If you want to license your art commercially, you’ll need to start by creating your very own “lead list” of companies or manufacturers who might be interested in using your art with their products.
Your lead list should only cover manufacturers of products that your art is a fit for, and should not be so extensive that you can’t call them all personally. A list of 30 companies may grow to 100, then shrink to 40 as you find out the companies are not in fact a match for your art. That’s OK—lead lists are organic.
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The tough part of this process is figuring out which products are a good match for your art, and what companies you should pursue.
Here are 8 resources you should look into:
Trade shows and directories
Trade shows (and trade show directories) are themed around many different types of activities, interests, and events. Pick a trade show in your area that your artwork might relate to. You can find entire lists of exhibitors on trade show websites, and some of those exhibitors will interested in licensing art for their products.
It’s a rather expensive resource ($379 to be exact) and you may end up using only a fraction of the information it contains. Even so, it’s the most reliable name in the licensing business, and in the long run it could save you valuable time and money when searching for names, phone numbers, and email addresses.
Browse through trade magazines in the product categories that you wish to target and then reseach the companies that seem to be a good fit for you and your art. Take note of their existing product lines and any current deals with other artists so that when you are ready to contact them you have all the information at hand.
And speaking of magazines, License! Global just released their November issue online which includes their choices for the top 100 licensees around the world. While many of them won’t be appropriate for artists (since they focus on the big name brands and properties) it’s still a great read and a good resource.
Shopping malls and stores
Spend time looking through stores and outlets for products that you’d like your art to be on. This can be time well spent as you explore the manufacturers that distribute licensed art.
You will probably see many “private label” products which obviously license artwork but don’t identify the manufacturer. This is because deals are sometimes made between the stores and manufacturers directly (known as DTR, or Direct-to-Retail). There are more and more of these done every day as stores work harder to have unique product.
If you find some of these products that feature artwork and have an artists copyright, but no manufacturer information, you may still be able to track them down if they have an RN number.
RN stands for Registered Identification Number, which is part of the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and is used to identify manufacturers and importers of all textile related products.
Go to the this web site and plug in the RN number to query who the manufacturer is. It doesn’t work on everything, but I’ve found that it does well with plush, bedding, apparel and more—so give that a try.
The world wide web continues to be the best free source for researching manufacturers and getting information on how to contact them.
You may find that larger companies hide their phone number and address on their website, so it can require a bit more searching to get these numbers – but when you get frustrated, just think about how we used to do it before the Internet.
Your own network of friends and contacts
Again, thank goodness for the internet, blogging and social media. Search out and speak with other licensed artists. Networking can, and usually is, a great source of ideas and leads.
It’s amazing how many artists list all of their licensees, and their information. There’s no better resource than another artist’s website that notes the manufacturer of their product lines—after all, those manufacturers may be interested in adding more artwork licenses to their collections.
If you talk to a manufacturer who doesn’t think you are right for them, don’t forget to ask who they would recommend that you talk to. This is often an overlooked technique that allows you to tap the brainpower of manufacturers who know the business best.
As long as you are prepared and thoughtful in your presentation to them, it is likely that they may be open to sharing the names of other manufacturers who would be a better fit for you.
Remember, when looking for prospective manufacturers it’s always a good idea to do preliminary research before including them on your lead list.
The more targeted your lead lists are, the better your chances that the manufacturers will respond positively to your presentation. Over and over again, the number one complaint that manufacturers make is that they receive too many presentations that are not relevant to their business needs.
Do yourself (and them) a favor by narrowing your lead list to only the most ideal candidates. The companies that you DO approach will appreciate and recognize your focus, and the entire process of licensing your art will go much faster.