Wow. I just got home from exhibiting at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas and I am equal parts exhausted, excited and overwhelmed!
I went into this show feeling cautiously optimistic because of what I have heard and read about the Art & Design section from prior exhibitors. I was told it was really small and pushed way back in the corner of the huge show floor. Both true. I had heard that the opportunity for artists was a fraction of what SURTEX provided. This I can't really confirm or deny because I have never exhibited at SURTEX and don't know how many leads/contacts are typical. I have walked SURTEX twice and talked with many of my friends who have exhibited there, so I do have a general impression of the show.
I can tell you that I am very pleasantly surprised with my results from exhibiting at the Licensing Expo.
WHAT WAS GOOD
1. The diversity of the leads obtained was excellent. Part of the reason that I decided to exhibit at the Licensing Expo was that I had an inkling that I would find more diversity in the type of contacts I made. This turned out to be so true. Here are some of the categories that I walked away with strong leads for:
-Agents: Art, Brands, International
-Lawyers: Contracts & Licensing
-Custom Manufacturers & Printers
-App Creators: Gaming & Educational
-Animators: Major Networks & Small Collaborative Shops
-Apparel: Fashion, Shoes, Pajamas
-Stationery, School & Office Supplies
-Wall Covering & Decals
-Housewares & Ceramics
-Pet Products (yay!)
-Games & Puzzles
-Craft & Hobby
-Garden & Outdoor
-Freelance Design Opportunities
2. Major players were at this show. Many of the contacts I made were with companies that are very difficult to get in touch with otherwise due to their size, scale of business and/or prestige. Companies that are there to do big branded licensing deals stopped by to consider working with the small guys like me. Woot!
3. Because the Art & Design section is small, there is a great opportunity to stand out. For instance, if ABC Company is looking for a watercolor artist, like my talented friend Sara Berrenson, her booth was the only one that was decked out wall to wall with watercolor art. So you better believe ABC company stopped to talk to Sara! And if XYZ Company was interested in cute cat and dog art, my booth was impossible to miss.
Above: Sara Berrenson and me. This was day 3 so forgive me for looking tired.
Below: Sara in her gorgeous booth!
4. The Launch Pad booths for new exhibitors are very reasonably priced. These booths are a fraction of the cost of any booth you can get at SURTEX, however, they are also a fraction of the size! I had several people even comment that they liked the condensed booths and thought they were less overwhelming to take in. A SURTEX representative stopped by my booth and we discussed this very issue. I mentioned that I think the cost for an artist just starting out to exhibit at SURTEX is very restricting. He said that they were aware of this and are working on a potential exciting new option (read smaller less expensive option) that they hope to launch ASAP.
Above: The Launch Pad Booth as provided.
5. The on site customer service was very good. Unfortunately my booth panel layout did not match the drawings I received, even though I confirmed in writing that they would! Fortunately, each booth comes with an on site service contact who I called and she had my panels swapped out within an hour. So all was forgiven. :)
6. I already mentioned that the Art & Design section was way in the back corner of the show. To help mitigate this, the show planners had some live action painting/entertainment in our section which drew quite a crowd each day. I always had interesting visitors that I wouldn't have otherwise after one of these events.
7. There was a lot of opportunity for free press. I submitted content for as many of the opportunities as I could and had my logo on emails and flyers that went out and even had an article in one of the show dailies, a daily publication by License Global Magazine, which were handed out for free at the show. There was also a "One To Watch" contest which was open to anyone to participate. My friend, Antonija, won with her amazing property, Lil Ledy. So exciting for her and very cool!
Above: My press in the License Global Magazine Show Dailies
Below: Antonija and Sonja with their winning Lil' Ledy property.
WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN BETTER
1. It was not easy to make contacts and set appointments with attendees prior to the show as a first time exhibiter. The show management had a "free" matchmaking service for artists, but no matches were made on my behalf even though I engaged their service months in advance. I was offered some services that I could have paid for. Also, lists of potential attendees were offered for thousands of dollars, but that doesn't help an independent exhibitor. I had to rely on my existing contact list and hope that some of them would be attending the show. That doesn't really help when you also want to meet new contacts and everyone tells you making appointments is key.
2. The move-in and move-out options were not clearly laid out for a new exhibiter. Maps of where to park and load were very vague. The parking structure was too far from the show floor. Not a big deal if you can afford to have all of your booth furnishing shipped and dropped for you (two separate costs), but for someone like me who hand carried everything it was a 10-15 minute walk through the casino into the convention center. It took me 4 trips each way so we're talking hours of carrying heavy loads! They did have a closer (note that I said closer and not close) unloading area but you can't use it if you are operating alone. Lesson learned - don't do this show alone even if your booth is tiny! I was lucky enough to have a friend help me after the show was over and she cut my move out time in half. Thanks Vivayne!
3. If you follow me you know that I have had frequent problems with my art being ripped off, particularly internationally. This is a big international show. They have a policy that people are not allowed to take pictures or video without permission. Each day many people took photos of my booth, particularly my peeking dogs, without my permission. When I would ask them for a business card they said they didn't have one and most of the time their badges were turned over so that I couldn't even see who they were. I would have appreciated better enforcement of the no photo policy, as this situation made me very uneasy. I was happy to let people take photos who were genuinely interested in my work and were transparent about who they were.
