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.


Horse crazy lady said...

Wow. I hope that you have written your previous agent and begged forgiveness. Surely she can see how you were beguiled, and that you can now really appreciate her.I know it may be hard for her to forgive your leaving her for the agent who wooed you away, but, she may just take you back, knowing that now you will be loyal to a good agent. I know, it's hard to humble yourself, but you end up a better person for it.

hilde deprez said...

I would like to start publishing my work. I draw whimsical, people with expressions, love holiday stuff. It is not the usual plain Santa-snowman stuff. I need direction on how to make the theme it profitable and marketable. Do you know an agent who can give me more direction.
I have contact with Suzy Toronto, who has shown me how to present my work. She has submitted 4 of my portfolio pages to her agent. I am if you can give me directions on how to approach it.
The more support I can get the better.
Some of my work is published on
thank you so much

Karen Thumm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen Thumm said...

Hilde, I'm sorry; I can't help you. If I knew any other licensing agents, I'd be knocking on their doors myself!