How Blogging Led Me To Art Licensing

Greeting Card Designer Blog invited Deb Trotter, artist to be a special guest writer to talk about blogging led her into licensing her art.

Guest Writer, Deb Trotter

When people ask me how I became a licensed artist - and I explain that I was discovered on my blog - I usually get one of two reactions. Either their mouths drop open, and they ask, “Really? I’m interested in licensing. Could you tell me more about that?”
Sometimes they respond with raised eyebrows and an odd smile - “Oh. So it was pretty easy for you.”

I realize now that I need to respond to the question in a new way. From now on I intend to say, “I’ve been at this for quite a while … creating, taking classes, marketing, networking, and blogging. It finally came together when a manufacturer discovered me by Googling ‘Cowgirl Art’ … and I came up at the top of the search engines.” That’s the real story.

The ‘real story’ is that working my way up the search engine ladder took a long time. I began by joining online groups, making friends, and doing collaborative projects. I took drawing and painting classes - as well as online classes in marketing, organizing, and networking. But blogging?
At first, I resisted. Did I really have time for one more ‘to do’ on my list?
Luckily, marketing expert, Alyson Stanfield, convinced me that blogging could propel my career. She was right. I dove into blogging feet first, and before long it became a passion - opening up a world of possibilities.


WHAT I BLOGGED ABOUT

I came to realize that blogging was one of the best things I could do to market myself.

-First, I developed my brand and chose my business name, “Cowboy’s Sweetheart.”

-I also taught myself Photoshop so I could design my blog banner and my logo myself.

-I taught classes at art retreats and promoted them on my blog.

-I blogged about my love for the Wild West, Old West history, Cowgirls and Cowboys – and showed photos of my life in Wyoming.

-Most importantly, I used my blog to share my artwork – adding my titles, descriptions, sources, or inspiration along with the images.

-And I blogged consistently.

Fast forward … three years after I started blogging … I discovered art licensing, and it dawned on me that there might actually be a way to do what I loved and make some decent money at it.

I was just beginning my research when – out of the blue – I received an email from someone stating that the manufacturer she worked for wanted to discuss licensing with me. “We love your work,” she added.
When I asked how they had found me she answered, “Our art director googled ‘Vintage Cowgirl Art,’ and your blog came up at the top of the first page.”

I later discovered that the art they were most excited about was something I had posted on a whim, in the early stage of my career. At the time I had never even heard of art licensing. Moreover, I was completely unaware that each and every thing I posted could potentially change my life.

GREETING CARD COMPANY

I was discovered by a greeting card company in much the same way.

During our first phone conversation, the owner said, “Hey. I have to ask. How’d you manage to get at the top of Google?” I laughed and answered, “Through many years of blogging and hard work, my friend. And I have enjoyed every minute.”

I now have a licensing contract with his company, and have been happily working with him ever since.


ADVICE

My major advice to anyone interested in becoming a licensed artist? First, keep yourself and your art as visible as possible. You know what I mean by now … blog, blog, blog. Learn about SEO and keywords. And make certain your blog is attractive and easy to navigate.

Secondly - do your research before you make any inquiries to manufacturers. I wish I had been better prepared when I signed my first contract.

Take advantage of the wonderful internet resources available to artists. There are quite a number of blogs written by artists and art licensing experts. (I read them every single day.) Here a few that I would recommend:

Tara Reed’s Art Licensing Blog

Kate Harper Blog -
Joan Beiriger’s Blog

Good luck – and Good Blogging!


ABOUT DEB

Deb Trotter's 'Cowboy's Sweetheart' Art explores the myth, humor, and nostalgia of the Wild West through the juxtaposition of digital collage, original drawings and photographs, and antique imagery. While Cowgirls are Deb’s favorite subjects, she also employs Cowboys, Lil’ Buckaroos, and other legendary characters in her paintings and designs.

In 2010, Deb created the 'Wild Spirits' Collection ... a series of whimsical, vintage & retro-inspired art featuring bodacious men and women, endearing children, sassy girlfriends, animal sidekicks, and wine-lovers.

Deb’s art has been published in a variety of books and magazines, and her one of a kind pieces have been sold in galleries, exhibits, and auctions throughout the Rocky Mountain West, Germany, and New Zealand. Most recently, Deb’s art has appeared across the country on fine leather products and greeting cards.

