Tuesday, September 18, 2012

And You Are?...

We spent most of last week in Las Vegas at a couple of trade shows, and once again the best part of the trip was when we boarded that plane for home. We are not gamblers (except on expensive trade show booths…), the food is either very mediocre or very expensive with very little in-between, and my tolerance for drunken gangsta wannabes is set pretty low so we end up counting the days till we can get off the Strip and back to our waterfront paradise. But enough about that… it was definitely a worthwhile trip.

We attended the SuperZoo pet industry show at the Mandalay and the Las Vegas Souvenir show at the LV convention center. Both are big events with 1000-plus exhibitors, and we covered every square foot of both shows, something we never get a chance to do when we are exhibiting.  We do have some licensees that exhibit at these shows, but we were really there because of the “ya never know” factor – meaning there is no good substitute for getting out there in front of a wide variety of new potential licensees, talking about what they make and what we can bring to the table.

When we go to these “outside of the box” shows we almost never see artists walking the aisles, and only occasionally see other agents. The ones we do run across are always the hardest working and most successful – and that’s not a coincidence. The advertised path into art licensing has been to do what everybody else has been doing – get some templates, build some collections, send them to the people everyone else sends them to, and maybe exhibit at that show in New York that everyone else exhibits at. The problem is that supply now far exceeds demand as hundreds of new artists are also angling for a slice of the art licensing pie, so being where everybody else is just doesn’t cut it anymore.

The need to differentiate yourself is greater than ever before, but you should realize there is more than one way to do that. One of the first truths you learn in sales is that it is very difficult to displace an established supplier because manufacturers don’t like to change, therefore you need to give them a compelling reason to do so. Switch your mentality from “farmer” to “hunter”. Take some chances on new categories. Invest in looking for new opportunities to tell your story and be there first.

It takes a lot of effort to move ahead and build lasting success in this business, but it’s always easier if you don’t have to shout over everyone else.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Sure, be happy to!

We are fortunate here at Two Town to have a number of high sku-count collections under development right now (things are cookin’ out there!) and there has been a lot of post-contract, pre-production work involved with some of them. The artist/client interchanges run the gamut from simple “give us a little more bleed” or “saturate the background color a bit more” up to “replace that pirate with a princess” or “change out these 3 designs completely and replace them with...” sometimes significantly altering the original artwork.

Decision time. Your response options for these kind of requests can run from “no way” to “no problem”, but the one safe bet at this stage of a project is that you will not have a lot of time to think about it.

Some artists have a visceral reaction to these type of requests, treating them as a personal affront, and others will just shrug their shoulders and get to work. It is one of the big differences between the licensing world and contract work, and also one reason why some experienced designers quickly drop out of the business. On occasion the collaboration between artist and licensee could almost fit the definition of spec work, and for many who have worked as traditional illustrators or graphic designers that is unacceptable.

It may be helpful to consider the mindset of your licensees: a group made up of business professionals looking to make the most economical, risk-averse, and high-value decisions for their companies. Any new product can be considered a risky venture into which they pour many thousands of dollars in the hope it will sell, and sometimes it doesn't – the “sure thing” does not exist. You are asking your clients to make a major financial investment in your designs, and it is not too farfetched to think that in some cases you could be asking someone to bet their job on your concepts. So when you react negatively or worse yet, emotionally, to their suggestions aimed at improving the chances of marketing a successful product… well, let’s just say you need to take a step back and carefully consider what they are saying. This is not about your artistic vision anymore.

Much, if not most, of the time there will not be any additional compensation available for the effort that goes into fulfilling these requests. We all would like to get paid sooner rather than later for work we’ve done, and when advances were typical this was less of an issue.  Of course advances are much more rare now and licensing requires the long view. The payback will be down the road when the product starts to generate revenue on the market. I believe you need to approach it from a different place than the “they are taking advantage of the artists” people, because the market is changing and it won’t be going back to where it was. Try looking at it as a collaboration where all parties are interested in the same thing – making a saleable product.

I hope you can hear the keynote here:  the attitude that you CAN do it, you GET to do it, will make you far more valuable than those who are selling outright, working the crowd sourcing channels, or even throwing hissy fits over the changes because they miss the opportunity to provide exceptional service to their clients. If you can see that as an advantage your time in licensing should be less frustrating, and your efforts more successful.

And if not and it still galls you to no end…well, good luck with that….