Arts Writer Sends 1,400-Word Email on How to Communicate Efficiently

Douglas Britt (pictured) is the "Society/ visual arts writer" at the Houston Chronicle. And he's extremely busy! So he sent out the following 15-point email to "every gallerist/cultural group in Houston," our tipster says. Print out a copy, and memorize!

From: "Britt, Douglas"
Date: September 10, 2010 5:09:32 PM CDT
To: "Britt, Douglas"
Subject: Houston Chronicle art coverage in the post-Preview era - Part 2

Hi all,

As promised, here's some PR 101 on how to help me help you get more and better art coverage in the Chronicle. Some of you already do some of the things I'm about to recommend; others don't. I would strongly suggest copying this e-mail to a Word doc or something you can save on your hard drive, as well as printing a copy and keeping it handy. I don't have time to say all this the first time, let alone a second, third, fourth time.

Keeping me informed about your shows:

As I said in the last email, everything starts with 29-95. Any reviews I'm going to put on the Culture Scene pages or plugs for the Hot Picks pages (like the ones that ran yesterday for the 4411 Montrose openings and Nestor Topchy's Iconic Portrait Strand) have to be filed – done – in the can the Thursday before the issue runs. If I don't have images and info before then, you don't even have a fighting chance of getting in. So if you have a show scheduled to open Friday, Oct. 1 and close Saturday, Oct. 30, you'll want me to have images and info no later than Wednesday, Sept. 22.

NOTE: That doesn't guarantee I'll be able (or willing, as the case may be) to use it in the Sept. 30 (or whatever week's) issue of 29-95, but if I don't have the images/info, I can't use it. In other words, Here's the procedure you should follow for upcoming shows:

1) Email hi-res JPEGs with caption info (artist, title, photo credit if needed) for EACH image. If Suzie Smith made the artwork in every image you sent, put Suzie Smith's name in the caption for every image. Otherwise, when I do a search in the system for Suzie Smith, Suzie Smith's art won't show up, and I'll say "Oh, well. Next!" and review Jane Jones' show instead, because Jane Jones' gallery didn't think following simple instructions was too much trouble.

2) Email me with a heads up as to when you'll have the show installed. If I can see the show before it opens, that's a big help, especially when the show has a short exhibition run.

3) It IS a good idea to keep spamming me with press releases. They sometimes have useful info and seeing them come in jogs my memory about shows I want to see. Just make sure I have the JPEGs.

4) Do NOT email me the invitation. We don't publish invitations in the paper. Never have. Never well. I'm amazed at how many of you seem to be under the impression that a) I don't get enough invitations and b) that we run invitations as reviews. Email JPEGs of the actual artworks on view in the show.

5) Again for Mac users: DO NOT USE MACMAIL TO SEND THE IMAGE. Send it from a web-based account like Gmail or Yahoo or Hotmail in the web browser. If you don't know how to do this, find someone (not me) who does and have him teach you how.

6) Do all this automatically. Don't make me ask. And when we exchange emails, let's try to take care of business with as few emails as possible.

Remember, I have two beats (society and art) that throw themselves at me 24/7. Break through the clutter; don't add to it:

1) If this is one of your biggest shows of the season, tell me why – and make the "why" be about the importance and quality of the work – not the fact that the artist is really old, really sweet, taught at UH for 20 years or was so-and-so's student. Not about the fact that the consul of Belgium bought one of his pieces or Peter Brown might buy one. Make it about the work. The work. The work. The work.

2) You don't need to tell me that you'd really like a review. So would every other art space in town. See No. 6.

3) Don't nag. Don't ask why I haven't replied to your last email, or when am I coming in (unless we're arranging an interview with a curator, in the case of museums, or something like that). If you've been nagging me, don't apologize; just go ye therefore and nag no more. And for god's sake, don't ask me to call unless it's earth-shattering.

4) When the social season is in full swing, which it now is for all intents and purposes, I'm afraid I can't come to the after party, or dinner with the artist – unless we're talking about Ed Ruscha, John Baldessari or someone in that league – or the VIP-whatever. (During the summer, or the winter break between seasons, that's another story – then we can try and make it a society event. But from now until December there are two many galas going on.

When I'm at your gallery, make the most of my time there:

1) I know this is going to sound catty, cranky and misanthropic. But PLEASE STOP ASKING what it's like covering society, how do I do it all, how many times I go out a week, if I'm having fun, when do I sleep, etc. The answer, which will never change, is that doing both is like trying to thread a needle while swatting flies – all while being shot out of a cannon. Now you know.

1a) And PLEASE STOP TELLING ME how busy I am (I know), how prolific I am (I know), what a breath of fresh or stale air I am, etc., etc., etc. Every second we spend on that kind of chatter drains the life out of me, frankly makes me uncomfortable AND DOESN'T TELL ME ANYTHING I NEED TO KNOW. No more limping out of galleries after a 30-minute conversation in which I leave knowing no more than I did when I came in.

2) Tell me something interesting about the art I'm there to look at. Then, tell me something I don't know about what's going on in the art scene. And chances are you know plenty I don't, because I'm always chained to the desk here.

3) Big-picture talk is good too. How do you think HAA's doing? Are you glad/sad/mad about the state of the Menil/CAMH/the MFAH? What do we need to do to get some decent signage in the Museum District? What do we need to do to make sure the city isn't humiliated next year when Houston hosts the American Association of Museums conference the year after Los Angeles did? What are other cities' art scenes doing that Houston's isn't?

4) What other shows have you seen in Houston (or elsewhere) that impressed you? Word of mouth helps, both from an informational standpoint and from the standpoint of letting me know you know it's all about you. It's not that I don't want to talk. I do. I just want to talk about substantive stuff. I get all the empty chatter I can stand at society events.

I know how crabby this email sounds, but actually I'm feeling more upbeat than I have in a long time about the prospects for doing some really interesting, at times important coverage – IF I can plug the thousand time leaks that sprout every day because I'm too busy emailing people back and forth or putting out various small fires. And I would say the Chronicle is more responsive to art-related feedback, and to demands for more art coverage, than I've ever seen it. I'm also getting faster and more streamlined at handling my society duties. There's potential to raise the profile of art writing at the paper if we're all smart about it.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go put on a suit and go to a society event. Have a great weekend, everybody.

Douglas Britt
Society/visual arts writer
Houston Chronicle
http://blogs.chron.com/socialclimbing
http://blogs.chron.com/peep/art

[It's not a bad guide for PR people! If they can finish it. Pic via]