Six Tips for Creating a Trade Show Ready Portfolio

11 05 2016

Portfolio development and trade show planning is one of the most asked about topics in my business. Understanding how to trade show test one’s portfolio is important for artists and designers to know if their portfolio has what it takes to cut through the clutter.

Kitty Ice Cream by Joan Marie

Kitty Ice Cream by Joan Marie

There are many types of portfolios—enough to mirror the creative minds we have in this amazing licensing industry. And while everyone’s work is unique, putting together a compelling portfolio presentation to grab attention while distracted prospects are running the gamut of brain aerobics required at trade shows, is certainly a challenge.

Here are some solid techniques to maximize the effectiveness of your portfolios while attending trade shows:
1) Portfolio Size
The size of your portfolio for a show will depend greatly on how long you have been in the art licensing business, and whether the artist is participating as an exhibitor or attendee. An artist who has been in the business for 10 years with a consistent art style—who might add 5 to 10 collections a year—will probably have 100 or more collections to choose from.
Manufacturers want to see a body of work, enough to keep them interested and know the artist is committed to the business. If artists are exhibiting at a major trade event, then think in terms of presenting 20 to 30 collections in a variety of themes and developing a system to access most of any viable work. If you are walking a show, keep it light and bring your newest items and a few solid collections which you want to exploit further.

2) Portfolio Organization
Artists must make sure to organize their portfolios for a trade event by theme, since that is how manufacturers buy collections. They seek out art to fit their product line needs for everyday (including seasonal-fall, winter, spring, and summer), holidays (Christmas, Halloween, Valentines, and Easter), occasions (Birthday, Graduation, and Baby Shower) and niche themes/lifestyles (cooking, flowers, spa, sports, country chic, lodge, beach). Organizing collections in other ways will just make it more difficult for the manufacturer and is likely to frustrate them and turn them off.

3) Portfolio Review
Licensees want to see what artists have that’s new. So while an art style may interest them, new art keeps them coming back to ‘see what you’ve got.’
Creating new art for key trade shows is vital, as is sharing new collections throughout the year. Think about how many collections you will create (approximately) for the year, and plan out the releases based on trade shows you will attend. Artists should launch new collections at trade shows and plan on having other new releases following major events to keep the conversations going with potential.

4) Portfolio Flow
Portfolios should ebb and flow. Artists should add new items and take out old items regularly—that’s the way to keep it fresh! Also, they should make sure to keep their newest art at the beginning of the themed sections in their portfolio.
Artists can absolutely continue to use images and collections that were shown last year, or even from years before. However, take out designs that no longer fit the artist’s style, or are no longer ‘in style’ or ‘on trend.’ Think realistically about how long the art will be relevant in the marketplace, and, therefore, to manufacturers, retailers and consumers. If artists are trend driven, it may be one to three years. If artists are very traditional in their themes and style, then eight to 10 years would not be an unusual length of time to keep some art in their portfolios.

5) Portfolios Technology
If an artist has a booth at an upcoming show, it’s best to have duplicate copies of your portfolio for multiple viewers. In addition, make sure there are hard copies and digital versions available. It is important to put the portfolio in a tablet, phone or computer which does not require the Internet to access the images. The last thing artists want is to be dependent on the Wi-Fi in a large convention hall, hotel or conference center with spotty reception. Keep images at an appropriately high resolution for how they will be shown: 300 dpi for print portfolios and look books, and 72 dpi for electronic images.
Use touch-screen computers or tablets to make it easy for anyone to glance through a portfolio at his or her own pace (without having to learn your technology). Keep it simple. I don’t recommend attending a meeting with so much high-tech equipment and business paraphernalia—artist’s phone, tablet, computer, briefcase, and hardcopy portfolio—that they are utterly incapacitated by trying to juggle them all. Think light; think efficient (less is more).

6) Website Portfolios
While physical trade show portfolios are important, just because artists are exhibiting in a booth or attending a show, doesn’t mean that someone an artist meets with won’t quickly check-out the artist’s website. In fact, isn’t that what every artist is hoping for?
For this and many other reasons, it is important that an artist’s website be up-to-date before he or she attend a trade show. The online portfolio should include enough of the art to show a breadth of themes and the depth of an artist’s capabilities. But I don’t recommend that artists show your entire portfolio. It’s not wise or necessary to have every collection out on your site. Of course, artists should take as many precautions as possible by using a watermark on the art and copyright on each piece and/or collection. Some artists do prefer a password-protected portfolio area, especially if they have extensive work to keep organized.

Reprise: My article was written for and originally published by ‘The Licensing Book,” Spring 2015. I am happy to share it again after so many requests for information about portfolio development.  And my sincere thanks to Joan Marie for allowing me to share some of her amazing art images.

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