Why, asks Ian Summers, do creative people spend so much time thinking up ways to creatively solve problems for their clients, but then, when it comes to getting new business for themselves, just send out a boring postcard?
Many creative professionals have trouble marketing themselves, says Summers, and he suggests that instead of using tired traditional methods, “invent new ways to gain attention and create a desire for your work.”
Summers will speak on “What if Everything You Have Been Taught about the Marketing of Creativity is Wrong?” at the next meeting of the New Jersey chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers, on Wednesday, September 17, at 7:30 p.m. at Unique Photo in Fairfield. Cost: $5. Call 610-438-5707.
Twice monthly Summers, who earned his BFA from the University of Bridgeport in 1962, conducts “Heartstorming Think Tank Team Teleconferences” for groups of creative professionals from his studio in Easton, Pennsylvania. He often holds one-hour individual sessions and offers individual coaching.
Summers, who also did some graduate work in art at NYU, doesn’t believe that being creative requires specializing in only one area. He has worked as an art director, creative director, painter, investigative journalist, think tank operator, teacher, and publisher. His refusal to be pigeonholed has led to frustration from potential employers or clients and at times, he admits, and has lost him a few jobs. After showing the director of a well-known advertising agency his portfolio, which included painting, writing, and photography, he was told there was no place for him at the agency. “He said, ‘I just wouldn’t know what to call you.’ I wanted to tell him ‘How about Renaissance Man,’ but I thought better of it,” says Summers.
“I knew there had to be a place for me, I just had a hard time finding it,” he adds. Over the years he has written 14 books on photography, and has designed books, including “The Guide to Extraterrestials,” and “The Art of the Brothers Hildebrandt,” published by Ballantine Books in 1979. He has worked as a creative director for the Creative Black Book, Leber Katz Partners, and Random House.
“I think of myself as a good problem solver,” says Summers. “As a consultant I traveled the country helping clients maximize their creative potential via creative problem solving.” In fact, he says, he made an excellent living this way until he realized that “problem solving is the antithesis of creativity.”
In problem solving, “energy usually flows from the outside. Someone presents you with a problem, alternative solutions are created, one is chosen, and if there is enough energy produced the solution is implemented. The problem is replaced with a solution. So problem solving is about making something go away. “ Summers began to change his focus to look at the act of creating rather than problem solving. “I believe creating is joyous and celebratory.” He rediscovered a passion for teaching, which he used to develop his Heartstorming Think Tank. Still, passion has had to deal with reality.
“The world of commercial photography as we have known it has changed,” says Summers. Commercial photographers have seen their work devalued and have “tried to fix things with obsolete tools. In order to grow a business in today’s market photographers and other creative people must have the courage to let go of many old beliefs.” He calls these “the myths that thwart creativity, and prevent change and growth.”
Myth 1: Do only one thing. “Who made that rule? Who says all of your passions except one must be set aside?” asks Summers. He uses his own life as an example. “I gain energy from both teaching and painting. If you can do many things well, why not?”
Myth 2: You can’t earn a living. Many people believe that only a few “superstars” actually earn a creative living while the rest starve and struggle. Not true, says Summers. Many photographers, writers, artists, and other creative professionals earn a comfortable living. However, “it does mean we are constantly reinventing ourselves,” in order to present creative abilities to a changing marketplace.
Myth 3: Creative work isn’t fun anymore. The idea that creative jobs are a drag is true only for people who become too reactive, rather than being who they are, Summers says. People who are jumping from trend to trend can become “self-help junkies” moving from one seminar or self-help book to another in search of the “right” method to be more creative, get more business, or just figure out who they are. By the end of the year they are having a meltdown.
His suggestion? Instead of being reactive, be outrageous. “Remember, that’s why your clients hired a creative person in the first place.” Even if your business is creating annual reports or corporate literature, being creative in your presentation and in marketing yourself will increase your fun, get you noticed, and you improve the way in which you market yourself.
Summers mentions a client of his who was sending out those old, tired postcards. He decided to try something a little different. Since his website featured a fishbowl he went with the fish theme and packaged the marketing materials for his own company in a sardine can. “No one forgets him. When he calls up a prospect the line he uses is, ‘I want to talk sardines.’”
Not only does he usually make it past the secretary, everyone remembers him. “Now when he meets someone who has seen his stuff they say, ‘You’re the fish guy.’” Not only does he have more business, he’s having more fun, too.
The bottom line, says Summers, is that the best way to be successful in a creative business is to try not to be just like the other guy. “If you make the claim to be creative — do it creatively.”