Susan Bolsover, head, licensing and consumer products, Penguin Ventures
When I first came to Penguin, I have to say the prospect of being responsible for some of the nation’s and the world’s, most well-loved and respected classic, literary brands seemed like a daunting task. I’d spent 10 years as an agent working on hit TV shows and big movies and now I was responsible for classic brands such as Peter Rabbit™ (Beatrix Potter celebrates her 150th birthday next year), The Snowman™ (first published in 1978 and a film that is simply part of the fabric of a British Christmas), The Flower Fairies (first published in 1923, these beautiful illustrations had adorned the bedroom of many a little girl) and Ladybird Books (celebrating its centenary this year). These were brands with real heritage, long standing legacies, legions of fans and a pedigree upheld by the world’s biggest publishing house. To look at turning these into licensing and consumer products programmes or to build on an existing business, either directly or via our agents, meant really getting to grips with the DNA of the properties and then to look how this resonated with audiences today.
A true classic can be stretched, challenged, get into unusual spaces and will need to evolve to remain relevant and appealing. However, what it mustn’t do is lose its sense of self and its roots, the set of values that make it unique. Taking things too far out of context does way more harm than good and can irreparably damage your brand. I think consumers know a cynical construct when they see one and while that’s all well and good for the new kids on the licensing block, as licensor of classic properties comes a real sense of responsibility and we take our role as guardians of the brand very seriously to ensure they will be around for at least another 100 years!
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