Computer Arts Presents (Issue 12) / The Self-Promo Handbook - Increasing Your Reach


You’ve got to be in it, to win it…
There is nothing more impressive than a clutch of awards carefully arranged in a display cabinet located in a prominent place in an agency or studio, or a set of framed awards less than discreetly positioned on a wall behind the receptionist. And whilst you may yet to reach the dizzy heights of having a reception area, let alone one creaking with awards, every award winner has had to start somewhere…

Where to start?
So, where to begin? To the uninitiated, creative industry awards can appear to be a dazzling array of glittering prizes - seemingly impossible to grasp and constantly and frustratingly permanently out of reach. There are a plethora of awards, of course, but there are awards and there are awards, and not all that glitters is gold… Begin your quest by searching out the awards that most matter to you, your practice and your client base. There is no point in entering an international competition looking for the world’s next best young interactive designer if you’re concentrating on a career as an illustrator – find the competition or awards scheme that best suits who you are and what you do.

Winning an award can put you and your work on the map, generate precious column inches in print and online and have Twitter all a flutter overnight with folks keen to court you and clients keen to commission you. From relative unknown to overnight success picking up the right award at the right time can launch a career, and for those that have been around the block a few times can even reignite a career. There is no denying that having your peers recognise your output and your clients seeing your name in lights brings a certain pride, but don’t be dazzled by the bright lights of fame for fame’s sake. Gaining exposure for winning awards should be achieved as a by-product of producing great work and not be viewed as the ultimate goal – not all work that wins awards is truly great work.

Selecting and Entering
Given that you’ve chosen the award with your name on it, or at least the award you’d like to have your name engraved upon, next step is to read the entry criteria carefully. And then read it again, even more carefully. When’s the deadline? How should the work be submitted? How should the work be formatted? Should the submission be physical or digital? Is there an entry fee? Should the work have been completed within a certain timeframe? If a professional project, do you require the client’s consent? Will the work be exhibited? Do the awards scheme require that they have the rights to publish the winner’s work for publicity purposes? Questions, questions and more questions but only when armed with the answers should you proceed, and even then with caution – allow yourself plenty of time as planning and preparing your entry should only be undertaken seriously. Well, you want to win don’t you?

Dos and Don’ts of Winning Awards
1. Do your research, make sure that you apply for the awards most applicable to who you are, as a creative, and what you do.
2. Do read the entry criteria from top to toe – make sure that you enter your work into the most appropriate category within the awards and that you enter your work in the required format.
3. Do your homework – who has won the award in previous years and what did they go onto to achieve? It is always positive to have a positive role model.
4. Don’t panic. Allow yourself enough time to put a really professional entry together; don’t think it can be thrown together 30 minutes before the deadline, it can’t.
5. Don’t forget to read the small print – ensure that by entering you are not signing away all rights to your work.
6. Don’t despair – if you’re not a winner it doesn’t mean that you are a loser, there is always next year.

The 8 most profile-building, exposure-increasing awards/ competitions…

01. D&AD Professional Awards -
D&AD celebrates and nurtures outstanding work in design and advertising and with D&AD running 24 different juries it remains at the pinnacle of creative awards. A Yellow Pencil commands global recognition as the symbol of the very highest achievement. Look no further if you aspire to be the best.

02. D&AD Student Awards –
It is the entry fees for the D&AD Professional Awards that cover the costs of the D&AD Student Awards and the world’s best creatives look to the Student Awards to find the next generation of creative superstars. Design, advertising or digital? – There’s a place for your application, if you’re a student.

03. The Adobe Design Achievement Awards -
The ADAA celebrates student achievement reflecting the powerful convergence of technology and the creative arts. These global awards honour the most talented student graphic designers, photographers, illustrators, animators, digital filmmakers, developers and computer artists from the world’s best design schools.

04. The Creative Conscious Awards -
This new UK student award sets out to provide a platform for innovative ideas that encompasses world changing creativity. Aiming to be a catalyst for positive change to benefit ethical, moral and worthwhile causes it enables individuals to make a positive change for a cause that they are positive about.

05. The Association of Illustrators - Illustration Awards -
Newly revised and updated the AOI Illustration Awards are the most comprehensive and highest profile illustration awards in the UK. International in scope the AOI Illustration Awards is open to illustrators worldwide and working across all sectors and in any medium.

06. The Designs of the Year –
Dubbed the ‘Oscars of the Design World’ you know you’ve made it if you’re up for one of these. You’ll need to be nominated, so can’t simply just enter, but good to be aware of this award in case you get the call… Hosted by The Design Museum in London and covering all aspects of design, you’ll be in top-notch company.