WHAT I WAS GLAD I DID
1. I spent a lot of time and energy planning my booth design. Having a good display can make or break you at this show! If you don't draw people in within seconds they will walk right by. And you are competing with some really big budgets for attendees attention! There are some unbelievable displays at this show. I created an elevation, floor plan and 3D model of my booth before I printed or ordered anything so that I could see what it looked like. For the 3D model, I just used a drawing that was provided to me and mocked up my banners and furniture on top of it.
2. Because it was so small, I decided to theme my booth instead of showing a variety of my design capabilities. This was risky because I was worried some people would pass me up if they aren't interested in pet designs. That may have happened, but I think even more people who wouldn't have stopped did because they loved my cats and dogs. Also, showing my ability to create characters at a highly character driven show like the Licensing Expo was a strategic move to draw in bigger opportunities.
3. I brought lots of samples of existing licensed products. I got feedback that people really liked to see that I was experienced and that I know how to design art for products. I bought an inexpensive and easy to assemble shelf from IKEA to display the samples.
4. Even though my feet are paying for it now, I am glad that I stood almost the entire show and engaged people as they walked by. I got some really promising contacts by just talking to people who would have otherwise kept going. Many of them would slow down to admire my booth, but didn't really understand that I license my art to companies like theirs. When I started talking to them, we would often realize an opportunity was available to work together in some capacity.
5. I knew my elevator pitch going into the show. I had dinner with an artist friend, Jeanetta Gonzales, the night before the show and was joking that I didn't have my elevator pitch ready. Later I realized that I did. Earlier this year, I had gone through an exercise to come up with my brand statement. I revisited what I had written and it gave me the clarity I needed to talk about my brand. You'd be surprised how many people asked the simple question, "So, what do you do?" or "Tell me about your brand." I was ready to answer that!
6. I came prepared with lots of tools! In addition to all my booth decor, I brought a ladder, a vacuum, tape, duct tape, scissors, extra paper, sharpees, extra command strips, string, tools, notebooks, a stapler, hand sanitizer, water and snacks. No one else in my row had a ladder and most of them ended up borrowing mine at some point because the show was pretty strict about not standing on chairs.
7. I was really fortunate to make friends with my neighbors! Everyone close to me was very lovely and kind. They were always ready with help, advice or to cover my booth during a necessary break.
Above: Our row of Launch Padders! From left to right: Jay's Daughter Publishing/Lil' Bit, Sara B., The Tipsy Artist, The Magic Poof (Stephen), Emily Elizabeth's Designs, American Posterity/Corpirate, The Magic Poof (Chris), and Anne Was Here.
WHAT I COULD HAVE DONE BETTER
1. I should have brought more flyers. I had half page flyers printed at Moo.com and they turned out amazing! I was really happy with them, but I only had 50 printed which wasn't nearly enough. I ended up having to have more printed at the local Kinkos and they weren't nearly as nice and yet they were 4 times as expensive!
2. I had my business cards, my give away buttons, my flyers, my look books and my ipad portfolio. I wish I had created a take away brochure, something in between my flyer and my look books, for serious opportunities. A few people thought my look books were for the taking and I had to awkwardly tell them they couldn't keep them! Oops. Most people were more interested in looking through my physical look books than my ipad portfolio. I'm glad I brought both, so that when there was more than one person at my booth they could both look at my portfolio. But next time I think I will print two copies of my look books as well.
3. Next time I need to find a way of communicating what kind of partnerships I am looking for within my display. You can't assume that because you are in the Art & Design section, full of art for licensing, that everyone that walks through knows that you offer your art for licensing to manufacturers and beyond. The show is so big and diverse, people don't know what every booth is after.
4. I mentioned earlier that I intentionally showcased my pet designs show my ability to create characters. Well while I think it worked in bringing in additional interest, when people asked me to describe my characters (names and story), I was at a loss for words. I realized that if I do this show again, it could be really powerful to have designs that are fully developed into fleshed out characters.
5. Next time I will bring lighting for my booth. Both of my neighbors on either side had their booths lit. They used clip on, battery powered, lights from Home Depot that were fairly inexpensive and did the trick!
6. I should have had someone there specifically to help me out in my booth. There isn't really room for two people, BUT, I was a prisoner to that booth. Even though my lovely neighbors offered to watch it for me if I left, they didn't know my brand enough to be able to talk about it for me when I was gone. Having someone there who can cover for you and knows your elevator pitch and what you're after is priceless. Because I didn't have that, I not only didn't get to leave for lunch, but I also missed opportunities to interview for free press and to walk the show and hand out my information to other exhibitors that I could potentially partner with. Also, and most importantly, I missed the opportunity to meet and have my picture taken with Grumpy Cat. So there's that.
I am really happy that I took the chance to exhibit at the Licensing Expo! It's really opened my mind to all of the opportunities that exist in this industry for creative professionals. I hope you enjoyed my recap and please feel free to leave a comment or question and I will try to respond to each one.