Successful art and photography licensors offer valuable tips to artists considering a move into foreign markets.
Many licensing programs—from entertainment properties to brands to fashion—have felt the effects of retail consolidation, but art licensors are often first to feel the pinch. Without the consumer recognition that major brands and entertainment properties rely on, artists generally struggle to build brands and licensing programs in their own regions never mind abroad. License! Global spoke with a handful of successful art licensors who offer some advice on going global.
While there is no winning formula for success, the general consensus is: Make a plan. "Not only will you need a strategy to fund the exercise, but you'll need the mental resilience, tenacity, and determination to follow through with your plan," advises Jamie Basheer, director of Adelaide, Australia-based greeting card line Intrinsic. While some artists hire agents in local markets targeted for expansion, others go it alone.
Some successful brands inked only one license before making a big leap overseas, while others already had a lineup of 20 deals before going abroad. Whatever the case may be, most art licensors agree that building an international program requires a sustained effort over the course of a number of years. Most found that trade shows offer valuable networking opportunities and a chance to learn from those who are already established in the process.
Before marketing a property internationally, Jeanette Smith, president, J'net Smith Marketing & Licensing, advises artists to sign on between 10 and 20 licensees. Of course, this varies since some styles have more international potential than others, but a great way to explore one's global potential is by observing other international artists. Asking the expert opinion of agents and consultants based abroad is also a good starting point.
Since other English-speaking countries tend to translate well, both verbally and visually, England and Australia tend to be ideal international launching grounds. Web sites also offer a great way to expose a brand internationally. Carole Postal, president of CopCorp Licensing, says, "We hear from fans and interested manufacturers and retailers from as far away as Kuwait and Russia. In fact, we have had significant interest from the Eastern European countries overall."
Basheer credits the company's first licensing agreement in 1999 with Portal Aird Publications, which is now known as The Aird Group (TAG), for growing the inspirational line from 36 handmade cards to more than 100 greeting cards and 150 pieces of stationery. Since then, the card line has blossomed into a lucrative licensing business that forecasts upwards of $6 million in the forthcoming year.
What's the magical power behind the brand? Intrinsic makes celebrating life's milestones more sentimental by pairing inspirational messages written by wordsmith Adèle Basheer with artistic details such as hand-dyed fabrics and unique layering techniques. Some cards even offer special keepsake charms—from studded stars to linked hearts and miniature lockets. Intrinsic's offerings include the widely appealing Cherish, Keepsake, and Butterfly Dreams collections, as well as the Life by Intrinsic line, which skews to a demographic of 15-to 25-year-olds.
Only one licensing partnership was inked prior to international expansion. Says Adèle, "Amazingly, we met Portal (now TAG) in London, where we traveled to investigate licensing opportunities in the UK. Portal is based only 20 minutes drive from our office in Adelaide yet we made the connection on the other side of the world."
With their sights set on the U.S. market and without the help of an agent, the team began researching trade shows. "We considered both the Licensing Show and Surtex and found that Licensing Show best fit our needs," explains Jamie. "The deciding factor was that Licensing Show is purely licensing, which suited our strategy to sell the Intrinsic brand, rather than individual products and designs."
Once the venue was set, the team began considering logistics and quickly found cost to be among the major challenges of taking an Australian brand overseas into the U.S. market. Flights, accommodations, and the cost of handling product shipments from Australia were quite steep. After four trips to New York and two incidents of lost luggage, the Intrinsic team learned quite a few lessons. Intrinsic's goods are now housed in a storage facility near the Javits Center.
In addition to trade shows, promotion is another significant consideration for generating recognition. "We purchased a mailing list and distributed promotional send-outs to others in the industry. A number of prospects came directly from this exercise and although not all led to signed contracts, we signed two of our biggest deals yet with Leanin' Tree and Crown Point Graphics," says Jamie. Last year, the team took this concept a step further by making appointments to meet with prospects at the show. "Again, it paid dividends. We've found that this is your greatest opportunity to turn a prospect into licensing reality."
Even though Australia and the U.S. share many similarities, the Intrinsic team found many differences between the two cultures. "U.S. licensees are more at ease dealing with local companies, so it was quite a challenge to prove that Intrinsic was worth a risk," says Adèle. "But with huge successes such as Anne Geddes, Rachael Hale, and The Wiggles—brands that stemmed from this part of the world—Intrinsic has every potential to realize the same levels of success."
Tubac, Ariz.-based baby photographer Tom Arma went in the opposite direction—taking his work from the U.S. to overseas markets. Referred to as "the most published baby photographer in the world," Arma is represented by CopCorp Licensing. His focus: Capturing the endearing and adorable images of infants who are outfitted in custom-made animal costumes that Arma makes himself. More than 20 deals were stitched before Copyright Promotions was appointed to launch a program in Europe.
First launched overseas in 2002, the program has been going strong ever since. "We are in our second renewals in some cases," says Postal, who adds that they have ongoing programs in Italy, Iberia (Spain & Portugal), and France. "Although they are all successful," she adds, "each one is uniquely different." In Italy, the biggest licensee is Cartorama, a stationery and back-to-school licensee that embellishes bags, backpacks, pencils, posters, photo albums, and more with Arma's baby imagery. Recently, Arma's photographs have been licensed to ZPR International for greeting cards, Veld Co. for baby journals, and Publishing House Holding Academy for stationery. In Brazil, a Parmalat commercial led to an evergreen licensing program that that has been up and running for more than 10 years.
New Zealand-based Rachael Hale Photography had three licensees signed on before launching its collection in the U.S., Europe, Japan, and South America. Meeting with agents in the U.S. and Europe proved to be an effective strategy for the brand, which now has a roster of close to 150 agreements across multiple territories. "We expect to generate $48 million in licensed sales this year," says David Todd, CEO of Rachael Hale Photography. Stationery, greeting cards, and calendars are among the international mix. New products emerging for children include back-to-school products and home decor.
Lost in Translation
As one would imagine, different cultures have different perceptions of color, theme, and style. Rachael Hale certainly hasn't hit any translation barriers with the overseas launch of her program. Her cuddly kittens and loveable pups seem to resonate with a wide audience of animal lovers, but apparently licensees did request changes on background colors.
"In some cases dogs were more popular than cats, however, overall, our imagery has been well received by all territories," says Julie R. Newman, licensing sales manager, Creative Brands Group, who adds that the European market requests more bunny images. Among her toughest challenges was convincing potential licensees that Hale's work offers higher-quality images than stock photography would, so is therefore worthy of a royalty.
For Intrinsic's cards, slight changes had to be made like switching from "Mum" to "Mom" before moving into the U.S. market. It wasn't always a simple spelling change. In some cases the wording had to be changed to ensure that the message would flow. The color palette also needed to be modified. In the U.S., Intrinsic found that "bigger, bolder, brighter equals better" is a motto that rings true. So it tends to use brighter colors, rather than pastels, which are popular in other markets. Also, the U.S. market was the first to feature glitter embellishments.
What are the next key areas of expansion? Asia, the UK, and Europe seem to present extensive opportunities for art licensing. "As Asia is very open to character art, we have been surprised to see such an interest in our products, which are more word-based," says Adèle. Both graphic and photographic art have generally been well received by the UK and Europe. Other areas ripe for expansion include South America, the United Arab countries, and India.