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Licensing Leadership Summit: How the MoMA Leverages the Classics to Innovate in Licensing

Robin Sayetta of the Museum of Modern Art shares how leading cultural institutions are implementing novel ideas to bring beloved art to the licensing world.

Historical institutions by nature, museums are often a window to the past instead of a doorway to the future. Yet, the licensing and retail work of some of the world's leading museums puts that concept on its head.

Institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art have built a genuinely innovative licensing program for some of the art world's most awe-inspiring pieces. The MoMA's ability to turn cherished works into licensed products has provided millions of consumers the chance to take home art and experience it in a wholly unique way.  

We recently spoke with Robin Sayetta, associate director, licensing and partnerships, business development, retail, MoMA, to better understand the work that cultural institutions are doing in the licensing and retail space. She touched on the opportunities inherent in omni-channel retail, the growing impact of sustainability on licensing and what MoMA looks for in a collaborator.  

Sayetta is a licensing and business development professional with years of experience developing partnerships across verticals. Her career includes work with companies such as Conde Nast, Scholastic and Discovery Channel. In 2015, she joined the MoMA team, where she oversees licensing and partnerships for the museum.

We caught up with Sayetta as she is prepping for an upcoming speaking engagement at the Licensing Leadership Summit, taking place on March 16 and 17 in New York City. Her session, “Different by Design: MoMA's Modern Approach to Museum Licensing,” will dig into how the museum has leveraged its innovation and resourcefulness to develop a successful licensing program in 2020.

License Global spoke to Sayetta about her thoughts on licensing in the heritage space and developing innovative partnerships that will drive retail through the new decade.

License Global: What are you hoping people get out of your talk at the Licensing Leadership Summit? 

Sayetta: I’m looking forward to sharing a look at how one of the world’s leading cultural institutions approaches the business of licensing. I think people are coming to the conference in search of new ideas and will be interested to hear about how we have infused innovation and creativity into our approach.

We’ll talk about how close collaboration with the museum’s curatorial team and retail channels support the growth of global product and retail store licensing initiatives.  I’ll also touch on the challenges inherent in building a commercial enterprise within a non-profit environment and how a test and learn process can help solve complexities related to branding and intellectual property.

What has been the biggest change you’ve seen in the licensing and retail business over the last five years?

Omni-channel retail is continuing to evolve. People want the convenience of online shopping and at the same time, they are seeking unique experiences within retail store environments. 

MoMA Design Store’s e-commerce site continues to grow, and we find that people are excited to visit our stores both at the museum and globally because it connects them to MoMA. For a consumer who lives in Japan or Hong Kong, for example, they may not have the opportunity to visit MoMA on a regular basis. When they visit our stores, pop-up shops and shop-in-shops in those markets, they can find products that were inspired by MoMA’s collection and reviewed by the museum’s curators.

The omni-channel environment means that it’s important to take a diversified approach.  MoMA’s licensing model involves both product and retail store licensing. We license the MoMA identity and works of art in MoMA’s collection to manufacturers and we license the MoMA Design Store business model. Retail store licensing gives us the opportunity to expand on our successful U.S. store model worldwide. Product licensing allows us to work with best-in-class partners who are experts at reaching consumers in a particular category or distribution channel.  We look for opportunities to pop up at key moments and we seek long-term alliances like our Uniqlo partnership.

What is the biggest trend or industry disruption that you see on the horizon that not enough people are talking about?

Sustainability and responsible practices will play a critical role in how we approach product development and the process of reaching consumers. It’s important to challenge ourselves and our partners to think and act in this way for the good of our future. This is a topic we are discussing with all of our partners and we are seeking new ways to put these ideas into practice.

If you could go back in time, what piece of advice would you give yourself at the start of your career?

Don’t be afraid to admit you don’t know something. Ask questions. Licensing is always about learning new things. I’ve overseen app development in the early days of smart phones, furniture making and textile development in collaboration with famous designers and at MoMA I work with respected curators in the process of adapting masterworks of art to a variety of products. I’ve had to constantly learn new things and one of them is that successful people ask a lot of questions.

What have been the biggest changes in heritage licensing over the last many years?

Creativity, newness and innovation are always relevant and we find that interest to work with MoMA is greater than ever. One of our biggest challenges is to find partnerships that answer the question we always start with: “Why MoMA?”  We want to create products and services that align with MoMA’s core values and that amount to more than simply art on product.  It’s always a challenge and it involves a lot of collaboration and strategy.

Learn More

To hear more from Sayetta and other licensing thought leaders, register to attend this year’s Licensing Leadership Summit, taking place on March 16 and 17, 2020, in New York City, New York. The re-imagined executive-level conference and networking event will present a comprehensive program that covers industry-focused topics shaping the licensing world.

The Licensing Leadership Summit is organized by the Global Licensing Group at Informa Markets, the organization behind leading trade shows Licensing Expo, Brand Licensing Europe, Licensing Expo China and Licensing Expo Japan, as well as License Global.

Sponsors of Licensing Leadership Summit 2020 include JPatton, an industry leader in providing innovative, customized solutions that combine patented brand-protection products and services with unrivaled consumer engagement opportunities; Dependable Solutions, Inc., which delivers the latest financial management and creative approval systems and services to agents, licensors and licensees by experienced specialists who have licensing, creative and royalty backgrounds; Trevco, which helps materialize the brand vision of more than 800-plus licensed brands through the manufacturing and sales of licensed consumer products with a focus on apparel and accessories; and Future State Brands, a global consumer goods and marketing company with a mission to lead cannabis from the black market to the supermarket.

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