I’m feeling pretty down about a snafu here in our design studio, and I am hoping you can help me out. Eighty-six days ago exactly – I counted – we sent photos of a zero energy, a shingle-style project we did to glossy Magazine X, hoping to get it published. Despite our follow up calls and ever-so-polite inquiries, we heard nothing from the editors.
Then last week, we finally heard from one of these cultural arbiters at Magazine X, letting us know our project had been deemed a “go” as a major feature. Unfortunately, I had already OK’d it with another, significantly less prominent design publication, assuming the X was going nowhere.
Now the editor from X is all ticked off, emailing us back a frown emoji with an exclamation point. My studio mates just shrugged it off: “Serves X right for taking so long to make a decision,” Is how they put it. But my feeling is that the real losers are us for inadvertently blowing this opportunity.
What to do?
Pretty Down in Delaware
Dear Pretty Down in Delaware:
I’m with your studio mates: too bad for X. Don’t they realize that without designers like you there would be no reason for them to exist? In any case, I hope your experience doesn’t sour you on sharing your firm’s work going forward. To withdraw into anonymity could end up affecting your bottom line. As most design marketing people will tell you: clients base their final decisions more on whether you’re a firm “someone has heard of” than the merits of your proposal.
The good news, though, is there are some fairly easy-to-follow guidelines for the next time you venture out in the media world. There’s not enough room here to explore every one of these rules in detail, but based on my many years editing and writing about design, here are some basics.
Hope they help,
All best, Louis
Relationships matter. Understand that in the once-glamorous world of magazines, webzines, and most design media, middle management no longer exists. Expense account lunches with interesting, up-and-coming architects no longer exist. Editors are now supposed to do the jobs five people used to handle. If a response isn’t required in the next five minutes, if it’s simply a matter of a polite gesture like returning a phone call – forget it!
So, the only way around this is to go from making a transaction (photos of our work in exchange for your PR) to building a relationship (let’s get to know each other’s goals first).
Fortunately, an editor’s work is very public. Find something you like and get in touch with that person. An editor has pride in his or her workmanship just as you do. Share some of that pride. Attend her presentations. Respond to her blogs. Suggest a follow-up to a good story. And, above all, be curious. Editors are accepting low pay for the privilege of advancing the cause of good design. How does he see that happening?
Communications count. Spare yourself the indignity of submitting projects “To the Editors, or – worse – To Whom It May Concern.” Send it to an editor in a decision-making capacity that you already have a relationship with. If you haven’t heard anything for a few weeks, let the editor know that you appreciate your consideration and would she mind if you submit a different project down the road?
Speaking of down the road, make sure your subscription is current and that you’ve read the Editor’s Letter, the Table of Contents, and how the basic anatomy of the magazine: its front of book short takes, departments and features.And don’t forget to order a media kit which will show you the magazine’s editorial schedule. (If you’re like me and uncomfortable about posing as a potential advertiser, get a friend in the advertising business to do that for you.)
Make sure you have been upfront about the project itself: where and when has it been in other publications or websites (not necessarily a deal killer)? And be clear about whether the magazines can access the space or place and whether you own the rights to the photos you are submitting (not a good idea to inform the editor that now that she’s accepted the project, it’s up to her to negotiate fees with your photographer).
Focus, focus, focus. Keep in mind that there are zillion media platforms out there and that the more targeted to your client base the better. A publication with millions of readers may have very few that are actually in your market. I was once on a photo shoot with Mario Buatta, the famous “Prince of Chintz”. “Mario,” I said, “You’re in Architectural Digest practically every month – you must get swamped with work just from that one publication. – “Not, not at all,” said Mario. “I don’t get clients from those articles, but, I just do it anyway.”
Meanwhile, a niche webzine with under a thousand readers may, in fact, be a much better place to submit your zero-energy shingle style house. Those thousand readers may represent all the decision-makers in you need to attain your goals.
You’ve read the webzine’s editorial schedule, however, and see that their next zero energy issue won’t be happening for a year from now. This time lapse may be a good reason to keep searching.
Try searching Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory and prepare to be overwhelmed: http://www.proquest.com/products-services/related/Ulrichs-Periodicals-Directory.html
Email a cover page and project description along with the project photos that not only supplies the usual Who What Where When How’s but explains the Three Whys
Why this project will be important to the editor’s readers
Why this project is especially important now
Why the story of this project – its challenge and its solution – are great ways to illustrate the development cited in ii.
Revise and Rewrite. Remember, you and the editor you’re writing to speak very different languages. You express yourself most readily in 3-D: forms and fenestrations, rhythms and compressions, light and shadow, textures and trim while your editor friend feels much more at home in 2-D English.
When you write, it means you are now on her verbal turf, as opposed to your visual turf, which doesn’t mean you can’t meet at the picket fence. It just means that she may take errors in grammar and punctuation personally, as someone who reveres the language more than life itself. Write your communications out first in MS Word, read it over out loud to a colleague, wait a few hours for some objectivity to set in and then run it through a grammar and spell check app, taking whatever it says with some skepticism.
Whatever you do, don’t ask to look the article over before it’s published, even with the promise “just to fact check.” Writers and editors receive these requests as a real insult. After all, part of their feeling of self-worth as journalists is that they get their facts straight and have the common sense to follow up with a question if something’s not clear. One good way to protect yourself is to establish some ground rules at the beginning. If you say, “this is off the record” in an email or some other written document that’s a lot better than nothing. As they say on Broadway, “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.”
© Louis Postel 2017, first published by Graphisoft USA