07. The One Show
No, not the UK TV show following news at six on the BBC but the US equivalent of D&AD in the advertising world. Win a One Show pencil and the work offers are likely to come flowing in, just as the champagne flowed at the awards ceremony in New York…

08. The RSA Student Awards
The Royal Society of the Arts has been running the RSA Student Awards for 88 years and aims to issues briefs to young designers to demonstrate how the insights and processes of design can solve 21st century problems. The RSA works with design educators to develop design-led approaches.

Making an exhibition of yourself…
A great profile-raising exhibition can do just that – raise the profile of an individual practitioner or collective, studio or agency. But putting on a successful show can raise your blood pressure, before raising your profile, if you go into the project peering through rose-tinted specs, rather than open-eyed and focussed.

Don’t get carried away…
Approach with caution. Exhibitions are complex projects and take a range of skills and expertise; many of which can be easily overlooked in the (over) excitement of deciding to put on a show. The vision of a brilliant private view evening, with an array of superstar attendees, sipping chilled champagne and nibbling delicious canapés, whilst conversing with one another about what a magnificent body of work is on show and what a magnificent host you are might be an attractive enough apparition for you to leap into the unknown, seemingly without a care in the world. Don’t. Read on…

Who is in the driving seat?
Before you set off on a course of no return, stop for a moment and take stock. Have you decided to show your work, or has someone else made that decision for you? Let’s consider the latter first - are you entering work into an exhibition that someone else is setting up? If so, then take a good hard look at whether the exhibition organisers have experience and know what they are doing. If so, and you feel that you’re in safe hands, then do proceed. The likelihood if you’re having work in an exhibition, whether professional gallery or pop-up space, is that someone else is coordinating and they will explain how the work should be presented, how it should be delivered to the gallery or venue and ask you for any relevant information for captions and catalogue. If they are asking these questions, you’re on safe ground.

It’s your baby
If you’re putting on the show, then you’re in the hot seat. And before you even start to consider the details, think about the bigger picture – what are you showing and why? Is the show to be a run-down of your first five years as a creative studio? Are you an emerging collective launching a range of limited edition prints? Are you showcasing a recent project or product? Are you aiming to raise your profile or that of your client? When you know what you are showing and why, the next steps are crucial.

The devil is in the detail
Plan every detail. Plan the venue – the location, the dates, the rental, the insurance. Plan the show hang – the delivery, the framing, the mounting, the captioning. Plan the publicity – the invitation, the press, the social media campaign. Plan, plan and plan some more…

Dos and Don’ts of Exhibiting Your Work
1. Do think about how best to show your work - the size, the scale and the format are all important factors. Show your work to its best advantage by viewing the space before you finalise the work if possible.
2. Do approach exhibiting your work as professionally as possible – your work will determine how viewers perceive you as a professional.
3. Do consider every aspect of having your work exhibited – a good show will pay dividends, a bad show could be detrimental.
4. Don’t cut corners – pay for the best prints, mounting, framing etc that you can afford.
5. Don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions – will the gallery take a commission on sales? Will your work be safely returned?
6. Don’t settle for a second rate venue in a second rate part of town – aim high!

Hold your own exhibition - The show must go on…
So you’ve made the leap – you’ve decided to hold your own exhibition. From locating a venue and nailing down the dates to beginning a promotional campaign and sourcing drinks for the opening night it all starts now…

Step 01 – The venue is critical. Galleries and events spaces know the lay of the land so putting on a show in a professionally run space might be a no-brainer. Is the gallery known? Does it have an impressive foot-fall on days after the opening? Do they include insurance in the gallery hire fee?

Step 02 – If you’re going pop-up, look for a venue that might easily encapsulate a show unless you’re looking to turn an unloved and unused venue into a new gallery space. And if so, check with the local council as to whether they have empty shops on their lists.

Step 03 – Venue chosen, now decide on the dates. Spring is a good time to host an exhibition – the evenings are lighter, people feel more positive about getting out and about after work and at the weekends. Go for dates that cover a couple of weekends if you can and aim to host the opening on Thursday or Friday to ensure attendance.

Step 04 – Alert the media. What would happen if you hosted a show and no one came? Nothing. No event – no sales and no profile building. Publicising the exhibition is critical – a printed invite, a pdf invite, Twitter and Facebook and LinkedIn – a must, as well as some online forum / blog content…

Step 05 – Plan the show, assuming that you have all the content ready to go! Ask the gallery for floor-plans with internal measurements and all information on hanging systems they may have installed. If you’re fixing directly to walls – is it your responsibility to make good any holes etc after the show?

