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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Art Licensing Resource: Tips on Exhibiting at Trade Shows

Exhibiting at trade shows are an excellent way to market art for licensing. This article discusses the preparation needed to exhibit at shows and includes links to other useful articles. Those exhibiting at the 2011 Surtex, National Stationery, and the International Licensing shows in the next several months may not be able to take full advantage of all the tips in this article but at least some should be helpful.

Preparing for any show is dependent upon choosing the right one to exhibit at. Each show has a different focus and thus attracts different manufacturers although there is definitely some overlap. It is important to select what type of industry (paper products, home decor, etc.) your art fits the best and choosing the show those manufacturers attend so that it is worth the cost and time to exhibit. For instance, if you create patterns and images suitable for the scrapbook industry, the CHA show would be a good fit. Read "Art Licensing Trade Shows" for information about the different shows that are just for licensing or resale trade shows that include licensing areas. Note: Many licensing experts suggest that you walk (attend) the show the previous year before exhibiting at it. That way you will know what to expect and get ideas for booth set-up.

Beside selecting what show to exhibit at, additional preparation before the show needs to be done. And some of them should be done at least six months before the show. See the following list.

Pre-Show Preparation
1. As described above, select what show to exhibit your art.

2. Sign up for the show and check to see what is included in the cost of the booth. Some shows give the option of selecting different table and chair heights. Note: The exhibitor pays for additional lighting and extra furniture or supplies their own.

3.  Make airline and hotel reservations as early as possible for the best prices.

4. Select what art will be shown on the walls of the booth, in the portfolio(s) and any other materials such as product examples. Also select what size portfolio or multiple portfolios and how the art will be displayed (8-1/2 by 11 inch binders, larger art folders, catalog rack, iPad etc). Note: Many artists and agents are using banners to display art instead of individual pictures. Read "Art Licensing Resource: Using Vinyl Banners for Booths" for more information.

5. Choose what kind of marketing materials that you will give out to the manufacturers and either have them printed or print them yourself. They can be business cards, postcards, 8-1/2 by 11 inch tearsheets, etc.  Read "Art Licensing Resource: Using Postcards to Market Art" for a list of companies that print reasonably priced postcards and business cards.

6. Many shows (including Surtex) have press centers where exhibitors can drop off their press kits. To find out about press kits, read Tara Reeds "Not sure what to put in your Press Kit? Here are five things not to forget." Note: Some artists do not put press kits in the press center because they think that more artists take them than publishers.

7. Prepare your "elevator speeches" as Tara Reed is fond of saying. These are short statements (two or three sentences) telling the manufacturer (many times the art director) about your art, asking what products they manufacturer and the kind of art fit their needs, giving a definition on what is art licensing for those uninformed manufacturers, etc. Examples of elevator speeches are in Tara's e-book "How to Maximize Your Time and Investment in Trade Shows." Believe me, once you have a couple of elevator speeches down pat you will be a lot less nervous in talking to manufacturers and art directors.

8. Select how you will keep track of art directors interest in your art. Some artists use separate printed forms that has space to enter pertinent information (name, contact info, type of products manufactured, art interest etc.), or separate blank pages, or notebooks.

9. Art directors often quickly flip through your art and tell you to send them certain images for licensing consideration. Figure out a way to identify your art quickly so that you can write it down. Some artists have each piece of art numbered so that they can write down those numbers while others put colored stickers on the art in the portfolio to identify the manufacturer's interest. It is too difficult to write down a long description of what art to send (example, yellow daffodils with purple pansies in a vertical format).

10. Make appointments with manufactures that will be attending the show. Having a list of clients that you are already in contact with helps. Normally the booths that are the busiest during the show are the ones that have made appointments.

What to bring to the show
Of course, you will bring your booth art and other materials, your portfolio (s), and marketing material to the show. But you should also bring tools and other supplies for setting up the booth. Read metal sculpture artist Karen Rossi "Trade Show Tips" for a suggested tool kit. Note: Airlines allow most household tools that are less than seven inches long in carryon luggage. However, be prepared to open the luggage so that security can check the size of the tools. For some reason, my luggage is always checked. Hint: A great tip from art licensing agent Suzanne Cruise is to bring a small stapler and pen (each attached to thick string) that can be hung around your neck. That way they are always handy when you need them. I purchased mine from an office supply store.

Wear "business" clothing at the show. Check out the 2010 Surtex video to see what type of clothing exhibitors wear. Note: Many exhibitors wear black or combinations of black and white but I do not look well in black so I wear brown. Hint: Wear comfortable shoes. You will be doing a lot of standing.

What to do during the show
When you exhibit you should look approachable to manufacturers and NOT bored. To do this you need to smile a lot, do not sit down unless you are helping a customer look through your portfolio, do not eat in the booth, and do not be so engrossed in reading a book or literature that you do not often look up. Are those hard and fast rules? Absolutely NOT! But, they do help make you more approachable.

For more information and another artist opinion on how to present yourself at a trade show, read metal sculpture artist Karen Rossi "Trade Show Tips." And for other suggestions and tips read art licensing agent Lance Klass of Porterfields Fine Art Licensing "Are You Planning to Exhibit at the Javits Center in New York for the Very First Time? Here are Some Tips!"

After the Show
Most importantly, after the show is over you need to follow up with all the contacts you made during the show as soon as possible! Read "Art Licensing Tip: What does follow-up really mean?"

Additional Resources
The following is a list of helpful e-books, audio teleseminar, and a series of classes about exhibiting in trade shows that can be purchased on Tara Reed's blog site.

"How to Maximize Your Time and Investment in Trade Shows" by artistTara Reed

"Confessions of a First Timer - Reflections, Musings, Tips and Trick from a First-Time Surtex Exhibitor by artist Krustian Howell

"Trade Show Tactics Teleseminar" by artist Tara Reed

Series of 14 e-mail classes

"Show Stopper - Road Map to Rocking Your Trade Show" by artist Khristian Howell

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


  1. Excellent article Joan! I like the photo at the beginning of the article. Being a visual person, it helps to see the style of portfolio and booth posters/banners that you are using.

    Thank you for sharing this information.

  2. The essence of trade shows lies in your PR. Yes, indeed—public relations is a hundred times better than all the other costly marketing strategies you employ. Nevertheless, leverage such brand awareness techniques by being approachable to your clients. Remember always that your target audience is doing you a favour.