If you are a creative professional about to strike out
on your own, in a way you have it made. Strange as
it may sound, when starting a business (or a career)
the fact that no one has heard of you can work to
your advantage. As a relative unknown, you have the
luxury of being able to construct an image precisely
the way you want it to be built. Firms or individuals
who are seeking to “relaunch” themselves may have
reputations or perceptions that need to be overcome,
but novices do not have this concern.
Whether you actually are a newbie, or you’ve
simply decided to adopt a higher profile with your
marketing, an assessment of current market conditions
and some clarity about your own goals will be
valuable tools. A good place to begin is by answering
some basic questions:
WHO ARE YOU TALKING TO?
Are you hoping to attract prospective clients?
Reconnect with existing ones? Make contact with
the media? Draw potential employees (or get a job
yourself)? While a knee-jerk reaction is to say that
the intent of your introductory piece or campaign
is exclusively to generate new business, let’s remember
that nearly every communications effort has a
primary target market and a secondary audience as
well. Carefully define whom it is you are talking to
before you do anything else. You might find it helpful
to identify someone in your mind—an archetypical
persona that represents the audience you
intend to reach. By keeping this character in your
thoughts as you develop your introductory promotions,
you can stay focused and keep your message on target. You can then evaluate the appropriateness
of your communication to a secondary or even tertiary
audience and adjust accordingly. This is not to
say you want a one-size-fits-all approach, but with a
little strategic thinking it may be possible for your
self-promotion effort to do double duty as, say, a
staff recruitment piece or a promo you use to secure
In addition to inventing a character to talk to,
you might find it helpful to converse with actual
clients or prospects about what types of communications
appeal to them. Would they be impressed
by a comprehensive package that is just sent once,
or do they prefer more frequent touches? Do they
like e-mail promotions or printed materials? Ask if
they’ve saved marketing materials from advertising
agencies, designers or other creative professionals.
Find out what they found compelling and what was
not as appealing about the resources they show you.
Consider doing some informal market testing of
your own self-promotions—those already produced
promos as well as conceptual ideas—to find out what
sort of impression you’re presenting.
WHAT DO THEY WANT TO KNOW?
A quintessential marketing mistake is for the seller
to convey what he wants to say, not what the prospect
needs to know. You may think, for example,
that all that matters to your audience is creativity,
when in reality they may be more concerned with
deadline issues or your ability to provide strategic
planning services. This is another area where your
informal market test panel could prove valuable. Ask
trusted clients—and possibly even prospects—why
they made a recent decision to work with a creative
professional or firm. Probe for specifics, especially if
there were other service providers being considered.
What were the factors that weighed most heavily
in the decision? Why did they eliminate a group or
individual from consideration? While you’re at it,
look at your own reasons for doing business with
the people you have come to know and depend on:
What can you learn from your own decision-making
process that will serve you?
HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE PERCEIVED?
While it is important to tell your audience what they
want to hear, that doesn’t mean you should be artificial or sell out. Ask yourself what is it that differentiates
you in the marketplace? If you’re good at certain
things—and maybe not so great at others—be forthcoming
with how you position yourself or your firm
and its abilities. Play up the skills you feel confident
about and areas you have experience in. Don’t worry
about trying to cast too wide a net, or you may
come off looking like a “jack-of-all-trades, master
of none.” And remember, the manner in which you
market will directly impact what kind of work you
get. This means if you position yourself as hip and
trendy, you may be making it harder to secure more
corporate work. Likewise, if you place too much
emphasis on dependability and experience, you risk
giving the impression that you’re not suitable for a
project that demands a high degree of creativity.
WHAT DO YOU WANT?
The reason it’s so important to know who you are
talking to and what they need to know and how you
want to be perceived is to provide a goal or benchmark
against which you measure your success. But
candidly looking at why you’re doing a promotional
effort is just as important. What outcomes are you
hoping for, and what else might you be doing to
ensure your success? Does a multimedia approach
make sense? When would be an optimum time to
launch the effort?
You’ve probably heard the adage “If you don’t
know where you are going, you will probably end up
somewhere else.” Whether this is your first attempt
to promote yourself or one in a long series, make
sure you have a destination so you’ll know when