Mystified By the Art Market? Read Seven Days In the Art World

Book Cover Seven Days in the Art WorldTo understand how the markets for creative work are changing, it’s important to understand what the markets were like a few years ago, before technology really starting speeding things up and the economy sent things spiraling down again.

So I read Sarah Thornton’s book “Seven Days in the Art World” to learn what was happening in 2008, when the contemporary art market was booming and prices at auction were going through the roof. Thornton’s book is interesting for several reasons. Although she has a BA in Art History, Thornton also has a PhD in cultural sociology. She observes the “art world” more from the detached, objective perspective of a culture researcher.

The book was compiled from hundreds of hours of “participant observation” and 250 in-depth interviews with high-profile artists, dealers, curators, critics, collectors, and auction-house experts. The seven days refer to insights she gained from observing interactions and activities at seven different sites:

  • a Christie’s art auction in Manhattan
  • a peer-critique by art students at the California Institute of the Arts
  • the Basel Art Fair in Switzerland
  • the Tate Britain Museum during the selection of the Turner Prize winner
  • the offices of Artforum magazine in New York;
  • the studios of artist Takashi Murakami in Tokyo; and
  • the pavilions of some of the nations represented at the Venice Biennale.

Each of the seven chapters reads like a Vanity Fair magazine feature story because she reports conversations and observations as they happen. Her approach lets you see how selling and buying art differs from selling other high-value products. (Sometimes, it doesn’t.)  Thornton admits that “The art world is so diverse, opaque, and downright secretive, it is difficult to generalize about it and impossible to be truly comprehensive.”

In the book’s introduction, Thornton says when she studied art history, she was exposed to recently made art but “I never had a clear idea of how it circulated, how it came to be considered worthy of critical attention or gained exposure, how it was marketed, sold, or collected.” As the work of living artists have become more in demand, she believes it is worth understanding the valuation processes art undergoes between the studio and its arrival in the permanent collection of a museum (or the trash and anywhere in between).

She differentiates between the “art market” (the dealers, auction houses, and collectors who buy and sell art) and the much broader “art world” which also includes the artists themselves, critics, and curators.

To me, Chapter 1 was the most fascinating because she observes an auction at Christie’s at which some pieces sold for millions of dollars. Here’s a quick overview of observations gleaned from the book about the roles of key players in the art market.

Collectors
People collect art for different reasons. Some truly understand how art can enrich their lives. Others may simply want to diversify their investment portfolios or buy entry in a glamorous lifestyle. Collectors who buy art as investment or because “it’s cool” tend to have changing tastes and aren’t as concerned with the lasting appeal of the art. So they rotate their collections like people buy and sell stock. Collectors who buy for the love of the art tend to form emotional attachments, and only sell due to misfortunes such as death, divorce, or debt. Some collectors hire consultants to advise them.

Auction Houses
Auctions aim to bring the highest prices possible, and provide the illusion of liquidity. Although auction houses want buyers to be confident that they will be able to resell the high-value art they purchase today, that may not always be true. During the boom years, art auctions became something of a high-society spectator sport in which super-successful alpha males mostly competed with other alpha males.

Artists are discouraged from attending auctions because many buying considerations have little to do with the artistic merit.  Feel-good paintings with blues or reds tend to sell better than glum paintings with browns or grays. Paintings by male artists tend to attract higher prices because the male collectors tend to better relate to some of the themes. Any works larger than the size of a Park Avenue elevator eliminates a portion of the market.

Primary Dealers
Their role is to represent artists and mount exhibitions of work fresh out of the studio. A primary dealer can try to increase the value of an artist’s work by offering it first to collectors with sterling reputations. The hands through which an artwork passes can help it accrue value.

Secondary Dealers
These dealers don’t work a lot with the artists, but they do work with the auction houses. They have sufficient capital to buy market-tested art without any immediate pressure to resell it. They take control of the object and can hold on to it as long as necessary. So if a certain style of art goes out of favor, they can wait to sell it when that type of art is back in style.

