Friday, April 8, 2016

Agent Spotlight - TSB & Co., Karen Hacker


How long have you been in business and how did you come to be an agent?
My business partner, Lisa Alhanati, and I were introduced to the Art Licensing world in 2000 when a cousin and successful licensed artist in Australia asked Lisa if she would be interested in promoting her artwork in the United States. At the time, Lisa and I had put our careers on hold to raise our families, but had both talked about wanting to do something where we could contribute monetarily to the family, yet enjoy the flexibility of working our own hours from home. Lisa contacted me to see if I might be interested in working together to represent  her cousin and we both thought something like this could be the perfect answer.  We could work “part time” from home promoting this Australian artist…it sounded intriguing and very glamorous! I have a degree in Art and Business and Lisa has degrees in Political Science and History. I had been involved in marketing and sales in the telecommunication and real estate industries and Lisa was a National Marketing Manager for a Marketing Firm in Australia. Very quickly, we found the licensing world to be one we absolutely loved! We researched what was involved in art licensing, went to local trade shows, contacted manufactures and trade publications to learn as much as we possibly could about the licensing industry. People in the licensing community were extremely willing to help, and we were on our way! What we thought we would do “part time” quickly turned into “full time” and more. We put together 25 license agreements that first year and landed a large order through one of our licensees for a ceramic tabletop collection at Target.  It was our first large deal, a million dollar sale! Various trade magazines began to feature our story in a variety of publications and we began to gain attention by other artists seeking representation. As a result, Lisa and I decided to create our own agency in 2005 called T.S.B. & Co., which actually stands for Two Smart Blondes.  As a “Boutique” agency, we are tremendously selective with the artists we represent, which currently includes 6 extremely talented artists; Sapna, Denise Sullivan, Jennifer Van Pelt, Janet White, Pam Layton York and newly signed artist, Jessica Mundo, along with publishing house, GS Gallery.  This past year, we also signed renowned photographer, William Carr.  We work very closely with our artists and licensees…they become like family and we feel a very strong responsibility to put the best deals together for them as possible. We prefer to keep our agency small and personal, and would choose to put 20+ deals together for each artist in a year rather than only 2 or 3 deals per year if we had 40 - 50 artists to represent.  

Who are the manufacturers you work with - how did you establish those relationships?
We work with a wide variety of manufactures who produce products that range from flags, to bath and home accessories, to cards and giftware. When we first started out, Lisa and I would go to local retailers and look at the back of products to find out who the manufacturer was, and we would contact them. At that time, it was very easy to find who the manufacturers were, but now with so many private label products it is harder to find out who the actual manufacturer is for certain products. Entering the licensing world in the early 2000’s enabled us to learn who the “players” were in the industry and we have kept those contacts over the years. There are however new companies that come on the scene each year, which we discover mainly through trade publications and trade shows. 

Do you have employees/help?
We don’t have any additional full time help, but have used interns in the past to update our website, contact lists and social media. Lisa and I work very well together as a team…I handle working daily with the “front end” things such as marketing and sales, working with the artists and their artwork, contacting and working with manufactures, attending shows, putting deals together and contract negotiations and Lisa handles the back end of things…accounting, royalty reports, invoices, royalty check disbursement, developing marketing materials, and general administrative duties.    

How do you market artists? 
With being in the industry for so many years, we have been able to compile a substantial customer and contact list which we use continuously. Our artists send in new art collections regularly, which we immediately send out to our contacts depending if the artwork makes sense for their products. We also attend many of the major shows throughout the year, send out mass e-mails about our new collections, as well as use social media to share news about new artwork, products, upcoming events, etc.


