An Illustrator’s Guide to Tracking Emails to Art Directors
Hannah-Michelle Bayley / Illustrator
Whether you’re just starting to truck your way down the freelance road or you’re a seasoned pro, reaching out to art directors and companies is one of the most fruitful ways to get design work. I spent weeks curating a GIF-laden portfolio website, but I soon realised it wasn’t going to get seen unless I shout about it. Please don’t be like me and leave your groovy website to gather dust on the 3rd page of Google search for 6 months.
I’m going to share with you exactly how I’m contacting art directors and companies I want to work with. I’ve picked up many of these practices over the past year and it remains to be my current system. I was eternally anxious when it came to this side of illustration until I broke down the process into bite-size (less scary) chunks. Getting freelance work can feel like trying to win a plushie on a claw machine on your last $, but keeping momentum and routine will give you results. Even if those results can be daunting, they help you to see those holes in your portfolio that you can plug up with more funky work! I hope it’ll help you shape your own routine, whether you only have 2 hours in the evenings after your day job or you’re all in 24/7.
I have made my personal spreadsheet a downloadable PDF template! It’s at the bottom of this post. Feel free to use it and alter it to your needs. The key information to know is: who you’ve contacted and when you've contacted them.
I make a list
First and foremost, if you’re set on editorial illustration as a career, it helps to treat it like it’s already your career. To work more efficiently in my career mindset, I’ve created a spreadsheet that tracks contacts, emails, and dates for sending out my portfolio. I found systemising how I contact people to be the most important feature of my outreach. You don’t want to be fumbling around trying to find the email for your ride-or-die company; you want to have it on record so you can spend more time tailoring your message to them.
Side note: Sometimes companies won’t have a specific illustration submission email. If that is the case, try using the general contact email with a polite and short message asking your work to be forwarded to the art director.
I check it twice
Often, places can get bombarded with emails on the daily. There is a chance your message will slip through the cracks! Or, perhaps you might add more work to your portfolio that you want to share with an art director. Keep a note of when you’ve emailed so that you can send a follow up email after 3-6 months in cases of silence and/or portfolio changes.
I set a routine
I maintain my contacting process on a slow drip to keep up my mental momentum. I spend an hour every few days doing one of the following tasks:
✿ finding the details of places to contact
✿ Emailing said contacts
It helps to break these elements up because boy, they can eat up a shed load of time. I read once that grouping similar tasks helps reduce time wastage, so I try to focus on one part in one day, then the next day I’ll donate an hour to the other. It keeps my spreadsheet nice and full, without eating up an entire day. Having said that, some illustrators like to sit down and spend a few days in bulk doing this process every 3 months. Test out what works for you!
Remember, they’re people!
This point is especially important if you’re reaching out to a specific art director. Art directors are often artists themselves and have most definitely worked on some super rad projects. I take the time to educate myself on their practice and engage them on a level that is beyond “hello-here-is-my-work-hire-me.” I would personally find it annoying if I got barraged with the same email rehashed over and over again asking to work with me. Make that email really personal and beyond transactional. Keep it short, sweet, and friendly.
I consider what I’m sending
Alongside sending my portfolio link, I attach a selection of images that I think fits in with the company/art director's aesthetic. For instance, if I'm contacting a female focussed magazine, I’ll attach a selection of portfolio work that is reflective of their mission statement. I have found I almost always get hired based on the work I have already done, so make the work you want to be hired for.
I don’t get offended
I’ve faced a lot of radio silence to my messages, and from what I have learned from other illustrators that is par for the course. BUT! I’ve contacted places and heard back sometimes even up to 6 months later offering work. Don’t take it personally, for all you could know they’re just super busy so they've saved your work for when the perfect-fit project comes along. I find that using the constant drip contacting method helps to alleviate any anxiety, as I'm putting feelers out so frequently I don't even remember when I have contacted places. Only outside of my spreadsheet, that is. The spreadsheet knows all.
Rinse and repeat, baby.
Free tracking template
Below is a link to my downloadable contact tracking template. If you're afraid of spreadsheets you're in luck because this one is super simple. Please remember! I'm not claiming to be an expert, but this system has really helped me up my game. Feel free to share the link and edit the template to your needs. I've included two downloadable versions for different operating systems.
Oh! And don't forget to drop me a message on Working Not Working to let me know how it's going. I'd love to know.