COMMUNICATIONS JOBS IN THE ART WORLD: WHAT TO KNOW, AND WHAT TO EXPECT
As the art market’s leading search firm, we are often asked about the status of the employment market and the different career paths available. In this new blog, Consultant Elizabeth Yarlott explores some of the key issues, trends and changes taking place in the industry, and how these effect the nature and availability of arts jobs. In this first issue, she discusses the increasing emphasis on PR in the art market.
Here at SML, we have a grandstand view. As the leading executive search business in the art world, with a key role as contributor and advisor, we can offer unique insights. For more than 16 years, we have participated in and watched its ebbs and flows, observing the tides of fashion, and adapting to the needs of clients and candidates. In this blog we hope to share some of this privileged perspective.
The commercial art world has been a latecomer to PR, way behind parallel industries such as fashion and luxury retail. Until the mid-1990s, it was rare for a gallery to spend time and money on anything more sophisticated than print – fliers, invitations, and perhaps an advertisement in a trade magazine. Hiring a PR agent was considered an extravagance, and aside from those few artists who purposefully courted the press, many established contemporary artists were cautious of overexposure and the associated taint of commerciality.
Competition has been the main driver that has changed this old-fashioned attitude towards publicity. The efflorescence of mid-market commercial galleries and art fairs at the end of 90s was the spur, and although marketing budgets took a big hit in the recession, the arts communications sector has expanded since then to include numerous agencies that work solely with art world clients, as well as the development of in-house teams in the majority of international galleries.
Loic Gouzer and Alex Rotter amongst others taking phone bids during the much-anticipated sale of the Salvator Mundi at Christie’s in 2017
If you need proof of the power of PR and digital marketing, witness the frenzy whipped up by the sale of Salvator Mundi last year, in marked contrast to its less-marketed unveiling in the National Gallery Leonardo show of 2011. King of self-promotion, Banksy, caused a storm when his Love is in the Bin self-destructed during a crowded Sotheby’s auction – an event tailored to excite the Instagram generation. Yayoi Kusama is another artist who flourishes on digital media. Critics argue that exposure on visual channels such as Instagram has led to a culture of trophy hunting, but proponents point to the democratising effect of a type of marketing geared towards younger collectors focussed on contemporary art and less concerned about provenance and scholarship.
Kusama’s immersive Infinity Mirror Rooms installation has proved to be the perfect backdrop for many a selfie-taker
Innovative marketing strategies and targeted PR are powerful tools and arguably just got a whole lot more powerful thanks to the growth and proliferation of digital marketing. Galleries and dealers are increasingly active on digital media, with Instagram in particular being used as a means of selling, and a way of short-circuiting the traditional exhibition, art fair and auction channels. As a result, we are seeing new roles in arts businesses dedicated to the design and delivery of complex digital communications strategies, requiring technical skills and familiarity with specific programmes and platforms. Moreover, the advancement and growing commercial success of virtual viewing rooms and e-commerce platforms has resulted in the creation of new roles that fuse communications with sales. A prime example of this is the appointment last year of a curator and social media influencer to an Online Sales Director role at one of the most successful international blue-chip galleries.
In our experience, communications staff from parallel industries such as luxury retail, fashion and jewellery are attractive candidates for both agency and in-house roles in the art sector. Price points, clients and working culture tend to overlap, as do journalist and media contacts. Galleries can tend to prefer candidates who have worked in small in-house teams, especially those with experience of international exhibition programmes, but the experience of balancing several clients at once within an agency context can equally be a great selling point.
For this reason, agencies provide an excellent entry-point for candidates looking to build a career in arts communications. Agencies are known for their fast pace and work with a range of art world businesses spanning both the public and private sector, so offer unrivalled opportunities to build a network, as well as providing a macro view of the industry. They are usually structured according to a linear hierarchy – Account Executive, Account Manager, Account Director – presenting an appealing career trajectory. Once communications staff have reached Manager or Director level in an agency they tend to aspire to go in-house, and to have a chance to dedicate themselves to longer-term strategy for a single brand, as opposed to balancing the needs and schedules of numerous clients.
Larger international galleries have developed regional teams that collaborate to effect a unifying global strategy, while smaller galleries and businesses look for Communications Managers who can oversee all aspects of marketing, PR and digital – sometimes assisted by an external agency. In smaller businesses such as historical art galleries, dealerships and studios, communications maystill be the responsibility of more general managers or even assistants, but an increasing emphasis on branding and visibility can be identified across the majority.
In an ever-more saturated market, artists and art businesses are coming to realise that investing in PR and marketing can help them to stand out from the crowd. Moreover, as trust in art e-commerce grows, both collectors and gallerists are placing more emphasis on digital sales platforms, creating new roles that require experience in both sales and communications, and thus illustrating the intrinsic link between the two.
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