authors Janice Costa
It’s been said that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. While some might argue the point, there’s plenty of truth in the idea that being seen and known gives people and companies an edge, particularly in a competitive field such as kitchen and bath design.
Since clients aren’t just paying for products, but rather for a designer’s unique creative talents, vision, design know-how and problem-solving skills, building and promoting that brand – and gaining name recognition in as many venues as possible – can mean the difference between being one in a crowd or a standout superstar.
But in a world where social media is saturated with photos and two-second attention spans are becoming the norm, how can a designer truly stand out? And with so many media avenues available today, where should designers focus their efforts?
LOCAL VS. NATIONAL
While media attention can be a huge benefit in growing a brand and a business, it’s important to understand that not all media is created equal – and targeting the right media to reach your goals is key.
Consider what your goals are: Are you looking to build your personal brand, your design brand, or both? Are you looking for credibility or more customers? Is your goal to get your company national or international media acclaim, or would you rather focus on local media that will bring you front and center in the community where your prospects live?
“If you’re a local designer and that’s what you want to be, that’s great. But if you want to be on the national scene, your brand needs to reflect that. It’s really good to get on the dance floor that is most relevant for you,” says Veronika Miller, CEO and founder of Modenus Media LLC and the creative mind behind BlogTour, which brings together media, manufacturers and designers.
She continues, “There are people [whose work was featured on] HGTV who never got any projects out of that. The same is true for many nationally published designers; they do it for brand recognition, but don’t get any jobs out of it.”
For that reason, she feels goal setting early on is important. “If you want to be a speaker on design, someone who contributes to publications, then I’d really drive that professional exposure thing to the max and get out in front of media across the country. But if that isn’t your goal, then I’d look to more traditional local media.”
YOUR DESIGN BRAND
If your goal is to build your design brand, you’ll want to use every tool in your arsenal, according to designer Peter Salerno of Peter Salerno Inc. in Wyckoff, NJ, who has earned enormous national and international media acclaim over the course of his career. He notes, “I use all media to share our artistry with the world through my blog, website, Facebook, Pinterest, Houzz, HGTV, NKBA, magazines, etc.” He continues, “People ask me, ‘What is your best media outlet for exposure?’ My answer is: all of them! Put your projects everywhere! You need to give your prospective clients many avenues to find you; they all work. Photograph your best projects, share them with editors and websites, and get them on the internet. If you build it, they will come!”
Design contests are another way to garner media attention, according to Cammi Werling of Cammi Werling Designs in Jupiter, FL, who saw this firsthand when she was named one of the winners of KBDN’s Design Awards in 2017. Design contest winners are generally broadcast to multiple media outlets, and some even end up as magazine covers (Werling’s design is on the cover of this month’s issue of KBDN!).
Collaborative partnerships can also earn media attention. Werling, who works with local builders, has had her work published thanks to builders who have submitted whole-home photos to various media outlets.
For designers looking to raise their profile with the media, a good website is essential, and a strong social media presence is also important. Indeed, according to Kit Selzer, senior remodeling & projects editor for the Des Moines, IA-based Better Homes & Gardens, “We regularly visit designers’ websites to view portfolios and blogs. We also make the rounds on Pinterest and Instagram.”
Showhouses can also be another avenue to capture media attention, according to Ingrid Abramovitch, features director for Hearst Design Group (including Elle Décor, House Beautiful and Veranda), who notes, “We go to a lot of showhouses to check them out, so being involved in these can win [media] attention. It’s a great way to show off what you can do and provides an opportunity to photograph your work and vision – and since there’s no client, that really distills what your vision is.”
Not surprisingly, when it comes to media, photography matters. Top editors look for great, high-resolution photography, including high-resolution before shots (since many media outlets like to showcase the dramatic transformation of a space through before and after photos).
Additionally, access is critical. According to Selzer, “We like to know we can go back and shoot the location with our preferred crew and styling [if we like the project]. So it’s best if the designer knows their client is amenable to a photo shoot before pitching the project.”
While a well-designed, easy-to-navigate website with great photography can help garner media attention, it’s also a good idea for designers to be proactive by pitching media with their best projects. However, media experts agree that a blind or blanket pitch is not the way to go. Rather, projects should be targeted to the appropriate editor or producer only after studying the media outlet and carefully choosing a project that’s likely to be a good fit.
Kansas City designer Karen Mills, former host of the Living Large luxury design radio show, who has been featured by 100+ media outlets, including USA Today, ABC National News, Elle Décor, The Wall Street Journal and more, suggests, “For TV, start locally – find out who the producer is, pitch them on your idea. But do your research first; don’t just throw a bunch of things at them and hope it sticks.” She notes that each publication, website or TV show has its own style, perspective and voice. She notes, “The more you know about each one, the more likely you are to be successful in pitching them.”
