A Cartoonist’s Effective Self Promotion Project: Market Your Art

The value of a good self promotional piece cannot be overstated – especially in the current state of the economy. The crucial mistake we sometimes make as artists is to scale back our promotional efforts in tough economic times. But that is exactly what you don’t want to do. The economy is cyclical, things will bounce back and when they do you don’t want to be spending your time playing catch-up – rushing to get clients by producing poorly printed, half baked marketing materials. Self promotion is a year round endeavor in good times and in bad and requires careful planning. If you put the right amount of energy into promoting yourself you will benefit from the fruits of your labor. Below cartoonist and designer Guy Smalley takes us through the process for a recent self promotion project of his that has proven to be quite successful for him, catching the eye of many new and existing clients.

Giving Birth to a Self Promotion Piece in 9 Weeks not 9 Months.
Contributed by Guy Smalley

Far be it for me to give any advice to the self-employed artist out there. After 38 years of being a full time cartoonist and designer, and after years of my style being in and out of fashion, I now have reached vintage status.

These days the internet is good for promotion but there are other areas of promotion such as direct mail that should still be utilized for your marketing efforts. The plum jobs are out there, but fewer in numbers than the “good old days” when budgets were larger and perhaps the field was not as competitive. As an experienced professional I know a one-of-a-kind self promotional piece allows me to target the agencies that have clients I think are a good fit for my work and target medium size agencies where I can pitch my creative as solutions to their marketing needs.

Before I set out to create my promotion I wrote out 5 parameters and goals.
  1. The recipient should be able to get use out of it, insuring the promotion has a long shelf life.
  2. Top quality printing with the best materials I could afford was a must.
  3. Since I’m a humorist, the concept needed to be witty and pander to the creative/art director as an overt funny gag.
  4. I wanted my promotion to be a soft sell and show from the quality of the piece that a professional created this promotion.
  5. And finally creating something different that stood out from the rest was paramount. As I stated previously, competition is fierce these days. We’re all competing on a global scale. Simple postcard mailers will not stand out from the rest.
I’ve learned from past experiences that all creative types like a vellum pad to sketch, trace, doodle and make notes. I knew if the creative/art director could use it, then there would be a perceived value. With that, parameter one would be satisfied.

Front of Self Promotion Notepad

Web portfolios are great, but there isn’t that tactile component to them as with a printed piece. The second parameter has been fulfilled when the creative/art director can see and feel my work - heavy vellum, coated board stock, full color front and back with a Mylar mirror stamp insert makes a serious commitment to my self promotional piece.

Parameter three was tricky - my concept was to have fun with the potential client’s ego and vanity but not insult them; believe it or not creative types have egos (as I have read). So for inspiration I thought back to the Michael Jordan SNL skit with Al Franken's “Stuart Smalley”. I remembered in that skit Michael Jordan was looking in a mirror saying the catch phrase "I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and dog-gone it, people like me." On my piece, when the client picks up the notepad and sees their reflection plus reads what I wrote pandering to their "inner-self”, hopefully they will laugh.

Regarding parameter four, the soft sell, clients either see a fit for my work or they don't. In my self promotional piece I included an insert briefly telling the potential client about what I do and simply included my website and email address for contact information.

Insert for Notepad

Since everything sent from an illustrator and designer to an agency is judged, I tried to create a one-of-a-kind piece with a great concept that will stand out from other promotions on a potential client’s desk- hence, parameter five.

I did a lot of research regarding the production of this piece. I spent weeks finding a printer and decided on one in China. At first, I never thought of going outside the U.S. but when I talked to each U.S. printer they either couldn't be bothered or their total price was four times my budget. What impressed me with the printer in China was their going above and beyond service, the quality, and the “we-can” spirit. Prior to my promotional piece I’ve done a few larger projects with two printers in China and the money that is made on the mark up is truly worth the time. If interested, Alibaba.com is one of many resource sites for vendors in China.

With all that said, the only way to judge the success of a promotional piece is by results, i.e. jobs brought in. I printed 1500 notepads and instead of buying a mailing list I researched the agencies and their products and services I felt my style would work best with. Trying not to saturate the market and to be able to research with my work load, I sent out a certain number of notepads per week and at the end of each month evaluated the results.

Back of Notepad

I conducted most of my research online. For example, I would first decide what I’m interested in, say BBQ team logos. Yes, there’s a market out there for that. I’ve actually been doing a lot of them lately. So you have to think. What products would be in that market? I looked up barbecue sauces, KC Masterpiece Original BBQ Sauce is rated the best. That’s a good jumping off point. Next, I did more searching to find out what agencies work in that type of market. I was able to find the account manager, creative director or art director’s information from sites like spoke.com. Advertising Age was another avenue to find this information or discover what agencies have recently been awarded such accounts. It’s time consuming but I believe in a one shot kill as opposed to the shotgun approach.

Within a week of sending out my first round I was hired to design, illustrate and produce a similar version of my notepad but with an embossed tin cover. That job more than paid for the cost of the promotion. By the end of the first month I had one confirmed job from a new client and 2 inquiries (similar to the notepad) from existing clients, plus two requests for estimates and great press from sending the notepad to trade sites and publications.

What I’m most happy with is the quality of the leads and the feedback from very good boutique agencies. For example just the other day I received an e-mail from an agency, a husband and wife team. The gentleman took time out of his busy schedule to send me an email. In it he had written, “Guy, there’s some problem with the mirror on the pad you sent me. It shows some old guy instead of me. If that’s your idea of a joke, it’s a bad one.  April’s (his wife) seems to work fine."  So - BOOM! - now I have another connection. All because of the time and effort I put into my promotion and research up front to send out a more personable promotion instead of a cartoon on a simple postcard. And I’m also finding out that many of the these types of small to medium size agencies are weathering the bad economy and using hired guns like me, which is a pleasant surprise. Wouldn’t you agree?


Guy Smalley is a conceptual artist and creative gun for hire. He is often called to do advertising art with crazy deadlines. He does books but stays busy with agency work.

Guy’s studio is unique. It’s a 1986, 40' Blue Bird Wanderlodge Motor home. He and his wife travel all over the U.S. and with a Motosat dish he is in touch anywhere he goes. He travels with his family approximately 5 months of the year and has a home base in the mountains of NC. But he keeps his studio in the motor home year round.

A graduate of SVA School of Visual Arts, Guy is married, collects rifles, builds Rat Rods and spends much of his time running after his boys, Evan, 5 and Chace, 1.

Visit guysmalley.com


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  1. well said mr. smalley.
    you taught me some valuable lessons years ago.
    and you continue to do so today.


  2. Thanks Kyle
    When is your parole date? LOL That was a fun time back in the late 80s 90s alot of lessons... and some drawings too. Send me email and I will send a notepad.



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