I thought it was time for some 'small business talk' again... Today I wanted to tell you a bit more about my experiences with (written) press coverage so far: about my expectations, the effects and what I think can be the do's and don'ts... I'm really no expert but I thought maybe some of it is of interest for those of you who are also working on a small creative business and regularly encounter this 'press thing', and well, maybe it's of interest for others as well because I guess we all like a bit of looking behind the scenes...
I still remember how exciting it was a few years ago when I had been blogging for a while and people from other countries started to do some posts on my home and the things I made. For the first time I clearly started to realize that I wasn't just blogging in the void, but that the internet is a pretty powerful, international medium.
After a steadily growing amount of blog features I started to receive requests from magazines as well. To me that was even more exciting than the blog posts: besides the fact that magazines usually have a larger edition and much more readers than the average blog, somehow something printed on paper has always felt more 'real' to me. Like many kids, I used to dream about 'being a writer' and I guess the idea of a large print run with something that you made, said or wrote in it still sort of appeals to that childhood dream.
A recent publication in Chinese Little Thing Magazine
But with the requests also came the complications and things I hadn't realized you had to deal with. Like: a lot of magazines want 'exclusive deals', they want to feature you but not when you're already in a lot of other mags at the same time. So then you have to choose. Which is kind of a logical thing from their side, cause they want their content to be original (and on a smaller scale I try to do the same thing on my blog: I like my content to be as original as possible and not a repetition of what I've already seen on tens of other blogs), but it's not necessarily convenient for you. Especially given the fact that a request often doesn't mean a (publication) guarantee: I've received requests from magazines with lots of promises and demands, that after some mailing back and forth in the end I never heard back from. I've been in situations in which arrangements kept being changed and postponed. And of course not all requests come in at the same time, so you may have a deal with one but receive a much more interesting request a month later...
I've learnt that magazines often work with a very flexible scheme in which things can change constantly, and your possible feature in the mag may be a very big thing for you, but in the end it's often just a small thing for them. That's sometimes frustrating: when you've been scheduling time and preparing for a possible photo shoot ('we may come this monday but we won't be able to definitively confirm until sunday'), it's kind of annoying when it's called off the day before. Especially when you've cleaned and tidied up your whole house and have canceled your own appointments...
Of course you're always both part of these arrangements, so you're free to negotiate and express your own demands and limitations as well. Naturally it all depends on how much you want something: when the possible feature is really interesting for you, it's tempting to say yes at (almost) anything. I guess when your name is Madonna you're the one who can set the rules, but when you're just starting as an artist or small business owner your position is a bit (okay: lot) less powerful. So it's good to consider how important the possible press feature is for you and what you want to say yes or no to.
My plate in Easy Living Magazine
The consideration you have to make isn't always easy. You have certain expectations of what a certain press feature may bring you, but you never know how things will work out in advance. A product feature may end up being a beautiful page with a large picture and all the right information that you're really happy with, but it may also end up being a tiny little image with incorrect information in some back corner of the magazine. You may make arrangements about mentioning your shop or blog name in an article that aren't met in the end, but once the magazine is published there's not much you can do about it anymore.
So you have to be realistic about the fact that there's lots of things you can't control (even if you thought you had made clear arrangements), and that may be hard for us blogging control-freaks that edit every letter and image that ends up on our own blogs. When someone else is writing about you and your work, there will always be things that you would have said or written differently yourself. Or sometimes you did say something exacly the way they've written it down, but when you read it on paper it can be pretty confronting: oh my, did I really say that? Or the context in which you said something may have gone missing completely in the article.
I had a pretty funny experience with that in the interview I did for the IKEA Family live magazine. The guy who did the interview had been around for a few days and we had a lot of nice and relaxed conversations, made lots of jokes etc. Of course those long chats had to be cut down to a much shorter article, but in the English version of the article I thought the slightly joking atmosphere was kind of clear. I had for example told him that I used to be a vegetarian (the interview was about being environmentally conscious) when I was younger, but not necessarily because I was so fond of animals as lots of vegetarians are: I'm not really someone who loves pets or animals. People often find that strange, so as a joke I said: 'In fact I hated animals so much that I didn't even want to eat them.' He put that line in the article, and when I read the English version of the text I thought it was sort of clear that this was a joke, but when I read the Dutch translation that's distributed here in the Netherlands, it just bluntly said: 'I used to be a vegetarian because I hate animals'. Ahem. I even received an email from an upset animal lover who was very angry at me...
So throughout time I'm trying to learn both to make clear arrangements and let go a bit. I still think there's a lot to learn about these things, and maybe when you deal with press a lot you end up creating some sort of policy. I still have a hard time making up my mind about certain things. Like: when magazines want to use some of your photos (like pictures of your home, not product photos) for a feature, do you have to ask a payment for that or not? I let blogs use those for free, and small independent magazines as well, but then what about magazines that aren't so small and independent? And with international magazines, how do you know if they're small or big?
Also: some magazines generously send you one or more copies of the magazine with your feature or product in it, while others don't even let you know if they've published it or not, or don't want to send a free copy. I can imagine they can't send free copies to everyone, but when you've really collaborated with them on a feature I think the least they can do is send you a copy. But what to do when they refuse: cancel the whole thing?
In the end of course press coverage isn't meant for you to add some pages to your scrapbook, but you hope the publicity will have certain results: that more people will see your work, that they will find their way to your blog, that they get to know your products and hopefully will buy them... So then the big question is: does it really 'pay off' to be featured in a magazine?
Well, here's my answer: I really don't know! I know this is not a very insightful answer, but it's my personal experience that you just can't know what to expect. I had some big press features of which I expected they could lead to a lot of sales or many more blog visitors, but nothing very significant happened in the weeks after the feature. Then there also are days when all of a sudden I have lots of sales or periods in which the amount of readers of my blog grows without me having a clue why that is. When for example my pitcher was featured in the Oprah magazine many people said: 'You'll have such a busy time once that magazine is in the shops', but I really didn't notice that much of it. In fact in the next weeks I only had one or two clients who told me they'd found my work through the Oprah magazine. On the other hand now, four months later, people still comment on the Oprah thing, so maybe it still has some sort of slow ongoing impact. My shop has grown a lot this last year, but it's hard to point at one thing that made that big impact. I'm sure press coverage is helpful, but I have no idea to which extent.
That leads me to end with a little comparison: is a magazine feature really that much more 'real' than a blog post, as I suggested I felt it earlier? I guess being in a magazine in a way is more of a recognition: it's harder to get a magazine feature than a feature on one of the many many blogs out there, and most magazines will have more readers. Also, it'll probably make more impact on your grandma or neighbour when you can show them a feature in a well-known magazine than a feature on an incrowd blog with lots of followers.
But when it comes to direct impact, I think a simple blog post about your work may sometimes be at least as rewarding. Craft and design blog readers are usually already familiar with blogs and buying online, so when they like what they see I think they're more likely to stick around than people who flip through a magazine and see a little image of your work among the many other things in a magazine. Good blog features are often detailed and well-composed, so you'll get short-lasting but usually also undivided attention from a limited, but specifically interested group of people.
Altogether I'm really happy with some very nice magazine features, especially because they often include beautiful photos. (and yes, also for scrapbook purposes: it's just really fun to have a Chinese magazine with your house in it!), but online features about your work are often much less complicated and can also lead to very nice things!