If you’ve been following me for any length of time, then you most likely know my M.O. by now: put your work out there early and often. Steve Martin famously said, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” But the other side of that is to have so much work out there that people can’t swing a stick without hitting something you’ve made/written/built/produced/directed/etc. I talked about this with fellow sharing advocate, #cjLIVE alum, and all-around great pal Austin Kleon. “People ripping you off or piracy or whatever is not your problem—it’s obscurity,” Austin said, talking about “the dandelion effect” and his most recent book, Show Your Work. “You want your stuff to just be everywhere.”
Without a doubt, one of the best ways to get your work noticed is by sending it to the people that you admire who are further along in their careers than you are. Musicians send their demos to signed bands, writers send their drafts to published authors, and photographers send their portfolios to people like me.
Sometimes, it goes great and it can launch you to superstardom… but MOST OFTEN it falls into the dark side of things, where you end up looking desperate, silly, or you are a flat out inconveniencing a very busy person that you admire who has no idea who you are. It reflects poorly on you and it can have the complete opposite effect you’re hoping for.
For this reason, I think it’s important to outline some situations that will illustrate how to do self-promotion right. If you want to get the attention of people whose work you love and who are further along in their career than you, here are three models for you to work off of:
If you’re going to send your portfolio to someone in a position to give your career a leg-up, that thing better be top effing notch. I mean polished. The photos have to stand out (remember: be different, not better — or, ideally, both), curate your absolute best work, the design has to be tasteful, and the presentation has to be eye-catching.
Perfect example: Clint Davis. I get a TON of portfolios in a given week and there simply is not enough time in the day to check them all out. But Clint’s stood out. It came to me in a slick black case with a custom business card and several prints of his photos. I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t check out each of those photos. Check out the images below for a look at what Clint sent over and take some notes about presentation.
Aside from being purely eye-catching, another exceptional tactic is to figure out what you can offer to the folks you admire. What’s your strength? What can you do unlike anyone else? Take whatever it is that you are the best at and use that to remix your heroes’ work. Remixes, mashups, re-arrangements — these are all great ways to get noticed for taking something cool and doing your best to make it even cooler. For even more on this concept, give Everything Is a Remix a watch and read Steal Like an Artist.
See also: Jeff Schneider. He is a musician and composer who does work for brands and ads. He got at me to show me a remix he made of my 60 second portrait of Chris Jordan in which he added some sweet background music to make the portrait really pop. Jeff added an element to the portrait that I never would have — but that’s not the point. The point is this: his remix got my attention. It was cool, different enough from my original, and I absolutely watched it when he sent it to me. Now I’m posting it for YOU to watch. And you would never have seen it if Jeff hadn’t composed the music and shared it, so the lesson here is: JUST MAKE THINGS. You’ll never get attention for your larger body of work if you aren’t making things and sharing them on a constant basis.
Every single person who has any level of notoriety will tell you: the worst thing in the world is when you get random stuff from strangers who just want you to pay attention to them and to be involved in their lives. We’re talking about stuff that has no specific use or relevance to the person who’s receiving it. What you like about the person you admire is that they do great work… but if they’re too busy responding to fans, or looking through the mountain of things people send to them, that artist/photographer/creator/etc. cannot possibly have the time to do the work that makes them worth knowing about in the first place.
This is why ultra-successful graffiti artist-turned-entrepreneur Marc Ecko came up with Swag Bombs. When Marc came on my show to drop some knowledge, he explained how you can sell yourself without selling out. A Swag Bomb is one of the best ways to do that. It’s a rad care package filled with highly personalized, eminently useful gifts that will benefit the intended recipient, but it also ends up being a kind of product placement if done right. Says Ecko, “A Swag Bomb, properly executed, is a work of art. When done right can generate massive amounts of PR, connections and access.”
On #cjLIVE, Marc said of swag bombs, “I try to create these emotional transactions, these emotional impacts. You have to give of those instances in a selfless way. You can have no expectations to receive anything back.”
On my pal Tim Ferriss’s blog, Marc outlined the 10 rules you absolutely need to follow when sending a Swag Bomb, from “Never Send Directly to Someone’s Home” all the way up to “Never Stalk.” It sounds like obvious advice, but — trust me on this one — it’s not. Definitely go give the whole thing a read. If you follow the steps and do it right, Swag Bombs are a great way to get noticed that are easy for your heroes to use/pimp/share/wear/etc.
When it comes to your influencers, don’t be an inconvenience to them and don’t be weird. If you follow those steps, you’ll be just fine and you might even be lucky enough to launch your career.
Got any more DOs or DON’Ts of your own? Or do you have an embarrassing story/success story of your own? Share in the comments below or on hit me up on social. You know the drill! And thanks for reading.