Whether your licensing interest is focused on art, brands or characters, it is the effort you put into selling that creates your licensing deals. Your greatest sales are achieved when you have a thorough understanding your product (what it is you are trying to license), so that you are able to connect directly to the right audience (most often a manufacturer, retailer or media).
If you are new to licensing, what you first want to do is organize your list of potential product categories and then prioritize them. For your reference, here is a list of product categories and their percentage of licensed merchandise retail sales in the U.S./Canada in 2015, as reported by The Licensing Letter.
Once you have developed a good strategy for your property, in terms of product categories, it will be much easier to direct the growth of your lead list. When looking for prospective manufacturers, there are many opportunities to find them and do research before including them on your list. The more targeted you are in creating your leads, the more manufacturers will respond positively to the opportunities you present.
I hear from manufacturers, over and over again, their number one complaint is that they receive too many presentations that are not relevant to their specific business needs. Do yourself, and the manufacturers you are seeking, a favor by doing your research and targeting your offerings to their business. They will appreciate and recognize your focus, and you will progress faster.
Remember that lead lists are organic in nature; they increase and decrease, again and again, over time. A list of 30 companies may grow to 100, then reduce to 40 leads, as you determine that some of the companies are not, in fact, a match.
Here are eight ways to help you develop your own licensing lead list. Some of them require an investment and others are free, except for your time and effort.
1. Trade Shows — Trade events and their directories exist in every product categories. If you attend a trade show, make sure you bring home the directory or you can ask friends to bring you a copy of the directory from the shows they attend. Sometimes you can even find exhibitor lists, before and after their annual events, on the association and exposition web sites.
Just to see what is out there, I searched the Internet for some of the most popular trade shows in product categories that are important to licensed artists. Within five minutes I found a PDF titled, ‘Exhibitors for the 2016 International Home + Housewares Show.’ This 35-page document included company names, contact information, address, and phone and fax numbers. Needless to say, if you are willing to spend the time, there are always inexpensive ways to get the information you need.
2. Trade Magazines — As you read trade magazines associated with the product categories that you have chosen to target, check out the companies that seem to be a good fit for you and your art, designs, illustrations, brand or characters. Always make notes about their product lines, employees, contact information and licensing deals, so you have the details handy when you are ready to contact them.
3. Shopping — Spend time shopping in retail stores and outlets for the products you want to license. This will be time well spent as you explore manufacturers that are already doing licensing. You will probably also see ‘private label’ products with art and characters; these are the products that don’t readily identify the manufacturer on the product itself. These D-T-R, or Direct-to-Retail, products are often branded under the retail establishment’s label (i.e. Target’s or Walmart’s instore brands) and it may be difficult to find out who manufactured them. There are more and more of these D-T-R’s deals being done every day as stores work harder to have unique product in stores. To identify these manufacturers, it may require a licensing industry agent, retail expert or a professionally compiled lead list.
4. Use the Internet — The Internet continues to be the primary source for researching manufacturers. Although, these days, larger companies are less likely to list their phone numbers and email addresses on their websites, you can still often find the information you want with a little extra effort. And when you get frustrated, just think about how we used to do it before the Internet. I also recommend connecting on LinkedIn with the executives you are trying to reach. Most professionals will consider ‘linking’ to you, since you are in the business, and then you can start a conversation.
5. Networking — Again, thank goodness for the Internet and social media! Now you can talk to other licensed artists and creators through the many specialized social groups on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest, as well as at industry events and trade shows. Networking can become a primary source of ideas and leads. If you are open about sharing your connections, then others will do the same.
6. Ask for Recommendations — If a manufacturer doesn’t think you are a good fit for them, ask them what manufacturers they would recommend you talk to (and get the contact information). This is a really overlooked technique that allows you to tap into the brainpower of the manufacturers who know the business best. If you were thoughtful in your presentation, and had relevant reasons why you felt they would be interested, then you didn’t waste their time and the manufacturer may be very open to sharing their thoughts about other licensing partner options.
If you are short on time and have the money to invest, you may want to consider one of the following licensing industry directories.
7. EPM Communications — The Licensing Letter Sourcebook is annually updated to include licensing decision-makers from manufacturing companies, as well as properties, agents, attorneys and consultants. So while it is not an inexpensive resource, and you may use only a fraction of the information, I have found it to be the most reliable in the licensing industry. In the long run, it will save you valuable time and money in getting names, phone numbers and email addresses.
EPM has just announced that their updated 2016 Sourcebook is available. It includes the contact information for more 7,400 licensing professionals worldwide, 2,000 licensors, 3,600 manufacturers, 1,000 licensing agents and 730 attorneys and industry consultants. If you want more information you can contact Randy Cochran at firstname.lastname@example.org and here is a link for more details.
8. Total Guide to the Licensing World — There is a new, less expensive, online database which will be available in October. According to Joanna Cassidy from Total Licensing, their database will include over 2,600 licensees/manufacturers. This is a worldwide licensing industry database with contacts in more than 90 countries, but approximately 30% of the contacts are in the United States. The annual subscription cost will be just under $200 for full access to the Total Guide Guide to the Licensing World. The directory includes 125 word listings, plus all contact information and social media links. If you are interesting in being included in the dirtectory you can email email@example.com or click here for more details.
There are quite a few options for building your lead lists. It really boils down to whether or not you want to spend your time, money or both. I can’t emphasize enough that even having a terrific lead list isn’t enough to get you deals; you have to finely target your list, learn from the manufacturer responses, continually update your list and last, but not least, spend time actually sending the presentations out and following up!