‘Cowboy’s Sweetheart’ and ‘Wild Spirits’ Collections are now available for licensing across all categories.

For more information, contact:
Deb Trotter Designs - “Joyous Art. Cowgirl Attitude.”
email: codycowgirl@bresnan.net
View Art on Website: http://www.debtrotter.com
Deb's Blog: http://www.cowboyssweetheart.typepad.com

How Stationery Retailers Use Social Media

GC Designer Blog invited Kathy Krassner, industry veteran, to be a guest writer for "Social Media Month" and talk about how retailers in the industry use social media in their businesses. She is the owner of Krassner Communications and has been the editor of various magazines in the stationery and gift industries.


It Takes an Online Village
By Kathy Krassner, Krassner Communications

Copyright © 2010 Kathy Krassner

The phrase, "it takes a village to raise a child," is an African proverb made popular in the mid-1990s when then-First Lady (and current Secretary of State) Hillary Rodham Clinton published her book, "It Takes a Village." Today, with the advent of social media, that phrase could be reworded: "it takes a village to run a successful business."

This is especially true when it comes to the stationery-related industry, where the retailer-customer relationship often makes the difference between whether that customer makes a purchase in-store or online. In an article I wrote for the upcoming May issue of Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine, stationer Elaine Barker, owner of Paper Potpourri in Haverhill, MA, states: "People come here because of the customer service, my experience, my personality, my professionalism – all that is so, so important."

While face-to-face communication is key for stationery retailers, so is ongoing customer contact via blogs, e-mails and social-media sites. In fact, more and more stores are now creating "fan" pages on social-networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to get the word out about sales, promotions and special events. Says Elizabeth Howard, owner/president of The Cordial Cricket in Chester, VA: "Facebook has helped us grow our customer base, increase sales and build closer relationships with our customers. Twitter has helped to build our brand recognition as a company nationwide, get more media/press attention and find some great new vendors and customers." Currently, The Cordial Cricket has more than 250 fans on Facebook and more than 1,000 followers on Twitter.

In another social-networking article I recently wrote for the Invitation & Stationery Alliance's new e-newsletter, "ISA Insights," Stacey Bush, owner of Union Street Papery in San Francisco, CA, shares: "We are primarily using Twitter to introduce new lines and to announce specials we are running on custom printing and in-store products. Special events are tweeted about, whether they are in-store or apply to our entire street, to help bring businesses together for the same common goal ... more shoppers!"

A big benefit of using social media is that it's a free way to reach a large number of current and potential customers. Plus, a retailer's blog and social-networking sites can be linked so that information is updated everywhere all at once.
Holly Bretschneider, president of Salutations in Charlotte, NC, explains this process in the January/February issue of Greetings etc. magazine: "I have it set up so that entries that I post to my WordPress blog automatically appear on the Facebook fan page as a new Note. Twitter is also set up to automatically pull in my blog posts and Facebook updates. Linkedin is also set up to automatically pull in my blog posts. By automating the blog-post distribution, I am able to instantly update Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin -- which really helps when it gets too busy to keep up with all of them!"

A particularly important aspect of utilizing social media is that it's a way for stationery retailers to reach a younger generation of customers -- who are the most web-savvy and perhaps the demographic most likely to be lost to online sales. In Greetings etc., Gayle O'Donnell, owner of All About Weddings & Celebrations in Tukwila, WA, says that Facebook and Twitter have "really helped us dealing with our wedding-customer base, because they are of the age group that makes social networking a way of life."

What social media is really all about is building a community that feels a connection with one another. For stationery retailers, it's about building a village of loyal customers who will help make their store successful for many years to come.

Kathy Krassner, former editor-in-chief of Greetings etc. magazine, is the owner of Krassner Communications, a writing-services firm specializing in the stationery and gift industries, based in Ringoes, NJ.

Services provided for clients have included writing print articles, website articles, e-newsletters, greeting cards, trend reports, blogs, catalogs, brochures, marketing materials, book proposals, packaging copy, and more; providing public-relations support; and conducting seminars.

