Atlanta Snippets

As you may know I like to write down little snippets of conversation that seem to have some impact – these are a few I picked up at the recent Atlanta show:
“It’s a new world and you just need to find your place in it.”
– a well known licensing agent
“We’ve got the salespeople, the art staff and even the owner busy writing orders with customers.”
– gift company sales mgr on how busy the show is
“Dogs? – I’ve got a kennel full of them.”
– successful artist in a discussion about failed ideas or projects (dogs)
“Used to be you checked your pride at the door – now you have to check your hurt feelings there too.”
            – in the same discussion
“We’re not doing anything new unless we can convince mgmt that it will sell well – so basically we’re not doing anything new.”
– art director at a gift company
“The problem with being right all the time is that it leaves everyone else with no room to be anything but wrong.”
– in a discussion about competitor dynamics
Unfortunately (actually… fortunately) we were quite busy much of the time and I missed a number of snippet-worthy comments – because if I don’t get them down right away …poof… they are gone from memory – but the general feel of the show was quite positive. Of course every once in a while we would get someone lamenting how bad things were but, unlike the past couple years, that was the exception not the rule. We have seen the momentum continuing in these early days after the show with follow-up requests to the designs we sent and additional designs needed – a really good thing. Seems like the ball is rolling, here’s to hoping it keeps up for a while!   

License that?!

Great post for art licensors today on Seth Godin’s blog called “When was the last time you bought a tie?” Don’t read Seth? If you want to be in this (or any) biz you should, he has clarity of vision about all things business that is hard to match. Here is one quote from the post:

“The challenge, then, is to develop products that match what the market is looking for, and more important, to overtly and aggressively seek out the people in that situation and ignore the rest.”

Sound familiar? If not, read back through this blog…
If you want to make a living in art licensing you need to give your clients what they want, not just what you like to do. I can’t tell you how many times we get wildly abstract art, or inappropriate fine art, or just plain weird designs submitted to us that bear little or no resemblance to what has been selling product on the market. And usually when we suggest that is the case they want to argue with us about it. I love wild and wooly creativity, however take my word for it – like it or not you won’t be creating a new style category anytime soon in this business, and particularly not in this economy. Study what’s out there. The next big thing is likely to look a lot like the last big thing, because that is what sells in the market – and what sells in the market is where your focus should be.

Now the real work begins!

Just returned from several exhausting days in Atlanta where we exhibited at the Atlanta Gift Market. The License and Design section is a relatively new show within the AmericasMart, this was the third year, and it is definitely getting its legs. We have actually had good shows all three years, and we are already working with the Mart to fine tune the dates and plans for next year – I have no doubt 2012 will be bigger and better yet.

I was discussing the show with one of the other exhibitor/agents and we were lamenting the fact that you really don’t know how successful a show is for about 6 months or so after it is over. There is always excitement in the air on the floor and it affects everyone – including the attendees – so the art looks better, the collections are fresher and the people better looking…well, OK maybe not that…

Then you pack up, go home and start the process of sending out the designs and doing the follow-up. This is the real meat and potatoes of any show and best done immediately, and you can expect follow-up to continue for months afterward. What we were discussing was how weird it is that after a really heads-up, exciting show you send out their requests, and then all that new found rapport and sparkling conversation you had with that customer typically goes dead for a few weeks. There are always exceptions of course, but it’s quite disconcerting – as she said, you wonder if you just sent all that material into a black hole or something. Gone. No response. This is why I am always amused by exhibitors (including us) who are crowing about the great deal they just made, or the huge number of fantastic meetings they had, or how they have already paid for the show with a coming contract.

Really? Hmmm, let’s talk more about that in June…

New Show – New Art

There has been a bit of discourse lately in some of the groups about which trade show is better than the other, and I would have to weigh in thus: any show will be good if you have something fresh and new to display, and any show will be disappointing if you look pretty much the same as all the other people on the show floor.

There is a good little article by John Mariotti on the concept of innovation and stepping outside the box on the Amex Open Forum; you can read it here. New ideas require new ways of looking at the market, not an easy thing to do because we are not built that way, but necessary to make your mark. One of my favorite quotes from a manufacturer was said to us at a Surtex show a few years back – we were discussing what they had been seeing out there on the show floor, and the response was along the lines of “nothing really exciting”…unfortunately often the case…and then she said “I am so tired of artists asking me what I am looking for, because I don’t know what I am looking for. I want them to show me what’s next.”

Think about it. If a licensor wants a snowman, do they really need to go through the time and expense of going to a show to find one? Of course not – ask a few dozen artists and they can have all the snowmen in China (literally). Shows are about showcasing, pun intended, the newest ideas and most innovative art that you can create. Just doing another set of floral tabletop mock-ups or Christmas gift bags isn’t going to stop them in the aisles – instead give ‘em something new and exciting (you know, something to make the other artists think “I wish I had thought of that”). We occasionally hold back some of our best new ideas so we can debut them at an upcoming show, ensuring that we have fresh new art for the floor – because the first question is always “what’s new?” and you really do need to have a memorable answer.

Set aside the templates and start doodling. I’ll see you in Atlanta!