Character licensing

We get a fair number of inquiries from artists who are looking to license one or more characters that they have created. It generally starts like this:

I have designed a set of characters and am looking for an agent.

OK, possibly the start of something. My favorite experience licensing character collections: we were barely into a presentation to a top exec at a major plush (toy) manufacturer when he stopped us and asked “Do you have a book yet?” Our answer was no, and that was the end of our presentation. On your way, folks.

And we had a really, really good property…we still do…

The competition in character licensing is beyond fierce. A walk through any children’s book section or the Licensing Show in Vegas is very telling – hundreds of competing properties, some decades old, some with the paint still drying, all vying for every available inch of shelf space. Those properties that are not for children or teens are in a tougher market yet where only a few will ever see the light of day. So why bother? Put simply, a successful character property can generate licenses like no other, across a wide variety of products, and may also have a much longer lifespan than traditional design applications. The rewards of success can be great but the road to get there is long and involved, and you are up against some of the biggest companies, the brightest minds and the best marketing in the business. Most (non-movie) characters did not start out intending to be a licensed property, rather it is an extension of something else – a comic strip, children’s book, cartoon or animated series – and the licensing success came about much later.

The message here is that characters are not a quick road to success. Our My Friend Ronnie™ property debuted several big licenses last January, which was great, but what isn’t evident is that this property has actually been evolving for 5 or 6 years. The first license was 5 years ago for a Target gift bag, and it has been continually refined and expanded since then. Also, the art is the easy part – you need to tell a story, have a point of view, develop rapport with your target audience – all while being perceived as unique and fresh.

Difficult? Yes. Impossible? Of course not – so get to work!

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