Current clients include Gifts & Decorative Accessories magazine, Gift Shop magazine, the Invitation & Stationery Alliance, and NobleWorks Inc. She can be reached at krascom@yahoo.com.

Card Publisher Talks about the Digital Shift

Mike Rhoda is the product director at Leanin' Tree and I first met him through linkedin. I thought this was a perfect example of how social media is becoming the new way people do business together. I asked him to answer questions about new media, the digital shift and how it affects the card industry.

When one pulls back the curtain and talks to someone who works for a card publisher, often you will find a very creative person behind the desk. This is also the case with Mike Rhoda. He entered the greeting card industry as a sentiment writer, became a product director, and now also illustrates cards for Leanin' Tree. I've included some of his art in this interview.


What is your role at Leanin Tree?

As product director at Leanin’ Tree, I am charged with overseeing the product development of our card and gift lines, working with teams of product managers, writers, and in-house designers in the process.

Generally speaking, Susan January, our vice president of product management is usually the first contact an outside artist will have with Leanin’ Tree. If she believes that an artist’s work might be a good fit with our product lines, she will get with me and a few others in the creative department to gauge our interest level. Once it has been established that we would like to work with the artist and contractual matters are settled, I enter the artist’s world in a larger way, becoming the primary contact with him or her regarding the specifics and execution of the project planned.

I am also a part of the Leanin’ Tree writing team, and more recently, I have been allowed to do a little illustration work for our western humor line.


We first met on linkedin. Tell me your story of how this came to be.

I met you, Kate, through linkedin shortly after I became a member of that network. My motivation for signing up was to keep up with what was going on in the greeting card industry in general rather than using it to source art content. Nevertheless, I quickly became absorbed in all of the conversations that were taking place in the various groups in which I became a member.

Whenever someone said something of note, I would then click on their profile to see what their background and experience level was—sort of as a way to gauge how much weight to give to what that person was saying. Your name popped up frequently as you are actively involved in many conversations. When I drilled a little deeper to find out who you were, I landed on your website, recognized that I was already familiar with your work in the marketplace, and decided to make an introduction. And the rest is history.

I tend to be a bit of a “lurker” on websites like these because, as mentioned earlier, I’m not really the first contact artists should have for working with Leanin’ Tree. And, besides, I would probably be turned off a bit if I got a hard pitch/request to review someone’s art on that site because, unlike the Surtex show and other venues, I’m not really there for that purpose. Most of the interaction I have had with artists on linkedin has not been visible to the general audience. Instead, I have communicated through private messages as I did with you. In fact, as I recall, my initial message to you was a simple compliment on your work and not a business proposition.

If I were an artist hoping to “shop my wares,” I would tread carefully on linkedin. I think an artist is better served by participating in conversations and being helpful to others. Make sure your personal profile has links to your website or to places where your work can be seen.
Having said that, I try not to be too much of a snob, so if a fellow member of a group I have joined sends me the linkedin connection request, I tend to accept it and will generally review that person’s profile to see where they fit in the social expressions world.


Can you tell me any other stories, about things you discovered on linkedin, that really surprised you?

What has surprised me the most about linkedin is the simply the number of little groups that have been formed that have relevance to the social expressions and licensing industry. I am particularly pleased to see the amount of support groups, blogs, etc., for artists of varying experience levels that are open and available to all.


Anyone willing to do a little reading and research can find pretty much everything needed to jump start his or her career. This is only possible due to the kindness and generosity that exists in the artist community.
I think new artists should search thoroughly through these sites to find answers before asking a question that’s been asked and answered a thousand times before…kind of like asking how to spell a word when you have a dictionary on your desk. Just because the art community is benevolent, that doesn’t mean you should test its patience.


Do you ever go to other online sites to look for art? Where do you think licensing artists should publicize their work?

There are a number of individual artist and art agency websites we go to that serve the various niches covered by our product lines. Stock photo sites are places we review from time to time.

Whether or not an artist needs an agent is a totally separate topic worthy of its own discussion, but one of the advantages of having an agent is that it provides a degree of one-stop shopping. If I’m looking for wildlife images, for example, an agency site that reps a number of wildlife artists will be an efficient way for me to review art by animal type or theme—if the site is set up to do that.

