Debbie Tomassi Talks About Creating ‘Bodacious Broads’

10 06 2014

For any of you creating characters and hoping to create a line of greeting cards and more, I know you will enjoy my interview with Debbie Tomassi.  She is a veteran of American Greetings (20 years, no less), Recycled Paper Greetings, Ronnie Sellers…and knows her stuff!  Debbie is one of the artists I agent and I am excited that we get to share her story about creating a product line called ‘Bodacious Broads.’


What Can I Expect From My Agent—and They Expect From Me? Part 2 of the 2-Part Agent Series

19 09 2013

In the last installment of this 2-Part Agent Series, I covered 5 Tips for Finding the Right Licensing Agent.

For those of you who have pursued an agent before, you know the feeling. You work hard to find those that are a fit for you personally, and your art style, as well as those that like your work. Then you pitch, pitch, pitch…and then wait, wait, wait for responses.  Do you feel tinges of a second grade playground here?

All agents have different skill sets, work ethics, and internal procedures to get the job done. But regardless, when you have found an agent and made the commitment, the big question is: “What’s next?” You now have a licensing expert on your team, however, it can still be a mystery as to what you should expect from them and what they will be expecting from you.

Here’s what you SHOULD expect from your agent:

1)      Get organized and have an initial meeting to explore how they work and all you have to offer.  Some of this may have already been accomplished, as you discussed working together and negotiated your contract.  However, there are lots of details that you need to make sure have been covered. How often will you be communicating with the agency, and in what way (email, phone, Skype, etc.)

  • How often will you be communicating with the agency, and in what way (email, phone, Skype, in-person, etc.)
  • What’s their internal processes for:
    • o Developing sales leads and following up.
    • o Sharing updates and/or progress reports.
    • o Legal and contract negotiations (including signing and record keeping).
    • o Approvals (hi-res file delivery, art approvals, sample distribution, etc.).
    • o Accounting (when will you get paid).

2)      A licensing plan should be prepared and presented (and requested, if not offered).  It can be verbal or written, and it doesn’t need to be long.  But it does need to include specifics on how and when they will be marketing your art to secure licensing deals. The following elements need to be discussed and agreed upon:

  • Target audience.
  • Primary (or often called cornerstone) property categories.
  • Retail distribution channels.
  • Sales Plan – a rough idea of how you will be marketed to manufacturers, including a time line of Trade Shows and other sales efforts to achieve the goals.

3)      More questions that need answering

  • When and under what circumstances will you interact with the manufacturers?
  • How much of your existing portfolio will they be marketing?
  • What do they need from you monthly, quarterly or annually in terms of art and/or collections?
  • What other questions do you have that need answering?

Here’s what your agent SHOULD expect from you (the artist/creator/brand manager):

1)      Create content

  • Develop collections on a regular basis and be prepared to develop new items for key trade events (such as AmericasMart, Surtex and International Licensing Expo).
  • Agents will need ‘sell sheets’ for various collections, customized presentations–on occasion—and materials for trade shows and direct mail campaigns.
    • If you don’t already develop product mock-ups and presentations, then get prepared to make these for your agent. If the agent is preparing them for you, then you’ll need to understand exactly how and by whom they will be created so you can approve the materials. 

2)      Do spec work

  • Actually creating collections, which are marketed to manufacturers, is ‘creating spec’ work. In this industry you can expect to do more than that. There are times your agent will specifically ask you to adapt a design for a manufacturer, or ask if you are interested in creating something original for one.  Neither of these scenarios may include a guarantee of a licensing deal; but to have the potential of a deal, you need to do the work.
  • Your agent will probably be a good judge of how often you should do this and request it when those opportunities have the best potential to result in a licensing deal. And if you don’t get a deal, just put the work in your portfolio and don’t forget to ask your agent where else they might be able to sell it.

3)      Website

  • Create your own art licensing web site and keep it updated.
  • If you don’t have one, get a headshot taken by a professional photographer.
  • Be sure to talk to your agent about what and how much of your work they will include on their website, and where they will link to yours.
  • Also discuss how they can be integrated together, rather than being a duplication of information.
  • Some agents don’t have an extensive website, but list their artists and simply link to their sites.

