Maria Brophy


  • and make good money doing it!

    ‘Strategies for a Successful Art Business!’
business of art / Deal Making / Entrepreneur

How to make Deals with Big Companies – Catch that Whale

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“The challenge with whales is that you have to swim out to them; otherwise they don’t know you exist”

Years ago an advertising company contacted us to use Drew’s art for a promotion for Togo’s Eatery.  The company wanted to connect with Southern California Surfers.

What better guy than Drew, a surfing artist, to help them reach that goal?  They licensed Drew’s art to wrap on surf vans and bought many of Drew’s painted surfboards and hired surfers to drive the vans up and down the coast, giving out Togo’s sandwiches and Drew Brophy surf art posters.  The campaign was a huge success for Togo’s.

It was a whale of a deal for us, and it was indeed an introduction into working with companies that had a healthy advertising budget.

This year, my top business goal is to catch three whales.  In this article, I’m going to share with you the first step to creative deal-making with whales!

It’s a fact that it takes the same amount of time to complete a whale of a project (that pays extremely well) as it does to take care of a low-paying minnow.

The challenge with whales is that you have to swim out to them; otherwise they don’t know you exist.   Meanwhile, the minnows are keeping us near the shoreline in a holding pattern.

Whales are the big companies with healthy budgets, those who don’t blink an eye at your proposal if it’s something they need.  They appreciate your work and happily show up with a check.

And then there’s the plentiful minnows.   Now, don’t get me wrong here, I appreciate the minnows that have helped my business grow.  But it’s more advantageous to place efforts into deals that will earn us bigger bucks.  And some minnows are more apt to haggle on price, ask for more than they pay for, and often are high-maintenance.

And the part that many of us small-business owners overlook is this:  The whales need us!  We have talents and gifts that will benefit them, if only they knew about it.

It’s a fact that many whales end their fiscal year with money left over that should have been spent on things like sponsorships and programs.  What a tragedy!  Some of that unspent cash could have sponsored your painting tour or your special event for kids or your brilliant advertising idea.

I’m currently building my net to catch three whales this year, and one of them is going to benefit from sponsoring a Standup Paddle –n- Paint Tour we are taking across the country this summer.

The first step to making a deal with a whale is to find a whale that needs you.  Here’s how:

Grab a pen and a piece of paper, pour a cup of tea and sit down and brainstorm with these questions –

  • “Who or what will benefit from my art?”  (i.e. if you paint horse portraits, companies that sell to horse owners would benefit from your art)
  • “Who will benefit from my persona and lifestyle”  (i.e. if you are an enthusiastic rock climber, skater, harpist, fill in the blank – what companies would benefit from that lifestyle)
  • “What company shares the same core values that I do?”  (ie. if you live for environmental causes, look for companies that do, too.)
  • “What company has similar goals as I do?”  (i.e. If your goal is to teach children how to dance, team up with a company who has the same goal.)
  • “What company is trying to reach a target market that I already have reached?”  (i.e. if you are well known for something, find a company that is trying to connect with others who admire that something that you’re known for)

What you are looking for is someone who will benefit from:

  • Your art
  • You being featured in their ads
  • Your association with them
  • Your upcoming events, tours or shows

Once you come up with your list of entities, the next step is to brainstorm on what you can create with or for this company.

I’ll be writing more articles that will give examples of deals to create and how to present to the company.

I hope this encourages you to chase after a few whales this year!  Please, share in the comments any questions or thoughts you have, or additional advice on this topic.

Here’s to all of us catching the big fish we seek!


ART CREDIT: The popular “Fail Whale” image at the top of this post is illustrated by the very talented Yiying Lu.  You can see her website here: and also read an interview with her about the making of the famous Twitter Fail Whale on the Drawn blog.

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18 Comments How to make Deals with Big Companies – Catch that Whale

  1. Jennie Rosenbaum

    Hi Maria, great article thanks! I’m working towards a tuna or two, and I have a whale in my sights, but it’s really hard to scope out whales in my niche.. Do you have any advice for art with less commercial appeal (and clothes?)

