Starworks, Star, NC
Panel: Marketing Wood-fired Pots
Growing up in Stoke-on-Trent, my family had great pride in our connection to Spode, and we disliked all the other manufacturers, especially Wedgwood, even though, without Wedgwood’s brilliance at marketing, Spode might not have existed.
Wedgwood created the Western industrial ceramic prototype, in part, because he was very good at selling his pots.
Marketing enables us to sell our work and is as important as making and can be done as enjoyably, creatively, and effectively as making.
However, it takes time to market our work, and sometimes, it feels like a second job. Unfortunately, there’s no escape.
But if we do it well, we stay in business and have more time to create our beautiful pots.
I’m delighted to introduce our panelists here today to discuss Marketing Wood-fired Pots.
Please welcome Kate Johnston from Seagrove, Akira Satake from Asheville, and Bernie Pucker from the Pucker Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston.
I’m going to lead off with my brief presentation, followed by Kate, then Akira, and finally, Bernie, after which we look forward to a lively discussion.
All the elements of marketing overlap, and all of us do it differently.
First of all, you must make good work. Good work won’t necessarily sell itself, but it is much easier to sell good work than bad work.
You must also believe in your work, be proud of it, even in the depths of despair, self-criticism, and failure. You have to keep going, and you have to be cunning.
Marketing can feel like narcissism; it is seems like a form of preening self-admiration, particularly in the age of social media.
But do our efforts at self-promotion inevitably taint our work?
I try to separate the two: my work and the marketing. What’s important to me is the creative moment; the rest is a game.
And play it we must.
Words, language, and images are key components in all marketing. Presenting yourself with clarity in writing and in speech allows you to build relationships that lead into sales.
Words, language, and images allow us to create stories. We potters build narratives about ourselves. Our stories explain who we are, where we are from, and why we do what we do.
A compelling narrative grabs people’s attention and creates a relationship.
Take Edmund de Waal or Greyson Perry, for instance. Their media presence, writings, and stories are a very sophisticated form of marketing and have propelled them into the artistic stratosphere.
Narratives takes time to build but be proud of your story. It is no one else’s. Own it. Share it.
Publication matters, whether in magazines or books.
Part of my story attaches me to the Southern folk pottery tradition.
Given that I’m up here right now with a new book out, and I can shamelessly market it to you. It’s a great book, and it’s only $40!
TV combines words, stories, images, and movement. As we know from Ben Owen’s leadership, TV coverage makes a huge difference to all North Carolina potters’ collective marketing ability.
But no one in the US is raising the profile of pottery, let alone wood-fired pottery, as effectively as what has happened in the UK since the “Great British Throwdown.” This reality TV contest has created long waiting lists at art colleges and community colleges, and a bump in all pottery sales.
Alex and Connie Matisse are creating a narrative with their new semi-industrial venture at East Fork.
Their deft use of Instagram and Facebook, with words and images cunningly juxtaposed, gives them, and each of us, the ability to be our own advertising and marketing agency.
But be careful with the language of advertising.
Here’s an example of marketing and object that has gone awry, in my humble opinion, from artist Jeff Koons, who has a new line of handbags, key rings, scarves, and wallets, about which he, or perhaps the marketing department at Louis Vuitton wrote,
“They touch on the metaphysical, the right here right now and its connection to the past and future. They’re about shine, the basics of philosophy, passion, what it means to be human, what it means to be an animal, and the idea of transcendence.”
I hope no one ever writes such drivel about this mug.
Moving on to another marketing theme. Costume also plays role in creating our stories. How we appear is part of our identity.
Grayson Perry’s identity is inseparably linked to his clothing.
Hamada’s, too, with his tortoiseshell glasses and handmade clothes.
Closer to home, at Jugtown, Vernon Owens’s overalls are a kind of costume, too.
As is Johnny Leach’s hat and bushy beard. Someone said of Johnny Leach, “Thank goodness you look like a potter.”
And here’s Bernie’s bowtie.
These people all have stories that capture our attention. You understand who they are without even thinking; they are familiar; they have status.
