Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Licensing Agent; A Cautionary Tale

"Sweetie" 11"x14" pastel painting

I’m giving you fair warning now that this is going to be a long post. I’m writing it because this incident has been haunting me for almost two years, and I’d like to let it go and move on.

A couple of years ago, I was contacted by a licensing agent who was looking for an equine artist to represent in a new venture into licensing horse images for her corporate clients. She was very enthusiastic about my art and very flattering in her comments. She told me that my art had the WOW! factor and that she wanted to “brand” me with a big marketing campaign and thought that I could become another Chris Cummings in the licensing world. Pretty heady stuff, right?

The problem was that I already had a licensing agent/dealer, but, I hadn’t had much luck with her for several years. I told the new agent (I’ll call her Cindy) that I would consider her offer. We chatted on the phone, and she built herself up by saying that she had a background in marketing and worked with many big companies which licensed images for their products and that she had a very good reputation in the industry. Then I contacted two of her artists, a husband and wife team, who gave her an enthusiastic endorsement. Next, I checked the contract I had with the current licensing agent and found that I could cancel it by giving her 60 days’ notice.

After doing this due diligence, I felt safe in accepting the new offer from Cindy who was willing to wait the 60 days. I told her right up front that the only images I had available for licensing were on my website, and she didn’t express any concern about that. I notified my current agent, and Cindy sent me a contract to sign that would be effective at the end of the 60 days. She also requested that I send her images so that she could put together a marketing sheet to show to her clients. I asked her which of my current images she wanted for this purpose.

That’s when the trouble began. I never got a direct answer. Instead she emailed me a list of ideas for paintings based on requests that she’d gotten from her contacts. I asked her several times more which images to send. Her response was always to tell me that certain ones would be better in color or with a different background or with the horse facing the other way or this or that. I asked her what sorts of images to work on first. Her response was to just send me the same list of ideas that she’d gotten from her clients which was a long one.

Without any guidance from Cindy, I had no choice but to do my own research. I reviewed all of my sales records and came up with a list of best sellers and worst sellers in prints and note cards. I presented that to her and got no response. I looked through all of my horsey gift catalogs and horse catalogs to see what sorts of images are on the market to give me ideas for what works best. Based on those findings, I finally gathered ten of my best sellling images on a CD and mailed it to her. Her response was that they were “a good starting point”.

Two weeks later, the contract went into effect, and I emailed her to find out what was going on. I didn’t hear from her for two days. Then she emailed to say that I didn’t have an “extensive” enough portfolio of current work and that she was talking to another equine artist who had a “large” portfolio. She explained that she needed a “minimum of 20 strong images” in order to launch a marketing campaign which was something she had never mentioned before. She was still willing to represent me with my limited portfolio, though, if I was willing to continue.

Naturally, this came as a shock since she hadn’t given me a clue before that there was any problem from her point of view. So, I went through my images again and sent her 16 more possibilities by email that I’d originally eliminated for one reason or another and asked her to let me know if any of them were suitable. By this time, I was getting very uneasy about the whole situation and Cindy’s lack of communication and candor.

Over a week went by, and I heard nothing from Cindy. So, I sent her another email asking if she had gotten the images. I heard nothing for another two weeks and emailed her again, asking for advice as to what to paint first. There was still no response, so I phoned her. She told me that she couldn’t talk now because she had a business client coming for the weekend but would phone me on Monday. That was on Friday. On Sunday night I got an email from her saying that she had found another “incredible established artist” with “a large portfolio” to represent and would not be able to represent me after all. She went on to twist the knife deeper by saying that it would take many years before I would reach “profitability”for her in licensing due to my limited portfolio and lack of dedication to regular painting.

I wrote her back and agreed that I wasn’t the right artist for her and hadn’t been happy about the way things had been going. I also expressed puzzlement over why she had contacted me in the first place and why I hadn’t been told in the beginning that I would need X number of images and why she hadn’t given me more guidance in what to paint for her.

The funny thing is that no new artist appeared on her website, and a year later she contacted one of my best artist friends and other artists as well. So, what became of that “incredible” artist I wonder?

I’ve since come to the conclusion that Cindy knew nothing about the equine art licensing market and that she expected “her” artists to produce paintings quickly. I also suspect that her view is that the artists work for her rather than the other way around.

