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Research, Reach-out, Repeat: The Value of a Strong Database


We sat down with Heather Elder of Heather Elder Represents to get her take on what it means to have a strong database and how to best utilize it plus, her thoughts on email marketing best practices. Read on for some golden nuggets from one of the best in the biz.

What is a database used for?

A database is a collection of creative contacts that an artist either has a current relationship with or might be targeting to share new work. It is important to understand that no matter how robust a database is, it is never complete. You should always update your data by adding contacts who either newly fit your outreach criteria or remove those who are no longer relevant to you and your work. People are continually changing roles and companies, meaning the list you created last month very well could be out of date the following month; just another reason why committing to updating your data is crucial to the success of our outreach.

Who should you add to your database?

When adding creatives to your database, it’s important to remember that having a relevant and accurate database far surpasses high volume. As you grow your database, keep an eye out for these types of contacts:

  1. Contacts who have hired you in the past
  2. Contacts who have inquired about your work
  3. Recent contacts you’ve reached out to with new work
  4. Art Producers
  5. Creatives who work at brands or agencies that are doing work that is relevant/similar to the type of work you do or can see yourself doing

What resources are available to build a database?

Before subscription services such as Agency Access were made available, reps would have to call ad agencies and ask them to fax over their creative list. To be more efficient, back then, we combined forces with other rep groups and together, we would call around to gather lists a few times a year. Each rep would take a different part of the country to ensure we were getting a well-rounded list and we would share our findings with each other. Our ingenuity was incredible at the time. However, we ran into issues because the list became out of date long before we got around to reaching out again.

Today, we are grateful for services like Agency Access where you have a team of experts behind you to curate the database and keep it up to date. While no list is perfect, knowing that there are people dedicated to the research makes paying for the service worth it. I know I could not build my contact lists without such a service.

Besides subscription services, how else can you find relevant contacts?

One of my favorite ways to find relevant contacts is utilizing LinkedIn. Once you know the brand or agency you want to target, you can search for them on LinkedIn and then drill down to learn more about the roles and the people who fill them. People mostly share their personal emails on LinkedIn, so I would advise against soliciting someone you connect with here unless you have their work address. Remember that LinkedIn is a legitimate networking tool, so make sure you are thoughtful with your outreach.

Another good way to connect with relevant contacts and get an idea of which creatives work on what accounts is award shows. Publications like Archive and Communication Arts and sourcebooks and websites like Workbook, At Edge, and Found all share work created by artists and credit the teams involved.

No single service will provide you with all the necessary contacts you will need. Still, by utilizing a collection of them, you will begin to build a powerful, robust, and relevant database.

How do I know if the brands and agencies I want to reach out to are relevant to my work?

The first and most crucial step is understanding your own brand. Be careful not to confuse your brand with the category of work you create (i.e., automotive, portraits, food, etc.) Instead, think about what it is about you as an artist that makes you unique? What experiences have you had that help define your values as a person and as an artist?

Once you feel like you have a firm handle on your brand, start making a list of brands and agencies with similar values. Don't be afraid to use Google and see what others are saying. Check out the websites and read the "About" page; some put a lot of time and effort into that section, and it can provide clues as to how that brand or agency works.

What types of contact should be removed from a database?

When I first started growing my database, I followed one rule of thumb: if I didn't know who they were or what account they worked on, I would remove them from the list. As my list began to grow, I realized that it was impossible to know every person. So, I would pay close attention to who was clicking on my emails; then, I would research these creatives to see their accounts. If there was no engagement after a year and they no longer worked on an account relevant to the work I was going after, then I would remove them from my list.

Is it necessary to remove people from your list?

Keep in mind that email marketing is interruption-based, meaning that you need to be hyperaware and sensitive to the fact that your emails, relevant or not, contribute to the noise. Therefore, when using your database to create your email marketing list, check it twice to ensure you reach out to the relevant contacts that will resonate best with your work.

When creating an email blast, what are some key tips to making it relevant?

First and foremost, the work you choose to share via your email marketing is crucial. It needs to be creatively strong and unique as well as relevant to the creative receiving it. The message needs to be right for the time; are you just sharing it because it is new? Are you communicating a solution for the person receiving it? When the pandemic first hit, I pivoted all of my marketing to solution-based marketing and was applauded for being helpful during a very challenging time.

Is there a time of day when it is best to send an email?

Several studies show the best time of day to send an email, and I have read many of them. However, in my experience over the years, I have not seen a dramatic change in the open or click-through rates when I change the day or time I send my marketing emails. That said, it could be different for you. I would suggest doing some research and make your own educated decision. I would avoid sending an email blast at night or over the weekend. Here's a pro tip: think about the promotional emails you receive. When do you get them? Do you find you read through your emails at a particular time? Take this info and mirror your strategy after what grabs your attention as a consumer.

As far as email etiquette goes, what stands out as a negative for you?

I don’t think it is good practice to ever reach out to a contact letting them know you saw that they clicked or opened your email. This can feel stalker-ish and can make the person not want to engage with you. Remember that you are interrupting their day with your email. If they choose to click on it, that is a plus for you. Do not take a chance and spoil the exchange by following up and asking them to meet via zoom or do a portfolio review.

How about a positive?

I find that the more solution-oriented or value-focused my emails are, the more effective they are. If I can share something that helps a producer or a creative solve a creative challenge, awesome! If I can educate them on something or show them that I can be a resource, even better. By focusing on the content I am sending out and making sure it's relevant, creatives begin to see me as a leader and someone on which they can depend. Of course, I love sharing new work with them, but that isn't the only thing I share. When I share more recent work, they pay more attention because of the value I have already provided.

What other ways do you use your database besides for email marketing?

There are countless ways to utilize your database. Besides email marketing, I choose to use mine to help organize and keep track of my contacts. If you are looking to use your database to organize yourself, make sure you keyword the contacts you are entering. Keywords allow you to search through your contacts with ease and narrow it down by title or role, category or specialty, and more. With options of adding tags, a new feature added to the new Agency Access platform; you can search by your last communication or who you estimated a job within the previous year. So, no matter what list I need to create, I can always drill down easily and quickly to the most relevant people.

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