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'Professionalism' Part Two: Case Studies in professionalism

By Team IMA

We might be forgiven for thinking that it's everyone else that isn't professional, surely we are always professional? Surely not us... right?

In this 2nd part we present 2 case studies. Case study 1 is by IMA's Mark and his experience at a graduate showcase in a prominent arts institution. Case study 2 is from IMA's founder Samantha Huang who discusses a recent experience in outsourcing design work.

Keep you palm close to your face. You might find them meeting multiple times during Part 2.

Photo by Jonathan Borba from Pexels

Part 2: Case Studies on Arts Professionalism

Case Study 1

I was inspired to write the original piece on professionalism, (read 'Part One' here) or lack of, after a visit, pre-lockdown, to a graduate showcase in one of the UK’s best-known art schools. This was a “preview breakfast” for professionals in the industry to come and meet the graduates. I was representing IMA and we were in the process of looking for potential artists to work with us on our visual branding. This was the students' opportunity to connect with their industry and beyond, to make a positive impression and to hopefully make some important contacts.

My first impression was that many looked like scared sheep, cowering in the corners with the peers. Okay, understandable that some are nervous - it’s their work on show and we might look a little intimidating. But very few looked as if they were prepared to engage in a conversation. A small number stood by their work and I asked some about what they had been doing. Some of the work and the students themselves were interesting and they communicated their passion well. I took a card and moved on.

What each of these conversations had in common was that they all spoke about their work, but none spoke of anything beyond this. No one described what they would like to do next. And more importantly, none asked me who I was or what I did, and so they were missing out on keeping the conversation going and making a connection. I did explain to some graduates what we were about and that we wanted to hire someone. No one asked for my card.

I emailed a few graduates a few days later. One didn’t reply and one sent me their daily rate without asking anything of the project. Very few of the creatives had their own website but a lot had listed their Instagram account on their business cards. Unfortunately, these all turned out to be personal accounts with photographs of them and their mates on holiday, shots of their pet cat, etc. None took a professional approach in any of their communications with the wider world. These were MA students and yet they weren’t ready for the next step. Perhaps some of the blame is with the art courses. It’s tough enough already trying to get work, but if we don’t present ourselves in a professional way, people won’t always take us seriously.

Photo by Robin Schreiner from Pexels

Case Study 2

Our second case study is from IMA founder Samantha Y Huang and concerns her recent experience looking to outsource some design work. She used a well-known platform for hiring freelancers and was surprised that although there was a lot of interest and ideas from would-be designers, many were very poor with their communication.

These are some of the issues she encountered:

  • one person got back to us, nearly two weeks later, mentioning their email didn’t work. It was nice to hear from back the person but we had already found someone else for the opportunity. At the bottom of the email reply there was also another message that was addressed to another client

  • We were looking to build up a relationship with the designer for both this work and possibly future jobs, however, we found that many people weren’t interested in engaging in a conversation

  • One person sent a mock-up of a product that was completely unrelated to what we do. That made us wonder if the person was actually reading the brief, checking our website or even doing basic research into who the client was.

  • However, there was a number of positives. Some designers who didn’t make the final selection did send us thank you messages and best wishes. I noted them for future reference.

It might sound strange that on a platform, when opportunities are directly given and are attainable, people still come across as unprofessional or worse; ungrateful. Even more so is that these platforms add the ability to 'rate' each other. A client can rate not just our work, but our attitude, which can directly affect if we get future work. Yet despite these implementations, people still behave in odd ways.

Tips from IMA

Part of our philosophy is to encourage working relationships built on trust and kindness. Being able to have a simple conversation, to engage, is the first part of this. Here’s a few pointers that can help:

  • Be close to your work whether it’s at a degree show or an exhibition, and be ready to engage with people. It’s your work and your chance to make an impression. You can easily start a conversation with “would you like to know more about the work?”

  • If you do meet someone at an event, follow up the next day with a message; “great to meet you the other day,” etc.

  • Keep on top of all your communications channels. That means being up to date, posting regularly and answering queries via Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or whatever outlets you choose. Treat them as a form of media and a way of connecting directly with the people who like what you do. There are no gatekeepers, just you and them. If you have a newsletter use it professionally - good quality and meaningful content. People have made the effort to sign up so reciprocate and give something back.

  • Have a professional sounding and easy to write or remember email or social media handle.

  • Build a network of artists, gallerists, agents and other arts professionals who can help drive you and your work to a higher level - their approach rubbing off on you as well as being on hand for precious advice.

Stay safe. Stay creative. And if you've struggled with, or are concerned with, how you come across professionally, come have a chat with us. IMA are on hand to help you navigate the working art world.

Team IMA

re-IMAgining the art world

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