A bit of harsh truth here that I think is pretty much widely recognized, but also generally remains unspoken.
A lot of the correspondence I get from artists and agents goes directly into the trash. It isn’t just me. There is a fair bit of conversation among colleagues I meet at conferences and meetings about the sheer volume of promotional material we receive.
I hate to make such a summary judgment on people’s pitches. I would like to give each due consideration and respect. But the amount of material I get each day is close to overwhelming. The first thing I do in the morning and upon returning from lunch is delete blocks of email that have come in. When I think about the fact that we are not a major presenting organization, I can’t imagine what it must be like for the people in corresponding jobs at other venues.
The solution isn’t as simple as just unsubscribing from email lists or blocking senders because there have been some interesting performances that have come to my attention via email. It is just that the percentage of productive emails received in a year out of the hundreds I get a day is pretty minuscule. There are definitely people out there ruining it for everyone else because the volume they send out eats up the attention I might spend checking out the person who makes a single disciplined, focused bid for my attention.
Drew McManus suggested I set up a dedicated email address just for pitches and politely direct people to it so that I can set aside time each week to evaluate them.
But believe it or not, I am not writing this post to complain or as a bid for sympathy but to acknowledge the effort and expense some performers have to go through to get themselves in front of programming decision makers. I am not ignoring the travel and other expenses artists have to bear to attend conferences and showcases, but I am going to focus mostly on correspondence today.
The reality is, since it is so easy and cheap to send email these days, there is actually some benefit to sending physical mail nowadays. It may also end up in the trash, but there is less of a crowd that a mailed piece needs to stand out from.
That was the case with a piece I got in the mail last week from Greg Kennedy who bills himself as an innovative juggler. For various reasons I decided it wasn’t something we were interested in and I was thinking about whether I wanted to throw the mail away or pass it on to another arts organization that shares our building when the quality of the envelop paper and the presentation gave me pause.
As you can see below, it has a pretty interesting mailing label. You might also notice it cost $1.64 to mail. The contents were pretty substantial.
Inside was a brochure that had special cuts so that it could be assembled into a theater.
He had a little card for each of his shows that you could place into the theater.
This is a pretty damn expensive piece to put together and mail out. If you notice, the line of the curtain and the grain of the floor on the card insert corresponds to the theater you place it in. There is some attention to detail there. I wondered what the return on investment was. Couldn’t he have made a piece that was less expensive and time consuming that would have garnered the same return?
(I should note that since he talks about his engineering background and his show heavily uses boxes, a constructed brochure definitely ties in and illustrates his thought process.)
He may have gotten more exposure for having sparked enough of my interest that I posted about him on my blog, but he couldn’t have counted on that. (By the way, I have been writing this blog 14 years as of tomorrow and this is the first time I have posted about an artist’s brochure. Don’t go sending me your brochures in the hopes I will feature them.)
It didn’t escape me that arts organizations face many of the same challenges getting ticket buyers to pause and read their printed and mailed materials as artists and agents do with performance buyers. Everyone complains about being as deluged by emails as I did at the beginning of this post.
It is just that my particular deluge comes from a particular category of email lists I didn’t sign up to be on. While I do feel a twinge of regret for discarding mail and email so quickly, I am being paid to do more than just evaluate emails.
One of the big challenges for any promotional effort is to determine where the cost-benefit ratio has transitioned into unfavorable territory. Spending too little effort and money yields a result of such poor quality that it doesn’t effectively communicate the value of your product. If you have spent money and effort in great excess of any possible return, you have wasted resources.
In terms of Greg Kennedy’s piece, regardless of how nice it is, his show probably still isn’t a good fit for us. However, I will pass the materials on to someone else (and I have posted it here) so there is still potential for a return on his effort.