Posted by: Thomas Stephan
Category: Working Pro-bono
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Thomas (Tom) Stephan

I have absolute faith in you, reader; I know that you have assessed your own skills, scouted your pro bono project, met with and agreed on contracts, and created something incredible. And while your pro bono website, or advertising copy, or printed piece is beautiful, functional and delivered on time to the joy of all concerned, there is no time to rest. Now comes the hardest (and simplest) part of your work: making your creation work for you.

I know, I know — it sounds very confusing. I’m sure you’re wondering why you shouldn’t just take your samples and webshots, stuff them in your portfolio and walk away. But why should your work - a living, breathing, workable item - be sentenced to suffocate inside your zippered binder under a veneer of plastic sheeting? Don’t leave your future to chance; market your success ASAP.

Imagine if you will, two equally matched creatives in an interview. Both have good portfolios, both possess the skills necessary, both are capable. But when your potential boss says “tell me about your work,” and you can say “Well, I’ve been featured in three publications and was nominated (or won!) an award for my pro bono project,” then you’re hired! It’s not just about design, folks; it’s about whether you can bring honor to your work and your workplace. Marketing yourself will not only get your work seen and your style known - it will also get you a job.

Why is this hard? Because artists and creatives are often the last people to consider their work worthy of note or award. Admit it — where others see something of beauty, you can only point out the flaws, or the missteps, or the “oh, if only I had…” thoughts that pervade your head. My advice? GET OVER IT. Get over your own doubts and get to work.

First and foremost, make absolutely sure you’ve secured several copies of your pro-bono work. The source files alone aren’t going to cut it. You need tangible evidence. If it’s a website, you’re a bit luckier — you can take screenshots or place online links from your website. Grab as many copies of printwork, video, flash files and any copy you’ve written for your own benefit. And once you’ve gathered your work, it’s time to start.

Now it’s time write and submit a press release about your work. Some of you will leap at the chance to write something, and others will cringe. Don’t fret! Writing a press release is not about genius or writing prowess. If it were, newspapers would be staffed with novelists. Your press release should be neat and concise. It should consist of what every basic Journalism class refers to as “the five W’s”:

  • Who: This is always going to be you. Yes! It’s all about you! Finally!

  • What: This is all about your project. A website for non-profit basket weavers! Illustration for a major children’s hospital! Printed brochures about non-profit basket weavers weaving hats for kids in hospitals!
  • When: When did this happen? When will it happen? When will it end?
  • Where: Is this on the web? Is it available for download or mailing? Can people visit a place and get a copy?
  • Why: Why was this project needed? Why did you take it on? Why did you do it for free?

Now, let me be very clear about the aforementioned five W’s: This is not a WAY to write a press release. This is an ORDER. If it were a way to write them, press releases would sound like caveman speech: “Sally Smith make ad for public library Monday, to make kids happy. Go to library and get one. Need to market library.”

There are literally hundreds of websites out there featuring hundreds of ways to write press releases, and I won’t go into them here. Any way that you may write them, from simple to complex, your next move is to submit them to as many news sources that you can find. I recommend starting in your area and working your way outwards. Research your local newspapers and business journals for methods of submission (many of them accept online submissions now, but nothing replaces the old fashioned phone call to make sure that you’re sending it to the right person.) If your pro bono work is website based, I’d recommend hitting up the tech-section of your local press. If your work is about re-branding, look for the business editors. Remember; the more interesting you can make your work, the greater chance of being published.

After you’ve sent out releases to the local market, you need to widen your circle to include design publications and online resources. For that, I’ve enlisted the help of self-professed “media ‘ho’” Calvin Lee, owner of Mayhem Studios. More than just a talented designer across multiple mediums, Lee is a master at getting noticed. In a recent interview with, , Cal gave an excellent response to the question of why self-promotion is such a necessity:

If you’re a freelancer, self-promotion is a must. How else do you expect a potential client to know about you? Most new designers—even some pros—don’t view self-promotion as an option. Many frown upon self-promoting, as it’s bragging and name-dropping. In a way, it’s bragging but to me it’s more about letting people know who I am and what I can do to help them.”