Step 06 – Plan the opening. Is your private view for all – friends and family and clients? Does it make sense to separate and hold two events? Are you providing alcohol, and if so have you checked any licensing issues / restrictions? Are you planning on searching for sponsorship? Start this process good and early!

Step 07 – Plan your get-in and get-out. Hanging a show takes 10 times longer than taking a show down. When can you gain access to the space – and when does the show need taking down? You’ll have friends keen to help hang, but strangely very busy when it comes to taking down…

Step 08 – If you’re looking to make a noise in the creative community, invite the great and the good to the opening and invite those too that may review the show for the design press and media. Pull in favours and be persistent but polite too, of course. It’s hard work but worth it.

We’re in it together…
There is a strong argument for strength in numbers. Being part of a joint studio set-up or collective can feel like being part of a gang, in a good way and in a good gang, of course. Having a collective unified voice, with a shared vision and ethos can help attract the right kind of attention.

One love
A collective or shared studio can provide much needed company when working as a freelance gun-for-hire. Sharing the love, the joy and the pain can mean the difference between labouring away solo, frustrated by the lack of real human contact, and returning after a meeting to friendly faces, understanding of the pressures of the job.

Collective consciousness
Long-established collectives like Peepshow, masters of illustration and animation, met whilst studying together and transported their own unique view of the world from Brighton to East London. Over a decade later and they remain work colleagues, but more importantly great friends. Only head into a collective if you have a collective vision. There is only so much time to argue philosophical approaches and if you are arguing you’re not collaborating.

Joined-up thinking
A joined-up approach comes from working together on joint projects, alongside personal and individual projects, so look carefully at how you intend to manage these and divide the responsibilities carefully, as well as consider how you share the spoils. A collective needs to think like a collective – you’ll need to think about your values, your vision and your mantra. There is little point is getting together if half of the group are focussed on not-for-profit projects, and the other half on purely-profit projects, for example.

Shared expertise
Getting together in a physical space works wonders for a group dynamic, of course, but getting a range of expertise into the group can really help a collective pay dividends. Illustrators working with animators, information designers working with interior architects, print designers working with interactive designers – mix it up, you’ll then have a spread of expertise on hand to utilise for any projects that come your way. Having a marketing person on board can help, and an exhibition designer, and a photographer, and a copywriter… but be realistic about what you are looking to achieve and plan big, by all means, but start small. Keep studio overheads low; most collectives start off located on the wrong side of town, and move on as rents increase as an area becomes cool…

Stay free
Don’t worry if the whole thing falls apart within the first 6 months – and collectives do come and go. Learn from the experience and take your learning onto your next studio. Some collectives have ambitions to change the world – some just want to make great work and be a supportive environment for each of the members to work in. Choose what best suits your approach to life – but, as the lyrics of an old disco tune states - ‘don’t push it, don’t force it; let it happen naturally, it will surely happen, if it was meant to be…’

Dos and Don’ts of Joining Forces
1. Do enjoy the moment – being part of a collective can be fun as well as incredibly useful. Work together and socialise together.
2. Do consider how to divide tasks and responsibilities – best get this straight from the start, so no concerns later down the line…
3. Do think about how, where and when you promote yourselves – are you planning on building a following by word-of-mouth or a big-shot promo campaign?
4. Don’t delay – start today. There is no time like the present. Meetings in pubs about how you might all get together is a good start, but only the start…
5. Don’t stop learning – being in a collective allows you to learn from others around you, keep your eyes and ears open and active.
6. Don’t forget to discuss music. Are you to be in a headphones only environment or take turns on the studio wheels-of-steel? Collectives can fall apart due to ‘musical differences’. Really, it happens.

Extras – the extra little things you can do…
Extra 01 – Don’t be afraid to roll up your sleeves and help out. You can learn a lot and get your name around town by being a good egg and offering your services and assisting on projects. You’ll get a good report card by being on time, being helpful and being positive.

Extra 02 – With more experience under your belt and a portfolio of great work, you can then fine-tune your skills as a speaker at design events and conferences – look for opportunities to hone your presentation techniques by offering your skills to art and design foundation courses as a first rung on the ladder.

Extra 03 – Get involved doing design work for charities – they have a great need for professional design services and diminishing resources to work with. Charities can often offer some creative freedom in return for smallish design fees and are often happy to promote you and your work in return too.

Extra 04 – ‘Work hard and be nice to people’ is Anthony Burrill’s mantra and is one all newcomers could learn to follow. You’ll get a good name in the creative industry by being a positive individual, delivering great work to deadline and budget. It’s not rocket science.