Photography Tricks

7 Real-Talk Tips for Commissioning a Marketing Mural

7 Real-Talk Tips for Commissioning a Marketing Mural

How to collaborate with an artist without alienating them, their community, and your intended audience.

Shutterstock has partnered with acclaimed contemporary street artist Bradley Theodore for an exclusive exhibition at Art Basel Miami Beach on December 1. In it, Theodore reimagines photographs of cultural and historical icons, including Andy Warhol, Audrey Hepburn, and Whitney Houston, from the Shutterstock Editorial collection. 

Here, we celebrate our collaboration—and the beauty of street art—with some sage advice for commissioning a marketing mural. Brands, take note.

Murals are fantastic marketing tools, but they’re more than just ads painted on the sides of buildings. They’re collaborations between brands, artists, and the communities in which the murals reside. And, unlike traditional billboards, they have the potential to reach massive audiences around the world through the power of social media.

“But, that only happens if they are done right,” says Beth Tully, founder of virtual gallery and boutique art advisory The Get. “If you want people to share something [on social], it has to be really well done. It can’t be too gimmicky or cheesy. It needs to appeal to the people who live in the neighborhood and it needs to properly represent the artist’s vision.” 

Before founding The Get, Tully worked as a producer for Fountain Art Fair and often commissioned murals from established and up-and-coming street artists. “We would have a giant wall with around twelve different panels, and we would invite a bunch of artists to take [a section of the wall] and do something,” she says. “It became a thing, and soon I was working with all sorts of artists and curators.”

Here, Tully offers some real-world advice . . . 

1. Be Upfront and Realistic About Your Budget

Building Mural

Peanuts-Themed Mural
Remember, hiring a big-name artist costs money. Plan accordingly. Images via Matthew Chattle/Shutterstock and Etienne Laurent/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.

Murals are big, complicated projects and you need to be prepared to spend accordingly, especially if you’re looking to hire a big-name artist.

Even if you’re hiring a lesser-known artist, you should still expect to spend at least $10,000, as there are associated expenses to consider—supplies, permits, assistants, equipment—in addition to the artist’s fee.

“For certain projects, you might need a crane or scaffolding, and that could be thousands of extra dollars right there,” Tully says.

Seoul Building Mural
Expect expenses in addition to the artist’s fee. Image via arfa adam.

The important thing is to be upfront with an artist about what you want and how much you’re willing to spend. If you can do that from the beginning, artists are more likely to want to work with you to bring your shared vision to life on budget. 

And, don’t try to manipulate them by saying they should do the job for less because it’ll be good “exposure.” Any artist worth their salt will see right through that. If they’re at the level where you’re coming to them, asking to collaborate, then they don’t need exposure.

Treat them like the highly-skilled, creative professionals they are, pay them accordingly, and the final product will be better for it.

2. Allow Enough Time to Complete the Project

New York Building Mural
Expect the finished project to take at least four weeks. Image via Stuart Ramson/AP/Shutterstock.

According to Tully, you should expect a standard mural project to take at least four weeks to execute. Even if all the painting is done in a single night by a single person—which is unlikely with larger murals—you still need time to review the design, secure all the necessary permits and equipment, and negotiate with the building’s landlord.

3. Don’t Micromanage

Fort Bragg Mural
Give the artist creative license. Image via Jay L Clendenin/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock.

“Too often people want to secure big-time artists and then micromanage what they’re doing,” Tully says. “And, in the end, they water it down to the point where they could have just used their own graphic designer and found a painter for hire.”

Moscow Murals
Don’t micromanage—let the artist do their thing. Image via MAXIM SHIPENKOV/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock.

Remember, you approached this artist for a reason. If you can’t allow them to embrace their vision of your brand and execute it accordingly, then you shouldn’t be working with them.

That’s not to suggest that you shouldn’t have any say in the final product, but it’s important to let the artist do what they’re known for and create something they believe in.

Swimming Bear Mural
You chose this artist’s style for a reason, so let it shine. Image via Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock.

If the final product isn’t recognizably theirs, then it won’t resonate with their fans and you’re unlikely to get the kind of interactions and shares on social media that you’re looking for. 

4. Don’t Try to Copy the Style of Another Artist

Sun-Themed Mural

Sunflower Mural
Steer clear of copying another artist’s style. Images via Kristina Bumphrey/StarPix/Shutterstock and ullision.

“Brands try this all the time,” Tully says, but it often comes back to bite them. In the age of social media, if a big brand copies the work of an independent artist, they should expect to be called out publicly and find it harder to work with other more reputable artists in the future. 

Also, just because something was successful before, doesn’t mean it’ll be successful again. In fact, rehashing an old idea can often make you look uncool and gimmicky. Giant butterfly wings, for example, have been done to death and need not be revisited by marketers any time soon.

5. Be Aware of Your Surroundings

Ocean-Themed Mural
Don’t antagonize the locals. They were there first. Image via CSNafzger.

Just because you can put a piece up on a certain wall, doesn’t mean you should. “A big no-no is taking over a wall that is already important to the community, either because it already has art on it or because it is an important wall for graffiti artists,” Tully says.

Pandemic-Themed Mural
Choose your space wisely. Image via Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP/Shutterstock.

“That’s a recipe for disaster, because it will just get tagged over and the neighborhood will hate you. You need to have an awareness of your surroundings and who is there and who is going to see it.” 

6. Work with Local Artists Whenever Possible

Eduardo Kobra Mural

Live Tree Mural
Hire local artists. Images via Nelson Antoine and Rodrigo Abd/AP/Shutterstock.

Murals and gentrification often go hand-in-hand, and one of the ways to mitigate the negative impact of gentrification on an existing community is to hire artists from within that community.

Local artists have intimate knowledge of the neighborhood and the people in it, and can create a piece that takes the population’s wants and needs into consideration.

Working with a local artist can also be a clever talking point for marketers when it comes time to promote the project on social media.

7. Share the Entire Process over Social Media

Artist Kayla Mahaffey

Urban Artist Piahomes

As soon as the artist is secured, announce it on social media. Show the wall they’re going to work on. Share past examples of their work and behind-the-scenes photos of the mural in process. The more you can engage your community in the process, the more excited they’ll be for the final reveal.

It’ll also give you more opportunities to attract the artist’s own followers to your brand. Those are the people most likely to share the final product on their own social channels, so anything you can do to engage them will be to your advantage.

Cover image via ullision.

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