This whole incident was a huge blow to my ego; one that I’m still struggling to overcome. I’m hoping that this post will help to put the unpleasantness behind me once and for all. My biggest regret is that I let go my former licensing agent. She helped to establish my career early on, was always supportive and helpful and was familiar with the world of equine art. I’ve found her advice far more helpful than the little bits that I received from Cindy. I regret that by hastily cancelling that contract, I also lost a friend.

Perhaps that’s what’s bothering me the most.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

My First Blog Award!

This is truly exciting! I am very honored and humbled to accept my first blog award from fellow equine artist, Linda Shantz, whose blog I guested on last month. Thank you very much, Linda!

The past two weeks have been busy ones, filled with appointments, tweaking my new website design, raking leaves and other assorted duties. Happily, I finished up my latest short stint in Physical Therapy on Friday and am looking forward to more days at home when I don't have to run to town for any reason. That will allow me to get back into the studio again and do some early season gardening to get the beds ready for summer. I don't want to be out there in the heat working this year like I have the past two years.

While I'm writing this, I'm also backing up my computer. Once all those images are safely saved onto disks, I can erase my two camera disks and be ready to shoot more photos.

Finally, I'd like to thank my friends, Linda Shantz and Judy Johnson for visiting my newly revised website and giving me thoughts on how well it's working. As I mentioned before, Linda does a lot of Thoroughbred race horse paintings, and Judy is doing a series of shelter dogs paintings which she sells to benefit her local shelter. They are really cute paintings which she also sells as prints. Please visit her blog and pick out a shelter dog of your own to take home.

That's it for today. I would still love to hear from anyone else with your thoughts on my new website design. I think it's already paid off, as I got a call this week from someone who is interested in buying one of my paintings that I hadn't put up for sale yet. He'll call back next week. I hope, I hope, I hope!!

Thank you for visiting, and a Happy Mother's Day weekend to you all.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Alpha Mare Gets a Makeover

Whew!! That’s one more big job accomplished! Or, as my grandmother used to say, “I’m glad that elephant is behind me!”.

I’ve spent the better part of the last two weeks revising my website which had, frankly, become a bit of a shambles. I had started to revise it a couple of times but never completed the job, so there were pages with three different designs, and the site had lost its uniform look. More importantly, I had rearranged some galleries but neglected to change old links and the result was duplicate content. Google doesn’t like duplicate content.

My visitor numbers have dropped dramatically over the past two years to a point where they are now less than half of what they once were. Knowing that there had to be a reason for this, I did some exploring, both on the website pages and in my stats and came up with some answers. I hope. I found a lot of broken links, among other things. Google doesn’t like broken links.

One of the things I did was to go through my Sitemeter visitor logs and write down every single page that visitors visited during a 10 day period, excluding those who only visited one or two pages. I wanted to see which are the more popular pages and how visitors were navigating around the site. Then I compiled the figures into a spreadsheet and sorted them by number of visits. This was invaluable information as I decided which images to keep and which to leave on the site; which galleries to keep and which to combine with others.

My mantra with this revision was to simplify the whole site, so the first thing I did was to decrease the number of different galleries by combining some together. For instance, the old jumping and dressage galleries were combined into an all english riding gallery. From there I proceeded to make a list of paintings and drawings I wanted to take off the site. Mostly these were paintings which were either old portraits or just not up to current standards. Some had been sold and didn’t really fit in anywhere or serve any purpose. I figured there was no point in showcasing a bunch of old portraits if I’m not accepting commissions any longer.

I made a bunch of other changes that I won’t bore you with and have ended up with a “new” website which I think is both warmer and softer in feel and cleaner in look with the artwork better arranged for greater impact. I’m hoping that the Google gods will now smile on my website again, raise its ranking in the searches and once again bring the hoards to my doorstep, metaphorically speaking.

Perhaps you could help the cause by visiting my new website and letting me know what you think. You can visit Alpha Mare Equine Art by clicking on the link.

Meanwhile, back in the studio, I’ve decided to resurrect the pony drawing at the top and work on it again. It’s the preliminary drawing for a painting, but I got stuck with what to do about a background. I’m thinking now of going simple with mainly a toned canvas. The title is The Little Inspector, and I’ll get to work on it very soon.

But first the house needs cleaning.

Thanks for visiting, and please come again.