Today we are delighted to bring you this in depth review of Licensing Expo from Susanne Kasielke who made her debut at the show earlier this year.
- What is Licensing Expo?
Licensing Expo is the world’s largest and most influential annual trade show dedicated to licensing and brand extension. The show takes place in Las Vegas and is the world’s premier brand, character and art marketplace with around 450 exhibitors (e.g. Nickelodeon, Dreamworks, Hasbro, CareBears, etc). More than 16,000 retailers, licensees, manufacturers, distributors and licensing agents attend from more than 90 countries.
- Why Licensing expo?
After making my trade show debut at Surtex 2015 with a collective of artists, I was ready to exhibit by myself. Since trade shows are a big financial investment I was only able to afford one show this year and preferably with a discount or special offer for first-timers. To me there were 2 options: Surtex or Licensing Expo. I decided on LE, because of the reasonably priced 6×4 feet first-timer booth. To be honest I would have preferred Surtex, but their ‘Design District’ option wasn’t what I was looking for.
Even after being in the surface design community for a while, taking classes and researching, I still didn’t know enough about Licensing Expo, but Anne Bollman’s very detailed and honest post about her experience in 2015, was the final push that made me sign up.
- After the show
The main focus at Licensing Expo is on the big players, who had booths the size of my apartment, and yes, it’s mainly about brands and character design, but that doesn’t mean the show isn’t for you. The ‘Art & Design’ section is relatively small, so a great opportunity to stand out. I’m absolutely glad I exhibited. The last couple of months I felt frustrated and didn’t know where to go with my creative business, I felt stuck. At the show I realized how narrow my focus has been so far and how many opportunities are out there for every one of us. I left Licensing Expo with interesting conversations, exciting leads, and came home with lots of new ideas. One big take-away for me is, that a lot of people from Asia stopped by my booth and really loved my work. A market I have never considered before.
- Would you do the show again?
Definitely! BUT I don’t think a regular booth for the regular high price would be worth it for me. That being said, I have a lot of follow-up work to do and depending on what will happen in the next months, I might change my mind. So please ask me again!
6 tips for first time exhibitors
- Success is personal
As I mentioned in my feedback above, I consider exhibiting at Licensing Expo a success. To me one of the most important things going into a trade show is to determine your goals beforehand. Do you want to come home with 100 leads? Do you want to sell 5 patterns outright? Do you want to dip your feet into surface design and get over your fear of being not good enough? Do you want to meet your one dream client? Define what success looks like for you!
One reason I chose to exhibit at Licensing Expo was that I found myself focusing on one direction with my business and that wasn’t working, but now I know that there are so many possibilities out there if you’re only open to it.
- Mock-ups or no mock-ups, that’s the question
Should you spend a lot of time retouching your work to show it on products or does it make more sense to create new artwork instead? It’s absolutely debatable if mock-ups are a must-have or unnecessary in your portfolio. And I totally agree: sometimes they can be helpful; other times they limit the art director. In my opinion at Licensing Expo mock-ups are a must-have.
There are not only art directors on the show floor, but a lot of non-art related people. Especially for decision makers with no-art-backgrounds I noticed that it really helps to show how your work can be used on products and to clearly communicate what partnerships you’re looking for.
- Preparation should be your second name
On any given day you can find at least 2 different to-do lists on my desk. In the months leading up to the show it was much worse. (Yes, I admit, I’m very German that way: I need to be prepared and write things down, because otherwise I’ll forget and then I get stressed.) It’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything you have to do. Often I get into the mindset where I’m convinced that I desperately need to work on everything at once right this second. So of course nothing gets done because I’m close to a nervous breakdown. To avoid the stress I dedicated a whole notebook to my Licensing Expo preparations. I carried it with me at all times and wrote down ideas for booth, to-do lists, costs, marketing materials, webinars, research about product samples, sketches of booth displays, etc.
If you’re completely new to trade shows I absolutely recommend the ebooks from ‘Art Licensing Info’ for guidance – Melissa Schulz and John Mavrakis are amazing and super helpful.
- I don’t like (money) surprises
There’s no way around it: trade shows are very expensive, especially for a one-person creative business at the beginning of your career. Before I even signed up for Licensing Expo I already knew how much money I needed from hotel, flights, banner and booth costs. I committed to Las Vegas early October 2015, exactly 9 months prior to the show. Just for comparison: Even though I had my own 6×4 feet booth and I flew across the country to Las Vegas from Washington DC, I spent less money than sharing a booth with a collective at Surtex in New York. I admit that the hotel in NY was a big part of my costs.
Little side note: Make friends with people who live in NY, and stay with them during the show, that’ll save you a lot of money.
- It’s always further than you think
It might not seem to be very important to many of you, but I think it’s necessary to mention. No matter where you stay at or walk from in Las Vegas, the distances you have to cover every day to your booth and back are huge. And there are no short cuts. Be prepared to walk a lot. I repeat: a lot. Luckily my dad came with me and helped me carry, set up and break down. Even with him it was quiet an exhausting experience.
- Don’t underestimate the power of actual human conversations
Exhibiting at a trade show is a fantastic chance for feedback. I think many of us work mostly by themselves. It’s very isolating at times (at least for me). Especially when I get stuck or I can’t move forward, I quickly become frustrated. At Licensing Expo I had wonderful conversations with other designers, exhibitors, manufacturers, and retailers. We exchanged frustrations, tactics, ideas, and possible projects. I experienced a variety of interesting views that made me realize how important it is to always consider different angles. At the show I never felt we were competing against each other, because there is a niche for all of us. I’ve only received kindness and positivity.
German artist, illustrator and surface designer Susanne Kasielke creates vintage-inspired digital collages, which combine multiple mediums and techniques. She specializes in dramatic flower portraits, ethnic inspired art, elegant geometrics, modern abstracts, and delicate illustrations.
Susanne targets the modern, self-confident woman, who pursues her dreams to live life to its fullest. Remember yesterday. Dream tomorrow. Live today. And don’t forget to laugh! Because a day without laughter is a day wasted (Charlie Chaplin).
In case there’s anything else you’d like to know about Licensing Expo, just send me an email: [email protected].
If you’re a textile designer interested in exhibiting at Licensing Expo, please check out my guest post over at ‘Pattern Observer’, where I share 6 things you should consider before signing up.