Ben Tallon column – The death of email

Spam. Trash. Trash. Spam. It doesn’t matter in what order you put them, the chances are you’ll end up in one if you don’t have a reason to email someone. Budgets in this industry are not what they once were. That applies to both commissioning fees and salaries. Many art-directors, illustrators, photographers, and designers are on the same rates they were ten years ago and they’re working harder for it.

What this means is, they are not ignorant, rude or too important for you, but just too damn busy. Believe me, I have many friends in creative director, art-director, editor and commissioning editor roles – the life blood of my practice as a visual communicator – and they’re nice people. They would much rather spend the afternoon indulging in commissioning illustration, artwork and photography, but they’re juggling the work of two, sometimes three people, so it’s just not possible.

What does this mean to you, the common freelancer? Well, you need to work harder and smarter to get the attention of the people you need to reach. Indulge me for a moment and embark upon a little role-play adventure with me. You’re an art-director at a magazine and you turn up to work, coffee in hand, bags under your eyes. The workload ahead of you for the week is fit for a horse and has started to invade your marriage. You want to spend the day laying out and populating beautiful magazine pages, but standing in your way is an editor with heavy demands, 512 emails, 298 of which require immediate responses and an assistant art-director asking questions every ten minutes or so. In the other 214 are emails that can wait; emails to familiar people, jobs already in progress but with a more generous deadline, dialogue with the printers, all things that can wait, but must still be taken good care of. Then… You. You also have to take into consideration that there are 25-30 other versions of you, worldwide, issuing the same cries for attention. Ok, so you’re brilliant? It doesn’t matter. You’re in a box of maggots and I’m sure some are juicier than others, but you’re all writhing and jostling for survival.

Before you dare dip into this pit of stress, you finish your takeaway coffee and walk, bendy legged, to the staff cafeteria. Small talk and questions about your weekend ensue and only after stirring four sugars into your black coffee do you head back to your desk, galvanized. But wait, there’s one more distraction – the mail pile. Most of it is trash, but amongst the nonsense is a letter without an obvious sender. If the sender is evident, it is a nice looking logo, right? It had better be. Ripping it open, the art director withdraws a nicely printed promo card with contact details and a knockout, hand-selected images representing you and what you can offer. Immediately, you have bypassed the stack of emails awaiting this poor overloaded art-editor/director and now you sit on the shelf with other printed goods.

Digital correspondence has reached such a level of noise that we’re all switching off to unsolicited material. There has to be a reason if you’re going to be taken seriously. Last year, I managed to track down the contact for a dream client’s manager. Did I ping her a quick email with a link? Did I hell! I painstakingly put together a personalized introductory package and took the time to address her, her client and explain why I would love to take five minutes of her time for coffee. To my surprise, I got 15. She admitted that whilst she did not know why she was meeting me, she felt compelled to have me through the door, given the effort I had put into the mail. It was just for her, showing respect, consideration and a level of professionalism that emails struggle to match. Now, I am extremely reluctant to even bother sending new prospective clients emails. It does work, from time to time, but the success percentages are drastically less on a consistent basis. I’ll leave that one with you, but if you’re a smart gambler, make sure you maximize your chances before you place your bets.

Ben Tallon is a freelance illustrator, author of Champagne and Wax Crayons: Riding the Madness of the Creative Industries and host of Arrest All Mimics, the Original Thinking and Creative Innovation podcast.

He works with WWE, EMI, Channel 4, The Guardian and The Premier League among others.

Want to hear from Ben? His recent podcasts will resonate with freelancers and creatives looking to hear from likeminded leaders in the industry. Visit:


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About the author

Bex is our Creative Content Manager and lover of all things community. When she's not glued to her phone you can find her out cycling in the Chiltern Hills or braving the London commute on her Brompton.

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