This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
I always feel January should be re-named trade-show – it seems the whole of the UK licensing industry is on one continuous cycle of trade-shows. It is part of the routine of licensing but it is important to challenge ourselves as to why we are attending the shows. It can be habit forming – I realised this when I handed a business card to my wife the other day!
For me trade-shows such as the London Toy Fair, Top Drawer and the Spring Fair in Birmingham are of course opportunities to meet existing partners and to gauge the mood of the market but it is increasingly important to use these markets as an opportunity to meet new partners and to spread the licensing word more widely. A key challenge for the licensing industry in the UK is finding new business opportunities both in terms of sectors and companies. It is an acutely crowded market especially when introducing new properties. Against this backdrop it was encouraging to see some positive examples of licensing being used in new ways coupled with some companies taking a new approach to developing licensing programs.
A prime example of a new approach was the launch of a fantastic toy range by toy company Golden Bear in tandem with agent Brands With Influence based on Bush Baby World. The property has been supported by online content and PR rather than conventional television exposure and the toy-line seems to have been developed with a close working partnership between toyco, agent and owner. The rulebook has been rewritten – this is a really good example of fresh thinking breaking through the market malaise that exists in regards to new properties. Bush Baby World was presented really well by Golden Bear – a comprehensive range of toys presented in a feature area on their stand with one highlight being a Selfie friendly throne for photos. A quick point here is that show exhibitors often miss the chance to amplify their show presence by engaging with social media – Golden Bear didn’t miss this opportunity and surely benefitted from the exposure their Selfie Throne generated. Nickelodeon have worked closely with toy company Spin Master to bring Paw Patrol alive and I think we will see more examples of toy companies and licensors/agents joining forces much earlier in the development cycle to maximise the reach of new properties and to ensure they are market ready.
Another good example of a new approach was closer to home for me. Working with Aardman on new feature film Early Man there has been more of an emphasise on promotions and experiential partnerships rather than a plethora of product. One highlight of this approach being a link with English Heritage which includes an Early Man trail at Stonehenge. There is a nervousness about films and licensing – the market seems to think that the movie moment goes too quickly. Acknowledging this Aardman appointed a new to licensing company Ancestors to create an Early Man product range alongside leisure plush specialist Bandai Namco.
The rationale for appointing Ancestors is that they are a specialist in supplying the heritage sector and given the subject matter of the film they were a perfect partner to supply the likes of English Heritage. Here the approach has been retail focussed with a real eye on where can products be sold efficiently and effectively. Licensing needs to be more narrowcast than broadcast. Retailers are finding it difficult to support the breadth of licenses available so new selling channels need to be found. Another good example of this is via specialist retailers such as TV shopping channel QVC.
I was also impressed by how some licensees are seeking out new licensing opportunities beyond the mainstream. Focussing on opportunities that are well suited to their products, their development capabilities and their distribution. Turning the dynamic from being reactive to what is presented to them to becoming more proactive in picking opportunities. A prime example of this is Professor Puzzle’s range of Einstein branded ‘mind challenging’ puzzles. A perfect brand for puzzles and one that has a unique appeal. Licensing needs to be more focused on the end consumer and market.
I am going cold turkey now – it has been one week without attending a trade-show. Although all is not lost – checking my diary there are a fair few ahead in March; trade-shows present a good opportunity for meeting old friends but equally it is a great way of making new friends and exploring new opportunities. Just remember not to give your wife your business card when you get home!