– PR in the business of tattooing by Marcé Bester
Art on skin has become a fast growing business in South Africa, and many trends have arisen. The stigma of tattooed people being scum has died out and it has evolved into something similar to fine art.
As there are no laws on tattooing in our country, any person with access to a needle and some stove polish can decide to become a tattoo artist. Good PR is what differentiates the artists from the scratchers. A scratcher would be the equivalent to a toddler carving unrecognizable patterns into the sidewalk – and a real artist would have a painting hanging in the Louvre.
These days, it is of utmost importance that tattoo artists establish themselves as someone to keep your eye on – and at the center of accomplishing this, is good old public relations.
JR Heath, a tattoo artist and piercer at Scary Arts, has established a large network of clients and media partners in his hometown of Potchefstroom. In a small town, it is much easier to create and establish these networks, but it is quite a challenge to keep a good reputation as rumours could spread faster than a cold at a family reunion.
Tattoo artists sometimes opt to give out free tattoos to get more exposure. With the rise of social media, tattoo artists offer big-time bloggers and social network ‘celebs’ free tattoos in exchange for publicity. Many tattoo artists have long-standing deals with some of these ‘celebs’, and do large scale tattoos to be featured on the social sphere. Many swear by this method of PR, but it all depends on the public you are reaching and the type of relationship built with the so-called ‘celebs.
According to JR Heath, about 40% of tattooing is allocated towards building and maintaining a good reputation, not only among clients but with all their stakeholders. As tattoos have grown to be less of a specialty service and more towards being part of the consumerist culture, artists have to focus on maintaining their reputation. Many established tattoo studios employ full-time PR managers and social media strategists to stay in the loop and still focus on their art.
Throughout history, the business of tattooing has changed and people’s perceptions of the art has adapted. Tattooing used to carry the stigma of being linked to jailbirds and people in the army, but perceptions have changed. Now it is essential to maintain the good reputation tattoo artists have worked so hard to cultivate.