If I’m representing myself and I were a new artist wanting to submit to Leanin’ Tree or another manufacturer, I would do my homework and make sure that my work fit into their lines, both in terms of the quality level of the art and the subject matter covered.

It’s disappointing to receive art samples from someone who clearly didn’t do any research whatsoever. But if your research shows that your work may be a good fit, then you should send your best dozen or so designs with a cover letter pointing to a website where more of your work can be seen. If your samples are good, there will be sufficient motivation to get the art reviewer to click through to your website.

While I don’t think we have discovered anyone through Zazzle, Etsy, and similar websites, I don't see a major downside to having exposure there. There may be other manufacturers who do review those types of websites for art content, so those sites should be considered.


In this new digital age, what are some things you wished all artists knew? And how might they go about learning it?

Digital may be greener, but it’s not always faster or friendlier. Think about this: If you were charged with reviewing fifty pieces of unsolicited art, would you rather have fifty tear sheets of 8.5 x 11 paper to flip through at your fingertips, or would you prefer to get five disks containing ten illustrations each that load at varying speeds depending on file size?

And with each file that loads, remember that you have to print the illustration and then document the artist’s name and illustration title on each sheet before you can share it with anyone else involved in the art selection process. (Which basically brings you back to where you’d be if the illustrations had just come to you on the tear sheets to begin with.)

Now up that fifty pieces of art awaiting review to a few thousand and you have a typical week of submissions we might be faced with here. I’m not saying we all shouldn’t be green or that digital is bad, I just think the artists need to consider how user-friendly their submissions are.


Update since the original publication of this article:
As part of a plan to concentrate more time and focus on his own art licensing, Mike will be transitioning from his present position as product director to working as a home-based, full-time writer for Leanin’ Tree. Therefore, all future inquiries regarding licensing opportunities with Leanin’ Tree should be directed to Susan January.
 


MIKE'S TIPS FOR ARTISTS:

File Formats
Keep your submissions low-res and make it so that the artist name and title prints with the image so the review doesn’t have to do that work. Of course, you don’t have to do any of those things—only if you want to be considered easy to work with. So whether you’re sending in disks, emailing with jpeg attachments, or whatever the digital form your submission might take, just think about the person at the other end of the line.

Scanner
You still need to invest in a scanner. Many manufacturers no longer have designers on staff or they’ve cut that staff dramatically, so anything you can do to make your art production-ready is a good thing. Scanning your art and saving it into a digital format will help you in that effort.


Photoshop
If you’re a traditional artist, you still need to know a little Photoshop. You’ll also find that Photoshop layers are a wonderful thing for artists who want to reformat and resell their work. Information on this is already out there in great detail on sites you can access through the linkedin artist community.


Submitting to Leanin' Tree
We don't need art submissions at the moment, but as the economy changes, our needs will likely change, so please check back with us via our website. Having said that, if we come across an artist who happens to fill a perceived need that our current network of art sources cannot provide, then we would consider bringing on a new art partner.


MIKE'S FAVORITES

Unusual website you like: http://www.duncanbeedie.co.uk/ I’ve never met this artist/animator, but I came across his website one evening and got quite a chuckle out of it.

Last book you read: The TV Writer's Workbook: A Creative Approach To Television Scripts (Paperback) by Ellen Sandler. It doesn’t pertain exactly to what I’m doing now, but I think it will help me as a writer.

Your favorite Trade Show: I love the New York Stationery/Surtex show because I get to see what the competition is doing, I get to review updated artist portfolios, and I get to reunite with friends I haven’t seen in a year. I have one artist friend who lives in the same small Colorado town as I do, but I only see him in New York.

The last thing you laughed about: The great thing about my job is that there are so many opportunities to laugh. More often than not, I’m laughing at something one of the writers wrote that will never see the light of day—at least on any card or gift product we produce!

Last podcast you listened to: Last night I listened to and watched a podcast explaining a surfing technique that I am not able to do.

Best event you ever attended: My son’s birth.

The next thing you want to learn: The surfboard podcast technique and Flash Animation.

Your path into the card business: Regarding my art, I am self-taught. In a previous life, I daydreamed of getting into the greeting card business. I naively thought that one person did everything—the art, the lettering, and the writing. So I approached it that way.