Artists
Artists are discouraged from learning about business and art marketing, because this knowledge can affect the purity of the art-making process. However, the artists who sell well at auction tend to be artist-entrepreneurs. As one commentator in  Thornton’s book suggested, perhaps the successful businessmen who buy at auctions admire the boldness and risk-taking of artist-entrepreneurs. The collectors see themselves reflected in the artist-entrepreneurs.

For example, Andy Warhol and Damien Hirst both maintained media profiles that helped increase the audiences for their work. They used production strategies to ensure that a sufficient supply of their art would be available to meet the demands.

When Damien Hirst became the first artist to openly consign work to an auction house, he not only earned international press coverage, but also the admiration of the auction-house personnel who liked his strong work ethic and keen business sense. In general selling work at auction can be risky for an artist’s career, because the prices can fluctuate dramatically from year to year as tastes (and economic conditions) change.

Collectors like meeting the artists whose work they own. But auction houses regard artists as being hard to work with. During the boom, there was a shortage of older works and a spike In demand for fresh, young art.  Although auction houses tried not to interfere with the work of dealers, the amount of time between when a work left a studio and hit the resale market became shorter.  

What’s Next?
Reading “Seven Days in the Art World” provides a big-picture overview of the art world as it existed in 2008. It can provide a baseline for observing what has happened since the economy tanked, and speculating what might happen next as the base of art collectors continues to expand, both globally and within younger generations.

For example, some training programs have been developed to encourage artists to become more entrepreneurial so they make a living and pay off the student loans from attending art school.  And online galleries, art fairs, and social networking are starting to affect the way art is discovered and collectors interact with dealers and artists.

These are some of the questions we’ll continue to examine on this blog. If you have expertise, ideas, or insights that could help artists benefit from some of these ongoing changes in the art market, we would love to hear from you!

 

 

Self-Publisher Explains How to Get Your Book Out Quickly

WRITERS. Suppose you have a great idea for a nonfiction book. Which approach is a better use of your time: Should you develop a detailed book proposal, pitch it to an agent or publisher, and wait two years for the book to hit the shelves? Or should you self-publish the book first and start selling it while most of the information is still current?

Self-Publishing Manual Vol. 2If self-publishing sounds like too much work or you’re not sure where to begin, I recommend reading both volumes of Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual.  Then you’ll understand why the stigma once associated with self-publishing has vanished. You’ll also see why the brave, new world of ‘trans-media’ is rapidly changing the very definition of a ‘book.’

If you’re a writer, self-publishing is a great way to control every phase of your book’s production. Plus, the more you know about self-publishing, the better prepared you will be to help others who may hire you to ghost-write or edit their books.

Poynter believes emerging technologies are rapidly making it possible for authors to get closer to their readers while also selling books for less. You can still profit from your investment in self-publishing, says Poynter, because you will be eliminating the amount of income paid to agents, publishers, wholesalers, bookstores, distributors, and other gatekeepers in the middle.

Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual (463 pages) covers the basics of writing, printing, and selling your own book and lets you see how the steps involved in self-publishing differ from those associated with traditional publishing. In addition to tips on book design and formatting, Poynter provides practical advice on selecting a book printer, deciding how many books to print, and estimating sales. He devotes entire chapters to marketing and distribution channels and shipping and fulfillment considerations.

Self-Publishing Manual Vol 1Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Volume 2 (144 pages) explains how to take advantage of some of the technological changes that are rapidly transforming the book-publishing business. For example, Poynter suggests building your print version (pbook) first, then converting that content into other forms your audience might like, including: e-books, audio books (a-books), and large-print books (lpbooks).

As Poynter  explains, “We call them ‘books,’ but that term is generic; ‘books’ can take many forms. Do not think of your product as a print product—think of it as entertainment or information. Then focus on providing the formats (or editions) the buyer wants and needs.”

To streamline the self-publishing process, he advises writing the back-cover promotional copy first so you can clarify in your mind why readers might be interested in the type of content you’re developing. (In other words, instead of figuring out how to pitch your idea to an agent or publisher, first spend some time deciding how you will pitch your book directly to the potential buyer.) 