4)      Meet deadlines

  • Art licensing is a commercial business.  Agents and manufacturers alike will require you to meet their deadlines and be consistent about this. Remember that your agent is probably getting squeezed by the manufacturer who is getting squeezed by production deadlines or a retailer.  So don’t make commitments you can’t keep and keep commitments you make.  
  • If you don’t do this; it’s probably not a good industry for you and manufacturers probably won’t come back. 
  • Once you have deals, keep the momentum by staying on top of approvals and getting back to everyone in a timely manner.

In any business relationship there are two sides to every story, and tasks to be accomplished on both ends to achieve the desired goals.  You want to communicate with your agent as often as is required, and not hound them. But clearly you shouldn’t be left in the dark either.  No communication is not a good sign.

So what can you expect from your agent? To be informed, to be marketed, and to be licensed to the best of their abilities.  If you don’t believe this is happening, then start a dialogue to find out what is going on.

If you have a terrific agent with great expertise, please don’t take them for granted.  Make sure you celebrate their successes and keep them happy and updated on new ideas and places you can go together while building your business and brand. (Note: Who loves their agent? I’d love you to share.) Learning how to get the most out of your business partners, IS YOUR BUSINESS.

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.

20+ Benefits of Licensing

31 07 2013

As I make calls to manufacturers, I’ve been thinking about the many benefits of licensing, and specifically those for artists and manufacturers in the industry (who are  commonly referred to as the licensor and licensee, respectively). I suggest that your understanding licensing benefits from the perspectives of the Licensor (Artist, Brand/Trademark Owner, Cartoonist, Designer, etc.), Licensee (Manufacturer, Retailer, etc.) and Agent (Representing the Licensor) is important when it comes to developing marketing plans, making sales calls, managing your trade show booth and negotiating contracts, to name a few instances.

Let’s start with the Licensee, since many of my readers are Licensors and might not have analyzed this subject from the manufacturer’s’ point-of-view.

For a Licensee, licensing can:

1. Generate incremental income from the sales of licensed products.
2. Create additional product lines by borrowing brand equity from various properties and artists.
3. Provide credibility to the manufacturer’s product line through the licensing of high profile brands and properties.
4. Expand awareness of all products in a manufacturer’s line and attract new customers.
5. Target more audiences through the use of different licenses.
6. Help build a competitive advantage when you have a variety of lines making up your product mix, and even offering exclusive properties (brands, artists, etc.) that your competition doesn’t have.
7. Develop more product lines without adding more expense or work load to the creative department.
8. Find HOT talent and trends.
9. Increase market share, which is the percentage of total sales volume in a specific product market (bedding, craft kits, tea towels, etc.) captured by one manufacturer or brand.
10. Create efficiency. Manufacturers with their own production facilities or factories gain efficiency, and more profit, when operating at an optimum level. Often manufacturers start off producing basic products and then add licensed properties so they can run their plant 24/7 and take advantage of economies of scale. Likewise, manufacturer/wholesalers gain purchasing power with suppliers by increasing quantities on production orders and building better relationships with their factories, thus obtaining lower prices and reducing their costs per unit.
11. Open new channels of distribution by offering product designs and styles which require different retail options, such as mass market, specialty stores, home shopping networks, catalogs, internet, dollar stores and deep discounters.
12. Increase a manufacturer’s retail shelf space with a broader, as well as stronger, product mix.

For a Licensor and their Agent, licensing can:

1. Generate revenue or an additional income stream based on the intellectual property (IP) rights (art, cartoon, designs, etc.) you own.
2. Leverage the equity you have built through your brand.
3. Enhance brand positioning through product design and messaging (website, advertising, catalogs, product, packaging).
4. Strategically grow the value of the brand via product (and artist’s) exposure and sales.
5. Generate product without an up-front investment.
6. Help find partners with important production expertise to create relevant brand extensions.
7. Help find partners with existing and well-targeted distribution channels.
8. Protect your intellectual property. When you register and use your trademark, such as through licensed product sales, you then have the right to use legal action in claims against fraudulent use.
9. Promote stronger relationships with existing customers and find new customers for your brand.
10. Build a competitive advantage though exclusive licensing opportunities.