Years ago, I was fortunate enough to develop a friendship with an artist at Current in Colorado Springs, and I showed him my card concepts. He kindly told me that my art showed promise, but that I needed to polish it up a bit. But then he asked me who did the writing, because he thought it was good. He then introduced me to the editorial manager at Current, and I managed to enter the business as a writer. I have just recently started to illustrate cards for Leanin’ Tree.
(Sample card illustrations included in this interview. Photo of horse: Leanin' Tree Sculpture Garden)

Card & Gift Rep Uses Social Media "On The Road."

The biggest unspoken truth about the stationery industry is: If there were no sales reps, there would be no card industry.

Don't believe it? Look at the facts: Reps know all the stores in their territory better than anyone else. They know the store buyer's cat's name, how many children they have, and the top selling card last month. They can memorize 1,000 card ordering codes, know what products will sell before they are released to the public, and locate a parking space in any city. They can handle "challenging" personalities, tell you how many greeting cards will fit in the back seat of any car, and at the end of a hard day's work, they have enough remaining resources to let you know you are important. This is why my mantra has always been: "Pay your reps before you pay yourself," because sales reps are the most important people in this business.

Years ago, when I manufactured my own card line, Meryl Hooker was one of my sales reps, and while I cannot recall how many years we worked together, I do know she was consistently one of my top selling reps.
Not only did she rack up top sales for me, but today she does the same for Accoutrements, Blue Q, Ephemera, Greggo Magnets and MikWright. At this year's sales meeting for Pomegranate, she even swept up several awards: Most New Accounts, Greatest Sales Increase and Most Unusual new account. Meryl's tagline is "Sales Rockstar" and that is not an over statement. It is an understatement.

Since Meryl is plugged into social media and uses it in her business, I asked her to write a piece on how she uses new media "on the road."


Guest Writer Meryl Hooker

I love blogging. I love Facebook and, I love Twitter. There. I said it loud and proud.

Despite maintaining an active online personal life since the mid-90’s, I didn’t start doing anything for my business online until 2007. I work as regionally based, independent sales rep and specialize in smaller manufacturers and independently owned card and gift stores.

Until recently, being online professionally didn’t appear to hold much value for me. I got into sales because I am blessed with the gift of gab. I am at my best “on stage” in front of customers. The Internet and online communities were not places I could shine, let alone generate any business or cultivate loyal customer relationships. Besides, I’m hardly a computer wiz. That’s why I use a Mac.

ROAD RAGE BLOG
But, working as a rep can be a solitary and sometimes lonely existence. In September 2007, I started my blog, Road Rage, as a way to keep myself sane. The things a road rep sees and hears are too crazy to be made up and I wanted to record my adventures, even if for no other audience than myself. I didn’t realize it at the time, but before I wrote my first entry,
I developed a very clear content and posting strategy: update as often as possible and limit topics to those industry, product and customer related.
I made a decision not to include any details about my personal life, though I would make reference to people and things that inspired and motivated me in terms of selling. My favorite entries to date are my analysis of Kid Rock as the ultimate salesman and Gene Simmons of KISS as the ultimate sales coach. No, seriously.

For the first year, nearly all of my entries were about my retail customers. I took a camera to every appointment and clicked pictures of stores and displays. I posted write-ups about the creative and unique things my customers did really well, especially when it involved lines I repped. When the entry ran, I notified the store that they were a star and included a link to Road Rage. My customers loved it and it didn’t take long for them to start asking to be featured.

I covered trade shows I attended and visits to the offices of the manufacturers I represent. I began to feature comics and funny things I came across that related to sales or greeting cards or gifts. When the economy started to plummet last year, I began writing about sales tips and motivational advice to retailers and other reps. A publisher of a trade magazine saw one of those posts and contacted me about running the piece in an upcoming issue. Then, another magazine saw the article and published it too. Next thing I knew, I was getting invitations to contribute to other magazines and blogs.

The ball really started rolling in 2009. I started gaining more readers and the number of hits my website received started increasing dramatically. My Inbox started filling up with emails from manufacturers looking for help developing their products, advice on finding reps and commenting about things they’d seen in Road Rage. A sales manager for a company I rep told me the principle of one of their largest rep groups forwards new entries to his entire 12-rep sales force. Not bad for a sanity-inducing scratch pad, huh?

