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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Questions to Ask Before Choosing An Art Licensing Agent

When choosing an agent to represent you in licensing your art, there are many things to consider. For instance, is the potential agent passionate about your art and really wants to represent you, do you and the agent see eye-to-eye on marketing your art, and do you agree with the terms of the agent/artist contract. Of course, there are many other considerations and each artist has different needs so what may work for one may not work for another artist. Below are comments paraphrased from Suzanne Cruise of Suzanne Cruise Creative Service, Inc. in response to questions asked by members belonging to the Art of Licensing yahoo forum.

What is the initial length of time an agent represents an artist? The normal length of time is two to three years. With the economy being what it is and the severe competition for licenses, you have every right to ask for a shorter initial time frame. Even six months is enough to know if you two are a "match made in heaven." I prefer eight months but six is often enough. It is not unusual to take on an artist and have nothing come of it. An agent who finds they are not getting interest/contracts for the work after 6-8 months should be frank with the artist, and if needs be, release them from the 2-3 year contract. This is why I have been suggesting to artists that they negotiate a trial period with an agent as many agents will bind you to them for the entire term, no matter how little they get for you. You might want to ask for some sort of performance clause especially if the agent wants a long initial term. The most realistic way to structure this would be to require the agent to get you x number of agreements in x period of time. It may be difficult to get an agent to agree to this, but it is certainly a bargaining point you can throw out for discussion. Honestly, while there are standard guidelines, there is nothing absolute in licensing. It is whatever two people agree to.

Is it okay to signup with an agent new to licensing? I would definitely give consideration to an agent who may be new to the field because most agents did not start out with years of experience and contacts. I would consider a "new" agent based on their background, history in the field they are coming from, their attitude, business sense, organizational skills and overall enthusiasm, among other things. I always tell artists in my seminars that I found my first blockbuster artist (Sandi Gore Evans) when I had VERY little rep experience under my belt. She was already being courted by several big time agencies and people when I contacted her, but she agreed to meet. In the course of our conversation, her stated concern was that I was "too sophisticated" to appreciate her art (country/folk). We kept talking and found we had a mutual love for Lyle Lovett (among other things) so she signed with me. After I had worked with her awhile, I came to see that the REAL reason she hired me was because she wanted to be a BIG fish in a small pond, and she wanted one more kid to push round (she had four grown children, I was her fifth). I was full of enthusiasm and big dreams when we met, those qualities were what she was looking for. I will be eternally grateful for her vision, her trust and her confidence in what I was to become. Thru her, I cut my teeth in licensing.

Should I choose an agent that represents well known artists? The suggestion to look at which artists are known and who are their agents is a good one, but not fool proof. They may do really well for certain artists, but maybe you go with that person or group (who do very well for a well known) artist(s) and then they bomb for your work. What you would want to be concerned with is that the agent would spend a greater % of their time working the "known" artist, and your work may not get much attention. You would really need to interview them closely to make sure that concern does not become a reality if you sign with that agent. If any agent takes you on and works your library and then has little success, does that make them a bad agent/agency? Not necessarily, because they may not be right for YOUR look. As far as known artists versus unknown artists, there are MANY lesser known artists out there who are HUGELY successful in licensing but their names are known only to the buyers and their customers (where it really counts) but the artist may not be well known in some of the art circles. Getting a "name" in licensing is some what secondary to me as opposed to making good money. I have seen it happen many times where you make good money first, and in the process your name gets more and more out there (by virtue of it being on every single product it is licensed to) until you find you ARE well known.

What should I ask an agent? Having given many seminars on this subject, there are quite a few questions to ask a potential agent.
1. How long have they been in business and how did they come to do this line of work? What is their agenting philosophy? This one question may hold all the keys you need to this relationship.
2. Who do they represent?
3. What companies/categories are the artists licensed to? Do they specialize in certain categories? What ones are they not licensed into?
4. How many artists are in their group?
5. How long have they represented these artists?
6. How many other reps do they work with (or who work for them) and how are the artists divided (which rep gets who)?
7. Ask to see their contract, both Artist/Agent and Licensor/Licensee. Have an attorney ( or another agent you trust who knows contracts) advise you as to what the contract really says as to what you are legally committing to. This is worth EVERY PENNEY they charge.
8. What is their money/ percentage split?
9. Who pays for what? What creative services do they offer and what is the charge for these? How will they represent you?
10. Do they exhibit at any shows? Do they walk any shows? Which ones?
11. Do they personally call on the individual manufacturers? Name a few and how often do they do one- on-one?
12. Ask them for referrals - both from the artists as well as the manufacturers. AND CALL EACH ONE OF THEM!!!! Get artists' phone #'s they rep (more than 1 or 2) AND get manufacturers names and numbers who they work with. When you call the manufacturer, in addition to the questions you will ask about your potential agent. Be sure to ask them if they work with any other agents and what they think of them and how thy work. These referrals/references are probably going to come from word of mouth as an individual is vulnerable to getting a lawsuit for slander if they put their real opinion in print.

Trust your guts on this decision. If you don't have warm, fuzzy Hallmark feelings about that agent, walk away from the deal.


  1. This is a great post, thank you for sharing this information. It cuts right through the vast amount of information out there and gets to the heart of the matter!

  2. Thanks for the information! Well done!

  3. Thank you! This article really helped me understand what I need to know (or think about) regarding the partnership with an agent.

  4. Very helpful information for artists. Thanks for doing this. I'm an agent for artists, and you're right: the first thing is that I must be crazy about the art. I also recommend that the potential candidate email any of my artists and ask away. My artists do a great job of answering questions and it's much more validating and reassuring to the potential candidate if it comes from my artists.

  5. Great article! This is a good sign :)

  6. Thank You for sharing your knowledge! The "What Should I ask an Agent" was very helpful.