He also explains how to typeset the book in formatted pages as you write it, instead of writing it in the traditional manuscript form required by conventional publishers. You will still need to have the book peer-reviewed, copy-edited, and proofread. But if the book is already formatted in pages, you can save some valuable time.

In Volume 2, Poynter talks about how to use social media and social networking to gather information for your writing and alerting people who may be interested in buying your book.  He also talks about new technology that let you publish it for less, new ways to distribute your book more economically, and how to have fun promoting it. 

Photo of Dan Poynter with booksDan Poynter says it took him eight years to produce his first book (on parachuting). Since then he has written more than 125 books, primarily by developing a highly organized system for researching, research, writing, and editing.  In some cases, the pages for his books have been written, laid out, and delivered to the printer within 30 days.

Having been in the business since 1969, he knows the ins and outs of the business from all angles. He has published books for other authors and sold some of his own books to publishing companies.   

You Don’t Have to Do It All Yourself!
If you don’t have the time or confidence to handle all of the steps involved in self-publishing yourself, there are plenty of sources who can help you. For example, the self-publishing manual lists specialized service providers such as bar code suppliers, book clubs, book fair exhibiting services, book designers and cover artists. Poynter also lists “book shepherds,” a new group of consultants who will take your book project through all of the necessary steps.

One of the most useful features of the book is a Calendar, with a checklist of some of the administrative and promotion-related items you should be tackling during different stages of writing and producing the book.

Self-publishing can indeed be a lot of work, and recouping your investment of time and money will require a commitment to promoting it. But unless you have already established a strong business relationship with an existing publishing company, self-publishing and selling your first book may soon be regarded as an essential first step.  

The Future of Books
Poynter believes the publishing business is changing so rapidly that in the near future, the publication cycle will be reversed and books will first be posted online, then committed to ink and paper if there is sufficient interest.

In Volume 2, he writes, “We will always have printed books, but they will be fiction, coffeetable books (works of art), and nonfiction that is so popular that it has earned a print run.”

Both books are available from bookstores. Or you can buy them directly from Dan’s website, Para Publishing. The website features dozens of other tips and resources for writers and anyone who wants to publish their own books.

LINKS

Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print, and Sell Your Own Book

Dan Poynter’s Self-Publishing Manual, Vol. 2

Para Publishing

Fast Track Photographers Don’t Grumble About Change

Cover of Fast Track Photographer BookLast May, Amphoto Books released a provocative book entitled “The Fast Track Photographer: Leverage Your Unique Strengths for a More Successful Photography Business.” The author, photographer Dane Sanders, explains why building a successful photography career is far different than it was 20 to 30  years ago.

The key to success as a photographer in today’s hyper-competitive environment, says Sanders, is to: “Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing and start focusing on your most powerful resource—you!”  In today’s digi-flat world, creative professionals can carve out niches all their own. As Sanders puts it, “You need to design your sweet spot around the one thing that cannot be replicated: you!” 

The book and its accompanying online self-assessment test can help you determine whether you would be happier trying to become an independent Signature-Brand Photographer or would be perfectly content as a Freelance Photographer who does fee-based assignments for employers. You can devise a solution that blends the two styles, but Sanders advises photographers to “Be clear about the choice you’re making, and do what’s required to see it through.”

Above all, Sanders encourages readers to avoid “The Grumpy Photographer Life Cycle (aka the Road to Hell).” This cycle starts when photographers get overloaded with debt early in their careers, fail to promote themselves as individuals, and take on as many jobs at market prices as possible. Then, they become burned out and bitter.

Sanders characterizes “Grumpy” photographers as self-centered, arrogant, “experts” who feel entitled to business and are stuck on old business models. In  contrast, he describes fast-track photographers as client-centered, service-minded, and personable. They are adaptable to change, open to new technology and continuous learning, and able to delegate and outsource. They know who they are, and find clients who appreciate their unique set of skills.

“Rather than lapse into Grumpiness,” says Sanders. “I encourage you to see that in the digi-flat world, the spectrum of possibility has exploded.”