  2. Lorenzo Dughi

    Good article Maria. I believe you can do it! Even though I’m a minnow, I understand how valuable goals like this are for Drew and you. I will always wish you guys the best. The benefit for the minnows is that we get mass access to the artwork at a reasonable price. Plus, you both have been great at selecting very cool products to license with! I will not ever feel taken aback if what I want takes a back seat to the bigger goals.

    I hope some day you guys get the Swatch whale!!! I wish me being Swiss could help you nab that one, but, unfortunately, it’s not that much of an in – LOL!

    1. Maria Brophy

      Lorenzo, thanks for always being there for us. Drew and I appreciate you and all that you do as a loyal friend and customer. I would never call you a minnow! And I agree, Swatch would be a very nice whale to catch. I love their products!

  3. Pingback: Violette's Creative Juice » Blog Archive » Creating Art Promo Samples

  4. stephanie corfee

    maria, i read this article with my eyes in that bugged out wide eyed holding pattern…..bc it woke me up! i will re-read it probably 18 more times. This is the most timely thing i could have read at this moment and i thank you so much for sharing! realizing that i have something unique to offer has been my achilles heel, but i KNOW this exercise will help immensely….oh, and can i get the driving up the coast giving out drew’s posters job? haha that sounds AWESOME. : )

  5. Michael Nauert

    This is a great article for preparing to find that “whale of a company”. It’s definitely true that they need us, and that’s an inspiring thought. It’d be great to read a follow up article about how to approach those whales once you’ve found them, and what to do when you approach them. Ay? Could be a good idea right? 🙂 haha.

  6. Archan Mehta


    The key is marketing. You have got to put yourself out there. You have to let people know you exist. That’s why Drew has become such a smashing success. Tell your story through PR and networking. You’ve been in this game for so long, you have an ace up your sleeve and know how to deal with people. Your target audience will be happy to do business with a pro like you. You know how to create win-win partnerships. That is the key to your iconic status today. Cheerio.

  7. Lonly wolf

    Thank you Maria for generouse information , after reading the licensing your art – I came to one incident was with me , when I showed my art works to one person in a big company , he refused all my works and explained that they signing contracts only with profesional artist (I do not hold any sertificats for art) but after about a few months I find my artwork on that company T-shirts . Could you advise me please how can I protect myself and my artworks from that ? Many thanks for help

    1. Maria Brophy

      Hey Lonely Wolf! Thanks for writing. What happened to you isn’t very common – but it does happen, particularly if it’s with someone from another country where they have a different set of business ethics than we do here.

      To help protect yourself in the future, make sure that you:
      1 – Copyright all of your images with the U.S. Copyright office
      2 – When showing your work to someone, if you are leaving them copies, make sure your printouts contain a copyright notice (i.e. Artwork (c) 2012 Lonely Wolf – All Rights Reserved)
      3 – NEVER give anyone high res images of your art without a written, signed agreement, and preferably, an advance payment up front

      So, now what should you do about the infringement? Send them a cease & desist notice. If they continue, you may choose to sue. But that can be costly – make sure your copyrights are filed first.

      Good luck!

  8. Rob Mims

    Hi Maria & I’m so glad I found your web site – Soooo informative and encouraging! I don’t have an elaborate studio so what mediums would be presentable to these whales? I’d like to design for any industry but I’d like to design for music labels (for their t-shirts, posters, CD covers…), for fashion chains like GAP, Banana Republic, & for overall attitude concepts like that T-shirt line Criss Angel wears a lot: “AFFLICTION”! I really want to get my concepts out there because I feel they would really fly very well. Please give me some pointers on this and on operating my new creativity based business. Tc
    Best regards,

  9. Rob Mims

    One more question on this topic….I see those “AFFLICTION” T’s being worn not just by Criss Angel, but I see a lot of MMA Ultimate Fighters wearing them upon entering the cage! That is a cool attitude kind of concept and design on most of those T’s. I like designing those kinds of ‘thought provoking, ‘ multi-undefinitive works; a little ‘meat on tha bone’ kind of execution if U will. What company is actually benefiting from Affliction, & could I possibly focus on them as a ‘Whale’ prospect?

    Best regards, & Have a great day!
    Rob Mims :))

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