Does Self-Promotion Scare You?
This Copywriter Demystifies the Dark Art
JOE BEUTEL / WNW MEMBER
Most freelancers I know would rather sandblast their genitals than promote themselves. I know, I was one of them. But at a time where most people stop at posting “I’m available, book me!” and “Reach out if you need freelance help!” we have to practice what we preach and sell ourselves to cut through the clutter.
So why is self-promotion such an awkward, daunting, terrifying exercise for freelancers?
It’s one thing to write ads for a brand. You have a brief, you have partners, and you’re protected by a buffet of agency layers that make it far less vulnerable to express yourself. (Thank you, dying business model!) It’s not about you so the stakes are infinitely lower. Simple as that.
Self-promotion is the polar opposite. No brief, no planners, no CDs, account people, or partners to help absorb the impact of failure. Whatever you do, it’s on you. Which, to put in technical terms, can be shit-your-pants scary. But the rewards of doing something – anything – to shine a light on yourself far outweigh the risks of playing it safe and waiting for someone to notice you.
There are a million ways to do it, but here are some thoughts and examples to demystify the task.
BE YOUR OWN BRAND
It’s a punchable thing to say, but we’re all brands. And we’re hard brands to work on. For starters, branding ourselves is an exercise in defining yourself. Kinda daunting. But we’re just like anything else we work on. What’s your voice? Your look and feel? What do you want people to feel when they find you? It’s all that planner speak we see on briefs, but applied to ourselves.
A classic example of this is from Minneapolis shop Hunt Adkins. Designed by WNW Member Luke Oeth, these real fake products were light years ahead of their promotional time.
Another example is from my old boss Wade Devers, designer-by-trade and ECD at Arnold in Boston. To rebrand the agency, they avoided the cliché agency tagline and turned their purpose statements into cool, well-crafted pieces of physical art. (Arnold is hiring creatives, by the way.)
Below is my own example. I recently moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis so I needed to advertise my writing and availability to whore it out for money. It’s a campaign called Unsponsored Posts, and I ran them on Instagram and LinkedIn to target and entertain CDs and Recruiters I follow. (Designed with WNW Member Chuck Seelye.)
Being your own brand is all about making stuff that microscopes who you are. Funny, cool, crafted, weird, pick a tone and find an angle, then run with it.
MAKE NOT ADVERTISING
I’d rather stick my head in the microwave than use the word maker. But you’re on your own, so you have to make stuff. It doesn’t have to be ads, it can be anything. A gig poster, a line of dish rags, a fake brand of hot sauce you made up in your kitchen. Whatever it is, make something that sharpens your tools and shows off your craft.
Writer, Creative Director, WNW Member, and Occasional Actor John Kovacevich does just that by writing practical, entertaining, and useful essays on Medium. One of which was a reflection of his bananas experiment of messaging his 1,109 LinkedIn connections over the course of a year.
You see, when you make stuff that isn’t ads, you’re actually still kinda sorta making ads. For yourself, for your brain, and for your chops.
DO WHAT YOU SELL, SELL WHAT YOU DO
Good writers write. Good designers design. Good whatevers whatever. Everyone likes people who practice what they preach and CDs/creative managers are no exception. So it’s important to birth some shit into the world that highlights your specific strengths or vibe.
The all-time leading leader in this category is KesselsKramer. There is no contest, no discussion, no close second. They live a model to which every creative should emulate: Constantly making fun, interesting stuff that sells what they do.
They make books of their book, books about their history, and books that position themselves against the entire industry.
Mother New York lives in a similar world. They’ve put on self-promotion clinics from day one by doing what they say they do, often ridiculously, always entertainingly.
John St. in Toronto is bringing the heat too by harpooning disgusting buzzwords and advertropes with fantastic parody films like Make Humanity Great Again.
Now, having said all that, do freelancers have the dough or resources to make films or start publishing companies? Most likely no. But we absolutely have the tools to write the scripts, make the fake products, and publish, print, or purvey our ideas to the general hiring public.
LET’S WRAP IT UP
At the end of the day, we work in the business of advertising. It’s just usually for someone else. But we should all aspire to go beyond the simple “Hey, I’m available!” post on LinkedIn and use our skill to create stuff that pulls more people to you.
I’ll be blunt. I’m a writer and I’m writing this sentence, for an essay about self-promotion, which is about as meta and self-serving as it gets. It’s true, everything you’re reading here is an example of doing what you’re selling. I sell writing so I’m writing. If you sell design, design stuff. If you’re an illustrator, illustrate stuff.
It’s uncomfortable for all of us. But it’s unquestionably necessary. So lose the fear, get over the awkwardness, and embrace the dark art of self-promoting yourself.
Joe Beutel is a freelance writer/CD who recently moved from San Francisco to Minneapolis, just in time for winter. He’s most recently worked for Hungry Man, 215mccann, and Gifted Youth.
Illustration by WNW Member Rachel Denti