Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Interview with Licensing Agent and Consultant Linda Mariano

This is my second written account about my journey into art licensing - the first one being the editorial on the Surtex and Expo shows. It's exciting to get started with some design work to make into collections! Although, it's a rather overwhelming feeling to even think of all the work ahead of me. Being a diverse artist I tend to go off in million different directions and try out everything I dream up. So where to start from, really? In a sea of concepts I picked one style that I felt passionate about – it has taken several months to decide on it but that's beside the point... In short, it has been my first homework in the start towards art licensing - to pick out what style and theme.  

But fortunately I am not totally alone in this journey as a newbie ;) I have met so many great artists and professionals, both on line and in person at the two art licensing shows. One of them was Linda Mariano – we met briefly at the Licensing Expo show in Las Vegas and she agreed to do an interview. She's also supplied us with her free Top 10 Checklist for Art Licensing

With a career that spans 30 years, Linda is a leader in marketing, brand management, e-commerce and promotion initiatives for major retailers, specialty retail, art industry, licensing partnerships, media and entertainment, as well as entrepreneurial business environments. Her expertise and strong track record of exceeding marketing and sales goals, building brands and driving business success makes her a vital part of any organization.

Linda’s expertise in the licensing industry, as either a licensor or licensee for 15+ years, has made her readily recognized for her expertise and strategic approach to integrated brand and business strategies. As a Top 100 Licensor, she achieved $400M+ in annual retail sales with 85+ licensees for the Kinkade brand. Her recent work coaching and preparing emerging artists for the licensing business adds another aspect to her acumen – read more about Linda Mariano here.

The Moon from My Attic: As an art licensing agent, what's your standard way to find a new artist? Do you go by referrals or do you go through websites, portfolios, blogs or on-line shops? Or do prefer to meet them in person at licensing shows? There really isn’t a “standard” way to find new artists.  They come by all means and avenues – some come directly to me, others I seek out and find.  Social media has certainly made researching an artist and their work much easier and more complete.  Personally though I still love meeting with an artist in person – because art generates a reaction, becomes an experience – I like to get to know the artist behind the art a bit as we both consider the possibilities of working together.

TMFMA: When you view an artist’s work, what are the key elements you look for? Depends on if we are talking about for the purpose of art publishing or for art licensing.  Each has different aspects that should be considered.  For example if the artist wants to explore art publishing – either for limited edition or open edition framed prints – then the considerations are:
  • First and foremost the composition of the artwork which includes everything from subject matter, style, perspective, color – is it compelling, does it draw you in, is it something you want to look at over and over again? 
  • Is there a body of work that can be shown to a prospective dealer or gallery? 
  • Has it been color captured properly to show the complete integrity of the original? 
  • Is the artist established with galleries already? 
  • What have the art’s sales to date been?

For art licensing, the considerations are all of the above, plus a few more!

  • Is the artwork in a series or collection that has a unified look and feel? 
  • Is the artwork a standard size and format that can be easily used for multiple product types?
  • Is the artwork fully rendered – flat rather than sculptural – and in color? 
  • Does it have broad appeal? 
  • Does the artist have a clear understanding of the art licensing business, what it entails from the artist’s commitment? 
  • Does the artist know the marketplace and what’s out there? 
  • From a work style perspective, does the artist enjoy collaboration?  Working against deadlines and on the input and direction of others?
 
What's the worst error a new artist can make in looking for an agent? The very worst error is not doing your homework!  Just like anything else, you must understand the business before you leap into it!  The other error I think artists make is in thinking it is a fast solution to creating cash flow.  It takes months and even years to get a viable licensing revenue stream going – even for the most expert well-connected agent.  You can sign a license agreement tomorrow, but it may take 12-24 months for the product to get on the retail shelf and another several months for your first royalty check to be paid.
How does an artist know their work is right for licensing? So many times artists have a vision for where their art should be – mugs, calendars, purses, apparel, tabletop, the full gamut of product – but they don’t have an understanding of how the business works – either from a manufacturing or retail perspective.  Again this is where research come in – and that means being out in the stores, seeing what’s selling, going online, seeing what’s new.  Subscribing to newsletters and magazines, read the ads in newspapers, become a media junkie so you understand the marketplace.  Then you will have a pretty clear picture of how and where your art could fit into the picture.
What's your view of the current market and trends? Retail is still difficult – and I heard from a global economic expert that specialty stores will continue to shrink and consolidate over the next two years, especially women’s apparel.  But the worst of the global economic disaster seems to be behind us and we continue to see small baby steps toward improvements.  The good news is that artists are creative and resilient – and can respond when needed to shift their creative focus.  And as humans we need and want what artists produce – it makes us feel good no matter whether it’s the design on the coffee mug we use each morning or the paper products we buy for our daughter’s birthday party.  That’s a given – as artists and their agents we just have to connect with the right manufacturers to make it happen!
How do you see the future of licensing? The future of licensing is bright.  At the latest Surtex and Licensing Expo shows, there was a positive buzz in the aisles – both from the exhibitors and the attendees.  It think it is a good sign that retailers and manufacturers are eager to find new properties and new opportunities for engaging the consumer.  They must keep their assortments fresh in order to keep the momentum going.  Certainly, the majors in both entertainment and corporate brands will lead the parade – but I for one don’t mind letting them lead.  It’s stimulating the consumer – and once they are in the store, they will see more than just the parade leaders’ products.
What's your opinion of Surtex?  What do you recommend to a new artist as an entrance into licensing? Surtex has become one of the primary shows for art licensing.  It has grown over the last couple of years into a very viable resource that manufacturers and retailers alike depend upon for sourcing new artists and their work.  The first foray into any trade show should first be one of investigation and exploring.  By attending and walking both the Surtex and Licensing Expo shows, it is another means for doing your due diligence and research.  It is an investment in your business and understanding of the marketplace as a whole.  Each show also has a great education program that can be of great benefit to both new and experienced artists.
What do you offer as a consultant, as an optional choice to being an agent? As a consultant, I work with both emerging and experienced artists on evaluating their goals and setting strategies, developing their business model and creating the plan to make it happen.  Some of my clients have been artists for decades, but have only sold originals and are now wanting to expand their business into art publishing and licensing.  On the other hand, some of my clients are really just beginning to turn their creative talents into a viable business and need help exploring their options as well as establishing their focus.  And as we work together, if art licensing is one of the goals, we determine whether I am the best candidate to represent them or if another agent would be more appropriate to meet their goals.
Additionally, I have a number of artists that I represent for the purpose of licensing their artwork and developing and marketing their brand.
What other useful tips can you give to new artists starting out in this field of licensing? Be an empty sponge, soak in information from all avenues – artists, blogs, social media, online discussion groups, newsletters, trade publications, seminars, retail stores, all of it!  Become educated, learn the industry, meet artists and agents, network. And evaluate your work style – is it in tune with what is needed to make a licensing business really work?  You are organized, love deadlines, like to work with clients and respond to their input and desires, are business minded and eager to oversee all aspects of growing your business, are savvy on legal terms to protect your intellectual property.  If the answer is “yes” to each of those – then get ready and jump into licensing.  If the answer is “no” to even some of them – consider the assistance of a consultant and/or  agent to make it all come together.

Go here for more information on Linda as well as her contact information.

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