This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
At the moment licensing like all industries is facing daily challenges and licensing companies are having to deal with challenges that no one has faced before. We are all learning. We are all adapting. The Licensing Rulebook was torn up quite a few months ago. The Licensing Playbook has also been rewritten.
The recently completed Festival of Licensing was a very welcome alternative to the ‘real’ Brand Licensing Europe (BLE) developed by Informa in response to the ongoing restrictions placed on Trade Shows by the Government because of Covid-19. Informa had to change their business and their way of doing business. They did it well. The fact that the industry got together and ‘did business’ in a new way was a good lesson for us all.
Clearly we all want to get back to a ‘live’ event in 2021 but in the meantime like all industries we have had to adapt and change. I was very encouraged by the meetings I had at the Festival and I feel that there is reason to be optimistic about new business over the next 12 months. However it will be a different 12 months and we will see different types of deals developed. I think it is essential that deals are developed in a true spirit of partnership with a willingness to work together to make the most of opportunities — in a post Zoom age I hope that that the Licensing world still sees a value in meeting, talking and sharing ideas. I think in recent years we were getting a little bit complacent and entrenched in our respective positions. These days we all occupy new positions in the Licensing landscape and I am sure most of us have had to revaluate things from this new perspective.
I expect to see more collaborative partnerships formed where different parties join forces to work together to increase their reach and pool resources. ‘Collabs’ are a bit of a buzz word in licensing and can often be quite fleeting. However with real commitment there is great potential to create momentum from working together. There is a great example of this in play at Marks & Spencer at the moment. The Natural History Museum forged a partnership with the Roald Dahl Company to create a bespoke Kidswear range which is centred on Roald Dahl animals coupled with Natural History Museum facts about the ‘real’ animals. This has been developed into a compelling design concept and has a really genuine feel about it. It is a partnership forged with a long term vision. I am sure it was one that the retailer was involved in crafting from an early stage as well. Importantly I suspect all three parties had an equal voice in the partnership – and I am sure the Licensee supplier contributed fully as well. In my own work we have just helped create a partnership between two of our clients Aardman and Julie Dodsworth around Shaun the Sheep. Julie is a well established British artisan designer well known for her floral prints and patterns. She has crafted a design palette and patterns featuring Shaun. Together we have written a roadmap of potential products, retail partners and partnerships sharing contacts, business networks and ideas. It is a feelgood partnership with great potential but one forged on trust and good communication.
I think it also the moment that Licensing needs to embrace new ways of selling and engaging with consumers. Print on demand sites, crowdfunding and subscription services are all routes to market that can open up licensing opportunities. We need to be open minded about where deals can happen.
Licensing is a network business that was has a strong entrepreneurial spirit running through it. My first bosses in licensing were David Cardwell and Richard Culley the co-founders of Copyright Promotions. They found success by finding fresh ways to bring IP alive in the commercial world. They encouraged us to nurture relationships, find new outlets for licensing and create value in the licensing process. I often think back to those days and the lessons I learnt from two of the industry’s pioneers. They have stood me in good stead in my career and particularly in recent times. We need to work together to make licensing work.