SOCIAL MEDIA
Making the professional leap to Facebook and Twitter took a little longer. I played on Facebook personally for about six months before I started to see how I could benefit me professionally. It wasn’t until I attended a seminar at the New York International Gift Show in August 2009, that I fully started to understand the power social media. I remember walking out of the room with my head spinning, my mind blown with the possibilities. I immediately changed my profile and posting content on Facebook to reflect my blog guidelines, created a LinkedIn profile and started a Twitter account to mirror my updated Facebook profile.

Like most people, I’m still figuring out how to fully take advantage of these platforms but my initial results have been fantastic. My Friends and Follow lists have grown, not just in numbers but also in richness. I have customers, manufacturers, other reps and my industry friends all following me and I follow/friend them in return. My sales tips are often re-tweeted or cross-referenced and I return the favor when appropriate.
Readership on Road Rage has increased by nearly 30% since I started announcing new blog entries of Facebook and Twitter. I have even started working as a sales and customer service consultant with several manufacturers who found me through Twitter.

People comment to me all the time about how they don’t want all their personal information out there online. To them I simply say, it doesn’t have to be. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn content are all user controlled. You are not required to put your phone number, relationship status or your political views in your profile. If you don’t want it out there, don’t put it out there.

I have an “accept all” friend request policy. Even if I don’t know you, I’ll friend you on Facebook. I am more selective on Twitter and only follow greeting card and gift related people. Otherwise, my feeds would be flooded with all kinds of people trying to sell me their proven sales methods or ways to help me get more quality follows on Twitter. No thanks, I weed through it on my own.

The crux of my business hasn’t change as a result of my blog or turbo charged online presence. I still call customers, go out on sales appointments, fax in orders and wrangle customer service issues. But having a blog did raise my industry profile and bring me a certain level of credibility and, at least perceived, authority in the greeting card and gift industries. I am conscious of the fact that other reps and retailers look to Road Rage for inspiration and ideas they can put into place for their own businesses.
Everything I post is constructed with a single purpose in mind: value-driven content, even if that value is just a good laugh at the industry, or in some cases me.
While many of my industry colleagues snub having a virtual presence and vehemently discount the power of social media, I am finding that it provides many creative ways to promote products, share information and generally meet my industry peers where they already are...in the halls known as Facebook and around the coffeemaker known as Twitter. With social media working warming the way, I’ll never have to make a cold call again.


ABOUT MERYL

Meryl Hooker is a manufacturers representative, writer, speaker, sales coach and all around Sales Rockstar. She is the writer of “Road Rage”, a blog about repping and selling and co-author of the forthcoming book, Pushing The Envelope: The Small Greeting Card Manufacturer’s Guide to Working with Sales Reps (Center Aisle Press, May 2010). She lives in Washington, DC and can be reached via www.merylhookersales.com

AWARDS
Accoutrements :Top Rep 2009. #2 Rep 2008, 2007 Blue Q:
Top Rep 2008 & 2009
Pomegranate: Winner: Most new accounts, greatest percent sales increase, and most unusual new account for 2009
Ephemera:
Top Rep 2007 & 2008
Greggo Magnets:
Top Rep 2006, 2007, 2008 & 2009
MikWright: #2 Rep 2008, 2009

Social Media for Artists

I found this great article from Creative Wonk Blog, by Krishanna

I hear you saying now, “What?! I’ve just learned about using e-mail effectively and building websites, now social media? Yeesh!”

In its most basic sense, social media is a shift in how people discover, read, and share news, information and content on the web. Social media is the fusion of sociology and technology and has become extremely popular because it allows people to connect to one another in the online world to form relationships for personal and business reasons.

Some people will tell you that it means, the days of postcards, direct mailers and catalogs are over and that the new generation of artists, gallery owners and consultants are programmed for faster, higher quality marketing techniques. Well maybe, but there will always be a certain population who wants something in their hot little hand to read or include in a file or portfolio. There is still something to be said for finding a lovely art postcard or direct mailer in amongst the bills when we pick up our snail mail each day.

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