Monday, 9 September 2013

Vote for Michael Flaherty! The RBC Awards, A short lesson in buzz marketing.

Flahety's entry to the competition is a new piece done in the vein of his Rangifers Sapiens/Grey Islands work.

For the second year in a row, I take great satisfaction in pointing out that a Newfoundland talent has a place as one of five emerging talents in the RBC $10,000 competition for emerging ceramic artists at the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Arts.  Michael Flaherty is the entry this year from the Atlantic region.  As before, the competition is going to be tough.  Each of the artists is accomplished, noteworthy and probably has a solid career ahead of them.  But only one of them is going to be $10,000 richer.  Guess who gets to decide that?  You!  This is a People's Choice Award, which means this is a populist, numbers driven event as opposed to an elitist, juror driven event. 

As his nominator, this is what I had to say about Michael:
I have always been impressed by the high level of Michael Flaherty's commitment to his studio practice in ceramics.  Although cognizant of ceramic's rich history, he has never worshipped at the altar of the past.  His work has spanned everything from the potter's wheel to performance art, with each aspect becoming part of an inquiry that is sensitive, intelligent and relevant to ceramic art today.

Here's the link, so you can vote:

In my experience, Flaherty is the last person to promote himself.  When I have gone to bat for him it has been because it has been my idea and not necessarily his.  While this speaks to his integrity as a person it doesn't always mean the best thing for his career.  An artist needs to be a self-promoter in many ways in order to succeed.  This doesn't come naturally for a lot of people.  Artists for a variety of reasons regularly approach me.  Letters of recommendation, reviews, exhibition proposals, references for commercial dealers, studio visits and advice, you name it–it's a growing list.  I have no problem with it as long as the artist is professional in their conduct.  I figure it is their job to ask and my job to say yes or no.  It's really that simple. 

In terms of People's Choice Awards those artists who are skillful self-promoters have a distinct advantage.  It also helps if you have an established constituency, say a school full of colleagues and students, a hometown eager to come out and vote for you, or a wide spread network of grassroots support through other forms of activity or interest.  The digital age makes marshalling the forces a much faster exercise. 




In terms of marketing, a People's Choice Award makes a larger number of people aware of the Gardner Museum than who would have been familiar with it earlier.  It's a great way to build public awareness and of course all of these folks are potentially RBC clients as well.  It is a win-win.  I recall reading a marketing analysis of the American Idol TV program; it was a study of buzz marketing, which is basically a form of marketing that is street savvy rather than standard advertising or formal forms of marketing.  Think of it as guerilla marketing.  In a nutshell, the study said that American Idol's early success was built on the vast numbers of people who had auditioned for places on the program.  The program creators could count that everyone who had auditioned, and their network of friends, co-workers and family would watch the program to see who actually got in.  It had built in buzz and fan base.  As the program moved through cities auditioning that audience would grow and once folks started talking amongst themselves the ripple would keep expanding.  By then the narrative arc of the program would have started.  Audience members would develop relationships with contestants, the judges and so on.  Throw in a couple of newsworthy stories or events and off you go.  Somehow, we have to figure out how to do that in the visual arts world.  Unfortunately, it is usually scandal or outrage that gains numbers for the media.  Say, a kuffle over explicit material or an outrageous price tag.  That's the lowest common denominator.  We're creative people…we should be able to figure out how to create buzz without dumbing things down. 

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