The Business of Art: Professional Marketer Edwin Acevedo  Offers a Basic Primer on Marketing

Published February 8th 2024
By Justin Stokes

In an ideal scenario, a visual artist would only be responsible for handling the fun parts of the job. The creation of the art, answering questions in paneled conversations, chatting with clients or fellow artists, learning, and the more creative tasks would take up most of their calendar.

Unfortunately, many artists are unable to live such a carefree lifestyle. Instead, they’re forced to do both clerical and creative work themselves, with little help or guidance for those tasks outside of their wheelhouse.

Among the many responsibilities artists are to take on is the role of marketer. This can be an intimidating task if one isn’t sure of what they’re doing. Offering a primer for what artists should know about marketing is Nashville marketing expert Edwin Acevedo. Edwin came to the world of marketing through his love of storytelling. He started as a journalist with Syracuse’s The Post-Standard in 1993. He worked for the newspaper until 2007, making a full transition into marketing in 2008 as an employee of email marketing software Emma. Work at Emma showed Edwin that had what it took to start his own marketing consulting business.

After Emma, he took on several jobs in the world of professional marketing/communication. Though certainly confident in these roles, Edwin wanted to learn how he could do more through technology and joined one of Nashville Software School’s six-month web developer boot camps in 2015. In 2016, he took on work that combined his interests in tech and storytelling, working for Phy (Tapps), and then later Kindful, MojoMediaPros, and even briefly teaching at Nossi College of Art. Edwin now works at TruStar Marketing as a senior manager of SEO & analytics, also serving as the VP of programming on the board of the American Marketing Association’s Nashville chapter.

Our interview with Edwin is below.

Justin Stokes (JS): Specifically, how would you describe your job in marketing?

Edwin Acevedo (EA): In my role at TruStar, I oversee the SEO and Analytics team. My team works with our colleagues in search engine optimization (paid search, “SEM”) to help organizations build their presence on the internet. There are a few things that we do here, including data analysis to help clients make smarter decisions to get found on the web. I also do some consulting on the side.

JS: You’ve done some work in the arena of visual art marketing. Let’s discuss that.

EA: I had a client who is an artist. A lot of the marketing work that would happen with that client was mostly related to networking. I’ve found that many people don’t really buy fine art on the web. Buyers make a purchase after going out and seeing the art in spaces like a studio or gallery.

What I’ve found—and this is true for everyday marketing—is that relationships are a big part of getting found and being seen.

JS: How would you define marketing as a concept?

EA: Marketing is a really broad field. But it all starts with the identity—or the brand—of whatever is being marketed. In terms of visual art, once you’ve figured out  your artistic identity and the characteristics of your work, you should then build on that information, and ask yourself “Who is the audience for my artwork?” You could call it product-market fit. Really, what you’re looking for are people who want to buy what you’re selling, whether it’s art or ice cream or running shoes, or luxury cruises.

Once you’ve figured out how to explain yourself and your work to the public, you try to align those values with the audience you’re trying to reach. Finding that audience can be tough, and will require a lot of trial and error through attempts at networking and audience engagement.

Let’s say I’m a fine artist and I enjoy working with metal to make interesting textures, shapes, and colors. Having that information alone, I can begin to flesh out my story. And for every detail that I add, I can narrow down my audience to a particular area of focus, based on the values we share. So, if I’m at an event and meet a potential art buyer who is curious about my work, they might learn more about my story through my website or social media. That narrative plus looking at the art might convince them to make a purchase or inquire about a potential commission.

And it’s worth pointing out that storytelling doesn’t just come from what’s on your artist bio. It’s about the things associated with your art. In terms of art marketing, people are buying more than a piece of art. They’re buying something that’s associated with values that they like. It’s no different than, say, someone who likes a punk rock band because they like the social values of that genre.

