This article was written by Ian Downes, Director at Start Licensing Limited, for The Bugg Report.
I spent many happy childhood days at The Oval in London. The home of Surrey Cricket Club and a Test Match ground. Back in the 1970s as a youngster you could walk into the ground on the practice day before the Test Match started and mingle with the players. I did this in 1975 and met the Australian touring team of the time including legendary bowlers Lillee and Thomson plus other great players like Max Walker, Dougie Walters and Ashley Mallett. Lifetime memories. Switch to 2020 and thinking about events like cricket’s Big Bash and the soon to launch Hundred Tournament I wonder how would these guys have prospered. Well I think they would have adapted and become successful in the new formats. The lesson is adaptability. The pace of change in cricket seems to me to be matched by that in licensing. Licensing has to adapt to changing times.
I started working in licensing in the early 1990s — the licensing market is totally different now and the challenges very different. Fresh challenges are being faced in the UK whether that is retail closures and retail slowdown or finding a trading life after Brexit. It is tough to do business at the moment. But that said licensing has a lot to offer. Good IP can make a big impact in the market. In challenging times borrowing someone’s brand can be cost effective and can stretch your reach. We probably need to convey this better to the wider business community. Collectively we could all help ourselves by investing in case studies and rallying around a ‘Licensing Works’ message.
Success stories are out there. New to licensing companies like Jardinopia and Primus who specialise in garden gifts have found that licensing has opened new doors for them and brought them new customers. Primus started in licensing with Shaun the Sheep. They create garden statues. This has gone well for them and they have recently announced a new deal with the UK charity RSPB. Primus have developed a range of metal bird sculptures with the charity. They have used licensing to open new retail channels and connect with new consumers.
In tougher times it is sensible for brand owners to invest in well proven properties.
Warner Bros have done a great job in supporting and developing the Friends brand. Capable licensees such as Danilo and Half Moon Bay have created great ranges. Warner Bros have integrated the licensing programme into ‘of the moment’ activations like Friends Fest. Social media has helped IP owners manage their fan and consumer communities. Licensing needs to be more social savvy. This is a big opportunity to add value to licensing programmes. Furthermore licensing programmes shouldn’t operate in solos – there needs to be an integrated approach to business.
Licensees have woken up to opportunities outside the mainstream. They are seeking opportunities that open up new retail doors or fresh consumer engagement. Heritage licensing is a great example of this. Celebrity based licensing programmes are doing well. In my own work Bliss Home have done a great job developing a homewares programme with chef Nadiya Hussain. This has involved a lot of face to face meetings with design developed in partnership with Nadiya. For Nadiya she wants to be able to point to product she has helped developed and has an authenticity. Quick fix licensing is probably a thing of the past. There needs to be more commitment to planning, bespoke design and crucially understanding the audiences who will buy your product.
Rather like Dennis Lillee or Jeff Thomson licensing can be a gamechanger. They were gamechangers in the 1970s and no doubt they would be gamechangers now. But they would have adapted their game. Let’s hope Licensing PLC continues to adapt and change.