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Illustrating good management

When Anna Goodson started out as an agent to photographers and illustrators, 'Everybody blew me off.' Now, client contracts exceed $2 million annually


Monday, November 10, 2003

Anna Goodson places her clients' work in everything from Rolling Stone magazine to books and ad campaigns. Despite her success, Goodson, with dog Phoebe, wants to stay small, remaining a "boutique firm."

Busting out from the corporate world to start her own venture, Anna Goodson decided to keep her business plan simple: pay the rent. There was a good reason for her strategy. She had no clients.

"I didn't even go to the bathroom without my cell because I couldn't afford to miss a call," Goodson said of her first few years, made of up cold calling and bringing home soup from her parents' cupboards.

Today, Anna Goodson Management Inc. represents photographers and illustrators worldwide, placing their work in everything from Rolling Stone magazine and the L.A. Times to books and ad campaigns. Goodson has spun what she learned at the family printing company into a thriving business that more than covers the rent.

Goodson, 38, still works from a home office, but these days it's a pretty upscale one in a Nuns' Island townhouse. She takes advantage of doing most of her work remotely, dressing down in jeans and low-cut boots and taking off at lunch for a bike ride. Momentos of Goodson's late father, Jack, who taught her the ropes of the business world, are everywhere in her office, from snapshots to his old golf clubs.

"He was a tough but smooth negotiator," Goodson said of Jack, who worked in the family printing and design business, Victoria Press Ltd., started in 1922. (Grandmother Goodson was an early career woman: she handled sales for Victoria Press.)

Jack later reinvented himself as a broker specializing in the hotel business, working with graphic designers and printers to provide everything from menus to brochures.

Goodson started her business career while still in high school, answering the phone, filing and licking stamps for her father. She later did stints in sales and marketing and worked her way up to head of print production. At 23, Goodson decided it was time to go her own way. She landed a job as an assistant with a small advertising and promotional agency in Montreal. "I didn't have any formal education in the field, but I knew sales and I knew production," Goodson said. (She has a bachelor of fine arts with a specialty in drama for educational purposes.)

Bored with the job after a few months, Goodson offered to try to bring in new clients. She pitched to anyone who would listen, from dry cleaners to a lingerie company, landed new business, and moved up to account executive.

After five years, Goodson moved on to an agency representing photographers, trying to land them contracts with publications and ad agencies. In 1996, Goodson branched out on her own, starting Anna Goodson Management from her apartment. Her plan was to be an agent for photographers and illustrators, earning money through commissions on their contracts when she found them work.

She bought a black and white computer with her credit card, borrowed money from a friend for a car and cashed in Canada Savings Bonds to cover the rent.

Then she started calling.

"Everybody blew me off," Goodson said of her first attempts to find clients. But slowly, artists agreed to work with her and Goodson managed to get them gigs with ad agencies, newspapers, magazines and book publishers. After five years, the business took off. Today, contracts for clients, from which she deducts her commissions, exceed $2 million annually. Goodson has nine photographers and 21 illustrators in her stable. While the photographers are based in major Canadian cities, the illustrators are all over, from Montreal to Argentina; computers make this possible.

New York and Maclean's magazines, the Globe and Mail, Cossette Communications - Goodson places her clients' work with major publications and advertising and marketing agencies. That reach has opened doors for more than one artist. Montreal illustrator Nathalie Dion admits she was struggling before hooking up with Goodson four years ago. "It's almost a full-time job to get work," Dion said. "As an artist, I prefer that someone else does the business part of things, like negotiation. "Before, I was just in Quebec and didn't really dare to go into other markets, but now, I do a lot of work outside," said Dion, whose work will grace the cover of the L.A. Times magazine this month.

Despite her success - artists now ask her to represent them - Goodson said she doesn't want to get much bigger. "I want to be a boutique firm," she said. "It's important for the client to have direct contact with us."

For Tanya Watt, art director of Flare, a Canadian fashion magazine, that contact is key to her relationship with Goodson. "Even if she's in a different city, she really believes in customer service, which is a lost art these days," said Watt, who deals with Goodson's illustrators on a regular basis.

But even with plans to stay small, Goodson has brought help on board: two full-time employees and one part-timer assist with administration, accounting, negotiation, client service and marketing. "I was afraid to have employees," Goodson admitted, one of her few admissions of doubt in an otherwise formidably confident exterior. "My father wasn't a great example. He ordered people around. I feared I'd be like that."

Goodson said she's tried to take the best of his example, like getting everything in writing and being a tenacious negotiator, and tossed the rest. And while Goodson now has the luxury of turning down clients, she's always open to hearing from unknown artists. "I'm so open to taking a chance on young people because no one gave me a chance," she said.

On the Net: Anna Goodson Management Inc.:

Copyright 2003 Montreal Gazette