Manufacturer Interview: Phil Cowley, CMO of Design Design Inc.

6 04 2016

Hi everyone, I appreciate your patience and support while I recovered from my hip replacement surgery. It feels so amazing to be back at my desk with renewed energy, a new perspective and motivation for moving life and business forward. Thanks to all of you who sent your well-wishes while I was recuperating!

As most of you know, I believe strongly in building great, positive relationships. We find in art and character licensing, the 80/20 rule is just as true as it is in all the other industries. Specifically, this means that 80 percent of your revenue comes from only 20 percent of your clients. So in practical terms, to actually grow your revenue, you need to connect with as many people as possible. This means attending trade shows, talking to other artists, getting on the phone, asking those in-the-know for advice and finding industry events where you will meet the manufacturers and the decision-makers who will become the cornerstone of your licensing business.

The more you learn about what manufacturers want and are looking for, from the manufacturers themselves, the better you will be able to provide the appropriate art, in the proper format, to catch their eye and close your deal.

Not all manufacturers are willing to share this information. Fortunately there are some who will, such as Design Design’s Chief Marketing Officer,  Phil Cowley. I have worked with Phil on many occasions and he is such a wealth of information. In our interview, he shares intriguing insights about how manufacturers work, and specifically how Design Design works with artists.

Below I’ve listed just a few of the topics that are covered in this interview. I admit up-front, that the 30-minute length, is much longer than your average web interview. But I just couldn’t edit out any of the details. So grab a cup of coffee or tea and you’ll learn something, I’m sure. And thank you Phil for your time and so much valuable information!

  • What are the color and design trends for 2016?
  • What are the three most influential industries, when it comes to paper product designs
  • What is Design Design’s inside out approach to the marketplace?
  • What are their six key product categories?
  • What percentage of their product line is new each year?
  • How much art do they license?
  • How many artists do they work with?
  • How often does Design Design release new product?
  • What is the hardest greeting card (and other products…) category to fill?
  • Who are their primary retailer channels of distribution?
  • What exactly do they want from artists?

Final note: There are some audio issues on this interview due to internet fluctuations. We apologize in advance for making you have to listen extra-hard in a few places. This interview was taped in November 2016. The delay in publishing was due to my surgery. On all accounts, thanks for your understanding!

If you are interested in sending your portfolio of art to Design Design, Phil asks that you go to their Artists Inquiry page and download their Artist Guidelines for Artwork Submissions, which I’ve also linked to here for you. Please read this important information and then you can send your relevant artwork to their Senior Director of Creative, Tom Vituj at




An Interview with Kendra Hull of Acco Brands (Calendars, Back-to-School and Home Office Products)

12 05 2015

Acco brandsKendra Hull, the Licensing Account Manager, of Acco Brands provided me with some very valuable insights on their variety of products and strategies for their brands. It can be difficult to find manufacturers who are as honest and open as Kendra, so I encourage you to watch the entire video, even if you aren’t looking to license your art or property right now for calendars, back-to-school and home office products.Mead Fashion

Learn what Kendra believes is the downfall of many presentations sent her way, what a SALY is and why she’s important, as well as what types of art, designs & characters the brands are looking for these days.

Kendra Hull, Licensing Account Manager, Acco Brands

Angry Birds Folder

What To Do When The Manufacturer Calls You – And FREE Advice From Ask J’net Q&A

14 09 2014

The next FREE Ask J’net Q&A is scheduled for this week on Wednesday, September 17th at 12 noon PDT/3:00 pm EDT.  Here is the link to sign-up, and don’t forget to put your question at the bottom of the registration page.  I try to answer as many questions and possible, and it usually winds up being between a dozen and 20 questions within the hour long session. So join me for some tantalizing lessons about licensing and answers to your questions!

What To Do When The Manufacturer Calls YouRing Ring

I think we are all so used to pitching ourselves on and in social media, websites, blogs, emails, letters, and presentations that we forget how many incredible manufacturers there are looking for licensed art every day. You probably wouldn’t believe how many times I hear from an artist: “A manufacturer called me for some art and was not sure what to say.” or “What do I say when a manufacturer calls me?”

When a manufacturer can’t find exactly what they need with their existing licensees and contacts, they are very likely to head to their files to peruse leads they received from trade shows, emails and searching the internet.

If you have a great list of questions ready, then you will be more than prepared for any initial conversation with a manufacturer.  The goal is to ask intelligent questions, stay organized, take notes and get them talking.  Here is a list of some questions you might consider asking:

‘How did you find my art?’ or ‘How did you hear about me?’ If you are not sure about how they got your name, this is an important question. This will also let you know if they found you through LinkedIn, Licensing Expo, your own website, or a directory, which is great information to help plan your future marketing.

‘What pieces of my art or styles are you most interested in?’

‘What types of products would the art be used on?’

‘What products do you produce?’ This is a more general way to ask the question, if you aren’t familiar with the manufacturer. I would also suggest getting to a computer and logging onto their website so you can quickly review their product lines while you are talking to them.

