Meet Your Workshop Instructor: Staci Smith
Staci Smith is a Seattle-based publicist who’s built her career promoting arts and nonprofit organizations. She began her public relations career almost twenty years ago in New York, where she worked with agencies supporting arts and culture organizations. In 2017, she and Art for Progress founder Frank Jackson created Kindred Impact, an arts and nonprofit consultancy.
On April 28, Staci will be leading “Media Relations for Artists” at Rainier Arts Center in Seattle. I recently caught up with her to learn more about her experience working with arts and culture organizations, as well as her advice for artists looking to strengthen their media relations skills.
How did you first get interested in marketing/PR? What made you want to work specifically with arts and nonprofit organizations?
What interested me about PR was that I get a really big kick out of knowing that what I’m doing is furthering other people. I was a singer and I acted when I was younger, and I studied opera for ages, and I could have a role in something and have just as much fun doing lighting as actually doing the role. I like seeing other people do well and I like knowing that I’m part of a team that helped someone do well.
What got me interested from the arts and nonprofit perspective was that I was in the arts, so I saw people doing great work that wasn’t getting written about or getting attention.
What are some of the most common things you’ve seen artists struggle with when it comes to promoting their work to the media?
Figuring out how to expand their media outreach plans outside of art world press. It’s one thing if you’re in New York and there’s tons of press covering art both on the local and global perspective out of your location. A lot of times if artists are in a smaller market they may not have that many people covering art. What those artists might be overlooking is how to use the media to reach out audiences who could be very interested in their message or the theme of their work, but who aren’t reading “art press”. Getting in front of these audiences requires expanding your media outreach plans beyond contacting the people who cover art in your location.
How, if at all, can media relations for individual artists differ from media relations for an organization or a business?
Whatever you’re doing as an organization is still going on whether you have publicity or not and it’s going on in a way that’s public just by the very fact that it’s an organization and ostensibly working with other people, customers, etc. It can be harder to promote your work as an individual artist, because unless you’re mounting a really large show there’s a really good chance that you’re doing your work almost in a vacuum with your immediate circle being informed of what you do. If you don’t have a way that you’re distributing your message and work, or an avenue for letting people know what you’re doing, it’s very easy for nobody to know what you’re doing. Also, it’s easier for the press to write about stories in which a group of people can act as sources or evidence of a trend – organizations can present a number of people to incorporate into a story, saving a press person a lot of legwork. As an individual artist you can’t necessarily present a press person with a well-rounded story on your own which makes a journalist’s job harder and can lessen your chances of getting a placement.
What advice do you have for artists who want to up their media relations game but don’t know where to start?
Start before you actually have a project you’re trying to pitch. If you are an artist and you have a very specific message or theme that runs through your art or you have something coming up, what you really should be doing is following the people you know would be receptive before you need to ask them for anything. Start building a relationship with them and create a dialogue in the early stages of your project so they know that you have a genuine interest in what they’re doing and that you have respect for what they’re doing as a media person. That way, when you finish your project, it puts you in a lot better standing to make those asks.
Megan Gallagher is a writer from Redmond, Washington. She currently serves as Artist Trust’s Communications Intern.