Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Creative Factor @ Javits

Richard Levy and I once again accepted the TIA invitation to be on its Creative Factor program, the opening day of New York Toy Fair, Sunday 2-12. We had to compete with whiz-bang toys, engrossing games, inflatable novelties, and assorted costumed creatures. Unlike past duo performances, we were split into separate one hour sessions of lively talk and Q and A. Our goal was to give the type of helpful information we scribed into our orginal book,  The Toy and Game Inventors Handbook*.   At our respective sessions, it was gratifying to see a full house of inventors, marketers, lawyers who had traversed the lower bowels of the Javits' corridors to reach us.

This year's topic was contract negotiations. We presented from perspectives established for the Handbook of Mr. Outside (RCL) and Mr. Inside (ROW). Those perspectives we each gained from our thirty plus years of licensing and developing  toy and game product.

Richard spun his always entertaining, anecdotal experiences bookended by Starbird in the past to the just announced return of Furby in 2012  There is little to contest in his 10 steps to negotiating licensing agreements. This wisdom has guided him through a myriad of successes enjoyed throughout his career. So everyone listened up!

Here are Richard's 10 Commandments to contract negotiation he shared with an overarching statement that "at the end of the day, deal-making is about relationships, not transactions".

1.  Negotiate yourself. No one will do it better than you and no one has more to gain or lose. It is advisable to have a lawyer as your backup before you ink your signature.
2.  Only use lawyers experienced with toy industry contracts.
3. Two plus two is never four. Exceptions always outnumber rules.
4.  Never fear to negotiate. Never negotiate out of fear.
5.  If it ain't on the stage, it ain't on the stage. Confirm every conversation with a memorandum to avoid misunderstandings.
6. Keep agreements short and to the point. The length of the contract is inversely proportional to the amount of business.
7.  Do not accept standard contracts. Treat boilerplate terms as variable. Nothing is as temporary as that which is called permanent.
8.  When in doubt, ask. Asking dumb questions is easier than correcting dumb mistakes.
9.  Thou shalt not committee. Any simple problem can be made insoluble if enough people discuss it.
10.  Have fun. The moment a negotiation feels uncomfortable, I pick up my marbles and go home.

My workshop detailed the paper trail inventors encounter showing a new idea. It all begins with a record of the initial meeting with a company rep.

•  The Tip: Don't show a lot, focus on the best and make it a WOW! event. What acquisitions rep can leave a WOW at the gate?  And once the concept goes internal, it will live or die on its own merits and the enthusiasm of a product champion to fit the concept into the company's marketing plan.

•  The Tip: A company's internal process often needs at least 30-45 days for a concept to be stamped as viable; longer than that, Go for the Option! 
Mr. Inside continued on detailing the POT (post option time) to K (code letter for Contract). The talk walked through the business points essential in a K without a focus on all the legalese that shrouds contractual terms and conditions and creates ump-teen page licensee contracts. (The Toy and Game Handbook covers this topic in Chapter 9, Molding the Deal.)

Richard and I enjoy the opportunity to share what we can with inventors. Good that the TIA and the Creative Factor gave us the forum to do that. As we see it, the more inventors know about the business side to complement their creative side, the better prepared they will be to get fair and equitable terms.

Last we saw of our audience, they were rushing to the Javits' aisles, hopefully better prepared to join the fray!

*We are now working on an updated edition which will soon be in e-book form. Watch for news of its release when available on this blog.


  1. From a manufacturer’s perspective, this is helpful and fair information to assist new inventors with so they understand what is reasonable. Thanks for writing it.

  2. Ron,

    Another informative blog. Richard was right. In this case with the two of you being there together, 1 (Mr. Inside) + 1 (Mr. Outside) = 3 (benefit for all).

    Thanks. Keep the insight coming.


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