How long have you been in business and how did you come to be an agent?
I have been in the consumer products goods industry for over 30 years, and the licensing business for just about eight years now. If you are counting, that obviously means we started this business at the heart of the recession (the WE refers to my partner who is also my mom, Mary Ann Fields). We have heard repeatedly about the glory days, but we were just a little bit late to the party. This actually turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Although I had been in the consumer products industry, this was a new angle for both us, and all of the artists we represented at the time. So we set out to learn the ropes, make our beginner’s mistakes, understand the process and most importantly build relationships. We were very thankful for a few wonderful manufacturers that took a chance on our artists right out to the gate. We found a small group of these wonderful folks that stepped up to mentor us and have now grown from that start to hundreds of licenses for our artists and a business that managed to survive the recession. When you start there, the only way is up and - up is fun! The art licensing community is a generous group of professionals – the agency reps, the artists and the manufacturers.
Do you have help/employees?
We have recently grown to five full and part-time employees. Missy, Jenni, and Kristi are new and work with me on graphic design - preparing files for both presentations and production; account management with our existing partners, and social media supporting our website and reaching out in other areas of social media that will help support our artists visibility and provide information helpful to the art directors that we work with.
How do you establish working relations with the manufacturers and retailers that you work with?
We have a few dozen manufacturers that we work with at any given time and our desire is to meet their needs and continue to build on those efforts. The key thing we look for in a new project is a product development cycle that will sell significant volume for both the producer and the artist with a reasonable amount of pre-work on everyone’s side. Most of the manufacturers are respectful of the value of the artist’s time, but we have in the past participated in development cycles that took so much prep time on the artists part that it made it very difficult to make a return on that time.
Do you prefer royalty deals? Flat fee?
Perfect follow-up question. Overall we prefer royalty deals, however, there is a time and place for flat fee licenses. Especially if we are dealing with a product line that we know will only be on the shelves for one season. Either way, it’s critical that the artist maintain the copyrights!
We are also finding that guaranteed minimums and advances have not met their demise as many had prophesied. More and more these days this is a way to make sure that the artist is guaranteed a reasonable pay day from a given contract.
A few years ago I was waiting at the elevators unpacking at Surtex and got into a conversation with a couple of artists that sell their artwork. It was interesting to hear their perspective, they really could not understand why we would license when the end payout was so far in the future and really an unknown to some extent. I explained that we had a hard time understanding why they would sell their rights outright for what we would see as a very small ROI. The reason I share this story is that I have found that there are even times when the sale of the design is the right decision, it’s just not our normal way of doing business, however, we have explored it for industries such as fashion apparel where the licensing model isn’t the accepted norm.
How do you market artists? Who pays for this? Anything different for new artists?
We have a variety of marketing strategies from trade show booths at shows such as Surtex and the Licensing Show; walking certain product trades shows such as Americasmart and the other regional gift markets, or specialty shows such as home and housewares, quilt market, ABC Kids or Toy Expo. We also meet one on one with both new and existing partners, we advertise in licensing trade magazines such as Total Art Licensing and send out email blasts on a regular basis.
In addition, we submit scheduled submissions based on our manufacturers product life cycle calendars and respond to their all calls with appropriate work. The entire cost for all of our marketing is born by the agency. The royalty from product sales is then split 50/50 with the artists.
What do you look for in an artist?
There are three things that we value most in an artist – 1) their foundation of talent, 2) their willingness to grow from where they start and always evolve, and 3) their willingness to be a participant in their success beyond just the creation of their art. This last one might make an artist take a step back – what do you mean participate beyond my artwork, I thought that was your job? What I mean here is that if I have two talented artists(1) and that are willing to grow (2), the one that is willing to go the extra step (3) is likely the one that will be the most successful. For example, in their spare time they can shop and see what the trends are doing, they can pass along possible manufacturers that they see on these shopping trips, etc that would blend well with their style, and / or they could attend one or more trade shows each year (we are happy to get them in) just to absorb what they see on the floor and what the manufacturers who meet with us are saying, they could maintain their own website to multiply their visibility. None of this is required, but it all helps! P.S. Patience helps! It normally takes a while to get started.
How much art do you expect an artist to create in a year?
There is no real magic number. There are so many variables such as the style and detail of the artwork, the size of the collections the artist creates, and the other reality is sometimes life gets in the way. When we begin, I like to encourage at least six new collections a year, but like I said that varies. The key is that we need to keep our presentations new and fresh or the manufacturers and retailers will stop looking. Why shouldn’t they if they are not seeing anything new?
How has the Art Licensing business changed over the years?
I believe the biggest challenge that we face these days is the commoditizing (yes, I looked it up, it’s a word☺) of many of the product lines that have traditionally been using licensed art. I believe this comes from the increasing number of manufacturers sourcing their products out of Canton Fair or other similar shows in the international product source locations. It is also affected by the increasing number of Print on Demand vendors popping up on the internet. And, lastly by the decrease of time any given product line stays on the shelves. All of these have affected the market by sending a more simplified, more cookie cutter product to the consumer. I truly believe that this trend like many others like it in the past will ultimately swing back. However, in the meantime I believe the artist that creates the most unique work, listens to the consumers and the manufacturers and makes it easy for the manufacturer to deliver a cost effective successful product line will be the most successful.
Any advice or other information you would like to share?
Be patient and persistent! There is not an industry where the words “If you don’t succeed try, try again” are more true. However, don’t keep trying the same thing over and over expecting different results. Listen, Learn, Grow and Persevere and your chances are increased exponentially.
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