Zoom Zoom

One of my favorite posts of late is a comment by my friend Ketra of AOP Studios, made a few weeks back in a discussion about a how-to book for Art Licensing: “frankly, anything written more than about 8 months ago is completely out of date”. (And kudos to the author, Michael Woodward, who commented and did not try to defend or dispute it, but rather he explained why her viewpoint had some validity.)

So I just finished a book called The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding along with the bonus 11 Immutable Laws of Internet Branding. Both were written a number of years ago, and I had to flash back to Ketra’s words of wisdom throughout the process of reading them. The authors offer a number of conclusions that may have made sense when they were writing the book, but now…well, you judge, here’s a few:
1. Advertising won’t work on the Internet
2. Yahoo won the information and search war.
3. Search engines will decline as people learn what they want to visit on the net.
4. AOL is the top dog among internet service providers.
5. E-Trade probably won’t make it as a new business.
6. Introducing Diet Coke was a mistake for Coke because it dilutes their brand.
7. Hyundai lacks product focus and isn’t likely to make it in the new world order.

Huh. My intent here is not to trash the book – Al and Laura Ries are smart people and there is a lot of good information in it – but rather to illustrate how rapidly our industry (and our world) is changing. The lifespan of usable information is no longer measured in decades, sometimes not even years, but in months, days and hours. A lot of what used to work in this business no longer does, and those artists who realize the old method of throwing crap against the wall until something sticks is GONE will be the ones whose name you see on the products. For the next few minutes anyway.

Don’t Forget to Listen

We did a little traveling this past week and presented art to a couple of our clients at their offices. These meetings are usually fun, not only as opportunities to show portfolios but also as a chance to meet the rest of their staff, discuss in depth what may work for them, where they see their category going and how we can work with them to everyone’s best advantage. I found a couple of comments made during these meets to be particularly blogworthy:

The first meeting was with a supplier of paper goods to mass market retail accounts. It’s a tough market, but at the same time this market consumes a lot of designs due to the wide variety and rapid turnover in these stores. We were talking about the huge numbers of submitted designs this company receives, how they review them and their lack of time to do so. The art director was lamenting that many artists contact them and request that they go view designs on the artist’s website – “sorry, but I don’t have time to do that” was the comment. Hmmm…

The other meeting was with one of the major gift companies (They were not going to attend Surtex because the last couple of years they did not see good results from the show). We had the pleasure of meeting a VP of Product whom we had not previously worked with, and it was interesting to note that she first wanted to discuss how we work, how receptive the artists are to direction and how the project information pipeline works in our agency – and it appeared that this may be almost as important as what we had in the portfolios. Hmmm…

So, what can an artist take away from this? First and foremost, you need to refine your presentation, whether submitted or in person – send or show only what is really good, appropriate and can be easily reviewed. Portfolios should be well organized, concise and should “flow” from beginning to end. Edit, edit, edit. We change out the portfolios for every meeting or show to focus on what those particular clients may use – and nothing more. These people are busy – your goal is to get in front of them with a short but memorable presentation and then get out of the way. Second, they want to work with designers that have a professional attitude – it’s not about you, it’s about them and their product, so make sure that is the message that comes across.

Surtex is coming, Surtex is coming!

There has been a lot of chatter recently about the coming Surtex show, I guess for good reason because for many years it was the place to be seen for art licensors. The show (an acronym for Surface and Textile design) started 20-some years ago as a business to business event where designers could sell their wares to manufacturers, and early on most did sell outright, but through the years licensing has taken over. The show once featured almost 350 exhibitors and occupied several of the halls at Javits in its heyday. But things do change, and it has been shrinking for a lot of reasons – such as online technology, the growth of newer show venues, fluctuating attendee numbers, the decline of the concurrent National Stationery Show, the relentless price increases, the drop-out of experienced artists – just to name a few. It’s not the show it used to be, and our own measurable results from the last couple years there were not what they used to be either, so for the first time in more than a decade we will not be exhibiting at Surtex. (You will still find us exhibiting elsewhere – Atlanta, CHA, Licensing Expo, maybe others).
Not being there however does not change how I feel about agents and artists who don’t exhibit attending the show: they should not be there.

OK, maybe that’s a bit harsh as there are a few valid reasons for an artist to attend – to evaluate exhibiting, attend a seminar, look for an agent, you’re an art student or you are represented on the floor. But that’s about it. For years exhibitors have been complaining to show mgmt about all the portfolios being shown in the lobby, the food courts, sometimes inside Surtex itself – and nothing was being done about it. Granted it is difficult to police, particularly with the NSS going on, but many if not most of the artists/agents doing the showing were there for one reason – a free ride on the backs of those paying dearly to exhibit in the show. I still bristle every time I read a comment from a non-exhibiting artist who says they are going to Surtex to meet licensees, and shake my head in wonder as exhibitors give them advice on how to do it. (More on that later…). It is gratifying to hear from some of the manufacturers that they will refuse to meet with non-exhibiting artists within the Javits center, but unfortunately they are few and far between.

So yes, Surtex is coming, but as I have said before: this is a business to business event and not a public art fair – if you are not paying for the opportunity to do business there, please don’t take advantage of those that are.