Miller concurs: “I don’t feel anyone should ever go to an editor and say ‘Here’s this project’ if they don’t know who they are, what they write and how they write it. Understanding how print journalism and larger digital publications work – production lead times, editorial calendars, regular departments, etc. – is important.”
Neither should designers send out mass emails with projects. As Selzer explains, “We’re not likely to reply to an email that appears to be mass distributed. Let us know that we’re being given first crack at the project. Coverage in local outlets or on blogs is fine; we just wouldn’t want the project to have already appeared in another national print publication.”
As far as the best way to pitch, Selzer notes, “We encourage designers to email us images of their projects directly and to tag us (#BHGHome) on the project images they post on Instagram. We’d love to receive an email that showcases one project, maybe 3-6 photos [plus before shots), ideally something recently completed, with a few sentences about what was done and why, as well as where the home is located. If it’s a good fit for BH&G, we’ll go to their website or blog to check out the rest of their work.”
She continues, “We’re looking for innovation with mainstream appeal. We love rooms that look sunny and bright, so we’re drawn to rooms with windows. The impression of natural light and a view makes a room seem bigger, brighter and more interesting. And we like to see photos with a focal point: a range with a decorative hood, an apron-front sink in front of a window, an island with seating and storage. A wide-angle lens may capture most of the kitchen components in one shot, but it doesn’t always produce the prettiest picture. We’re looking for photos of rooms with an intimate, real-life feel rather than a showroom display.”
Abramovitch also encourages those looking to get published to “Follow the editors who work for the publications you want to be in on social media. Comment on what you see; you might catch their attention, and that might lead them to your page.”
She appreciates being tagged on Instagram with photos of projects that might be a good fit, noting, “We’re interested in technology and how that relates to the kitchen and sometimes the bathroom. And we are extremely interested in spaces that are gorgeous.”
She concludes, “It’s important to have good material, good pictures, so invest in some nice styling and a good photo shoot so it shows [your project] off to its best potential.”
Of course pitching media correctly is only one part of the equation – you also have to have noteworthy projects and a story to tell.
For award-winning designer Werling, unique designs and eye-catching colors are a great place to start. She explains, “Everyone’s showing a gray kitchen or a white kitchen, so unique designs with unexpected colors or a close-up detail [of something different] helps you to stand out.
Particularly on social media, “It’s all about the pictures,” she says, adding, “People scroll by so fast, you have to have something that catches their eye.”
Miller agrees that something dramatic can certainly be eye-catching, but she believes it’s more important to have a story. “Have a reason for why this is a great project, not just for the editor but for the project itself. Is there a space challenge, a client challenge, big family, small family, sustainability, wellness? What’s your angle? When you have a hook, even as you start designing it, it will help you pitch it later on; you can give them more than pretty pictures, you can give them your vision.”
She believes that details also make a difference, noting, “As you’re pitching, highlight those story elements by not always going with the full room shot right away. Have vignette shots.”
Hashtags can be attention-getters, too; Werling is a fan of Instagram, and has garnered many followers from all over with simple, descriptive hashtags that would be likely to turn up in a search, such as #seededglass or #whitekitchen.
YOUR PERSONAL BRAND
If your goal is to build your personal brand, a blog is a valuable tool, according to Mills. “I get most of my media on the national and international level from having a great website and the blog,” she notes, adding that her blog’s readership spans 130+ countries. The blog spotlights her knowledge in a variety of areas, and has garnered everything from national and international press write-ups to offers to audition for national television shows.
Anthony Michael Salerno, who handles much of the social media at his father’s firm, adds, “Social media is free and plays a huge role [in building your brand]; we have over 1,200 subscribers to our blog and about 1,300 blog viewers a month; roughly half of them click through to our website and that has led to several high-profile jobs. The fun part about the blog is that it is not just about our designs – we talk about recipes, wines, colors, restaurants, vacations, charity work, kids and grandkids, etc. Aside from being on the same design wave-length as your prospective client, you want to connect with them on an extracurricular level as well!”
While pitching great designs and interesting stories is always important, having a clearly defined personal brand can also make a difference. In TV and radio, Mills notes that there will always be demand for people “who are entertaining, who are interesting, who are knowledgeable, and who are lively and able to give a good answer.”
She adds, it’s important to cultivate a positive attitude that makes people want to work with you, noting that being warm, friendly, approachable and reliable will also add to the advancement of your personal brand.
Relationships also matter, according to Abramovitch. She concludes, “One of the things that may be old fashioned but is still very important is to develop a relationship with an editor over time. Be a ‘go-to’ person for them.” After all, media are people, too! ▪