Monday, December 7, 2009
During J'net Smith monthly Free Friday Q&A teleseminar, an artist asked "Once signed with an agent, what's a reasonable length of time to expect a contract?" That is a question that is often ask and the short answer is that "it depends." It depends upon so many variables (art style, art trends, economy, etc.) that it is difficult to predict when the agent will get a contract for the artist. And every art licensing agency has different experiences in getting deals for their artists. Read answers to this question by art licensing agents J'net Smith and Suzanne Cruise and you will see that "it depends."
(Expanded from All Art Licensing’s Newsletter; Volume 1, Number 8 - Tuesday, November 17, 2009)
Answer: I assume you mean a first licensing agreement. Agents need time to work you into their sales cycle, which will include developing a plan, researching prospective manufacturers, and marketing your art via direct mail, trade shows, phone calls and other sales techniques.
The length of time it takes to sign the first licensing deal will also depend on how long it takes the agent to get out and sell you and your artwork. For example, did you come to the agent with art collections and a web site that the agent is excited to use “as is?” Most often some redesign and updating will be necessary.
If you have done your homework and are ready to work with an agent, then they may be able to get out the door selling very quickly. In this scenario, I’d say it should take between six months and a year to sign your first deal.
If you have found an agent that will start by helping you develop your property, it will take a bit longer. I have often worked with artists for three to six months, or more, to create and refine collections, prepare a plan, and develop key marketing materials, including the portfolio, web site, and possibly a brochure, postcard or booth design. Only after we have completed this phase, do I get out and market the artist. So now you are looking at six months, plus another six months to a year.
The other two elements that will either speed up or slow down the process is how much art you have to present to manufacturers and how many prospective licensees in various product categories are contacted at the same time. If your art works in multiple categories and your agent is able to present your art and mock-ups to several industries at once, it should speed up the process. Of course, your agent will determine carefully which types of products to pitch in the first wave, the second wave and so on.
It certainly is more difficult these days in this economy, so you need to factor that in as well. I believe that being prepared before the sales process begins is crucial today. You don’t want to step out without putting your best “face” forward in all areas; to do so will slow everything down. And you certainly can’t take back those first impressions.
Answer: Asking what is a reasonable length of time an artist should expect to get licensing contracts from their agent is a little like asking how high is up. From my experience, this depends on what the art that you are offering (or that the agent is schlepping around) looks like, the subject matter you create, the age group your work is geared for and then the all important question "what is the market (or consumer) buying at that point in time."
An artist I have represented for many years, Laurie Cook, does beautiful Santas. I was able to get licenses for them right away as it is hard for companies to find beautiful Santas and there is always a market for them. Although sometimes the market is stronger and sometimes weaker. Laurie also creates beautiful florals. I have had little success in getting contracts for them as they are just not the style manufacturers are looking for.
Another artist I represent, Gail Flores, retired from Hallmark several years ago as probably the best floral designer they ever had. In spite of the superior quality of her style and technique, it took me almost three years to get one really good license for her work...and then the flood gates opened. The reason? When I first started showing her work, traditional florals were not in style. Three years later they were hot and still are.
Another artist I know, Laurie Mitchell, has a female character called Listen Doll. It is a good example of how hard it can be to get licensing deals for certain types of art. It is a very strong character, very well developed, excellent text....but the character falls into a niche that can be very difficult to get in a licensing toe-hold. There are many really good "female" characters in the industry. But companies are reluctant to license them because they feel that they need to be "safe" in this economy even though the demand for an alternative female character (not too sweet, not too in your face) is certainly there. Companies think it best to err on the side of caution which often times means a "no" to a license.
Related article: "Tips for Represented Artists - New and Not So New."