If they are discussing development of a very specific program and need, don’t hesitate to ask more precise questions:

‘Who is the primary purchaser of the product line(s)? Will this be our target customer?’

‘How big is the program?’ (Or ‘What kind of product runs would you do for a program like this?)

‘What material will they made of?’ ‘What size and color are they?’

‘When will the products launch in stores?’ and ‘Do you know what stores they will be featured in?’

‘When would you need the art?’

‘What type of files do you prefer?’

‘Would the art be used as is, or with some changes and refinements?’

‘When will a decision on the art be made?’ and ‘Who will be involved in making the final decision?’

‘What do you pay similar artists for this type of program?’ or ‘What’s your standard royalty for this type of licensed product?’

Of course, you may not get all of these questions out in a short and fast-paced conversation.  And many of them may not even be relevant to the conversation (yet).  Nevertheless, it’s a great list to get very familiar with or even post on a bulletin board near your work station.

Chances are, that if you get a call from a manufacturer, they will have some need in mind and will be prepared to discuss many of these details. I encourage you to ask ‘open ended’ questions that do not require a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer.  This way they will have the opportunity to talk and expand into the specifics and you get to learn more.

Be sure to do as they have asked, and end your conversation with a recap of the next steps you will take and when you will follow-up with them and how. The more exact you can be in your communication, the better for everyone.

The bottom line is to find out what their needs are and how can you help. Your goal is to move the conversation forward one or more steps towards getting a final contract.

Interview With a Stationery Manufacturer – Inspiration is Still a Big Market

17 06 2014

Here at the Licensing Expo it’s been a busy first day. The lifeblood of the show is two-fold, the creators who spend endless amounts of time creating and dreaming about getting their message, characters or brand out into the marketplace and the producers, manufacturers and retailers who produce and distribute the media and products.

Andy Meehan, owner of Christian Inspirations, a manufacturer of stationery products shares some insights and misconceptions about his business with us today.

Creative Minds Design Studio

In its first show last year, Creative Minds made serious tracks with an international licensee for children’s footwear for its emodoki, cute character mood faces, property. Now the company is back, all the way from The Netherlands, to add more licensees to its emodoki line as well as launch its new characters, Minky & Chuwie, and Fulgar the Puppy. Antoine Aarts, said, “I came all the way from Holland for this show.  I was here last year and we did very well for emodoki, that we developed a couple more properties and have a much bigger booth.”

Creative Minds Design Studio

Creative Minds Design Studio

emodoki shoes

Lately Lily Credits Licensing Expo for ‘Putting Them On the Map’

13 06 2014
(c) Lately Lily

(c) Lately Lily

In this extended interview with Jason Wheeler, the New Business Development and Operations Executive for Lately Lily, you will learn about how this little girl who travels around the world is becoming a very well-known property.  Step-by-step they are building a brand which appeals to a more sophisticated clientele of parents and young girls.  It’s intelligent and….well…watch and enjoy.

Action at Lately Lily's 'sunny yellow suitcase' Booth at Licensing Expo 2013  (c) Lately Lily

Action at Lately Lily’s ‘sunny yellow suitcase’ Booth at Licensing Expo 2013 (c) Lately Lily


An Art Licensor’s Continuing Education

19 03 2014

learn earnThe road to a successful licensing business is paved with many steps over a variety of paths. And it’s not a short journey, by any means. Joan Beiriger, licensed artist and self-proclaimed art licensing junkie (and blogger), was listening to one of my Ask J’net Q&A’s when I mentioned this.

Joan wrote: “One thing that you covered really sparked my interest.  You discussed what the role of an artist is and you said that an artist needs to learn about art licensing not just at the beginning of her career but she needs to continue learning forever.  And that also involves learning about manufacturing and retail to know what consumers want.  Exactly what I believe in!”

I clearly agree with her. She then asked me to write a blog about the education that artists need, to skillfully maneuver the twists and turns on the road through art licensing. Here it is Joan—

In any business endeavor there are lots of things to learn and the world also doesn’t stop for anyone or anything. It does not wait for someone to catch up. Like a real estate agent re-taking their license, a surgeon updating their skills or a computer geek learning the latest software, education and learning is vital and it should be at the top of your ‘to do’ list every year.

As I focused on the various areas that art licensors need to learn about, I thought about how wonderfully diverse this industry is. I personally love that about licensing and marketing, as well. But this does mean that you need to always be open to, and on the lookout for new training opportunities, throughout your career. Here’s my list of topics, which I believe should be on your continuing education list—

ART—As artists, we should explore and expand our style and then experiment with a new one. Never stop seeking more of your creative source. Take time to play with your art and develop your own new ideas and techniques. Also:

  • Keep an eye on current trends, whether for inspiration, or just information
  • If sales are dropping, then consider whether your art style is slipping out of date
  • Make sure you continuously update your web site with new art

TECHNOLOGY—What’s the latest technology on the landscape for:

  • Business, sales & marketing
  • Creating art, presentations, production files and more
  • Communication, social media, publishing & entertainment (Note: they call these platforms, and if you can re-purpose your art and designs for various platforms, all the better!)

