As each year roles on, the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas Nevada becomes more innovative and provides a greater opportunity for the global licensing community to meet. The Bugg Report took some time out recently to interview Jessica Blue, who is now the Vice President of the annual Licensing Expo. Jessica is responsible for delivering on the platform that is the pinnacle for showcasing brands to a global audience.
Jessica, running global events is never easy. I understand that you were also responsible for Brand Licensing Europe (BLE) in London for several years? What was the most important thing that you took away from that event?
I ran BLE for eight years and learned so much in that time about the licensing industry and the logistics of producing a global event. I had been in the expo business for eight years prior to that, but the world of licensing was completely new to me. I think the most important lesson I learned is that listening to the market is crucial to the success of a show. For example, it was clear back in 2005 that a Screening Suite was essential to bring the studios back into the show, so we delivered it, and it continues to be one of the key elements of BLE.
The European market and the US market are very different. What stands out in your mind as the most defining component that differentiates the two events?
Yes, the markets are different and so are the shows. If you look at the exhibitor crossover between shows, there are only 80 companies that exhibit at both. This leaves around 120 at BLE and more than 300 at Licensing Expo that are unique to their events. I think this demonstrates that though there is a core of mainly entertainment and agent exhibitors that are the same, there is so much that is different. Licensing Expo has a significant number of pop culture brands whereas BLE has several traditional British heritage brands that you don’t see at Licensing Expo. The attendee audience is also very different with very little crossover.
I believe that you were able to triple the size of the BLE show, during the time that you were running it. What was the most important strategy that you employed to encourage the growth?
We focused on two main areas. Building retail attendance and encouraging more mainland Europeans to attend. To my previous point about listening to the market, these were the areas that were important to our exhibitors. We launched new initiatives to encourage retailers and Europeans to attend, including Retail Mentoring Programs, VIP lounges, matchmaking services and hosted buyer programs. Many of the initiatives that we launched in 2006 are still being used today. I strongly believed that if we listened to what our exhibitors wanted and built the right attendance, we would grow the show floor too, and that’s exactly what happened.
I get the feeling that since the Vegas show moved from New York it has gradually gained momentum and acceptance. How do you compare the two venues?
Our exhibitors and attendees like the campus feel of Mandalay Bay. It’s a very different environment than we had in New York. In Vegas you can meet a potential customer or business partner in an elevator, at the bar or in the line at Starbucks and that can turn into the deal that will change your business forever. Our attendees tend to stay longer in Vegas and we know that the attendees that come are serious about licensing and are there to do business.
Now that the show is all under one roof, does this allow you to offer more to your audience and does it allow for a more cohesive delivery of your service?
We definitely have more flexibility. There are numerous show features that are only feet away from one another, including: Opening Keynote by Jeffrey Katzenberg, “The Big Interview” with Nicole Richie, Licensing University which hosts 26 seminars, the All-Industry Opening Night Party. Also in close proximity are multiple networking features and resource centres, including: the Motorsports Café, the Retailer Lounge, Sourcing & Production Zone Seminars, the Art & Design Resource Centre and the China Pavilion. Having these features under one roof makes it easier for brand owners to connect with the attendees, develop business relationships and ultimately make important business deals.
I have noticed over the past 2 to 3 years that the show floor has become much more organised. The introduction of precincts for Entertainment, Art, Sport, Character etc., has provided better direction. What sorts of feedback have you received on this initiative?
Since we have merchandised the show floor into the five different categories: Art & Design, Brands & Agents, Character & Entertainment, Fashion & Lifestyle and Sourcing & Production, attendees and exhibitors have reported great feedback. Attendees are able to navigate the floor and find exhibiting brands much easier, as well as search the show floor by business category, allowing them to discover a new brand to license.
What will we see as the most obvious change to the show this year?
You won’t be able to miss the new Motorsports Café in the Brands and Agents section. It is a 5,000 square feet feature dedicated to motorsports licensing opportunities and sponsored by global energy company Shell. A few exhibitors in the Motorsports Café include Race Motorsports Marketing and Hot Import Nights. Exhibitors and attendees can meet with professional race car drivers, including: Larry Dixon & BJ Baldwin. While we have a tradition of bringing in unforgettable speakers for our keynote presentations, and it’s not really a change to the show, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this year’s presenters. Jeffrey Katzenberg, CEO and co-founder of DreamWorks Animation, will deliver the Opening Keynote address the morning of June 17, and Nicole Richie, fashion icon and founder and creative director of House of Harlow 1960 will present “The Big Interview” in the afternoon.
What impact has social media had on your plans?
LinkedIn is really valuable for understanding your audience and what matters to them. We are able to listen to real-time feedback both prior to and during the show. That free flow of dialogue on any aspect of the show can have a significant impact on our operations and how we plan for next year. Additionally, and I think this is fun, we are able to build an incredible buzz around the excitement of Licensing Expo from our show attendees who are sharing photos, Tweets and commentary through their own social media channels. For example, last year HBO brought the iconic Iron Throne from its hit TV series “Game of Thrones.” Attendees at the show were able to have their photo taken on the throne and share it through social media. There was a line at the photo booth all three days and those images were shared far beyond just Licensing Expo.
And finally, where do you see the show in 3 years time? What will be the most obvious innovation from your point of view?
The entertainment business is changing and so is the way people access content. This will bring a host of new content creators and related companies into the show in the future, as everyone from YouTube celebrities to bloggers look to extend their brands. With the proliferation of channels available on the web, companies are forming to act as aggregators, empowering digital content creators and connecting brands with creators. We have a panel taking place Thursday, June 20, that will discuss what this means for the licensing industry. We are already a very global show with one-third of our attendees coming from outside the U.S., but I also anticipate a significant increase in the number of international pavilions in the future. We have a 2,500 square foot China Pavilion this year and there has been a lot of interest in the brands that will be represented there. The Japan Pavilion and Korean Pavilion are double the size of last year and we are hosting a delegation of 60 licensees and retailers from Beijing.