JS: Although marketing and promotion may be understood as separate concepts, it seems that there’s a fair bit of overlap between the two. The promotional software Voucherify provides a succinct definition of the two: "In short, marketing focuses on increasing the awareness of a product and getting it in front of potential customers. Promotions are the final step of marketing – they provide the needed incentive to turn visitors into buyers. All in all, marketing vs promotion is about awareness vs conversion.”

As someone in this space, would you say that that’s a fair definition?

EA: That works… But for the purposes of marketing, it might best serve artists to think of everything as marketing, and not promotion. Major shoe brands that promote their shoes via a big commercial are engaging in both awareness and conversion at the same time.

I look at it even more broadly as business. The “godfather of modern management” Peter Drucker said, "Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two--and only two--basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs. Marketing is the distinguishing, unique function of the business." I really love that quote because being innovative—let’s say in the context of an athletic shoe brand, having the best-performing shoe—that’s innovation. And then, letting everyone else know about that, that’s marketing.

JS: What misconceptions do you feel that people have about marketing? Are there assumptions that people make regarding the guarantee of what the marketing is?

EA: No, not really. Especially if you’re dealing with a client who is a professional in the business space. If a client came to me with and demanded minimum expectations, I would see that as naivete…  I never guarantee results with any of my clients. What I do is inform them about the process, and why I’m doing what I’m doing so that they’re in the loop about the campaign.

Of course, with any campaign, the client and marketer both have to make reasonable assumptions about the product or service being marketed. These assumptions are based on patterns in the marketplace or the behavior of consumers.

Using the shoe example again, if I see another shoe company successfully market its shoes via an endorsement from Michael Jordan, I might say, “Let’s see if we can get a shoe endorsed by Steph Curry!” Those are the kinds of patterns that both clients and professional marketers should be looking for before starting a marketing campaign. You look at the way a target audience behaves with respect to both everyday habits and how they engage with the products you’re trying to market and double down on what works.

JS: It sounds like the lesson there is that it’s an assumption that every artist is marketable in the first place and that there’s no guarantee that they are.

EA: Yeah, I think that’s generally true. With any business, you ask “Is there a demand for this? Is there an audience willing to support this thing if we do a marketing campaign?” And if there isn’t, then no amount of marketing or public relations is going to sell that item.

JS: So if there are no guarantees that an artist’s work is marketable, how would an artist know that they’re ready for the services of a professional marketer in the first place? And when should they seek out the services of a professional marketer?

EA: Artists looking to hire a professional marketer should come to them as far in advance as they can. Usually, the further ahead they are of a projected date for a project, the better the rates will be for them. The same is true for the outcomes of the project, as the more time we have to get ahead and work, the more likely we are to be successful in a marketing campaign. And you can really say that about a lot of things in business: The more time you have to work on something, the more likely you are to be successful with that project. You need to have time to plan and think about these things.

If your campaign relies on, let’s say, printed materials to promote your art, then you’ll want to have time to get those printed materials designed, approved, and ready for distribution via whatever distribution channel.

And regarding “When are you ready to go to a marketer,” an artist is ready to seek out a marketing campaign as soon as they have enough inventory that they’re looking to get to market. If you had, say, only three paintings that you wanted to sell, it might not be worth it for you to hire a professional marketer unless they’re valuable paintings—let’s say, worth somewhere in the five figures range—that you’re trying to sell to serious collectors.

If you’re going to hire someone to promote your work, you’re going to need to have some work.

If you have the luxury of being part of a gallery or some major event like Art Basel, the people you need to convince to hire a marketer are the people in charge, although they probably have someone. If you’re doing it as a sole proprietor, you need to come up with a serious strategy to get an audience for your work. You can’t just throw your art up on a website or social media without a strategy and expect it to sell. Assuming that the art is marketable in the first place, you have to find a market for that. Otherwise, you’re just wasting your money and your time.

I really don’t recommend that independent artists go into a marketing arrangement without knowing who their audience is and proving that there’s a demand for their work. From what I’ve seen, that’s typically not very effective.

