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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Art Licensing Tip: What does follow-up really mean?

Successfully licensing art is ALL about building relationships with the individual manufacturer art/licensing director (AD) and hopefully the decision maker. And one way to start and also to continue building a relationship with an AD is to follow-up after contacting her/him either with a cold-call or after meeting at a trade or licensing show. Follow-ups do NOT mean contacting the AD just once and hope to get a deal. In most cases, you need to be in constant contact before the AD decides to move forward with a licensing agreement even though she/he loves your art. That means you need to be persistent in following-up until a decision is made.

Doing follow-ups are not always fruitful and can be very frustrating when there is no response from the AD. Frequently seen on art licensing forums are statements from artists saying "I send out 100s of e-mails submissions to manufacturers at a time and I rarely get one response." Or "An AD showed a lot of interest in my art when I exhibited at Surtex but she never responded to my e-mail after I sent the art she requested." Or "An AD showed interest in my art at first and now he doesn't respond to my follow-up e-mails."

ADs are very busy and they get hundreds of submissions each week. As a result, they may not immediately respond to a query or at all. Below are a few reasons why.

ADs Contacted via Cold-Calls (unsolicited inquiries)
1. The artist sends an e-mail blitz submission to a huge number of manufacturers at one time. The problem is that some e-mail providers consider this junk mail and blocks it so that the AD do not receive the e-mail. It is better to send e-mail queries separately and personalized. Read "6 Tips in Writing Query Letters to Manufacturers that License Art."

2. The artist sends the art in a format that the AD does not bother opening. Some ADs will not open .pdf files or look at websites. They prefer getting hard copies of art or .jpg files that open automatically in an e-mail. In order to have any hope in getting a response from a query, artists should read submission guidelines if posted on the manufacturer website or contact the AD to find out how art should be submitted.

3. The artist sends art that is not suitable for licensing on the manufacturers products. Artist should do their homework and find out what art style and themes meets the manufacturers needs. Do not waste your time and the ADs by submitting art that is unsuitable. For instance, do not send pastel colored whimsical art to manufacturers that only license country or rustic lodge art.

4. The artist sends art of a particular theme at the wrong time. For instance, do not send Christmas images if the AD is looking for spring art. It is always better to find out the dates that ADs are selecting art for different themes such as everyday, spring, summer, fall, winter and holidays and submit art at that time.

5. The artist sends art with a style that is very similar to another artist that the manufacturer is already using. If the manufacturer is successfully selling products that has a certain art style, most likely they will not need art with a similar look no matter how wonderful the art. Of course, there are always exceptions.

ADs Contacted at Trade/Licensing Shows
1. The AD that the artist met at the show may not be the final decision maker. Even though the AD loves the art, the final decision maker may not.

2. All the art selected from the many artists at the show needs to be compiled before a decision is made on what art will be chosen. This can take a lot of time resulting in no immediate response from the AD.

3. The AD likes the art but is not ready to use it so she/he holds it until she is ready to make a decision months down the road.

So how often should you follow-up? You really don't want to badger the AD do you?
Well badgering is not really the right word but you do need to be persistent by contacting ADs often. Maybe contact the AD every couple of weeks at first and then monthly. Try different ways such as e-mails, phone calls, send hardcopy tearsheets, postcards, etc. and be creative until you find out what works best in getting responses from each AD. To get noticed some artists even make homemade cookies, make special greeting cards, or put their art on purchased products to send to ADs.

Persistence Pays Off
One art licensing agent who is very persistent in doing follow-ups states that his second favorite manufacturer answer is "No we are not interested in licensing that artists work." It is the "maybe" answers that requires the most work. But no matter how much work follow-ups are, if you believe that your art is right for a particular manufacturer you should not take no as an answer. And sometimes it may take years to turn that no into a yes.

Licensing agent Maria Brophy blog article "No Doesn't Mean No - It Just Means No for Now" states that it took artist Drew Brophy three years to convince a manufacturer to license his line of Drew Boogie Boards for kids.  And during one of "Ask Paul Brent" teleseminars* Paul said that it took him ten years to finally convince a tabletop manufacturer to license his art. Now that is believing in your art and THAT is persistence!

*Audio archives of teleseminar ask calls by industry experts can be purchased at Art Licensing including the ones by Paul Brent. The March 25, 2009 audio archive by Paul may be download onto your computer at no cost. You may signup and listen to Paul's next "Ask Paul Brent" free tele-seminar on October 20, 2010.

I welcome any comments or suggestions. Please write them in the below comment section.


  1. Joan, You're the best! Reading this article (and all of your articles) on the realities/excitement of art licensing makes me feel like I have my own personal consultant and cheer leader. Thank you, thank you.

    Dianne Woods

  2. Hi Joan,
    As always, you have shared another wonderful article on an awesome topic. Thanks!

  3. Excellent, thank you!

  4. This is a fantastic article! I learned the lesson of not being afraid to just pick up the phone after ignored emails from "very interested" buyers at Surtex this past May. What a difference that voice to voice interaction makes! I am certain it is THE reason a few deals finally went through. Great advice!

  5. Excellent article, Joan. And good advice for any artist, or any businessperson. I've heard it said that a consumer needs to see a brand name nine times before it is remembered. It's much the same for an artist and their own brand. Be persistent and you will see results.

  6. Joan, you always give such great, professional advice. Thank you for sharing! Regarding follow up: So many people give up after just one try (I've been guilty of that myself at times) - this is a great reminder to just keep asking. And then ask again. And then again!

  7. Joan, what do you recommend for following up with a company or rep that has does submissions via an online form? Do you keep submitting there or is there another step that you'd recommend?

  8. Hi Jen,
    Hmm, if the company hasn't responded in several weeks (unless the submission guidelines state a longer time period to get a response), I would call the company and get the contact information of the person in charge of licensing. Then I would call that person and/or mail a tearsheet package with a nice cover letter to her/him. That may seem to be a lot of work but extreme followups is necessary these days if you hope to get deals.

  9. I was afraid you were going to say that but you are right! I'm ever grateful that you take the time to share what you know on this blog. :)