Wanted: A marketing event that pays for itself, generates positive, free publicity for a business, and builds name recognition, all while supporting the local arts community. Great news – I’ve found it!
Each year, Finer Frames hosts a juried art competition in the spring to build name recognition and highlight the work of many talented local artists. Fifty area artists compete for $700 in cash and ribbons in watercolor, oil/acrylic painting and mixed media categories. Promotion for this event begins months in advance with press releases calling for artists, distributing posters at area art supply stores, and getting the event scheduled on art events calendars on television, radio and newspapers.
This annual event has been a tremendous success and has become my signature event. Entry fees cover all of the expenses and the media coverage is free. It’s so perfect that the only down side is the tremendous amount of effort (and room) that it requires, but I’m convinced it’s worth it.
To attract area artists, I sent out a call to artists, arts groups and local media. I began by preparing a press release that contained all the basic information describing the media categories, prizes, show dates and location. I faxed the press release to arts editors of four area papers and the college paper as well. Arts groups like the Idaho Watercolor Society included the release in their monthly newsletter, which helped to recruit great competition in that category.
Judging the show.
The judge of the contest has changed every year. Each has had a professional art background and has given careful consideration to every entry. The first year, I made the mistake of asking three experts to judge the show. When the three couldn’t agree, I finally had to step in and choose some of the winners. I learned my lesson and invited a single judge the following years. The most passionate judge was an art professor from a nearby college. He really seemed to enjoy his role and spent hours critiquing each painting. Thus far, all have been willing to do this for free, although I do give them a nice thank you gift.
The judge’s results are announced at a special awards presentation on the opening night of the show. Artists are encouraged to bring their family and friends and all are welcome to vote for the People’s Choice award. Winners in each category receive a cash prize and beautiful rosette ribbon, which accompanies their painting for the duration of the show. I serve complimentary wine and hors d’ovres for the partygoers. It is an exciting evening for the artists and for all those who attend.
Where to hang the ugly painting?
It has always been my intention to encourage new artists, but when it comes to displaying amateur artwork in questionable frames, I start to get a little concerned. The first year of the show, the entry fee was only $10. I learned the hard way that the price was too cheap to attract professional artists but low enough to catch the attention of anyone who had a whim to put paint to paper. The nicest people brought in the ugliest work.
Promoting the show.
From the very beginning, the local media was very interested in my effort to support the arts. The newspapers, radio and television were generous with their coverage (which, by the way, was completely free). This was community news: an event to get excited about and one with pretty pictures too. I faxed details about the event to the paper and sent them photos of a few paintings. The news release appeared in the papers with a color photo by its side.
Hard work pays off.
The generous amount of media attention helped to drive new customers into my store. Artists who were unfamiliar with my services brought me their business and introduced me to their own family and friends at the awards reception. They were so excited to have their work exhibited in a gallery that they eagerly told everyone they knew about the show. Attendance was good as supporters of the arts came out to see the paintings, and many patrons asked to be added to my mailing list. The exposure was tremendous. The event and its coverage cemented in my mind the reality that it’s not what a business says about itself that counts, it’s what others say that matters.