Quoted from,

Cal’s list is a wealth of resources; some require a fee and others do not, but if you’ve got a little investment capital it’s worth the investment. Enjoy these links.

For self-marketing, I post to many online press release web sites. PRWeb and PRLeap are the big boys of on-line press releases news wire. They used to be free but they are a little too expensive now. They start at around $80 and up.

Plus all the traditional ways of sending your press releases: local/national news papers and industry related news papers/magazines.

A few free press release web site you can post to.

+ PR Compass
+ Free Press Release
+ 24/7 Press Release
+ PR Log
+ 1888 Press Release
+ Click Press
+ Free News Release
+ I-Newswire
+ PR
+ PR 9

Portfolio, design, and social networking sites that have an option to post your news.

+ Create Magazine
+ Design Related
+ Area of Design
+ Dexigner
+ Facebook
+ Myspace
+ Meetup

Then there are Social Bookmarking sites that can drive a lot of traffic to your site.

+ Digg
+ Stumble Upon
+ Technorati
+ Furl
+ Ma.gnolia

A few other ways

+ Blogging - Will bring traffic to your site
+ E-newsletters - You can send e-newsletters to your current contact list and clients you want to work with.
+ Forums - Tooting on forums can bring great returns. Like getting into books, articles, interviews, clients, etc. Just look at me!

Many thanks to Cal for all his work and generosity in sharing!

In closing, just a few more tiny bits of advice:

  • Work on your self-promotion just as hard as you do your creative work. It will pay off, trust me!

  • Make sure you get some official boilerplate from the organization you worked for. This will save you a little time and a lot of grief when writing.
  • Remember when I said you should have some scans and copies of your work? You can submit high rez JPGs and TIFFs with your release if you’d like. (this is especially useful for billboards and high-end promotional items, and especially nice with online publications) Not all places will accept them, but it never hurts to ask.
  • Do NOT send your release and then forget about it. Marketing is about give and take; you need to follow up with an email or a phone call when possible. If you feel uncomfortable calling people to promote yourself, this is a great opportunity to learn how to do it. Remember - these people want a good story — they NEED a good story. You’re trying to help them find one!
  • On the same note, don’t stalk the media. If they didn’t run your story about writing fortune cookie notes for the local Catholic Bake Sale, don’t call and ask why they don’t love you. Believe me when I tell you that media-stalkers who call or email nonstop, are pushy and aggressive, and make life hard for the press will be blacklisted. Be friendly, courteous and honest; and they’ll return the favor.
  • When your media releases get published, make sure you collect and file them in your portfolio.

Marketing yourself is a great tool to polish your writing and sales skills, and it adds that extra dash of credibility to your portfolio. Like I said at the very top of this article, your self-promotion is the cherry atop your mound of yummy design skills. And the best part is, you can talk about yourself all day long! What could be better than that?

Up next: A walk down memory lane: a rehash of the Working Pro Bono Series. Join me as we bring a chapter to a close and open a few new doors for you to peek through!

This series is dedicated to the exploration of pro bono practices: from how to find the non-profit client, understanding the expectations of not-for profit work, setting up contracts to protect both parties and the successful (and not so successful) ways to educate yourself and your client on how creatives can and should work together to the benefit of all involved. Along the way we’ll include international design experts, research and statistics, etiquette and most importantly, how to be part of the solution. Stay tuned and let your voices be heard.

Thomas (Tom) Stephan | Director of Something Clever
BoDo Author | Dyer Straits | Working Pro-bono

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Comments to this post:

Comment: Calvin says


Good going as always! Keep up the great articles!

- Cal

3rd June 2008 Quote

Comment: Thomas Stephan says

Thanks Cal! And thanks for all your help in writing this fantastic list!

3rd June 2008 Quote

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