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A Potter's Moll: Spreading The Word

...Work with teachers and with schools is important – I’ve lost count of how many teachers’ retirement presents have been bought here, generally paid for with a huge bag of coins from the whip-round. Mainly work with schools goes smoothly but Jim was non-plussed to be bombarded with e-mails from every member of a Year 10 class from a local high school asking for help with an Art project. Some promised ‘luv and hugs’ at the end; one began: ‘Yo, dude.’...

Potter's moll Liz Robison tells of publicising the work of her husband, Jim. Do please visit Jim's Web site http://www.jimrobison.co.uk/

Looking back through old scrapbooks makes me realise not only how important advertising is to small businesses but also what a huge catch-all concept ‘advertising’ is. A dictionary definition reads thus: The action of calling something to the attention of the public especially by displaying, broadcasting or publishing announcements.

Although our earliest adverts in the local press from 1975 look somewhat crude and primitive now, they did serve their purpose of ‘calling something to the attention of the public’. I think we had help from the local newspaper, and it was their idea to put (Prop. Jim Robison) after Booth House Gallery. I always thought it made it sound like a garage.

Press releases, headed notepaper and business cards were also early features on our list of advertising devices. Under the headline ‘FIREY POTS MAN COMING TO HOLMFIRTH’, this is what the Holmfirth Express made of a 1976 Press release:

On the steps of Holmfirth Civic Hall, just yards from the fire station, an American born sculptor will introduce flaming, instant Japanese pottery. Jim Robison……will be demonstrating his own invention, “Raku pottery”. (my italics)

We learned early on that what the press do with a press release is largely out of our hands. Nowadays we tend to restrict them to unusual events, such as Jim’s work being incorporated into a garden at the RHS show at Tatton Park, publication of a book, or a new addition to our gallery. When we added a mezzanine floor a couple of years ago, the local papers did us proud with a good photo of the new area showing Jim holding a big pot.

A fellow student at a local history class I attended referred to it in the oblique way Yorkshire folk have: ‘Have you started your essay yet, or have you been too busy admiring Jim’s new floor?’

Generally speaking regional and lifestyle magazines are a no-go area for us. I always mistrust approaches by phone: the prices are exorbitant and designed to raise revenue for the publication. Even an eighth of a page in a small regional monthly is way too expensive, and usually totally unproductive despite Russell or Wayne or whoever is doing the selling’s insistence that their publication reaches N-number of thousands who have huge spending power. No one has ever come in and said they saw the gallery advertised in that publication.

Now specific publications like Ceramic Review are a different matter, as are regional potters’ associations’ newsletters, because they target members of the public with a specific interest. The courses we run in our studio are advertised in Ceramic Review and the Northern Potters’ Newsletter (as well as on the website) and they generally fill up successfully every time.

The website has become a very important advertising tool for the courses and the gallery, and we are particularly blessed that our son created us a very good one, which he updates regularly. Yet you also have to be vigilant here – when he created an interactive facility a while ago, we were alerted by a friend in York that some porno material had quickly taken the opportunity to crash in. Not what the (generally) ladies and gentlemen expect when wanting information about pottery courses.

Over the years we have built up a fairly extensive mailing list of people to whom we send invitations to exhibition openings. They may not come but at least they know we are still here. Other exhibitors receive as many invitations as they wish to despatch to people they know who may live within striking distance of here, so occasionally we pick up new customers that way.

Postcards and leaflets are other important features and our local Information office is good at displaying them and directing visitors here. Locally events like Holmfirth Artweek help us with publicity. Another local initiative, HOST (Huddersfield Open Studio Trail), this year provided some interesting insights. Over two weekends scores of artists of all kinds opened their studios to the public who could follow a trail around the area. Drawbacks here were that Friday night was dead. The only visitor was the mini-bus driver every hour! The initialisation HOST, needed to be followed by what it stood for every time it was used, otherwise it was bewildering to read about it in the leaflet and on the posters they used. The main benefit was about sixty new visitors on Saturday and Sunday.

Events like ClayArt and Rufford have always been good ways of advertising what we do, and outreach is important too. Jim recently gave an illustrated talk to an enthusiastic audience at the Huddersfield Welsh Society called Ceramics: the Welsh connection (Aberystwyth, ClayArt, inspiration from pre-Cambrian rocks on Anglesey.) The next evening we had a visit from twenty local members of The Oddfellows, none of whom had ever been here before. I believe my mulled wine and mince pies are an advertising triumph in themselves each December.

Work with teachers and with schools is important – I’ve lost count of how many teachers’ retirement presents have been bought here, generally paid for with a huge bag of coins from the whip-round. Mainly work with schools goes smoothly but Jim was non-plussed to be bombarded with e-mails from every member of a Year 10 class from a local high school asking for help with an Art project. Some promised ‘luv and hugs’ at the end; one began: ‘Yo, dude.’

Word-of-mouth is a huge bonus to any small business and we believe that if people go away feeling they have been treated well and had a nice time they will probably be back.

Going back to the dictionary definition at the beginning, I think I would say that successful advertising depends on drawing the attention of the interested public.

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