5 Tips for Finding the Right Licensing Agent – Part 1 of a 2-Part Agent Series

17 09 2013

If you have found an agent in this competitive industry, then thank your lucky stars. Although I’m sure luck may have had something to do with it, your talent, art and presentations to various agents probably had much more to do with it.

It’s a sales job and a difficult task to look for and sign on with a licensing agent in today’s marketplace. First of all, ask yourself if you are really prepared to have an agent? Here are five tips that will help you determine your readiness for the art licensing agent search.

1) Know what you are looking for. Starting a search without knowing what you are looking for is difficult, if not impossible. Do you know exactly what kind of agent you are looking for? I find that many artists don’t really understand the differences between the various types of agents. A good place to start is understanding exactly what these representatives (reps) or agents do and don’t do: Illustration Rep, Gallery Rep, Literary Agent, Art Licensing Agent, etc.

If you know the differences between all of these, and know which one you specifically need, then you are probably ready for the next step. Keep in mind that some agents may have skill sets and/or responsibilities that overlap. It is your contract(s) which will define and clarify the specific areas that each representative covers. The last thing you want is a duplication of effort, which will only frustrate your agents (and you). It is not unusual for an artist to have several agents covering various business aspects of their work—again—as long as their areas of work are well-defined and separate.

2) Prepare your portfolio as if you are going to be licensing your art to agents. This means learning how to present your work to manufacturers, because this is exactly what your agent will be doing and will need from you. More often than not, artists contact licensing agents for representation and are far from ready. Perhaps they have not researched the industry enough to know that an art licensing portfolio needs to include art in collections and mock-ups that feature the designs on appropriate product categories. You will also want to have enough work in your portfolio to prove that you are serious about being in this business.

3) Have your web site ready to go. This is your primary marketing tool and it should be in top notch shape before you pursue a licensing agent. I get many emails from artists presenting themselves and asking for art licensing representation, but next to their web link they will write something like: “this is my old site” or “I haven’t updated this yet.” Please don’t give me, or other agents, excuses when you are asking us to take our time and consider your artwork for a business relationship. However, all of the above is perfectly acceptable when requesting coaching or consulting advice to improve your web site or bring your business to a new level.

Also, if your site is designed specifically for your gallery or illustration rep, as a retail site for consumers, or for some target audience, other than agents or manufacturers looking to license art for products, then you aren’t ready to pitch art licensing agents.

4) Research agents carefully. There are all types of licensing agents, so you need to do your homework. Find out how large the agencies are, how many employees they have and how many artists they represent. Look for examples of their work in the trade magazines to confirm that they cover the product categories that are important to your business. Also explore what types of properties they represent and the reputations of the agency principles. Make sure they work with artists, and not just major brands and/or network properties, which would mean they are probably not a good fit. Lastly investigate their breadth of art styles to assure that your art is a potential match for them, yet is distinctively different from all their current artists. You don’t want to have a major competitor at the same agency, nor is an agency likely to choose you under those circumstances.

Most of this work can be done online through the agents’ web site, and various press articles. Another great way to find and research agents is to attend Surtex in NYC or the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. It is also a good idea to ask other artists and industry contacts about the agencies, or check in with coaches and consultants who know the industry.
Be sure to ask for references from those agencies that do express an interest in you and your art. LIMA (Licensing International Merchandiser’s Association) has a great directory of agencies, so this is a good place to start. The database is sortable, so make sure you go to the left side of the web site and choose art/artwork, plus U.S. or worldwide (or whatever territory you are looking for), and then hit search. At last count, they list 106 art licensing agents in the U.S. alone.

5) Send a formal cover letter and presentation. Make sure your presentation includes a cover letter, in the email is fine, plus a PDF presentation and a link to your up-to-date web site. This will be far beyond what I usually receive from artists looking for representation. You can send hard copies via mail if you want, but from my experience and speaking with other agents, a CD is rarely reviewed. It is okay to send your presentation to several agencies at once, but make sure that all those whom you send it to are a fit for your art style, as well as your needs, so you aren’t wasting their time.

Note: For further information and a list of questions to ask prospective agents, please check out my earlier blog post titled: Interviewing Art Licensing Agents. If you want help finding or negotiating with an agent, or need an agency contract reviewed, give me a call. You will also find my blog article 16 Art Licensing Agent Agreement Essentials very helpful.

Watch for my next blog post, What Can I Expect From My Agent—and They Expect From Me? – Part 2 of this Agent Series—which will be out on Thursday this week.

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