Dane Sanders succinctly articulates trends I’ve observed at photography conferences over the past few years. Some photographers are clearly much more upbeat, optimistic, and enthusiastic than others. Photographers who have worked for 25 to 30 years seem aggravated by how rapidly and radically technology has commoditized the conventional markets for photography.

Thus, Fast Track Photographer will not only be helpful to serious amateurs who are considering turning pro, but also to companies that use old-school, big-name photographers to help them sell products and services. People entering the photography business today must cope with marketplace realities that are fundamentally different from the business environment that existed when older-generation experts built their businesses.

“If you want to find your sweet spot in the photo world, resist the temptation to emulate heroes,” writes Sanders. “Unless you are just like them, the odds of succeeding by adopting their strategies is very low. Better to let them inspire you by how boldly they have pursued their own sweet spot in the business.”

Head shot of Dane Sanders“The old mode of learning from an expert and slogging away until you’ve earned the right to put your name out there is too slow for our fast-changing, digi-flat times,” writes Sanders. He notes that no one is an “expert” anymore because no one really knows what new developments will occur in the next 5 to 20 years and how these developments will interact dynamically to create whole new possibilities for photographers. He suggests that, “An attitude of staying creatively adaptable may be the single most important asset in extending your lifespan as a photographer indefinitely.”

As a writer, I was interested to learn that “Fast Track Photographer was originally self-published and geared only toward wedding photographers. Amphoto Books published a revised and expanded edition to help amateur and working photographers in all genres strengthen and develop their businesses.

Cover of Fast Track PhotographerReaders of The Fast Track Photographer might also be interested in The Fast Track Photographer Business Plan. This new book is designed to help you devise an overall business strategy to support your creative vision. It also contains techniques for running a creative business.

For more information, visit: www.fasttrackphotographer.com

Find Practical Advice for Digital Imaging Workflows at dpBestflow.org

PHOTOGRAPHERS. If your digital imaging workflow involves more work than flow, check out the dpbestflow.org website produced by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP).  The term dpBestflow is shorthand for Digital Photography Best Practices and Workflow.

The site features dozens of practical ideas for developing a workflow that can make your work more efficient, effective, and profitable. The dpBestflow site recommends best practices for cameras, computers, color management, image editing, metadata, file management, data validation, file delivery, and copyright registration.

A lot of the advice will be useful to any creative professional who wants to streamline and improve the processing, production, and preservation of digital artwork.

For example, if you don’t understand why investing in a good monitor matters, read some of the detailed information in the site’s section on Monitor Calibration and Profiling. Not only does Project Director Richard Anderson clarify the difference between calibration and profiling, but he also explains different types of monitors, including spec-sheet terms such as illumination type, DDC-enabled, bit depth, pixel-response time, and gamut.

At last year’s WPPI Conference, I saw two experts involved in the dpBestflow project give a two-hour presentation entitled “I Need a Workflow that Works for Me.” The presenters, Judy Hermann and Jay Kinghorn, reminded newcomers to professional photography that their profitability and future business growth can depend on the type of workflow practices they establish now. Essentially, they said the less time you waste tracking down the files you need, the more time you can devote to learning new skills or pursuing new business.  Plus, some of the images you shoot and save today might have historical value later in your career.

In the presentation, Hermann and Klinghorn highlighted “good, better, and best” practices at all stages of a workflow including:

  • capture and ingestion:
  • image editing and organization;
  • image correction, printing, or output;
  • file delivery;
  • archiving and storage; and
  • finding archived images.

 To scan the type of practical advice on the site, download the dpBestflow Quick Reference sheet.  This two-page PDF condenses a lot of the best advice presented in more detail elsewhere throughout the site.

At the dpBestflow.org site, you can also download the handouts from the two-hour and four-hour presentations that resprentatives from the dpBestflow project presented.  

If you find digital-imaging and archiving terminology and acronyms confusing, check out the excellent glossary in the Resources section of the dpBestflow site.

