Getting a Gig: Reaching Out

gig,connections,clients, Getting a Gig: Reaching Out
Illustration by Matt Rota
Share this!


How you organize your client information needs to be an essential part of your professional workflow. A collection of names and emails on a word doc can be a messy way to work and lead to mistakes, redundancies, and oversights. All my contacts are organized on spreadsheets, specifically Excel, but other people use Google Sheets just as easily. The advantage is being able to sort and edit easily. Looking at your information in alphabetical order of art director, company name, email, or date of entry will save you hours of headaches and hard work. The added benefit is being able to translate from spreadsheet to mailing list or mailing labels with a couple of clicks of the mouse.

On spreadsheets, information is organized into rows (across) and columns (down). use the top row for column values (FIRST NAME, LAST NAME, EMAIL, ADDRESS, COMPANY, DATE ADDED, LAST CONTACT, etc.) These value fields are useful in using mass emailing and label-making templates. You can enter the information in any order in the columns and then alphabetize it later. This allows you to check for overlap, look at whom you’ve contacted by date, and who needs to be contacted in the future.


When I’m contacting art directors, I take one of two approaches: familiar vs formal, depending on how well I know the art director.  While I personalize emails for my priority clients, I create mass email templates for the more general list. For mass emailing I use a free app called Mail Merge, an add-on to the Thunderbird email client (which is what I use to manage multiple accounts at once). There are other similar apps, but this one has always worked well for me. It allows me to create generic value fields in emails that correspond to and are replaced with specific information in the sent email. In the email template, I use bracketed terms like {FIRST NAME} or {EMAIL}. The email reads something like “Hi {FIRST NAME}”. After I send the email through Mail Merge the generic name is personalized to something like “Hi John”.

In Mail Merge, there is also an option for mailing labels.  Just create a generic label and run it through the app to create personalized labels for all your contacts. This allows you to send out something like a thousand emails a day. When mass emailing never CC multiple art directors. Either send out individual emails or BCC a mass email (Blind Carbon Copy). Art directors will complain about having their names and emails visible on a CC list.


There is a lot of anxiety attached to writing emails to art directors for the first time. It can feel intrusive as if you are bothering them to look at your work. It is important to realize that it is their job to look at artists’ portfolios and hire them, so when you are reaching out, you are participating in a part of their workflow. Art directors are constantly being contacted by artists, and generally allocate part of their day or week to fielding these emails. You are not asking for any special attention or time. Simply, if an art director has time to look, they will, and if they don’t, they won’t. There is no reason to feel that you are being intrusive if you are polite and professional.

gig,connections,clients, Getting a Gig: Reaching Out
Make sure you are also checking your inbox every day so you quickly respond!

Having said that, it is also important to get straight to the point.  You are writing to show them your work in hopes that they like it and hire you.  Say it concisely and clearly.  Keep it around a paragraph long. Give a one or two-sentence introduction, such as “My name is so and so, I’m an illustrator working out of wherever. I love the work you commission for X magazine, and I wanted to share some of my recent work with you.” Describe a few pieces with a sentence each. (There should be corresponding images embedded in the email.) “These are links to my social media and website. I hope to be able to work with you on something in the future. All my best, XXX.” Some variation of that usually works. The main thing is to get your work in front of them. Beyond your brief introduction, the work will either speak for itself or it will not, and you do not want to let a long wordy email get in between the art director and your samples.


Your images should be embedded in an email along with your social media, and website. You want to create as few steps as possible for someone to find your work. So instead of providing just a link, or adding images as attachments, create a postcard-like jpg with several images (4-5) and with your name and contact (well-designed like a promo card, because that’s what it is) and embed that in the email, so when they scroll down, the art director will see your art immediately. The jpg should be under one megabyte and 800 pixels in width, so it looks nice at full size in the email and doesn’t take up much room. It should be saved with your name as the title, so when the art director files it in their promo folder, they can find you easily. Again, make sure your name is also printed on the image somewhere. Aside from a jpg, an animated gif that cycles through your work can be an eye-catching file to embed. it takes up less physical space and will capture their attention quickly.


Once you send out an email blast, moderate your expectations. I’ve been told to expect less than a ten percent response rate, and even less when you are first starting. This means for every hundred emails you send, if ten people get back to you, you are doing excellent. Even if your email is opened and your work appreciated, you will not get a response most of the time. This can be discouraging but it’s important to look at each round of promotions as an investment in the future.  It is not a one-time engagement, but rather it’s a cycle or a routine that needs to be managed.

Every month to three months, send out new work, be persistent and consistent. Always imagine each of your emails has been opened, and never write an email questioning why an art director has not responded. Never sound like you expect a response. Just continue to send new work with the same polite professional tone. There are clients to whom I’ve sent work for years never knowing if they ever saw my work, until one day I’ll receive an email thanking me for keeping them updated and they finally have the right project. If no one replies negatively to your promo, no one asks to be taken off your mailing list, then you are taking the right approach. Sometimes, no news is good news.

How do you make your connections? Did you find this helpful? Let us know in the comments!


About the author

Matthew Rota

A graduate of The Maryland Institute College of Art’s General Fine Arts program and the School of Visual Art’s MFA Visual Essay program, Matt Rota is an illustrator, author, and instructor. He’s spent the past 15 years working with clients in print and online including the New York Times, the New Yorker, Penguin Books, The LA Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, The New Republic, Smithsonian, Variety, Buzzfeed, and many others. His illustrations focus primarily on global politics, criminal justice, social inequality, immigration, and poverty. His work in illustration has been recognized by several industry organizations including Communication Arts, Spectrum, 3X3 Magazine, and The Society of Illustrators, where he has won two silver medals, one for his work on the documentary Silent Truth, a documentary on the threat of violence towards women in the U.S. Military, another for a series of drawings with ProPublica on Fire Stone Tires and the Liberian Genocide.

Add Comment

Click here to post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Subscribe to Our Newsletter

Popular Posts

[wpp stats_views=0]

Recent Posts