While the corporate giants of the licensing industry are always a powerhouse, it may be the independent companies that fuel business growth and promote new deals this year in the U.K.
With the economy as it is, commentators are speculating in the media about how to get it all going again. They use words like "refuel," "ignite," "inspire" and "kick-start," and they often are not talking about the slow-moving giants at the top of the industrial food chain. They are usually looking to the entrepreneurial, fresh-faced start-ups with the small but brilliant ideas that later become vital parts of the engine of the economy–the future equivalents of the U.K.'s Dyson (consumer electronics) or Aardman (animation).
These small companies need encouragement at the moment because access to capital is tough and trading conditions even tougher. But optimism usually prevails. The licensing industry is and always has been a perfect reminder of this.
Nickelodeon, for example, is preparing the latest incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a phenomenon born 20 years ago and made possible by a well-timed check delivery that enabled the comic book launch. We all know the story about the man called Keith who walked into HIT's office with a drawing of a builder named Bob; and the Japanese designer who adorned a small purse with a simple outline of a kitty. These seemingly effortless new ideas keep coming.
Brand Licensing Europe 2012 has already signed 40 new exhibitors this year, many of them small-scale creative businesses or individuals with an idea that is new to licensing. Brand Licensing Europe's License This! challenge, now in its third year, will also continue to encourage and promote new talent. Last year's finalists have all gone on to make progress in the last six months. Finalist MGA is working with Penguin on book concepts for its Marshmallow brand, and the property winner, How to... for the Domestically Inept, has signed deals for t-shirts. The previous year's finalists included TV series "Gombby" and "Bondi Band," both of which secured broadcast deals. License This! is open again now (more details at www.brandlicensing.eu) and the selection panel will be announced soon.
Brand Licensing Europe continues to innovate with new initiatives in 2013, and international participation is expected to grow still more with visitors, exhibitors and agents taking part. One of the jewels in the Brand Licensing Europe crown is its ground breaking Retail Mentoring Programme, a unique scheme that helps junior and assistant retail buyers learn more about licensing. Last year, Mothercare and Sainsbury's sent 12 mentees. This year, Tesco, Avon, Boots and John Lewis will join the retailers, with the number of participants increasing to 40. It's a very clear signal to licensors and licensees that retailers want to be more knowledgeable and engaged with the process of licensing so they can make their case for brands internally and reach well-informed decisions about which brands to support and how. Between May and October the mentees will attend special seminars, a work placement with a licensor and complete a licensing assignment specific to their work. Last year's mentees addressed issues such as the usefulness of the style guide and looked at the licensing business model. The Programme's strength lies in putting retail buyers into the heart of the licensing process so that they can learn what they need to benefit their specific roles.
"The Retail Mentoring Programme is a great opportunity for our people to get to grips with the licensing industry and give them confidence in such a huge marketplace about which licenses to choose," says Steven Bradley, buying manager, toys and nursery, Boots.
The Programme culminates at Brand Licensing Europe, Oct. 16-18, where mentees will run their own licensing meetings with brand owners. Here, as at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas, Nev., June 12-14, they will be reminded that there are many small-scale, highly creative, entrepreneurial companies eager for an opportunity, as well as the giants. Any one of these could be the next decade's equivalent of that simple feline with a bow in her hair. The trick will be in gauging which.