How to work with brands

Driven by curiosity & led by culture, Sarah Williams believes that art has the power to inspire and engage audiences in new and unexpected ways.

Having worked in advertising for over 10 years, Sarah saw an opportunity to create more authentic and compelling stories by bringing artists and brands closer together. This led her to set up Soho Curious & Co in 2018 – an arts consultancy that helps brands and businesses to engage with their audiences through artist led projects.

From initial brief to execution, Soho Curious & Co create high end, authentic art projects that put their clients at the heart of culture. They have worked with fine artists, fire artists, photographers, tattoo artists, illustrators and set designers to bring their client’s briefs to life in bold and unexpected ways.

Previously Head of Art Buying at M&C Saatchi, Sarah has worked with some of the world’s biggest brands including Belstaff, Adidas and Peroni and has established an impressive network of artists across the globe. She understands how brands think, which along with her artist connections enables her to bridge the gap between the creative and commercial world seamlessly.

We caught up with Sarah to get her top tips on how to work with brands;

Network. Networking casts fear into people’s hearts – but let’s look at why it’s important first. As a bottom line it’s easier to work with someone you know a bit. It’s easier to negotiate, to understand what they want – and they know you so will have you in mind when the right job comes in.

If big networking events feels awful – don’t do them. Start small. Ask someone for a coffee and show them your work – talk about a couple of projects that you’re confident about and ask them about themselves and their work. Face to face is always best – you can build a much better rapport.

Shape your brand. Having a strong visual identity is so important. This can be a challenge if you have more than one style but I find that the illustrators I remember, and that brands remember are ones who have one strong aesthetic.

You are selling yourself, your brand to lots of different people, and they need to be able to instantly know and remember you. This should be reflected on your Instagram, website and mailers – a smooth look that has a thread running through it. Some illustrators have this easily – others need to develop it over time, but it’s important to keep at the front of your mind.

Research. When a brief comes in make sure that you fully understand what it is and who it is coming from. When you meet a client for the first time make sure that you know their client base – who have they worked with before? If meeting a particular person you can check them out on LinkedIn. You never know what might come up – you may uncover something super useful. I look at their company website, Instagram (which can go down a rabbit hole), LinkedIn, articles about the company, or brief – it can all feed into informing you.

Ask Questions. The more you understand the brief, the more you will be able to execute it how you – and the client – wants it. Now that there are fewer Art Buyers out there, briefs are often written by people with different experience and things can get lost. Make sure you ask all the questions you need – colourways, size, if it’s part of a bigger image – anything you can think of. Often the commissioners haven’t thought of something and it’s helpful to unpick that together. And you always look better if you ask questions and don’t just nod and smile.

Communicate! This follows on from asking questions – but all the way through make sure you communicate. I sometimes ask for one contact at the company so I don’t have to recap every time I speak to someone new. Some brands want to work more collaboratively than others – make sure you know how they want to work.

Share any problems that you see. It doesn’t have to be a negative – it’s more important to throw light on them and then find the best solution.

Negotiate. You must negotiate! Remember that it’s expected – and you’ll be respected for asserting your value in a respectful and friendly way. I always ask for two basics up front – the budget and the licence. Sometimes the budget is not shared which is frustrating but it’s vital to get the licence details – otherwise you just can’t quote.

The AOI talk about the value of your work – and that’s quite right. If you take a job for a low fee, you are eroding the industry for everyone. It also shows you are not confident – and if you don’t value your work, a client won’t either. Think about how much time it will take you – and don’t expect the client to know about your process. Explain why something will take the time it will take – 2 weeks may be incomprehensible until they realise that you are cutting each character by hand for example.

It’s always better to start with a higher fee and work back. Keep the conversation open and chatty – phrases like ‘I’d usually charge XX’ show that you know what you are doing (even if you don’t). And you can leave the conversation open with phrases like ‘I’d love to work with you so let me know your budget’ so there is room for negotiation.

Let go. You need a certain amount of creative control of your work but you also need to know when to let go. You’ve got to find the balance of creative integrity and doing a job you’ve been paid to do. You won’t love the creative outcome of every job you do – and that is fine – just shout about the ones that you love!

Stay Focused. Being mentally well as a freelancer is really important- and often challenging. Consider setting some rules to keep you on track;
• Don’t just sit at home. Take your work elsewhere – work from a café, library, a friends kitchen.
• Use a focus keeper app – it sets 20 minute cycles with a 5 minute break. That stops the temptation to procrastinate / put a wash on (or make ANOTHER cup of tea).
• Arrange to meet people – sometimes it might be someone you’d love to work with, a networking group, or an existing client that you want to build a relationship with. I do some mentoring with artists, which is often as useful for me as it is for my mentee!

Three top tips for illustrators
• Know yourself as a brand and act like a brand – have a social media plan, a marketing plan and a business plan. Know how you are going to get work.

• Have a strong visual identity.

• Have a target list of people you want to work with and contact them one by one.

Sarah offers artists consultations, and welcomes illustrators getting in touch on email.  They are also running some fab events – check out whats on here.
Instagram: @sohocuriousandco

24th July 2019

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