I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You…

In a recent USA Magazine interview, when actor Peter Gallagher was asked what advice he gave his children about the entertainment business, he said he told them “The days of being an actor for hire are over. If you want to survive you have to create content, otherwise you won’t make it.” I was a little surprised by that statement; while I talk a lot about the digital revolution affecting art licensing I hadn’t really thought about a pre-digital vs. post digital impact on actors. It really shows how truly pervasive these changes are. (Interesting to note that accusing a company or person of being “pre-digital” is now a slam…)
“Technology is just the delivery boy, content is still king.”
Those of you familiar with the basics of web design know the Content Is King philosophy – basically that without sizable, recognizable content it really doesn’t matter how technically advanced your offering is, you will be invisible on the web. However, while it is still a basic tenet of site building, it has now been updated to GOOD Content is King. Relevant, targeted and frequent updates that connect with your visitors are necessary to cut through the fog of multi-media pollution out there, be it for your blog, website or… your art licensing career.
Yup, art licensing. We have been talking to our artists about upping the content/connection piece of their work for quite some time. For some it’s effortless, for others it’s a real challenge. We have even been told “That’s just not me, it’s not what I do”. And that’s OK, we get it – but it IS what the market expects of you now. It’s not about your skill, although skill is necessary. It’s not about your marketing expertise, although marketing is necessary. It’s not about who you know, although it certainly helps to know the right people. In some ways it’s not even about your art – but more about how your art connects with that customer. There are thousands of incredible fine artists and amazing graphic designers whose finely-honed skills would blow the socks off most everyone in this business, but they will never have a licensing career without the ability to make a connection that runs deeper than the application of paint or ink to paper. As an agent recently commented “The story trumps the art”.
What’s your story, where’s your message, what do you have to say? It’s in you somewhere, and you may be surprised how many people really do want to hear it.

Step right up, the show is about to begin!

We spent last week at the IAAPA trade show in Orlando. If you have never been, I can assure you it is probably one of the most active, colorful, and noisy assaults on your senses that you will ever experience. The International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions covers a lot of territory – manufacturers of roller coasters, arcade games, bungee jumpers, zip lines, robotics, food and drink distribution, water parks, plush toys, interactive carnival games, inflatables from little bounce houses to 40 foot tall behemoths – and this only begins to describe the spectacle. I doubt any other show packs in more fun per square foot.
We are still decompressing from the 4-day show, but one of the most powerful impressions we have taken home with us is that you can quickly tell which companies have figured out what business they are in, and which ones don’t know yet. A lot of these companies want to tell you about how much better their manufacturing processes are, or that they use superior materials, or that their wear surfaces are this weight material, and they meet ISO #10 Million, and blah, blah, blah. And others will just hand you the laser rifle to try, or a cup of Dippin’ Dots, or strap a ten year old into a harness and stand back grinning when they fire off the bungees and send them squealing into the sky.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you where the lines formed.
There was a great piece in Home Textiles recently that talks about the failure of the railroads (it was actually about the Amazon impact on retail) and how they were so involved in trying to outperform each other on the rails that they missed the rise of the airline industry. They believed they were in the railroad business when they should have known they were in the transportation business; they were completely blindsided and gave up their position as the undisputed leader in long distance transportation. We saw this first hand at the show – the difference between companies that think they are in the manufacturing business, and those who have realized they are manufacturers in the entertainment business. It may seem like word play but it is a critical distinction.
How about you, what business are you in? Think you are an artist in the art business? Maybe an artist in the licensing business? Or are you an artist who works to assist manufacturers in the product design business? Are you focused on getting your designs out there making money, or on helping your customers have an enjoyable experience?
Think about it, and remember, the line forms on the right….

What’s The Big Idea?

They did a little retrospective this morning on the CBS Morning Show about Andy Rooney who just passed away last week. I always enjoyed his commentaries, (a fellow curmudgeon bond) and I can only hope that I might still be commenting on the state of things at 92 years old. He did not suffer fools gladly, and one his pet peeves was that people often asked him how he could keep coming up with ideas for his writing. His response was along the lines of “How stupid is that? With all there is going on in the world you would have to ask about finding ideas?” He had a point – there is a universe of great ideas out there, and some people seem to be effortlessly plugged into it. If you are one of them, congratulations, if not – well, welcome to the rest of the world.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”  – Albert Einstein

Generating fresh ideas can be difficult for anyone, however it can be a particularly thorny problem in a creative business – but only if you let it. If you read many of these posts you will know that I am a big proponent of innovation, in fact I would say that particular skill may be the single most important factor in the long term success of a licensing artist. And the beauty is – it’s a teachable skill, not just a gift. Researchers have learned that the creative process is much more systematic than previously believed, and you can learn how to better access those parts of your brain. Much work has been done on how to teach creativity by everyone from academia to corporations to the military – and it’s all out there for the taking. A Whack Upside the Head, Thinkertoys, Cats, The Art of Innovation, Creative Intelligence, and about a thousand other books are devoted to teaching you how to find and exercise your creative muscle.  Which is how you should try looking at it – it’s a muscle like any other that needs training and regular exercise to be at its optimum, and like any muscle in training, the more you work it the easier it gets.


I tend to save various quotes and pearls of wisdom that I come across on a many-page running document that I can pull up and read when I need some inspiration. Some can find their way into a blog post and others are so well said that they need nothing more – none are mine but they all can relate to our licensing world… so here are a few to start those wheels turning…

  • No one can possibly achieve any real and lasting success or get rich in business by being a conformist.
    – J. Paul Getty
  • Have more than one good idea handy.
  • Remember, you can’t SELL anything to anyone; however you need to be there when people are ready to buy.
  • Nice people can still have a competitive mindset.
  • Markets and profits have changed with the new retailer driven market. Getting an item into Target used to be a very lucrative proposition; you could earn thousands of dollars over a period of several years. Now, you will often make only hundreds because they have beat the wholesale prices down and cranked their profit percentages up, and the only person left making decent money is the last one selling it.
  • While the calculator on the ENIAC is equipped with 18,000 vacuum tubes and weighs 30 tons, computers in the future may have only 1,000 vacuum tubes and perhaps weigh only 1.5 tons.
    – Popular Mechanics article, 1949
  • You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.
    – Henry Ford

  • Most artists exhibiting at trade shows do not make back the cost of exhibiting.
  • Small business is uniquely different from big business in just about every way – they are two entirely different animals. But there is an incessant parade of articles, books, papers, and research of giant businesses with the intent of showing us small business people what we can look like if we grow up and become a giant.  Most of us don’t want to be a giant.
  • Inspiration usually comes during the work, rather than before it.”
    Madeleine L’Engle, American writer
  • 10 years ago I thought “I can’t wait to sign up to something… so they can tell me what to do, and give me bus, and give me a tour so I can sing” and finally realized… that doesn’t happen. They’re waiting for you to say “this is what I’m going to do and this is how I’m going to do it.”
    – musician Jason Mraz
  • Ten percent of all the photos ever taken were taken in the last 12 months.
  • You have ten seconds to get someone’s attention – don’t waste it by asking them what they need – tell them instead.
  • “I’m looking for someone to fill that hole in the market.”
      – Simon Cowell about the X Factor
  • Each year over 30,000 people graduate from art schools in just the U.S.
  • And of course that old Wayne Gretsky standby – so overused but so true:
    “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been.”
Any thoughts or have any to add? Let’s hear ’em…