Tuesday, August 27, 2013

To all organisers of art competitions and open exhibitions

I've been writing about art competitions and open exhibitions for over seven years.  During that time I've learned a few things about what I need to know and what organisers need to provide if the input and the output are to mesh efficiently and effectively.

Everything that follows is based on items I have to ask for time and time again and/or issues which have an unhappy habit of recurring.  

Some of the information needed for those wanting to cover exhibitions is not routinely provided - although I have yet to come across an art competition or open exhibition which wouldn't relish more publicity.

Rather a lot of artists also hope that getting their art into a juried exhibition means that this will also enhance their profile.  It's not an unreasonable expectation and you can help them do this.

So - here's the checklist for how to increase your chances of getting good coverage for your art competition or open exhibition - and the artists who participate in them.

There's a lot already done that is good - and I do want to emphasise I get a lot of help from some PR people - but there's also quite a lot of scope for improvement.  Below I'm sharing the good practices which I know exist - and a few tips of my own!

How to get an art competition or open exhibition publicised on the Internet  

  • Appoint somebody to think about how best to publicise the art competition / open exhibition.  
    • Make sure they understand what marketing involves - and specifically what's involved in promotion and public relations
    • Do please make sure they aren't just one of "the usual suspects" in an art society who volunteer for everything irrespective of their competence to fulfil the role.  
    • Being able to come up with a nice idea for a flyer does NOT make you any sort of marketing expert.  Nor does having time available to help out.
  • Clear images for publicity upfront
    • Ensure all artists entering work understand and agree that their work can be used for publicity in association with the exhibition - in print or online.
    • Make sure the entry form also acts as clearance for use of images.
  • Think before you spend
    • Before ANY money is spent on print adverts, flyers or marketing, think about how much publicity you can generate for free with a little effort.  
    • It's absolutely pointless - and wasteful - to spend money on adverts which nobody reads.  
    • People read editorial more than adverts - so work out how to get your information into the right magazines / blogs / websites by the relevant deadlines FOR FREE!!!
  • Be Proactive
    • Reach out to those who can help you and ask whether they can assist well in advance of the timetable of key dates relating to announcements
    • Make life easy for those who can help you.  
    • Keep up to date mailing lists of people who need to be kept advised of what is happening / invited to previews
    • Find out the sort of deadlines they work to for copy about an exhibition
    • Don't make people ask for information. Provide an outline of what information can/will be provided and the dates it will be available - and how to sign up to be kept updated.
  • Have a press release available when the competition / open exhibition is announced.  Make sure this includes:
    • a summary of how to enter PLUS a link to a website which provides all the details
    • where and when the exhibition takes place
    • Name and email address and telephone number of a contact for further information
    • Images which are released for publication.  At this stage these are typically going to be from last year's prizewinners.
  • Publish a list of selected artists.  
    • Make sure that the list can be transferred into print or web copy easily.  The list needs to be in a suitable format for many different websites (tables are generally a bad idea because of the embedded code) and for being downloaded (pdf copy). Nobody is in the least bit interested in why you need to keep a file on Excel so you can track entries etc. This is copy for marketing not administration. 
    • Upload the list to a website associated with the competition/exhibition
    • Every artist wants to be able to boast they've been selected for a juried exhibition. Make it easy for them to boast and send traffic to your website by sending them a URL of where their name is so they can reference this to local press, their galleries etc.
  • Tempt people with images from this years' entries. 
    • Provide images cleared for publicity associated with this year's entries 
    • Show people what they can see if they visit the exhibition
    • For all information provided after the initial 'call for entries', do NOT provide images from last year's winners. (What does that achieve? They're not going to be on show and if the event has a half decent website, it should already include images from last year's show!)
  • Publish a press release of the shortlist of artworks and artists selected for a major prize.
    • Make sure that the list can be transferred into print or web copy easily.
    • Upload the list to a website associated with the competition/exhibition
    • Enable access to interviews with the shortlisted artists
    • Prime shortlisted artists on what questions might be asked so they can make the most of the interview and also ensure it's effective for those doing the interviewing
    • a synopsis about shortlisted artists is always useful
  • Ensure images of a suitable size and resolution are available for publicity purposes
    • Ensure images are suitable for print publication (minimum 300 dpi) and publication on the internet (72 dpi) and a reasonable size
    • Learn how to use Dropbox or similar facility for making large images available without sending them by email
  • Hold a press preview
    • Previews for other purposes are a bad time for press previews - you're mixing two different sets of people with different needs.
    • Starting a preview day early with a special timed slot for press only can make all the difference between getting good early coverage and not.  (The National Portrait Gallery press team excel at getting it right in this respect.)
  • Publish a list of awardwinners - and press release
    • The list of awardwinners can be released in advance of official announcements - using an embargo as to date and time of publication.  Typically this occurs in relation to less prestigious prizes.
    • Embargos rely on trust. Always refuse to provide any information to any journalists or publications or websites which break embargos. (I've seen it happen and have arrived at presentations to tell organisers that the news of who has won was already on Twitter!)
    • The press releases which get read are those written by people who have been trained in how to write them.
Here's how my FREE Making A Mark Guide on how to write a Press ReleaseThe art of writing a press release - and an extract below
I’ve never ever had any problem remembering how to write and distribute a Press Release since the day I received a very ‘to the point’ briefing from the City Editor of a prominent newspaper who has since gone on to work for international newspapers and win a prize for business journalism. Each day,this man was sent a small mountain of Press releases. He explained precisely what he looked for in a Press Release and how best to survive his morning ritual of culling the weak ones – which he conducted standing over his rubbish bin.

