Break It Down

So, you want to license your chicken designs, or woodland creatures, a particular unique pattern or maybe your poem or clever saying. Good! But before you head off down the yellow brick road, portfolio in hand, recognize that what may seem like a single assumption on your part – that you can license your (whatever) for (whatever) – is actually an entire set of related hypothesis. Such as:

1. The art/design is good enough. Licensed art has to be “good enough” on any number of levels. It is a given that the artist needs to be skilled. But wait, there’s more! Is the concept fresh, is the subject matter acceptable to the consumer, is the design composition handled well, are the colors and the technique reproducible on products, and so on. When a client evaluates art for licensed product there are many factors that come into play, and any one of them may torpedo a deal. Also note the opposite of good enough isn’t necessarily “bad”, many times it just means not usable.

2. There is more value derived from using my art than that of my competitor. If this is not true, then why would they use your art? There will be a number of factors that contribute to its “value” for the licensee: the style is currently popular, the art is already finished, the designer is easy to work with, they have a history with you or they just like you or your agent more than the next in line (seriously), they believe you are capable of creatively expanding a line when the other person is not… the list goes on. Note that some of these may be only perceptions of the licensee, as opposed to reality, however they carry full weight.

3. There is a need for the category of product. Maybe you could design the best ever figurines, calendars, posters, TV lamps, lunchboxes, CD cases, picture frames, clocks or checks. But why would you? Your client is making a product to sell into a fickle and changing marketplace, so strive to be in categories that are healthy, not declining.

4. You can find the right licensee. First you have to determine what market channel this product will sell into, and then you have to identify what licensees sell similar products into that same channel. Then get it in front of the right person at that company. Easy? Not always, but you need to do that work.

5. People will have the required “Me Too” reaction. Every product has to connect with the end user on some level or it won’t sell. Period. They have to need it, or want it, or want to give it, or want to say it. More often than not your art is the face of the product, so people must connect with your art and/or your message. Hopefully you have already proven they will – art fairs, Etsy, other licenses, your own line of products – there are many ways to validate your “concept” that will give you a leg up with a client. If nothing else you will quickly learn what does and doesn’t work.

This is by no means a complete list, and if it seems complex, well, that’s the point. It can be. No decision is made in a vacuum, and while you cannot address all the different factors it helps to first recognize that they exist, and then start thinking about how they will influence whether you get that license or not. Work on talking to yourself in complete sentences:

“People like my poems” is nice. “People like my poems on greeting cards because that helps them say things they otherwise cannot say, and I have 24 of them arranged as a collection” is so much better.

“I want to license my woodland critters” is nice. “I want to license my woodland critters as a repeating toss pattern on fabric for quilting, and I have 3 distinctly different versions prepared” gets you much further along.

The good news is, the more you practice looking at the components of the big picture, the easier it becomes to see it.

Dude, Like, How About My Stuff?

As someone who has been in the sales business for many years, I was horrified to receive the following email solicitation recently (from a company we all know and many work with):


Hello my name is Xxxxxx. I’m with xxxxxxx xxxxxxxx. I’m here to see if you were ready to place an order with us for this season. I noticed you have been purchashing the coasters, the every day greeting ccards and the seasonal cards. Please check out our website to see if there is anything else in there that might catch your eyes.
www.(abcdefgh).com Also be sure to check out the SALES we have going on for this month. Don’t miss out on some great items. IF you have your order ready please call us at 800-999-9999 or try our fax at 800-999-9999
I know you just placed an order with us a few months back and I thank you for that. I just don’t want you to miss out on our monthly sales.

Thanks, hope you have a great rest of the week!!!

Xxxxxx Xxxxxxx
Senior Exectutive Manager
Xxxxxx Xxxxxx
Phone 800-999-9999
Fax 800-999-9999


Seriously? I have left the misspellings, missing punctuation, odd spacing and more intact – this is, other than the deleted info, exactly how it was sent. Yes, we have a tax number, yes we could function as a retailer, NO we don’t sell those products and NO we have never purchased anything from this company.

We license TO them.

A few tips on writing your cover letter/intro email to someone, such as an art director or agent, in our industry:

1. While art licensing may be appear to be a bit more casual than typical ivory tower business, it is still a business solicitation and you need to be professional, both in tone and construction. Look up how a business letter is crafted and do it correctly. Especially important if you are cold mailing.

2. Do your research, do your research, do your research. It’s that important. You lose all credibility when you misspell a name, assume they make items they don’t, or send them art that is not related to their product categories and/or art styles.

3. Be brief and to the point. Do NOT try to “sell” in the cover letter. Identify yourself, note that you are an artist asking for consideration, include maybe one or two sentences about you and your style and then sign off; that’s about it. (Make sure your contact information is included). We often get long, rambling intros included with submissions, and trust me on this – they don’t help your case. Quite the opposite.

4. The best approach is to send a link to designs that can be viewed online. In that case it can also be advantageous to send ONE small jpg as an attachment, however if you do send one make it your best shot, think of it as a teaser. If you don’t have an online gallery, send ONLY A FEW appropriately sized, carefully selected lo-res jpgs that show your style and expertise. Do not send a giant PDF or a big portfolio unless you are invited to do so. Be sure to have your name and phone or email on every image, they can easily get separated from your message.

5. Follow up in a couple weeks to see if they received it, not to get an answer. If they like it and want to see more they will be contacting you. If they haven’t had time to review, or don’t see a fit, you may or may not hear back from them. When submitting, just remember they are under no obligation to acknowledge receipt or give you an answer – some will and some will not, and there’s no telling which it will be. It’s business, not personal, so don’t take it the wrong way.

Good luck!