Personally, I really admire this website because I know just how much work can be involved in condensing complex subjects into concise, easy-to-comprehend explanations—particularly in fields in which the technology is continuing to evolve.

Another thing I like about this site is that it includes links to several longer white papers that can provide greater insight and context than the get-straight-to-the-point content we’ve grown accustomed to.

For example, you can link to white papers that discuss raw file processing and print rendering, non-destructive image editing, preparing files for delivery, and using a digital camera as a film scanner.

Part of the funding for the dpBestflow project came from the National Digital Information Infrastructure and Preservation Program of the Library of Congress. The Library of Congress wants to ensure that many of the images being digitally captured today will be properly preserved for future generations and historical records.

Senior Project Manager Peter Krogh explains that, “dpBestflow helps translate the intricacies of preserving digital images into useful information that can be incorporated into everyday working habits.”

Links:

dpBestflow Quick Reference
American Society of Media Photographers
www.dpBestflow.org

Conferences Examine Future of Graphic Communications and Cross-Media Publishing

DESIGNERS. In the 2008 book “Get a Design Job,” RitaSue Siegel suggests that you “Think about developing your skills in areas of practice that didn’t exist before, as they tend to attract the highest salaries until everyone catches up.”

One way to better understand future design opportunities is to go to the same conferences that potential employers attend. For example, two upcoming conferences in the fields of graphic communications and on-demand printing will examine what types of skills and workflows will be required to more easily and efficiently move content between print, online, and interactive projects.

While both conferences include some design-oriented sessions, that’s not the only way you can give your career a boost. The more you learn about your customers’ business goals and technical challenges, the more prepared you will be to position yourself as the type of problem-solver they need to hire.   

Graphics of the Americas (GOA)
Feb. 24-26, 2011
Orange County Convention Center, Orlando, FL
www.goa2011.com

Companies that once specialized exclusively in printing now must offer a wider range of graphic-communications services that can help their customers deliver marketing messages across a broad mix of print and digital formats. To serve this new graphics-communication industry, the GOA conference features educational sessions that appeal to printing company executives, designers, and creative professionals.

For example, during the cre8 conference held in conjunction with the GOA conference, you can attend sessions that will help you update or expand your skills. You can learn how to:  

  • create interactive Flash and PDF documents with Adobe InDesign;
  • simplify the transition of print content to the web;
  • preflight all components of a mixed-media project to ensure that corporate branding is maintained in print, on the web, and in mobile messaging
  • use XML publishing with InDesign to create documents to be shared for print layouts, online, mobile devices, and e-readers
  • ensure your user-interface elements are attractive and easy to use.

The keynote address “Inspiring Digital Innovation” will be presented by John S. Bracken, director of digital media and director of the Knight News Challenge at the Knight Foundation. Bracken will share his views on the future of media and its role in society. Other sessions will discuss “The Digital Landscape for 2011 and Beyond” and “New Media Revenue Streams.”

On the trade-show floor, you can see various digital-printing technologies in action. You might even run into some forward-thinking graphics-business owners who can tell you more about the type of design skills they need most.

 

Publishing Xchange Conference
March 22-24
Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Washington, DC
www.publishingxchange.com

The great “e-blending” of digital content delivery through social media, ebooks, digital publications, media tablets, and new forms of printing is opening many exciting possibilities for traditional publishers, as well as corporate marketing groups that have begun acting like publishers. But this “cross-media” revolution is also creating noise and confusion.

Co-located with the Info 360 Conference and On-Demand Expo, the new Publishing Xchange Conference will strive to help publishers, marketing-communications content providers, ad agencies, commercial and in-plant printers, and graphic designers build a stronger roadmap to success. Seminar tracks include topics such as the state and future of publishing, cross-media marketing, and e-media technologies.   

One keynoter will be Rob Covey, senior vice president of content and design for the National Geographic Digital Media Group.  He will talk about how National Geographic has evolved to market exciting and engaging content across all media channels and share some of the challenges and opportunities associated with today’s new era of publishing.

In another keynote session, Charlie Corr of Mimeo will talk about The New Era of Printing and Publishing on Demand and some of the threats and opportunities that will impact everyone from publishers to printers to end users.   

