Artexpo New York is over for the year, so once again it’s time for me to think aloud about my experiences. I do this mainly to help myself process the experience, learn what worked, and figure out how to improve for next year. But at the show I learned that other people find my thoughts helpful as well: at least ten artists told me they decided to exhibit at Artexpo after reading my blog post about my experiences last year! If you are reading this to decide if Artexpo (or tradeshows in general) are for you, please remember: these notes are based on my experiences and (this is key) my expectations. Your mileage may vary.
Artexpo is a well run, good looking show. This was my second Artexpo as an exhibitor, and the third I have visited. In my opinion, the quality of the art being shown has been getting better and more diverse. It’s a real snapshot of what is being done by real, normal, hardworking artists. And it’s put together by great people who really work hard. I can’t stress this enough: these guys are pros, and that makes all the difference. For example, this year there were some glitches during setup, but the staff never lost their cool, and everything got taken care of.
OK, so how was the show?
My main objective in attending Artexpo is marketing: getting my name and art in front of qualified leads. I don’t think of it as a selling show (although many people do). I want to give the trade (art consultants, interior designers, licensers, etc.) the chance to see my art in person, and get permission to continue the conversation after the show. Keeping this in mind, my results were decent. Not as good as last year, but not bad. Let me break it down:
Once again, I made a decent number of new contacts. Not as many as a liked, but roughly comparable to last year. However, I felt that I had fewer really substantial conversations about my art this year. People just didn’t want to talk as much. We were blessed (cursed?) with abnormally beautiful weather the first couple days, and I think our traffic suffered because of it — people just didn’t want to be inside. The show’s new location at Pier 92 was also not optimal. It is a narrow and super long space. All of independent artists were placed way at the end, and I wonder if many people either didn’t make it all the way down, or just were too tired to talk when they finally did. Next time we’ll have to throw a party to draw people all the way down the hall!
Unfortunately, my sales were really poor this year. While I don’t focus on sales, they are always nice to get to offset costs. But other artists around me did sell quite well, so I guess I just wasn’t connecting with people who were ready to buy that day. (I did lose one big impulse buy because I forgot that Square supports Amex cards. DOH!)
However, one way this show was a big success for me was online. Links from the Artexpo website drove twice as many new people to my website as last year. It was my top source of traffic from January through March, accounting for 30% of all referrals from other sites, and 10% of my traffic overall. That is pretty impressive.
Another great experience was that I got asked to be on the panel for the show’s workshop Powering Your Marketing with New Media. It was great to be able to talk to a crowd of artists about my experiences with social marketing, and give advice on what they can do for themselves. To my surprise, I discovered that I really enjoyed leading a class — and have decided that this is something I need to look into doing more often. (I’ll be posting my notes from the discussion here soon.)
So, was Artexpo worth doing?
Yes. Sure, it wasn’t as much of a slam dunk as last year — I didn’t sell much, and people didn’t seem as talkative. But that’s to be expected — shows and audiences are different year to year. But on the other hand, a lot of people did some to see my art in person. Many of them signed up for my newsletter (my main marketing tool). And a lot of people did see my site for the first time because of this show.
Exhibiting at a show is expensive, but you have to remember that this is an advertising expense, a necessary expense of doing business. When you compare it to taking out an ad in an art magazine, or buying a mailing list, I feel it is a much better way to get my name and my art in front of as many qualified people as possible. It is more trackable, more interactive, and more under my control. So yes, I’ll be doing it again next year.
Update 4/13/12: Good news. One person I met this year has gone on to introduce me to two people, who now also want to work with me! One of these was a person I have been trying to get in touch with for a year. I love how networking can continue to work, even after the show.