No clothes, no costume, no personality? I don’t think so.
Personality, like Volkous, is also marketable.
We all have personalities; don’t shy away from who you are.
There’s an adage, “Smile and the world smiles with you.”
My father-in-law once said, “When people buy a pot, they are buying a bit of you.”
We wood-firing potters have a great advantage. We live in beautiful places.
When customers come to us, they are not going to the mall but having a rural adventure.
Where would you rather shop? Here?
Our places are marketable. City folk love going into the countryside and like to take back to the city something that reminds them of the country. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Our pots are like wildflowers, or a sunset, a view from a mountaintop. They provide refreshment for the soul.
We also have our kilns, which produce our wonderful pots.
Our kilns are highly unusual tools and are incredibly beautiful. People are intrigued by them,
and by the process of firing them.
They are a major component of our identities and stories, and we can use that to our advantage.
They are stage props, especially if you put a disco ball in them, and flashing lights, music and dancers,
and alcohol and invite your friends to party.
But marketing is not all smoke and mirrors. It has to be about the work. We live in a world of deception, greed, and ostentation.
Our pots are the antithesis, they are a rebuke, they are defiant.
They speak of honesty, ethics, fairness, and beauty. If we don’t aspire to these qualities, why bother at all?
Unfortunately, we have to sell our work. And this is how Carol and I do it.
There’s no business like show business, and we’re in it.
We put on a show three times a year and send out 8,000 kiln opening cards and 5,000 emails advertising each Kiln Opening Sale. (Keep the names of everyone you sell a pot to!)
We make the place look pretty and choreograph the event carefully, paying attention to every detail.
We live within an hour of large, wealthy, well-educated, well-travelled, urban population, which has been primed by the state’s cultural history to appreciate pottery.
It is easy for them to come to our sales.
And they do. We sell about 75% of our pots at these sales, and the rest trickles away.
We’re not the only ones who put on a show. In several parts of the country potters band together to create very successful pottery tours and group sales. There’s strength in numbers.
There are other ways of marketing your work, by offering something extra, in addition to the pottery that entices customers and encourage sales.
You could call this pottery with benefits.
Ben and Peta Richardson run a B&B at their pottery in Tasmania. Three out of five guests buy pots during their visits.
Akira Satake and his wife Barbara Zaretsky serve food and beverages at their gallery. Brilliant idea, pots and food. Who would have thought?!
Josh Copus’s fiancée, Emily Patrick, is growing flowers that will perfectly complement his pottery.
There are also several ways of simply adding value to your work.
Exhibitions and the endorsement of galleries and museums raise your profile; so, too, do articles and catalogues written about your work.
Words add value.
One of the unfortunate motivations for buying art is to brag to your peers about what you have just bought. Acquisition confers status.
Daniel Johnston’s recent foray into the world of installation art ups the ante for us all.
His recent show at the Peters Project in Santa Fe looks like an amalgam of Martin Puryear, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, or Edmund de Waal, and giant Tiffany jewelry boxes.
This work certainly adds conceptual value to our field, and financial value too, I hope.
None of this can happen if you stay home and expect the world to come to you.
Go out and meet the world, at school, at other arts events, at church or synagogue. At yoga and sporting events. Socialize at civic events, at professional events, at farmers markets, at fundraisers, at concerts. Wherever people who like art congregate. Volunteer. Meet people, talk to people, and invite them to supper. Tell them your story, tell them your news. Make yourself and your work part of their cultural landscape.
Spread the word.
Remember that everyone who buys a pot will be also spreading the word, too. Your customers will show off your work and talk about you to their friends and acquaintances. Viral networks abound.
Finally, ideas won’t last unless you make them happen.
Marketing requires rigorous application; you have to do the work.
It is next to impossible for one person to do all the making and all the marketing and all the administration. Potters, like everyone else, need help. Some have professional help, if you have assistants and employees, but having a partner who helps can be invaluable, both emotionally and financially.
It helps to be a team.
I couldn’t do it without my wife, Carol.