What do you look for in an Artist?
We tend to work with licensees who market to the mass market, so we look for artists whose artwork has mass market appeal. Our ideal artist is one with an extensive library of artwork, is trend forward and has the ability to adapt and change styles as the trends change. Artists with the ability to reinvent themselves and adapt to current trends are the ones who sustain longevity in the licensing industry.  Since we work very closely with our licensees, we know what type of artwork they would be most interested in to license for their products. This industry has evolved to where there are expectations of artists to be able to manipulate their artwork in various shapes and sizes very quickly and if an artist doesn’t have the computer skills to work this way, it becomes very limiting for the artist as well as the artist’s agent to be successful.  It is essential for artists to have strong computer skills in the licensing world today. This industry works on very quick turn-around times, so flexibility and availability is very important. More and more, our licensing partners are requesting artwork to be modified to fit their customer needs, so the ability to have the computer skills to make those changes quickly is something our artists must be able to do. It is also nice for an artist to have a unique style that will differentiate themselves from other artists. They need to be able to keep up with the trends but keep to a style that is uniquely their own.  

How much work do you expect an artists to create?
Thankfully our artists are quite prolific, so besides working on the various submission requests we receive each week, our artists tend to send us at least 1 to 2 new collections each month with a collection being 4 to 10 images along with patterns, borders and mock ups.  We have all learned that the more artwork we receive and send out, the more chance of getting artwork placed and the more successful the artist becomes.

Any advice or information you would like to share?
The licensing world is one of a “hurry up and wait” mentality. Patience is definitely a virtue in this industry.  Often times we receive calls for artwork to be sent and/or modified within 24 hours, which thankfully most of the time our artists can do, but once the artwork is sent, it can take months to find out if a design is picked up. This is not an industry where monetary success is seen quickly. Once a new collection of artwork is created, it can take 1, 2 or sometimes 3 years for an artist to see royalties start coming in and see their artwork on products in stores because of the long lead times necessary for decisions to be made, product development, the sampling process, shipping and delivery. It can sometimes take 5 to 10 years for an artist to truly be able to say they are “making a living” in this business. Since entering the licensing business in 2000, there have been a lot of changes in the industry, but we feel we have adapted well.  The art licensing industry was hit hard and is still feeling effects of the 2008 recession. Long gone are the days of nice advances and guarantees being the standard when entering into an agreement.  With the way things have changed in the industry and constant requests for “new” artwork, we have had to make changes in the way we do things. A life lesson we have learned and have put into practice is that we all learn and grow the most through the most difficult times.  Thankfully we have seen a comeback in the economy over the past couple of years and we anticipate things to continue moving in a positive direction for the art licensing world.

Although there are some drawbacks to the licensing world with quick deadlines, a constant need for coming up with new trend forward artwork and long lead times before seeing monetary results, it is always worth it when we walk into a retailer and see our artist’s artwork on products being sold. We have found the licensing industry to be a community of professional artists, agents and manufactures who are willing to work together and share with one another. Besides being able to work in this exciting and rewarding industry, we have been able to create many friendships along the way.  We love what we do and look forward to being a part of the licensing world for many years to come!

TSB & Co. will be in New York in May and showing new artwork by appointment only, so call or email to schedule a meeting as soon as possible.

You can find TSB & Co:
Karen Hacker
(949) 215-2840

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  1. Extremely helpful and informational interview. Thanks for taking the time to go into such detail on each question. I'm printing this one out to keep. :) You've learned much in your years, and learned to evolve along with the field. Again, Karen, Thanks for sharing, and Annie thanks for doing the blog... A++ Have a great weekend!

    1. Hi Jo! Thanks so much for you comments - I too really like this post <3 YOU are the best!

  2. Hi Annie, I am very fortunate to have Karen from TSB and Company as my agent. It is a hurry up and wait industry and Karen has encouraged me every step of the way. Thanks! Janet White

    1. Hi Janet!
      I can tell Karen is amazing just from her thoughtful answers! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog :-D

  3. Great article. I'm very grateful to have TSB & Company as my agent. Karen and Lisa are just the best! - Pam Layton York

    1. Hey Pam! I am hoping I get a chance to wave hello to them at Surtex <3 Thanks a bunch for stopping by the blog!

  4. Great article and this has come at a good time for me as I have just completed my BA in Textile and Surface Design and in the process of finding the right agent for me.
    I'll add TSB & Co to my list of those to approach as they sound lovely to work for.
    Jan Olive - UK

    1. Hi Jan! Glad the post is helpful :-) You can search 'agent spotlight' on the blog to find more <3 Thank you for stopping by the blog!


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