom, and It's Nice That as sort of directories for commissioning and so on. And it demonstrates boldness and willingness to participate in wider conversations about design and its place in the world by being on such sites/publications."
Giacomo Lee points out that it's not just a numbers game. "It's more about knowing that there's a place for your art out there that isn't confined and monetised by social, on a website that'll treat and present your work with respect. You could send something to more 'bloggy', but that blog may not be around forever and will be lost in a vast ocean of Tumblr and Pinterest search results.
"A Digital Arts piece is a snapshot of you at a certain point in your career, a way for new fans to catch up with your work to date, and a chance for the next journalist to research you a bit more once another opportunity comes around."