Put this list on your wall or somewhere you can access it and review it over time. Perhaps when you are making a call to a potential manufacturer you can ask yourself, “Why do I want to license my art to them?” And more importantly, “Why would they want to license art from me?” Being able to understand the benefits of licensing to both the Licensor and Licensee is crucial to developing those answers.

A New Energy at the International Licensing Expo 2013

24 06 2013

Oh, there definitely was excitement in the air at the International Licensing Expo this year! From those exhibitors I spoke with, I heard there was a good flow of traffic and solid leads coming in. Many exhibitors, who I had just seen at the Surtex trade show, thought that the traffic was much better. By the end of the first day in Las Vegas, their leads exceeded those of Surtex.  Other exhibitors, who had not attended Surtex and had no basis for comparison, also seemed pleased with the amount and quality of leads.

Of course, there are lots of variables at any trade show.

The diversity of properties exhibiting at the International Licensing Expo is wide and interesting. While the major players are there with huge fortress-like booths, there are fine artists, graphic designers, agents representing lots of artists, character properties at various levels of development and international properties we’ve never heard of.  It’s such a great showcase for what’s up-n-coming!

Kudos to Advanstar for offering the ‘launching pad’ mini booths at the back of the trade show floor this year.  Finally there is an affordable way for a creator to test the show and gain some exposure.  These small booths went for under $2,000 and were perfect for 1 person or a very tight-two.  I still always recommend going to the show before purchasing a booth. But now you can, well, launch your art licensing business without taking a loan out on your house-jewelry-dog—you fill in the valuable ‘noun.’

Another shout out to Advanstar for a new show floor plan, which improved the experience for buyers and exhibitors. Sections were organized with forethought and attention to traffic flow. The ‘art & design’ area wasn’t crammed in the back corner. In addition to, at least, feeling bigger, it was surrounded by the ‘agents & brands’ and ‘fashion’ areas, which made sense.

If you have an agent, they will undoubtedly have a presence for you in their booth at the show.  However, there is a new growing trend with artists and properties having dual booths.  One solo booth, so you can show a broad range of work, in addition to a second agent’s booth, where your property is one of many they represent. Two examples are Jim Benton, who always has his own booth, and at least one of his properties represented by Cop Corp. Also Ileana Grimm, who is represented by King Features, but has a rockin’ corner booth of her own to show off her extensive (and mind-bogglingly funny) lines of humor. This trend has grown out of the fact that there is simply not enough room in any agent’s booth to give an individual artist’s work, what I would consider, extensive coverage.

With the wide range of properties at Licensing Expo, you also get a much broader profile of manufacturers representing a full array of product categories, more international manufacturers and more ‘lookers’ (those just coming to see what it’s all about).  Yes, there are more people and opportunities. But you definitely have to filter through all of them to get those ‘A’ level leads and cultivate those relationships.  Here are just a few questions you should ask show-walkers, to filter out the ‘lookers’ from the real leads.  (Tag this blog, so you can use these questions for your next trade show).

  • What’s your company do? (What has it done that I would know/understand?)
  • What are you looking for at the show?
  • What are you interested in, or caught your eye (in my booth)?
  • How can I help you?
  • What exactly would you like me to send you?  Do you need it immediately, or can I send it by _____. How does that sound?

Don’t be afraid to ask potential clients, whether you’re in a booth at a trade show or talking with someone on the phone, about time frames.  If it’s vague, you have more time than with someone who tells you directly, ‘I will be making a final decision next week and heading into production.’

Once you determine exactly what the booth visitor has done, and can do with your property or art, then you can discuss sending them some low res samples.

This Friday you can ask me anything you want at the next Ask J’net Q&A…it’s FREE FRIDAY on June 28th from 9-10 am Pacific/12 noon-1 pm Eastern time.  Please register as soon as possible to send your question(s), and I will also send you a copy of my ‘Trade Show Follow-Up Techniques’ class (full one-hour audio and 25-page PowerPoint Presentation through a download link) just for contributing. I will answer as many questions as possible during the hour and hope you can join me!

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