Pictures at an Exhibition

I’m a long time hobbyist photographer. While I occasionally get hired to take photos for commercial use (e.g. events, product shots, architecture), I mostly just do it for fun. In fact, I had never formally exhibited my photos prior to this past weekend when I participated in an art show on my street.

Now in its fourth year, this show is basically an art walk limited to the one block of the street on which I live. I was one of 10 artists exhibiting a variety of art in 5 houses, on both Saturday and Sunday afternoons.

Reflecting on the event Sunday night I decided that it was a lot of fun, I’m really glad I exhibited and I’ll probably do it again next year. Since that simple statement doesn’t make for much of a newsletter on marketing measurement, I thought I would elaborate on how I came to that conclusion.

What I Spent

To begin with, my cost to participate was very low. Since the walls in my house were already covered with plenty of framed photos and ready to exhibit, I just needed to shuffle a few around and decide on prices. I probably spent all of about $50 to get ready, including salty snacks and chocolate chip cookies for my visitors. So, my costs were minimal.

What I Sold

I sold a total of 7 photos for $525. I’m happy with this outcome because:

  • Over the 2 days, I estimate 45 people dropped by my house. One person bought 2 photos, meaning I converted 45 prospects to 6 customers, for a conversion rate of 13.3%. This seems like a good rate for an art show, but I don’t have a benchmark to compare it to.
  • My sales surpassed my expectations. I thought I would do well to sell two or three photos and maybe pocket $200.
  • My customer acquisition cost ($50 ÷ 6 = $8.33 per customer) was much lower than my average revenue per customer ($525 ÷ 6 = $87.50 per customer) making each transaction and the overall event profitable.

What I Learned

For some background, our marketing efforts consisted primarily of:

  • Post card invitations hand-delivered to homes within roughly a 2 block radius
  • Each artist emailed invitations to their own list of contacts
  • The organizers solicited and obtained support from local politicians who emailed local residents and tweeted our event
  • Free on-line publicity, most of which came through a new local website called GrownUps55plus, for which I’m saying thanks by this mention

Secretly wearing my marketing measurement hat while disguised as an artist, I randomly asked those visitors I didn’t know the usual “how did you hear about us” kind of questions.  I learned that, in addition to those friends and neighbours I already knew, most people either:

  • Lived in the neighbourhood, or
  • Were friends of one of the other artists

From a product point of view, of the seven photos I sold, 4 featured trees as the main subject, 1 featured a tree and a window, 1 featured a window, and the other featured a racoon. Selling the racoon photo gave me a chuckle because earlier that day two other people had separately A) cursed the racoon, and B) saluted it with a middle finger. Clearly, one person’s art is another’s neighbourhood menace. Also, people like trees.

Another interesting fact is that the turnout was much higher last year when some houses estimated traffic at 300+ visitors. Perhaps that’s a sign people are less confident in the economy this year? Imagine if I could have applied my 13.3% conversion rate to 300 people instead of 45!

What I Would Do Differently Next Time

Based on my informal measurement efforts and observations, and input from the other artists, here are some thoughts for us to consider for next year:

  • Proximity and familiarity seem to bring people out, so we should expand our post card coverage beyond 2 blocks and each artist could invite more people.
  • Recruit more houses and artists to participate; the additional artists can invite their contacts, and a larger event with more art for sale should appeal to more people.
  • Continue to solicit free publicity and politician support.
  • Find a volunteer with public relations expertise, perhaps a student looking for experience, to help us get more local and on-line media coverage.


I didn’t apply measurement to our marketing efforts in any sort of disciplined way, yet maybe that’s appropriate for such a low budget event. Still, by simply looking at what I spent, what I sold, what I learned and what I would do differently next time, I should be able to improve my sales next year, and that’s what counts.

Whether for a small event like this, or a major marketing initiative, the best way to improve next time is to make sure you have a way of learning from what you did this time. Measure, review, reflect and capture what you’ve learned, so you can optimize future strategies.

There’s other soft data to consider, too. I had a great time, met some neighbours, saw some friends and enjoyed seeing people enjoying my photos.  I look forward to next year and in the meantime, I’ll be out shooting windows and trees, or maybe even a racoon.


About Rick Shea
Rick Shea is President of Optiv8 Consulting, a marketing consultancy that helps small to mid-sized organizations improve their marketing impact and business outcomes through customer insights, strategic discipline and effective content. Copyright ©2007-2023 Optiv8 Consulting, a brand operating under Rick Shea Enterprises Inc. All rights reserved. You may reproduce this article by including this copyright and, if reproducing electronically, including a link to:

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