How to Pitch Yourself: 8 Tips for Artists
Recently, we were chatting on the Creative Outpost, our online community for artists, about pitching oneself to potential employers. Together, we talked about what makes for a compelling cold email where you are introducing yourself to someone who you hope gives you some kind of opportunity.
We got to thinking that the conversation might be interesting to a broader audience; that other folks might be interested in learning more about when artists can and should pitch themselves and how to do it strategically.
First of all, what’s a pitch? We’re defining a pitch as sending information about yourself and what you’re offering to someone in hopes that they’ll give you an opportunity. Oftentimes, you will be pitching to people who you don’t know at all or perhaps someone who you’ve been introduced to by a mutual contact. A pitch is when you make the case that something that you do is relevant or useful or interesting to someone else.
Artists send out pitches for a variety of reasons, each of which will mean that the pitch will be slightly different. The core reason, though, for you to send out a pitch of some kind is that you want something from the person or organization that you’re getting in touch with.
You might pitch yourself as a way to get hired, to develop a partnership, to get a meeting, or to receive media coverage.
Pitching is Hard
The reason that the topic of pitching came up on the Creative Outpost is that it’s challenging. It’s hard to know how to send a message that conveys who you are, what you can offer, and what you want in a way that’s compelling and concise. It’s especially hard if you’ve never had to do it before and don’t exactly know what you’re doing.
Artists might worry about coming off sounding too desperate, too informal, too buttoned-up, or not qualified enough. It’s hard to know what to do if you don’t hear back. Should you follow up? When? Is it too aggressive to ask for a job the first time you reach out to someone?
Pitching does come with some real challenges, but we’ve got some tips to help you write and send them more strategically and more successfully.
We’ve also got an introduction to PR for artists, for pitches specifically about media coverage.
1. Figure Out What You Want
Before you reach out to anyone, you have to think about what it is that you’d like from them. Do you want a meeting, a job, an audition, a gallery show, news coverage, or something else? Be clear about what you’re asking for in your pitch. That way, you can be upfront about your expectations and not waste anyone’s time. If someone isn’t sure if you’d like to meet them for an informational interview about their job or if you’d like them to write a review of your play, then they’ll have a hard time responding to your message. Further, once you know what your desired result is, you can backfill a strategy to help get you there.
2. Be Specific
Specificity is an important principle of all successful communication. When you are making a pitch, it’s important to let them know why you, specifically, are a good match for them, specifically. What is it about what you do, what you offer, or your perspective that would make for a positive partnership or relationship?
For example, if you’re sending emails to theater companies in the hopes that they’ll hire you as a lighting designer, what is it about your particular approach to lighting design that makes sense given the physical space of their theater and the kinds of plays that they tend to produce? Why are you a uniquely good fit?
3. Do Your Research
In order to be specific in your outreach, you have to do your research. Figure out which theaters are most likely to be interested in your skillset and which local journalists cover art like yours. Use that research to make a clear connection between your work and whoever it is you’re reaching out to. In addition to research helping you make a stronger and more specific pitch, research also demonstrates to whoever it is that you’re in contact with that you took the time and care to look into their work. It makes a positive impression to show that you’re not just batch emailing every single person you can get hold of.
4. Think About It From Their Perspective
Rather than focusing so much about what you want, consider the pitch recipient’s perspective. What can they gain from knowing you or working with you? What problem can you help them solve? Of course you’re pitching for your own benefit, but you’ll write a more compelling message if you can put yourself in the recipient’s shoes.
5. Frame It Like a Partnership
Even if you feel like you’re asking for a favor or a shot in the dark, frame your outreach like the invitation for a partnership. You’ll start on the back foot if you present yourself with your proverbial hat in hand, asking for a favor. It’s much more appealing to frame yourself as someone who is interesting, competent, and doing cool work that someone else can benefit from either by hiring you, collaborating with you, or covering your work in the media.
6. Follow Up, But Not Too Much
You might not hear back from the people you’re pitching immediately. Often, they’re busy wading through their inboxes while doing the rest of their job. It’s entirely possible that your message got lost in the shuffle. Therefore, it’s okay to follow up if you haven’t heard back in a week or so.
There are no hard and fast rules about when to follow up, but if you are looking for a guide, consider starting with a follow-up email one week after your first email, and then if you don’t hear back, just letting it rest as is. You want to strike the balance between demonstrating excitement and interest without crowding the inbox of someone who isn’t looking for what you’re offering.
7. Contact People the Way They Prefer
When you’re looking to get in touch with someone, do some digging to see how they prefer to be contacted. For example, many journalists will put their emails in their Twitter bios or at the bottom of their articles. Or places you might want to work will have an email where you can inquire about employment opportunities or a form to fill out with a query. Do your best to figure out how people want to be contacted and then contact them in that way. People don’t usually want a surprise DM slide, especially in a personal account. Respect people’s boundaries and preferences when you get in touch.
8. Get a Personal Intro
If you are able to get a personal introduction to whoever it is that you’re looking to get in touch with, we recommend you do so. Often, people who receive pitches receive a lot of them and an introduction can help you stand out in an inbox. It’s a way of vetting yourself to a new person.
To figure out if you’re able to get a personal introduction, use your community and your connections. Ask for advice making connections, ask specifically if anyone has the contact info for the person or place that you’d like to get in touch with. Once you have the contact information, be aware that if you end up bombarding the contact or behaving poorly it will reflect negatively on whoever introduced you and will make it unlikely for you to get introductions in the future. The flip side of asking for personal introductions is offering to give them. Be generous with your contacts and your experience to help your community.
Your community is made up of a lot of different kinds of people, including the connectors who can forge important introductions.
About Nina Berman
Nina Berman is an arts industry worker and ceramicist based in New York City, currently working as Associate Director, Communications and Content at Fractured Atlas. She holds an MA in English from Loyola University Chicago. At Fractured Atlas, she shares tips and strategies for navigating the art world, interviews artists, and writes about creating a more equitable arts ecosystem. Before joining Fractured Atlas, she covered the book publishing industry for an audience of publishers at NetGalley. When she's not writing, she's making ceramics at Centerpoint Ceramics in Brooklyn.