By Marcus Leach

A London-based artist management agency has transformed itself from a small, UK-focused business into a global concern, with help from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Bright Group International, founded by entrepreneur Vicki Willden-Lebrecht in 2003, represents a wide range of writers, animators and illustrators, matching them with publishers who specialise in children’s publishing.

Since working with UKTI’s London International Trade Team (part-financed by the European Union), Bright has opened offices in the USA and expanded rapidly into Australia and Korea. The firm has taken on five new members of staff, signed up over 40 new artists and increased turnover by 50 per cent.

Bright is like other UK companies in having had difficulty finding new growth opportunities in the sluggish domestic market. However, Vicki set her sights on the global marketplace.

“I had never considered being the first global illustration agency, but this is now very much my priority. Historically, art management agencies have been territory-led and tend to specialise in their territory of origin. It’s not unusual for an artist to instruct different agencies across different markets and products. I could see the opportunities to take our artists’ work to a wider, global audience. There is so much more opportunity elsewhere.”

Vicki acknowledges being in the right place at the right time. Studying during the dot-com boom, she developed the first website-based illustration agency and has continued to be a leader, looking to optimise the site to work across a number of languages.

“Our competitors set up long before the Internet was invented and were slower to use it. I decided to embrace the world as if it was a village. If an artist was based in Japan it made no difference to me, as long as they could email samples and post a contract. This allowed me to bridge the gaps in overseas representation,” Vicki explained.

After gradually developing its business in the US, Bright opened an office in New York in 2010. However, the depth of the US recession made Vicki re-evaluate her business.

“We just had to bide our time and play it safe. But, we actually grew three-fold in the recession,” she added.

Having guided her business through the downturn, and undertaken significant software development work in-house to develop a business platform that allowed the company to sign and bill business in the US, Vicki saw the opportunity to roll out in other markets.

“I looked at the business and realised we had an opportunity — we were so advanced. We were already working with America, we had the software and had done a lot of the legwork,” she said.

“I found the Korean market really hard work. I had to have a translator and just found it really frustrating, so I abandoned the idea”

After a chance meeting with UKTI London International Trade Adviser Sarah Todd, Vicki found the advice and support she needed to reconsider the Korean market and to develop an international business plan for Bright.

“Sarah and I discussed Bright’s activity in the US and our challenges with Korea. When she explained the support available through UKTI’s London team and international network, I was initially sceptical. Eventually, the penny dropped and I realised that UKTI want me to do well. I started to see Bright’s role in the bigger picture: we’re all supporting growth.

“I found Sarah impartial, helpful and genuinely interested in what we were doing. She helped us to evaluate market opportunities and develop a solid international growth plan. Since then we’ve employed five new people and grown in other territories.

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