Surtex 2015 - Under New Management

I wanted to get my thoughts down this year before I got into my follow ups from this year's Surtex show.  There was a lot of unease from veteran exhibitors regarding the change in hands from GLM to Emrald Expositions and many chose to take this year off to see how that transition went.  I can say it was, in a word, bumpy, not the show, just the lead up.  Invoicing was random and communication could have been better but you could pay by cc this year which was nice change.  From reaching out about specific promotion ideas and never responding to a very small social media presence, things felt very delayed if not dropped completely.  I know I didn't mentally engage with the fact the show was coming up because payments and webinars were so late, no fault of theirs of course but the rhythm I had been used to was just off.  I think the point of the webinars may have been lost as well and I wasn't all that impressed this year.  Even though I have exhibited in the past I have listened to all of the speakers every year and have ALWAYS picked up on good tips.  Beside the ones given by Tara Reed (who has done them for many years) I could have done without and if it WAS my first time I don't think I would have taken much away at all.  Some were aimed at Atelier exhibitors when most of the people on the calls are individual artists rather than studios and others felt like a sales pitch for all the ad-ons they offered.  I hope they spend some time thinking those through next time.  

There are some exciting changes I see, which granted, need work but the potential is there.  The biggest is a new planner tool which allows you to upload 6 art images rather than the singular rotating image previously offered in the marketplace.  I had trouble using it well and I don't think the attendees (or many exhibitors) had any idea it was available or what they should do with it but its also the first time its been used so it may take a while.  The planner allows you to create a profile of the work you do and business you are looking for and will develop "matches".  Every time you log on, you can see who has registered that fits your profile and you have the ability to email them through the system to meet with you.  I had no luck in this area but I'd be interested to hear if any other exhibitors did. There is also the ability to add booths you want to visit and create your own custom map of the show.   

Having discovered this industry more recently I am not coming from the days of large release programs and lifelong royalty checks but even in this short time, I can see that the world of licensing is changing.  Surtex is not the only way to get in touch with manufacturers, people are reaching out online, traveling to Atlanta and Vegas for Gift Mart and this year even got a little competition from a designer developed and run show called Blueprint.  Many exhibitors have felt the cost of the show is not worth the deals that they are getting specifically from exhibiting and feel the show has not done enough to get new business in the door.  All of these factors had me second guessing my decision to exhibit this year but a very dear friend said if I planned to make art licensing my full time income then Surtex was a non negotiable.  I still feel, if you are new to the industry and do not already have a steady client list that you are reaching out to in other ways, it is a worthwhile show.  It is also the easiest way to show a large quantity of work, in a short time to a receptive, interested audience AND get a read on how someone is to work with.  After all, it is about finding companies who are as good as a fit for you as you are them!  After this, my fourth show, I'm starting to realize that the companies and people that seem like a match for me are not only interested in my work but are really enjoyable to talk to and were more focused on how we might work together vs picking an image and asking for it to be sent.  It may just be a personality thing but isn't that exactly what makes relationships easy or strained?  My experience this year was that new companies are coming in, and they seemed to be a much higher quality than I have encountered prior.  I had read that they were asking companies for financialsbut maybe that was the difference?  The show felt very slow at times, the aisles were defiantly not packed but the general consensus from those I talked to, was it was a very good show.  

I know there are mixed opinions on this but the fact that the price tag was so high for artist to walk may have contributed to the show feeling a bit empier than usual.  Surtex was turning into a social event of sorts, and not that that isn't one of the very fun parts of attending the show, it is not the REASON for the show.  For the past few years, there have been packs of students and artist and it made it a bit hard to decipher potential clients from interested artist.  I do think it is very important to be able to walk the show before jumping into such a large investment but in general people do tend to walk year after year to be a "part of the show" rather than as research.  It sounds like that concern is being addressed for next year so that artists are able to come affordably.

What everyone needs to understand here, is that transitions are messy, imperfect and difficult for everyone whether its personally, professionally or in an organization.  The show still opened in time, booths were ready for banners when we got there and I don't think a single attendee would have noticed anything different.  I think they are still coming out of a restructuring but plans are already happening for next year's show.  Surtex photographers and videographers were on the floor, John Erich was walking every day checking in on things, and panels were held which included artist, design studios and Emerald employees to improve across the board.  I'm glad I took the risk; the smaller overall floor plan, slower but more qualified attendees and placement of the show (more central to entrance escalators) contributed to my most successful show yet.  Normally I don't think I'd say that, since relationships started or business discussed can take months and sometimes years to move forward but the conversations were very intentional this year so I'm excited to start in on my follow ups.  I look forward to seeing how the show improves and develops to accommodate this ever changing market.