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Strategic Self-Promotion

by Taylor Slattery | March 24, 2022

Creating mind-blowing work is only half the battle, the other half is getting people to look at it. History is full of famous creatives who for as good as they were at their craft, were equally bad at self-promotion. Influential painters like Van Gogh, writers such as Kafka and Thoreau, and even thinkers like Galileo didn’t live long enough to see the profound impacts their work would have on the world. If they had had better PR and a dedicated social team, we might be living in a very different world today.

If the idea of promoting yourself makes you uncomfortable, that’s a completely reasonable reaction. Advertising is invasive by nature. It sneaks into our brains through our eyes and ears, in the form of jingles and mascots and sticks around for years without our permission. That uneasy feeling toward self-promotion isn’t just exclusive to those who self-identify as shy, introverted types, either. Culturally, we value humility. Being raised in such an environment leaves us with lingering worries that by believing one’s work to be worthy of others’ time and attention we’re coming across as arrogant or severely overestimating the value of our work. Hence, when we use the term “self-promotion” it’s often accompanied by a semi-ironic “shameless” tacked on for good measure.

However, as uncomfortable as it may be to break free from the shackles of social niceties, learning to promote your work wholeheartedly is an absolute must. Don’t delude yourself into thinking that if you build it they will come. Unless you’ve built a literal baseball diamond in a cornfield for ghosts, attracting attention to your work isn’t quite so straightforward. Also, if you’re hearing voices, please see a doctor.

Self-promotion doesn’t have to be cheesy sales pitches and painfully transparent motives. The journey of becoming comfortable with the idea of self-promotion parallels the development of your confidence in your work. When you have firmly rooted convictions in the value of your work, self-promotion becomes honest and natural.

Before you begin to self-promote, it’s helpful to develop a plan. Thankfully, the process is one you’re already entirely familiar with. While your unique creative goals will dictate the type of strategy best suited to their realization, the process is the same as learning any other skill. You know the drill—normal goal-setting procedure. Start out by specifying exactly what it is you would like to accomplish and by when you would like to do so. Step one complete.

The next step requires you to undergo a mental metamorphosis. From this point forward, you are no longer just a person, but a brand. You need to learn to think as a brand would. In the same way you studied the works of your favorite artists, searching for insights into their techniques and thought process, you will do the same for brands. As you do, just as was the case in your studies of your favorite artists, part of this creative DNA will become your own. For this reason, it’s important to find brands whose approach you admire. Think about the brands you like and try to figure out why you like them.

Effective marketing really just boils down to communicating a brand’s ethos. When this is done successfully, those with similar values will detect this authenticity. So long as the product or service delivers on what has been promised, there’s nothing else to it. It’s really that simple.

In your search for authentic brands to borrow promotional practices from, don’t limit yourself to just looking at companies. Just as you are a brand, so are all of those pitbull-mommies and kendama-wizards on Tik Tok and Instagram. You can’t argue with results, and when someone has managed to cultivate hundreds of thousands of followers or millions of views, they’re doing something right. Be open to learning from everyone. Look at what it is they do successfully and try to figure out why it works. Doing so will help you to shed some light on how you can adopt a similar approach to your own efforts or even improve upon their formula.

Of course, social marketing is an entire discipline in and of itself. If you really want to get into the weeds there’s an endless array of analytical tools at your disposal that can tell you the best time to post that picture of your ugly cat or which five US cities have the most searches for the mom from The Incredibles. Self-promotion can be as complicated or as simple as you want it to be but hopefully now you have a better idea of where to start.


Taylor is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Taylor is a graphic designer, illustrator, and Design Lead at Weirdsleep.


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