Other workshops will talk about digital typography, how designing e-books and digital publications differs from designing for print, and digital advertising challenges such as wrangling pixels from print to mobile to billboards.

Editorial Excellence Can Help Marketers Escape Content Chaos

Content Rules Book CoverWRITERS. A new book entitled “Content Rules: How to Create Killer Blogs, Podcasts, Videos, Ebooks, Webinars (and More) That Engage Customers and Ignite Your Business” could ultimately open up some fresh opportunities for freelance writers and other creative professionals.

The book was written by two experts in content marketing:  Ann Handley, chief content officer of marketingprofs.com and C.C. Handley, founder of digitaldads.com.

The basic premise of “Content Rules” is that publishing useful content is a good way for companies to build relationships with their customers.  As the book’s promo copy explains, “Today, you have an unprecedented opportunity to create a treasury of free, easy-to-use, almost infinitely customizable content that tells the story of your product and your business, and positions you as an expert people will want to do business with.”

However, because so many companies are jumping on the content-publishing bandwagon, content is rapidly becoming a commodity.

As consumers, we can all see some of the “content chaos” arising from the wider adoption of content marketing. Sure, some of this content can be very helpful. But so much of it seems semi-coherent, superficial, and self-serving. Few companies seem to take the time to consider what type of content their customers would find most enlightening.

In a webinar introducing their book, Handley and Chapman describe the phenomenon this way: “Content marketing is like sex in high school: Everyone claims they are doing it, but few are doing it well.”

They believe content marketing is worth the commitment, noting that “Killer content can earn attention, create trust, establish credibility and authority, and convert visitors and browsers into buyers.”

The book reinforces a fact that many stressed-out, overworked marketing pros have just begun to fully recognize:  Producing a steady stream of consistently good content can be more difficult and time-consuming than it looks.

According to a recent survey cited by Handley and Chapman in Content Rules, the biggest content marketing challenges are:

  • Producing engaging content (36%)
  • Producing enough content (21%)
  • Budget to produce content (20%)
  • Lack of C-level buy-in (11%)
  • Producing a variety of content (9%)

Thus, experienced writers and other creative professionals can offer to alleviate some of the burden. But this tactic will only work if you can suggest how you can help advance the most commonly identified organizational goals for content marketing:

  • Brand awareness (78%)
  • Consumer retention/awareness (69%)
  • Lead generation (63%)
  • Website traffic (55%)
  • Thought leadership (52%)
  • Sales (51%)
  • Lead nurturing (37%)

You might want to read the book, so you can see the type of advice Handley and Chapman are giving to marketing pros.  For example, they discuss the art of storytelling and science to journalism to develop content that people will care about. They also talk about the need to find an authentic voice and create the type of bold content that prospects and customers will want to share with others.   Readers of Content Rules can learn how to:

  • Define content-strategy goals.
  • Get to the meat of the message by using practical, common-sense language.
  • Integrate searchable words without sounding contrived.
  • Create a publishing schedule for creating different kinds and types of content at once.

To see content-marketing at its best, check out marketingprofs.com and subscribe to their Marketing Profs Today daily newletters. Even if you’re not a marketing pro yourself, you can get some practical tips that can either help you market yourself as a creative pro, or better understand what marketing professionals are trying to accomplish with various forms of communications.

In the online Marketing Profs University, you can listen to the free webinar that Handley and Chapman presented on Dec. 3, 2010.

Content Rules: How to Create the Right Kind of Content

You can replay the broadcast, listen to a podcast, or download the webinar slides and a list of answers to questions raised after the webinar.

The book is available for $11.99 as a Google eBook. Or, you can order a 242-page hardcopy version from Wiley.com, Amazon.com, or BarnesandNoble.com

Links:

“Content Rules”: Google e-book format

Hardcopy book

Wiley.com

Amazon.com

BarnesandNoble.com

Sales and Marketing Execs Are From Mars; Creative Pros Are From Venus

By Eileen Fritsch

Book Cover The Creative ProfessionalFive years ago, Emmis Books sent me a review copy of “The Creative Professional: A Survival Guide for the Business World” by Howard J. Blumenthal. It was billed as “a book to help right-brained people survive in left-brained world.” The press release noted the same personality traits that give certain people a creative edge can also cause turbulence in a corporate atmosphere.

