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I recently participated in a fascinating lecture about social media marketing strategies that inspired me to think strategically about storytelling, content creation, and the media — and specifically about the fish and the farm. I became motivated to think big picture about the way we in the art world can leverage our different roles to become thought-leaders and content creators for our respective constituencies.
For the sake of this particular application of the analogy, the farm and the fish are defined as follows: The farm is your owned platform. This can be literal in terms of your museum, exhibition space, studio, or gallery, or digital in the form of your website, social media, proprietary podcasts, email newsletter, or web series. The fish, on the other hand, exist in the public domain and must be sought within their respective platforms — the webzines, magazines, newspapers, blogs, and scholarly journals for whom they contribute.
I love nothing more than to fish in the competitive media market. I do my best to bait the hook with the salient information regarding an artist and their forthcoming exhibition — I do extensive research so that I’m as prepared and knowledgeable as I can be in the hopes of inspiring an expert or scholar to undertake the story my client and I are so mutually passionate about. I push key messaging and press releases out to strategic channels and audiences, engage in personalized follow-up, and cultivate relationships with the goal of securing interest from the writers who will spread the word to their wide and captive audience. With quality content, hard work, and unabashed persistence, I’m consistently able to secure a diversified media portfolio for each initiative I undertake on behalf of my clients. Yet sometimes, it feels the fish — to continue running with the analogy — just won’t bite. Perhaps it’s a competitive moment in the art fair calendar and the media landscape is just too noisy, or the story is not the right fit for the trending media market at that particular moment. To this I say: cultivate your farm and the fish will follow.
Traditional content marketing doesn’t apply to the art world as neatly it does to brands and companies — which in fact yields greater opportunity to pioneer new strategies and better content. We in the art world are creators and ideators and we have loud, critical topics to debate and often do so through our creative and artistic output. If we believe a topic is being underrepresented, we have the means of reconsidering our strategy and making a truly newsworthy moment where one may not have existed before. This might be a rather optimistic or idealistic outlook, but it is nonetheless true — we in the art world are notorious self-starters!
Your farm can take the form of a commissioned scholarly essay, hand-bound and distributed alongside your exhibition press release. It can come in the form of a short video clip of an artist at work in their studio offering a behind-the-scenes view of the creative process itself enticing the public to join for your exhibition’s opening reception. Other stories are best suited for town-hall style discussions, podcasts, or moderated panels with artists and thought-leaders passionate about a related topic.
All this is to say, that media relations — the fishing — remains a critical aspect of a holistic PR and communications campaign, but it needn’t be the only form of storytelling. I encourage my clients to think — can this initiative be best communicated in a more meaningful way through a proprietary program? If so, your farm can be a forum, your gallery a convening space, your social media a sounding board, and your website a platform.
Don’t be afraid to diversify your programming and confidently invite the public — and yes, hopefully the press — to your farm because at the end of the day, interpersonal communications is about fostering meaningful, productive, and democratic engagement with your community and your constituencies, and the more you speak about the important work your artists, your art, or your mission do for the global art world, the louder your mouthpiece and the more captive your audience.
top image // BalletCollective at NYU’s Skirball Center Photography by Sergio Mora-Diaz