The first lesson he taught was that if you haven't got a great title ‐ which tells him what it's all about – plus a punchy concise hook for the first two to three lines then he simply didn't waste his valuable time reading any further ‐ and the Press Release would drift down towards the bin.

He worked purely on the basis that if you can't be bothered to introduce your material properly then he can't be bothered to read it. He’s not alone in adopting this view.
  • Do make sure Press Releases include all the necessary information! 
    • I cannot tell you the number of times I receive press releases which fail to include adequate or any information about where the exhibition is being held!
    • Just because you know where the venue is, don't assume others do too - provide an address with a post code and nearest public transport.
    • Be precise with dates and times
    • Be precise as to whether an event is a general preview or a press preview.
  • Stage presentations so that photographs can be taken
    • Photos are needed by competition organisers for next year (!); press for coverage of a competition or exhibition and artists for their career material and websites.
    • Stage presentations so these are not being made with backs to cameras
    • Make sure presenter and those receiving prizes turn and wait for photographs - and remember it's not just your team taking photos!
Interviews are conducted on video
as well as on audio and handwritten

(click the pic to see a larger version)
  • Make sure prizewinners are available for interview
    • It's a good idea to brief prospective prizewinners about how to handle interviews if these are likely. Some artists are better than others at handling questions in front of a microphone or a video camera (see Aleah Chapin Winner BP Portrait Award 2012)
    • make video interviews with artists available via the exhibition website
    • If nobody is there to interview prizewinners go back to the beginning of this list and start again.......
  • Consider including images of selected entries on a website
    • These days people are used to seeing images online. People also buy art from an online image. Current expectations are that any decent gallery will organise a virtual online version of the exhibition as well as the one which can be seen in a gallery
    • Make sure all images are properly annotated with title, name of artist, media used and size of work.  The latter is particularly important for a website.
    • Don't make people go through every image to find just one (such a timewaster!).  Try and have an index for images using the surname of the artist - which links to a list of selected artists.  (i.e. click the artist's name and see their work!)
    • Don't forget to highlight the prizewinners!  This validates an artist's claims that they won a prize.
  • Update your website regularly and in a timely fashion
    • I've lost count of the number of times I've been unable to reference an exhibition on a relevant website because there was no new page for the exhibition I'd just seen.
    • Make sure the person updating the website advises you on how long they need to do this - and that they get the material they need in good time.  Websites can be updated in stages.  Pages can be created in advance and published on a specific day.
    • Make sure there is a suitably prominent and highlighted link to the new exhibition on your home page! Time and time again I've searched in vain for any reference to an annual exhibition on an art society's website.  It's getting an awful lot better than it used to be - but some art societies "could do better".

Your  turn

Any other suggestions for how you think those running art competitions and juried open exhibitions can improve arrangements for artists?


  1. yes ! Katherine gets it right again, all hopeful expo organisers should read this and learn - it also makes an artists job a lot easier if the organisers have their act together !

  2. Yes . Katherine gets it right again. All hopeful expo organisers should read this article and learn ! It also makes an artists job a lot easier if the organisers have got their act together. If its worth doing DO IT RIGHT !


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