This is a guest post by Thriving Artist Summit Expert Laura C George.
The bottom line is…
You won’t get any art licensing deals if the company or manufacturer doesn’t thoroughly believe that your art will help them sell more products.
That’s their bottom line. And rightfully so or their company would go under! Instead of fighting this and trying to put your art above the concept of selling more products, it works far better to just play into it. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Like with everything you ask of anyone, you have to play into what they truly want.
You have to present your work in such a way that it is the perfect solution for them. And in the art licensing world, that means making it obvious that your art would get customers excited, that your art is exceedingly sellable.
Don’t be daunted
That might sound a bit daunting but you’ve probably been practicing your whole life! Think back to when you were a kid and you wanted to stay up late. You didn’t tell your parents how much fun you would have if you got to stay up past your bedtime. You knew that wouldn’t work. You told them that you weren’t tired yet and if you just stayed up a little later you’d sleep so much better – playing into their desire for you to get quality sleep.
Or what about if you wanted to order pizza? You didn’t tell your parents about how delicious your favorite pizza is, you reminded them of how delicious THEIR favorite pizza is and how nice it would be to not have to cook and to just sit on the couch and watch a movie with that gooey, cheesy slice of pizza.
Same thing when you’re first talking with a company you want to license your work to. You have to tempt them. You have to woo them, to lure them in with how helpful your art would be. You want to explain, maybe with a little less devious persuasion that you had as a child, how your work is going to make those products sell better.
How do you do tempt them?
The first indication the company will have of whether or not your work is going to be good for their bottom line actually has nothing to do with what you say to them. It all starts with your brand.
They’re likely to not believe anything you say about how great a piece would look on a tote bag if your brand doesn’t shine. Attractive, compelling, professional branding is your first impression and will set you apart from what manufacturers will see as the riffraff.
While you work on your branding, you can start deciding which companies you’d want to work with and learning how to read a contract (or find a lawyer), what standard royalty rates are, and how to make sure you don’t give away your copyright.
It’s time to get to work
If your branding is strong, then it’s time to get to work! Research the company and find out what kind of art they already license to make sure yours not only fits in, but also stands out – a tough balance.
I like to think of it like clothing stores – if you were trying to sell a dress design to Anthropologie, it wouldn’t be the same dress design you’d try to sell to J. Crew or to Hot Topic. You have to know the audience. And then when you decided to sell to Anthropologie, you’d make sure the design felt like Anthropologie, but was special and not exactly like the other dresses in the store. Because if it’s exactly the same, they would have no reason to choose your design – they already have it.
So you both want to fit in and stand out just a little in the art licensing world just like you would if you were a clothing designer.
Now start talking to the company
Once you’ve done your research, you’re ready to start talking to the company. They can instantly see how your work fits in, but it will help a lot if you explain how your work stands out. Point out the special aspects of your art – the style, use of color or light, subject, etc. etc. But remember not to get to technical. This isn’t the classroom, this is the real world and they’re talking retail.
Good: Red sells really well in kitchenware since it promotes hunger and I noticed your dishware lines don’t have a lot of red. My collection can really fill that hole for you since the style is similar to your other lines but has lots of pops of red.
Bad: I use a lot of red in my work to reference the passion of romantic relationships and how that passion often turns to anger, which plays well with my subjects who are always far apart from each other but look inexplicably connected.
Listen to learn
Listen to their questions too. If they ask if you have other collections it might be because they aren’t quite in love with what you’ve shown, but they see promise. That would be a good opportunity to say that you can also create a custom collection for them. If they ask if you’ve worked with other companies before, they might not be looking for clout so much as reassurance that you’ll be capable and professional.
This would be a good time to admit that you haven’t had licensing experience but also mention some instances in which you’ve had to be competent in your business. The key here is to not just hear what they’re saying, but read behind it.
Never be afraid to ask them a question straight-out either. If you aren’t sure what they want, just ask. Get really honest with them. Say something like, “I can really see my work being great for your company. How can I make this an easy ‘yes’ for you? Would you like to see more of my work or I can sketch you some new ideas if you’d like a custom collection?”
Getting on the same page
At this point, you and the company will start to get on the same page. If you know they’re tempted, that’s when you should bring up the Deal Memo – a written list of the bigger points that might be in the contract. This helps get both parties on the same page. This is a really common solution in the art licensing industry to help both you and the company avoid excess legal fees and make sure it’s a perfect fit before you get too deep into the proceedings and the contract.
The key is really as simple as doing your research and listening. Remember that the person you’re talking to is only human and they’re going to respond like any human would. If you push your own agenda, they won’t be interested. But if you tap into what they want out of the deal, they’ll be head-over-heels and you’ll have your first art licensing contract in no time!