Friday, October 7, 2011

Brief Tips & Tricks in Art Licensing

I found out a few more interesting tips & tricks and want to broadly share as they might be useful to some artists new to licensing - note that these are not my own opinions or beliefs. If you have a different view or opinion of this topic please feel free to comment on this post. I welcome multiple views.

Please also note that the last two paragraphs are a brief summary of an email comment by a licensed artist who gave me permission to share it but asked for no attribution.

• Artists just starting in licensing often are told to shop at retailers for ideal products and then research the manufacturers online. If the manufacturer's name isn't readily available on the product, as is common practice with many private label programs, they should look for an RN# (five-digit number) on the products. Artists should enter the RN# at the Federal Trade Commission's website, to disclose the manufacturer's information.

• They might also be interested in visiting trade shows in their targeted categories, such as the National Stationery Show or the International Home & Housewares Show, to find companies, view their collections, and see how their work can fit with the manufacturer's products. Same goes for Internet searches, to locate companies and review product lines that might be a fit. 

• Another possible way to get started is to go to a small company of your liking to offer your design service for a product, for free, if they'll give you liberal samples. If they are interested, they might make a deal with you and you can learn from them; they may even pay you at some point. You could even end up working together with the company eventually!  *** See comments below for additional information and other views about this topic.

• An alternative method of entering the world of art licensing is to get a mentor, someone who has been in the business awhile and can give the newbie "an arm around the shoulder and info when you need it." Apparently most artists are very generous this way. Starting slow may be a little frustrating but especially in this tight economy it can be smart. Working your marketing plan to get some deals before you pay the big bucks for a show might be a solution for some of you who are not sure or don't want to invest so much money up front. In a long run, this strategy might be a successful one.

In short, you don't need to go to a show and exhibit to get started!

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Again, if you have any additional or contrary tips on this topic that you'd like to share, please leave a comment here for everyone to read. Thanks!


Regina said...

Some great stuff here! I had no idea about the RN#, you'd think I would, given my background, but nope! Your posts continue to give me hope. Keep up the great work!

Jeff Grinspan said...

not so sure I agree with your tip about doing work for free.. it not only lowers the bar for every artist, it encourages manufacturers to look for additional ways to cut costs and deprive licensors an opportunity to get what they deserve... granted, if the designs do resonate and you get a deal then great.. but I believe a manufacturer should have enough confidence and business respect to reward designers and artists for their work and their individual creativity up front...

Unknown said...

Regina - thanks for your nice comment and you're very welcome!

Jeff - thanks vm for your comment. I think the idea of the free work was meant to be just a start-up method not as a way to do licensing - the tip came from a true story of a now successful licensed artist :)

BJ Lantz said...

I have to agree with Jeff here. This is the kind of art licensing advice I hate to see given. Giving it away is not the way to go about it just to get ones foot in the door. By not valuing your work ~ and giving it away for somebody else to make money with is not valuing it ~ you are lowering the standards for ALL of us. Why buy the cow and all that... "Free work" should never be considered a "start up method".

Brenda Pinnick said...

I'm with Jeff on this one...
Offering work for free devalues our entire industry, even as a way to get started. A better way to learn from the inside is to get hired and work (for pay) in an in-house design department, one which creates art and also works with licensing artists. I recommend doing this for at least one year. You will get paid while getting an education and you won't hurt an already challenging business model.

sue z said...

I agree with Jeff. I do not think it is a very good idea for an artist to approach a company offering services for free in order to be licensed. I understand that everybody must start somewhere however if everybody started doing this, this would be a perfect opportunity for manufacturers to take advantage of the many beginning artists who are trying to break into licensing. I can understand an artist approaching the manufacturer offering to do a licensing deal without an advance or a very small one, this way the manufacturer would not have to pay anything extra up front, so this minimizes the risk to the manufacturer, if the manufacturer likes the artwork enough to place it in their line then the artist should be compensated.

Alex, If we are misunderstanding this advice, can you please have the artist clarify what they mean exactly.

Thanks for sharing!

Kathy said...

Hi Alex,
I'm sorry but I have to disagree with you on a few key points.

What kind of ethical, upright company would take a professional artist's work without paying them? None that I would want to work with. I would hazard people against taking this route. It's not healthy personally or professionally.

If you need to improve your identity, sharpen your art style(s), further craft your branding strategy, test drive your collections- I would highly suggest doing this autonomously, or off-line in some way— with a critique group and/or some other method before trying it out on those you wish to work with in a professional capacity. It's simply bad—terrible— for business and for your reputation. It's bad for your identity, and it's bad for your relations with the companies YOU WANT TO WORK WITH.

Say you do this...

They say yes: Do you think they will EVER pay you? If they DO pay you eventually, do you think they will EVER value your work as much as they should?

They say no: Do you think they'll ever want to work with you in the future? They are not only NOT interested in your work for whatever reason, but now you've shown them you're desperate and unprofessional.

I also have to disagree with you on the shows bit. I do think you have to exhibit in order to enter the market and be taken seriously. We can internet and email 'til the cows come home, and those are incredibly important communication tools, but nothing—and I mean nothing— replaces person-to-person contact.

ellencrimitrent said...

as an artist who has been licensing for over 15 yrs you have to know- never in my career did I ever do anything for FREE!!

When you set yourself up to give it away thats what you will get in return- always demand the highest price for your work and never ever lower it! If the company wants it bad enough they will pay - trust me! If they tell you they will go with someone else- Let them! When you lower your standards you get low standards period from any client.

I recently had the pleasure to let my Japan agent know he could tell this company where to go when they wanted to give me a crappy deal! I can wait for a better one and I will- never ever sell yourself short!

If you want the best Licensing advice- Learn to design products period! Stop doing allover patterns that simply cannot be used for anything but stationery- those who stand out- can design product and I don't just mean slapping the same design on every product- you actually have to think up fun and exciting concepts!!

Its a rough world out there and licensing has changed dramatically- if you want to stay in the game know how to play it right!

Unknown said...

Wow, thank you all very much for your comments and views, I had no idea this particular subject was of a concern to so many. You all have made very valuable points and I'm glad you shared them here so we have multiple views to consider and learn from.

The views in the article I published are not necessarily my own views and beliefs, as I noted at the beginning of the post. I just shared what a successful licensed artist offered as an example of an alternative method to start in licensing, which is how she started. Here is what she said, exactly: … "After you have a few deals already going, have walked Surtex a time or two, and already have a little start, that’s the time to think about doing a show. When I first began, I didn’t know how to negotiate a contract, what the typical terms are, how to design to a manufacturer’s specs, and all the million details that make up a licensing business. So I went to a small company I liked and offered to design a little product for free if they’d give me liberal samples. They were on a shoestring, so they were thrilled. I learned so much from them. After a while they began to pay me. We still work together years later but that was the best trade I ever made."

I don't think she meant for new artists to go out and just offer free work to any company. It was an initial collaborative effort and it worked out very well for both the manufacturer and the artist. It was just another way to approach getting started in licensing, from her view.

I hope this clarifies and thanks again for sharing your views. It would be great to hear how other licensing artists started in this field. Anyone willing to share? (feel free to email me or leave a comment here :)


Phyllis Dobbs said...

I'm jumping in a little late with my comment, but agree with the others on the "working for free", for all the reasons they listed. It sets a very bad presedence and lowers the standards. I have seen this happen to another industry with terrible results.

There are many ways to learn the "ropes" of art licensing without going this route.