A guide to publicising your exhibition

By Kat Hayes

You’ve got your venue, you’ve got the artists, you’ve even planned what crunchy snacks you’re going to have next to your pinot grigio– but what now…? Buckle up, there’s still quite a lot to do.

Where to start

Doing your press right is important. Whilst some will come to your show purely to inspect your selection of fine wines (and there’s nothing wrong with that as it’s all about eyes on your work), it’s a big boost if you can get even a handful of the right people along to your show. For instance, even the smallest review will raise your profile and will give you something to build upon, so here’s how you go about it.

Your press release

This should ideally be broken into two. For anything going on the web it needs to be short and snappy.

If it’s a group show then outline the key themes of the show (or what links you all together) in no more than a few lines or a short paragraph or two. If you want to include a little about the artists underneath your introductory text, then cherry-pick the best line or two from their statements (or your own, if it’s a solo show).

People will not read reams and reams of text in a press release, online listing or email, no matter how beautifully crafted and heart-rendingly moving your text is– so don’t be tempted to tap out an essay.

I know that writing bafflingly constructed sentences is de-rigueur in the art world (see below for the ICA’s debate on art criticism), but this you can save for the gallery’s website or even your own literature for the show.

If you’re sending an email mailshot, then most people will only open it for a few seconds at most so keep it brief. After all, sometimes a strong visual with simply your name and title of the show and the gallery information will be enough to catch the eye. Which leads me onto my next point…

Pick a strong visual

A strong image will do more to sell your show than wads of text.

If it’s a group show you should use your flyer (or publicity) image.

That is unless you feel that one artist’s work is visually more arresting than your flyer- in which case you could use that. The risk of this strategy is that it will cause a diplomatic incident amongst your artist group.

Although if you have a curator, then you can always blame it on them and deny all knowledge.


There are a number of programs that will let you design a professional-looking mailshot, even if you’re not graphically inclined.

The forerunner of all of these programmes is Mailchimp but this has its drawbacks. One of them is that you cannot send your mailout to contacts that haven’t signed up to receive newsletters from you. This won’t be a problem if you already have your own subscriber base built up via your own website, but if you are harvesting press contacts for example, then it won’t work for you.

Luckily there are other sites like sendblaster or YMLP which offer both paid and free options. A quick internet search will also help you decide what’s best for you.


If you’re not lucky enough to have access to a designer, then design is something you will have to think about to get a professional-looking show.

I’ve always found graphic design a bit of a dark art up until some time ago. But after a number of years in publishing and production I have learnt a lot about font weights, families and styles, than my previous humble grasp. The key thing to remember is to be consistent. This applies to:

FONTS– choose your fonts and stick to them (usually one for headers, one for body text but you can play about with weights)

CAPS– is the title of your show not capped up? Then stick to that whenever you mention the title in your marketing. The same goes for the everything else, including the names of the artists.

COLOURS– pick a palette of 3 to 4 colours and stick to them. No deviations.

STYLE– how you are going to say things. For example, is it: 13 July 2013 or July 13 2013?

With your mailshot design, the key thing to remember that it’s important to get as close to the design of your postcard/flyer or marketing material as possible.

Most mailshot programs use a template system but there is some flexibility in terms of design. Go for the same fonts (if they have them, the closest if they don’t).

Use the same palette of colours and stick to your style (see ‘be consistent’ above). This will help to create an integrated feel to your exhibition and give the show a professional air.

If you’ve handwritten your text/ title of the show then most of these mailshot providers support graphics, so it should not be a problem to import this into your design.

Your Mailing list

If you have your own PR then this section is irrelevant to you. But if you’re reading this then I assume it is (as many a struggling artist can’t afford such valuable services).

First off you will need to beg, steal, borrow, or scour the internet for as many email addresses of people you think might be interested in your show as possible. You’ll then need to collate them (an excel sheet works fine and can be imported into most mail-sending programs). This will be the basis of your mailing list that you’ll eventually send your completed mailshot.

Don’t forget to include either contact details of whoever will be dealing with images for the press within the body of your mailshot.  A direct link to where readers can download a pdf of your contact sheet of images is be even better.

Another key point to remember is to make sure that your strapline is as exciting as possible. If it sounds interesting, then the more likely people are to open it.

Build an exhibition website

If you’ve got time- knock a website up. WordPress is an excellent place to build a quick, no nonsense site. You can also knock a pretty decent site up on blogger and blogspot.

Even if you have just a front page of your flyer with your contact and the gallery details, it will build up a good, professional feel to your show. It’s also handy for people who have just seen your flyer. And why would they have seen your flyer?…

Direct marketing (of sorts)

…because you’ve been out flyering. And by this, I don’t mean standing outside a tube wantonly giving out your precious postcards (although this might work). I’m referring to targeted drops to places where the people you’d like to attract may frequent. Don’t forget to drop them in places local to the gallery you’re exhibiting in. It’s also valuable to get chatting to people– galleries you’d like to be represented by or past buyers of your work will also fall into this category.

Now..where did I leave that pinot grigio?

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