A Return to Doing Business IRL

Wikipedia defines the acronym IRL as a popular term on the Internet to describe events, people, activities, and interactions occurring offline, or otherwise not primarily through the medium of the Internet.

This article was originally published by License Global and was written by Steven Ekstract, Managing Director, Global Licensing Advisors.

Steven Ekstract

Steven Ekstract is an internationally renowned brand collaborations/media industry executive. Ekstract launched Global Licensing Advisors in September 2020, A unique, global, independent Advisory service for companies seeking direction for brand collaborations. Global Licensing Advisors assists companies in understanding the critical process of brand collaborations and extensions as a marketing tool, and advises them on the best direction for these programs, enabling them to make informed, strategic decisions that creates long term value for their brand/s.

The return of Brand Licensing Europe in London is the first in a return to IRL trade fairs for our Licensing Business since 2019. As a live event, it proves that the demand for in person gatherings, albeit with safety protocols, is as strong as it was pre-Pandemic. After 20 months, we are finally beginning to get a handle on managing the COVID-19 Pandemic, with nearly half the world’s population having received at least one vaccine dose. As of this writing, there has been more than 6.7 billion doses of vaccine administered worldwide. While there has been a vast disparity in vaccine access between rich and poor nations, that imbalance is improving as vaccine production steadily increases. Considering it has only been 11 months since the vaccines were approved for emergency use, the progress we have made is remarkable. The science has proven that vaccines and PPE are effective at controlling transmission of COVID-19 and assisting us to get back to IRL. For visitors to Brand Licensing Europe, the organizers, Global Licensing Group and its sponsor, the International Trade Association, Licensing International, have focused their efforts on the safety of attendees and exhibitors as of the most paramount importance. All visitors to Brand Licensing Europe will need to show proof of vaccination status before entering the venue, ensuring that attendees and exhibitors alike are all vaccinated. After close to two years of Pandemic induced social distancing and doing business online, The UK Licensing Community has seen two major IRL gatherings in the months preceding Brand Licensing Europe. In September, they celebrated with the Annual Licensing Awards & Gala with hundreds of the UK Licensing industry in attendance. Last month, a smaller IRL Awards gathering took place in London as well, for the Brand Licensing community. The UK licensing community is leading the way in a return to IRL business gatherings.

Together as an industry, we now have the massive task to sort through so many of the economic disruptions that have negatively impacted the business of product licensing.

Steven Ekstract

Back together again

Together as an industry, we now have the massive task to sort through so many of the economic disruptions that have negatively impacted the business of product licensing. It’s my belief that in person trade events and conferences will allow us to get business back on track faster and more efficiently. The last 20 months of the Pandemic significantly accelerated a digitally disrupted marketplace and shifted so much of our business activities to virtual. As a result, many pundits believe that shift is now permanent for how business and consumers operate. My viewpoint is that there are aspects of digital transformations that will be permanent, such as the convenience for consumers of shopping through e-commerce as well as the flexibility for working remotely, which rewards workers with a better work life balance and employers with happier workers and significantly lower turnover.

Above: Brand Licensing Europe at Excel London BLE in 2019. BLE is the only pan-European event dedicated to licensing and brand extension, bringing together retailers, licensees and manufacturers for three days of deal-making, networking and trend spotting. BLE is a must-attend event for businesses looking to discover and secure deals with the most sought-after brands, characters and images available for licensing.

On the flip side, the human need for social contact, always a hallmark of the in person dealmaking licensing business, shows signs of increasing life. While The UK Licensing business has brought back its Trade Fair and Awards, the U.S. has seen several small bi-coastal licensing networking events, with more to come. Understanding the licensing business is crucial to why IRL matters. The concept of licensing intellectual property (IP) effectively lies in mastering the psychology of marketing… that a brand’s emotional connection to consumers allows for extending that into tangible new categories that consumers will embrace. Successful brand extensions succeed based on three key factors which are: (1) The Consumer sees the product or service as a natural extension of the brand, (2) The products or services fill a need for the consumers and (3) Both Licensor and Licensee have developed a symbiotic relationship through the highest level of trust. For the Licensor, entrusting brands to a potential licensee partner requires developing a relationship of trust. For a licensee, in depth knowledge of the brands values and the consumers that embrace them, leads to success. Whether it is in person meetings at Trade Fairs, Licensing Summits or in office get-togethers, the licensing ecosystem functions best IRL.

Whether it is in person meetings at Trade Fairs, Licensing Summits or in office get-togethers, the licensing ecosystem functions best IRL.

Steven Ekstract

Brands shine during the Pandemic

If there is one lesson long time licensing executives know well it is that during a global crisis, consumers will turn towards known and trusted brands, paying more for the reassurance these brands provide. In my two decades in the Licensing business, I have experienced four major economic crises that impacted our global licensing market. The Dot-Com boom and bust of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, 9/11 in 2001, The Great Recession of 2007-2009 and the COVID-19 Pandemic. During each of these periods of economic disruption, well known and trusted brands saw significantly increased consumer demand and enabled the licensing business to grow ever greater.

As we get back to IRL. I’ll leave you with a quote from the famed New York Yankees legend Yogi Bara — “It’s like déjà vu all over again”.

New York Yankees Legend Yogi Bara

This column appeared in the November edition of License Global magazine — www.licenseglobal.com