E&P: Could you briefly describe your position at Leanin’ Tree?
SJ: I am the Vice President of Product Management at Leanin’ Tree, Inc., a 60-year old manufacturer of greeting cards and gift products based in Boulder, Colorado. My primary responsibility is to provide direction for the company’s long-term product strategy, including product planning, allocation and assignment of design and editorial product-related duties, management of the company’s internal creative staff, and to secure, develop and manage all existing and future external creative resources, across all greeting card and gift product categories. In addition to my duties at Leanin’ Tree, I am the current President of the Greeting Card Association.
E&P: Why are greeting cards important in today’s technological age of email and text message?
SJ: While the greeting card industry is changing, either in the way we print our product or where it’s distributed, the one constant is that our product remains an important means of helping people communicate with friends and loved ones in the happiest, saddest, or most celebratory moments of their lives. Our product category exists because relationships matter. In today’s society, where there’s a premium placed on how many “friends” or “friend requests” you have, or how many “followers” or “likes” you have, we know that what continues to drive consumers to the card aisle of any retail outlet are the very real, and very important, relationships that are near and dear to them in their everyday lives. I’m confident that this this will not change, regardless of how much we text, email or Facebook. Communication with a personal touch is what makes people feel truly connected, and what helps them convey a “You Matter” message to those people who are most important in their lives.
E&P: What are a few of the most important tips you have for an artist looking to license their greeting card line?
SJ: 1. An artist needs to know where they fit in the market. If they view their work as cosmopolitan and upscale, then they should look for manufactures that have placement with the retail channel most likely to reach the right consumers.
2. An artist must educate him or herself about what kind of artwork works best for greeting cards, as well as for other product categories. What makes a good greeting card? The art must be relational and communicative, in other words, it must have “sendability.” There’s a reason that you will find greeting cards from nearly every manufacturer that have cats and dogs, funny animals, birthday icons, flowers, angels, fairies, and humorous designs or words across their product line – they SELL and make money for the artist/licensor, and the manufacturer. Does that mean you have to do what everyone else is doing? No! But there is nothing wrong with working those subjects into your portfolio in your own way with your own style. It doesn’t do you any good to be so unique, or so different, that your work won’t find a home with a manufacturer or in a retail shop. The goal is to make art that people will want to buy, whether it’s on a greeting card, a dinnerware design, or wall décor. Art must tell a story or evoke a response that works for its product category and for the consumer.
3. If you are submitting your artwork to a manufacturer for the first time, follow the submission guidelines! If they are posted online, follow them. Manufacturers establish submission guidelines for a reason and expect them to be followed. Do not assume your work is “special enough” or urgent enough that those guidelines don’t apply to you. Oftentimes this is the first impression you make on a new manufacturer, and you don’t want that impression to be that you do not follow instructions!
4. Do your homework and understand licensing basics. Do not expect that a manufacturer has the time or considers it their responsibility to provide you with a course in “How to license artwork to manufacturers.” There are many excellent resources available to artists looking to get into licensing. You can get a licensing education quickly by researching the blogs, threads and e-books that are readily available to you, or by attending trade shows like Surtex that specialize in helping artists meet and establish relationships with manufacturers.
5. Be prepared to legally warrant that your artwork is your own, and that you have not infringed on another’s art copyright or editorial/wording. Manufacturers are not interested in getting into any situation that compromises them legally if you are showing them art or words that are not original.
6. Know the current and prevailing advance and royalty rates for the categories you’re interested in developing product for and be realistic about what manufacturers will be willing to pay. Just because you consider yourself a “brand” and feel that you are worth more money than someone else, that doesn’t mean that a manufacturer will see it that way too. There are very few established “art brands” that can demand and get higher than industry norm royalty percentages. Approach a relationship with a manufacturer as a partner, and as your product gets traction at retail and success in the market place, there will be future opportunities to renegotiate new contracts and higher rates.
E&P: What are some of the most important traits you look for in the artists you license?
SJ: For greeting cards, and across product categories, most manufacturers are asking themselves a series of questions when reviewing art submissions and making selections from artists:
1. Is the art a fit for our product line and in keeping with our established product plan?
2. Is the artwork current, fresh, on trend, and professionally executed and presented? Is it a look or style that is not currently represented in our product line and would it help broaden the appeal of our overall product line?
3. Is this artist easy to work with, able to meet deadlines, amenable to art direction, and willing to enter this relationship as partners? (Trust me when I say that manufacturers know and talk to each other! If an artist has a reputation as being “difficult,” it’s likely that reputation has been shared between manufacturers in the industry, and in other product categories. Having a great personal reputation is one of the best things an artist can invest in for themselves!).
E&P: For artists just beginning their career, do you recommend they manufacture their own product or license their work?
SJ: In short, yes! Both of these options can work extremely well, depending on an artist’s long term goals . Oftentimes, self-publishing your work allows you to test the market, find your audience, fine tune your art or words, and make a better product, which ultimately might lead you to a licensing agreement with a larger, more established manufacturer with significantly better distribution. If your goal is to be an artist and a business-owner/manufacturer, and you’re willing to split your time between making artwork and making product, then consider manufacturing yourself. Be honest about the challenges you will face, however, in managing inventory, developing a network of sales reps, and in order fulfillment. However, if you’d rather put your time and energy totally into making great artwork than in trying to build a business from the ground up, then licensing is an excellent solution. Either way it takes time to get to the place where you are able to support yourself financially from your own creative work – whether you make your own product with your artwork or license it to someone else. There are also other excellent ways to make product or make art and sell it…through places like Etsy, CafePress, and other online shops, or from local craft fairs and art shows. I would encourage artists who are looking to explore the various ways to make your living through your creative talents to visit SmartCreativeWomen.com (men can visit the site also!). There are excellent blogs and videos available from many incredibly talented and well known and respected artists who talk about finding their own success, through many different paths.
Thank you, Susan!