That statement grabbed my attention because the editors, writers, art directors, and photographers I worked with on magazines seemed increasingly at odds with the publishers, sales reps, and bean counters who set our budgets and marketing strategies.

In 2005, the painful, disruptive transition from print to online media was just beginning to ramp up. Our editorial staffs were already lean. It didn’t help that our art and editorial budgets were slashed even further as print-advertising buyers began diverting big chunks of budgets to developing websites, internal databases for email marketing, and emerging forms of online media.

We stopped hiring photographers, illustrators, and freelance writers. We started using cheap stock photography and more advertorial-like feature stories freely supplied by PR agencies. To make matters worse, every staff writer and designer was expected to produce more content—including websites, books, conference workbooks, and promotional materials.

As the quality of our work began to suffer, the creative pros started complaining. Some of us passionately believed that short-sighted business decisions were undermining the overall quality and value of our editorial products. And we predicted it wouldn’t take long for readers (and potential future advertisers) to notice.

Blumenthal’s book helped me understand why it was perfectly natural for the creative pros on the staff to feel so argumentative. The book also explains why business people consider creative pros difficult to manage.  While our innate ability to think and see things differently can be a great asset to businesses seeking innovative solutions to new problems, business-focused people don’t always see it the same way.

For example, traditional business people see their mission as generating profits. They consider sales as the most important aspect of any business.

Conversely, creative professionals generate value (which is far more difficult to quantify than quarterly profits). Creative pros see business as a holistic system and believe sales will succeed if the entire system works properly.

Blumenthal admits that working with creative professionals “is no picnic.” Many managers don’t understand our nonlinear thought processes and what motivates us. Whereas many employees like the security of a paycheck, benefits, and sense of community, creative pros are typically driven by three other needs: 

  • the need to know, understand, and explore;
  • the need to constantly learn and improve our techniques and skills; and
  • the need to derive part of our self-image from our work.

So why do some creative people do well in a corporate environment while others struggle? Blumenthal says it’s not simply a matter of skill. He contends that “A creative professional who takes the time to understand the company’s operations and manages projects accordingly will be far more likely to win the business game than a creative who simple writes with talent and skill.”

In the book, Blumenthal lists seven key attributes as crucial to success:

  • a keen understanding of the marketplace
  • abundant self knowledge
  • the ability to engage others in your creative work
  • the right combination of integrity and cooperation
  • the willingness of others to work with you (based on track record, industry reputation, personality, and quality of the opportunity)
  • your ability to raise necessary resources and/or support

As Blumenthal puts it: “The creative process does not exist in a vacuum. Instead, you are part of a community. The way you behave as a member of that community will affect your success more profoundly than your ability to dance, juggle, sculpt, arrange the horn section, or any other skill-based endeavor.”

Much has changed since Blumenthal’s book was released.

Media channels and platforms for online marketing have multiplied. Print publications that failed to develop effective online strategies are being forced out of business. Corporate marketing managers are under tremendous pressure to do more with less, while producing measurable returns on every expenditure.  New forms of analytics have made it increasingly easy to pinpoint exactly which forms of communications are generating the most bang for the buck.   

Blumenthal’s book primarily focused on helping creative professionals succeed as full-time employees in a corporate environment. But he points out two other ways creative professionals can earn a living:

  • working for multiple clients; or
  • selling work to the public, either directly or through a publisher or distributor.

Happily, the transformation from print publishing to online publishing and communications has made it far easier for creative professionals to develop a broader base of clients and/or sell more of their work directly to the public.

However, if creative pros want to work with a broader base of clients or sell directly to the public, there is one big drawback. We must develop some of the sales and marketing skills and financial discipline that seem to come so naturally to the profit-minded left-brained business people.