LICENSING—What would you like to learn for your licensing business about:

  • Agents
  • Portfolios
  • Collection Design
  • Trends
  • Sales
  • Contracts
  • Negotiations

BUSINESS—What training and skills are necessary for your entrepreneurial business to succeed:

  • Marketing & Sales
  • Branding
  • Public Relations
  • Promotions
  • Accounting
  • Time Management
  • Choose what you want to do yourself and what you want to hire out.
  • Learn how to discern who is the most economical and best fit for your business. That, in itself, is a skill and one in which I often find myself guiding my clients.

MANUFACTURING—What do you understand about manufacturing? Understanding the manufacturing process for different product categories is really important. This is, undoubtedly, one of the biggest areas where I believe artists need to learn more. The art licensing entrepreneur needs to develop skills in:

  • Creating art that works well on products
  • Developing captivating & sales-worthy product designs
  • Tailoring the work you present to a specific manufacturer to fit their production capabilities
  • Preparing art for production
  • Selling (licensing) themselves and their art to manufacturers

RETAIL—In addition to getting inside the head of the manufacturers, retail education is the second-most lacking area in the art licensing entrepreneurial skill set. Artists and all types of creators who want to bring their concepts to market need to learn how to think like a wholesale manufacturer, a retailer and ultimately target the consumer. Therefore, learning about retail is essential and will help you immensely as a licensor when you comprehend:

  • Retailing
    • Channels of distribution
    • Types of retail outlets
    • Pricing strategies
    • Purchasing trends
    • Promotions and new ways of attracting customers
    • Merchandising
      • Visual merchandising
      • Cross merchandising
      • Internet sales

This list certainly doesn’t cover every topic. However, it’s a fantastic place to start. If you really want to create an income with your creations you must keep yourself motivated, stay connected to and expand into your creative source, and continue to learn throughout your career about the industry and business. Never give up on your goals and dreams. Just remember, those that don’t keep up, get left behind.

Protect Your Art With a ‘Shopping Doc’

14 02 2014

red heart sheildMany years ago I remember the first time I heard a manufacturer say, “I’d like to ‘shop’ your art around and see if we can get some interest from retailers.” Since then I’ve heard it 1000’s of times, as it’s become a very common practice in the art licensing industry.

As the economy hit below the belt, manufacturers needed a way to hedge their bets.  They no longer wanted to create volumes of inventory that might not sell quickly. This saves them up-front manufacturing costs, warehousing space, time, and of course, prevents them from having to ‘eat’ the cost of goods that don’t sell.

On the artist side, it poses some problems.  Manufacturers are now asking for high-resolution art to create sophisticated mock-ups, and to often produce a very small quantity of product in order to make their retail presentations.  If the retailer ‘buys in,’ then you could have yourself a licensing deal, but if not, the art is already in the hands of the manufacturer and you have no deal and few recourses to ever get digital art destroyed.

So without so much as an agreement, how can you be sure that manufacturers are not utilizing your exclusive art to sell larger quantities of products?  Well, I think there are many (and mostly) reputable manufacturers, who wouldn’t consider taking your art without paying for it.  But there is always someone willing to take advantage of the situation.  And it would make you would feel very vulnerable to send final art to someone when you don’t have a formal agreement.

With my lawyer, I created what I call a ‘Shopping Doc.’ It’s a short document that I can use when this type of circumstance occurs.  It all boils down to keeping track of what the manufacturer said they will do, and what you said you will do, just as with any contractual arrangement.  This is just a short letter, in which you give the manufacturer permission to ‘Shop’ your art to retailers with specific restrictions. It is very clear, in that, a manufacturer has only the right to shop

a) specific pieces of art,

b) for a certain amount of time, and

c) to listed retailers.

It also specifies that you retain the rights to your art AND it allows you to choose between whether or not you will continue to show the art to other manufacturers, during that same time period.  For the manufacturer, it does not obligate them in any way to concluding a deal with you.  So if things do go well, then you just move to a deal memo or straight to a licensing contract.

I believe that whether you use this form, or make up your own, it’s the best way to keep track of your art and what the manufacturer is doing.  It also gives you a detailed time frame in which to follow-up and determine how things are going and what the next steps should be. I find that, in general, keeping everyone accountable is really important. Also, deals are more likely to get signed.

Feel free to click here and get your copy of my ‘Shop Doc’ and to adapt it to your own situations.  No legal document is fool-proof, but it does help provide guidelines in which the manufacturer has set responsibilities with your art during the ‘shopping’ period. It also gives you the peace of mind that comes with knowing there is an end to their ‘shopping’ process, which would be enforceable in court if required.

I hope it makes your heart feel a bit more protected today, too.

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