Get A Leg To Stand On

For some time toy designers have been lamenting the dumbing down of toy design so they can be sold in the mass market stores. Mass market sellers aim for the widest customer base possible, and unfortunately they tend to do it by aiming low. No long explanations, complicated instructions or complex outcomes are allowed for their toys, and celebrity and entertainment licenses reign supreme. But while toys for big box are fading into little more than licensed product lacking any real play quality, the smart companies are realizing they are part of a gigantic “Play Industry” which includes much more than toys – video, apps, interactive electronics, 2D and 3D craft, even social. They are not looking for just 24 or 48 inches of shelf space anymore, because what used to be of primary importance has been replaced by the need to find different revenue models in a disrupted business. They now are in a fierce competition to capture some of the kid’s attention, and need to construct and operate from a bigger “platform”.
Similar changes have come to the advertising game. People have long hated wasting their precious time on commercials, so digital disruption has hit hard as DVRs allow people to skip the ads, and to make matters worse the new entertainment and social mediums don’t mesh with traditional advertising methods. Ad agencies are faced with the prospect (necessity actually) of blowing up their traditional business methods and building a new multi-faceted platform from which they can engage people in multiple ways to successfully get their attention. Scary work.
Both of these are prime examples of what our new “connection economy” is doing to industries closely related to ours, and it shouldn’t be much of a leap for you to see how it affects you as an artist. I think the concept of working from a broader “platform” can be a useful one. Look at your business as a big picture, all of your creative and marketing efforts in total – how do they relate and support each other, and more importantly how do they relate and support building connections with your customers? Try putting together a structure chart. Identify what supports your platform and consider eliminating anything that doesn’t help build it. Leave some room for experimentation, float some balloons and pay attention to what works and why, because it changes.
I believe you need to think and act like a start-up business regardless of how long you have been in the industry. History is no longer a predictor of the future and the new mantra is “he who gets there first wins”. Stay in front of it.  

It’s A Good Bonkers

“The day before something is a breakthrough, it’s a crazy idea. If it wasn’t, it would just be an incremental improvement.”
– Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Foundation
And the day AFTER the breakthrough it becomes known as a Brilliant Idea. Let’s not forget that the execution of that idea may have taken weeks, months or years, but that is the nature of crazy ideas – they require focus and persistence to make them work. Art licensing is a business where the great majority of the participants (on both sides) tend to approach it from safe ground, that incremental improvement viewpoint, basically offering up slightly different designs or products that will work in already-proven formats. Worse yet is what can be called a fractional viewpoint where the intent is to peel off a fraction of the existing market to call their own by offering “me too” artwork or products that match what is already out there.
Don’t get me wrong – these approaches can get you some work, and I suppose one could argue that incremental improvement is the path people may need to take – both to learn the business and to GET some business. Licensees are notorious for playing it safe. Of course there’s not much buzz about the artist who paints a few more cute butterflies or bunnies, or creates yet another graphic pattern, because generally those approaches just don’t leave much of a lasting impression.
But the artist with all those crazy ideas… the one enthusiastically spinning off a steady stream of concepts, some good, some off the mark, and occasionally a great one…
Everybody remembers who that is.

The Scientific Method

There’s a lot of talk now about how tough art licensing is getting and how you will need to give it more than a 100% effort to get ahead. But what does that mean? What makes 100%? How does a person give more than 100%, and where do you put your efforts?
Sometimes it helps to look to science for a solution, so here’s a little mathematical formula that might help you answer these questions:

If the letters A thru Z are represented as 1 thru 26, then, A-R-T  L-I-C-E-N-S-I-N-G

comes out to: 1+18+20+12+9+3+5+14+9+14+7 = 112%
So, to achieve our goals in this business it appears we will need to give 112%! So, how does one do it? Well, note that:

H-A-R-D-W-O-R-K:  8+1+18+4+23+15+18+11 = 98%

K-N-O-W-L-E-D-G-E:  11+14+15+23+12+5+4+7+5 = 96%

A-T-T-I-T-U-D-E:  1+20+20+9+20+21+4+5 = 100%

So, those three will get you close, however look how far this will take you:

G-R-E-A-T D-E-S-I-G-N-S:  
7+18+5+1+20+4+5+19+9+7+14+19 = 128%, and
9+14+14+15+22+1+20+9+15+14 = 133%
So, one can conclude with mathematical certainty that while Hard Work, Knowledge and Attitude will get you close to Art Licensing success, it’s the last two, Innovation and Great Designs that will finally bring you results.
Of course, someone had to point out that this REALLY puts one over the top:
W-H-I-N-I-N-G AND G-R-O-V-E-L-I-N-G = 212%
Well, whatever works…