Going back to my art client, he was selling his work for between $10K-$20K. Even with my help, working outside of a gallery made it difficult to create a demand for his work. There are a lot of artists out there, and an artist not plugged into a network has trouble standing out from the rest. Once that client got himself into a gallery, he found that he had better luck without my help.

Those gallery owners bring a lot to the table, including connections with the art press. They’re also operating a business that’s known for featuring great artists, which builds the anticipation for their latest show.

JS: Just to say this another way: You would offer that an artist is in the premarket phase once they have enough inventory that it’s worth their time to sell. This is the time in which they should be looking for entities like art events, art galleries, etc. that can do much of the promotional work. This is also the phase in which a visual artist should begin to narrow down the details of their target audience through educated guesses.

Once they’ve figured out who their audience is and have shown that there is a demand for their work, the artist is ready for the marketing phase. And once they’ve reached this phase, this is the point at which a visual artist is ready to solicit professional help, ideally through an art gallery if they’re able to do so.

EA: Right. Now, there are exceptions to that. And some people have been able to grow their audiences, like viral TikTok creators who use the platform to promote their visual art.

JS: So, until one can make the jump from the premarketing phase to the marketing phase, should they be trying everything they can to get their art in front of as many people as possible?

EA: It would certainly help. The exposure one would get from sharing their work is valuable. I’ve found that with art, people don’t typically buy art just to cover up the wall. For one thing, it's a great investment. Fine art tends to hold its value over time. It's inflation-proof.

People also buy things they love, and they buy art because they have a connection with the story behind the artist, or they’re moved by something in the artwork. If someone is buying a landscape, they might have a personal attachment to the landscape being depicted in the work.

JS: Is it fair to say that marketing should be regarded as both an art and a science and that different marketers may have different approaches to the same campaigns?

EA: I would agree with that. Some marketers may have a different perspective than others.

JS: What skills, philosophies, or characteristics should someone look for when hiring a marketer?

EA: If I were a visual artist looking to hire a professional marketer, I would try to find someone who both understands what I do and is capable of articulating that. You want to find someone that you connect with emotionally, and who connects with your work. When I talk with them, do I feel like I’m understood by them? Do I feel like all of my needs are being addressed by them? A red flag for me would be a fast talker who explains things in ways that don’t make sense to me.

Trust your gut, and go with someone who inspires confidence. You can tell whether or not someone is treating you seriously as a client.

Good marketing also relies on data. Can your marketer show a return on your investment? Good marketers balance art and science.

Let me also say this: If you make a choice, stick with it until you’re certain it’s not going to work out. Marketing campaigns sometimes take a little while to work. You’re not necessarily going to see results right away. Empower people working with you by giving them the time, space, and resources they need to do right by you. In the long run, all of this may be worth it.

JS: If marketing relies heavily on data, then should one try to bring as much data to a marketing campaign as they can?

EA: Oh yeah. You’re trying to see what the baseline is. You’re trying to test against a benchmark. The more data you’re able to bring to a marketing campaign, the more comfortable you’ll be with making assumptions. If you know who your audience is, and you understand why you know who your audience is, then you can focus on how to reach your audience instead of wondering who they are.

I’ll reference TikTok here. If you come to a professional marketer having had previous success selling art through TikTok, then that information tells the marketer something about your target audience. They now have something to point to to learn more about your buyers. The audiences of TikTok may be different than, say, the audiences buying art off of Etsy. Those are two different platforms with two different kinds of users. Ultimately they’re two different audiences. Your marketer’s job is to try and find yours.

Edwin Acevedo is a technologist and Nashville-based professional marketer. In his role at TruStar Marketing, Edwin is senior management of SEO & Analytics. He also offers professional marketing services to the greater Nashville area separately through his consulting business.

Justin Stokes is a freelance writer living in Murfreesboro, TN. Since 2012, he has covered the Nashville media market, writing about music, visual art, technology, business, politics, entertainment, and real estate. His work has been featured in national publications, and he has interviewed hundreds of celebrities, including comedians, musicians, authors, actors, and entrepreneurs.