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The story behind brand licensing stars Debra Joester and Joanne Loria of The Joester Loria Group, who are honored this month with LIMA’s Hall of Fame distinction.

April 6, 2018

8 Min Read

The story behind brand licensing stars Debra Joester and Joanne Loria of The Joester Loria Group, who are honored this month with LIMA’s Hall of Fame distinction.


Debra Joester, president and chief executive officer, The Joester Loria Group


Joanne Loria, executive vice president and chief operating officer, The Joester Loria Group

What was your reaction when you learned that you were nominated for the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers' Association's Hall of Fame?

Debra Joester: I truly felt honored when I heard the news. The past honorees are amongst my friends and mentors, so joining them in the Hall of Fame is a real delight. The fact that Joanne and I are being inducted together is also very special. We have been friends, business partners and confidants for nearly 20 years, so the opportunity to stand together and accept this recognition is that much sweeter.

Joanne Loria: To become part of such an esteemed group of people who have all played key roles in shaping this industry is such an honor and a privilege. Since the inception of the LIMA Hall of Fame nearly 25 years ago, there have only been five women before us who have received this honor.

What is it about the licensing business that hooked you from the beginning?

Joester: Building a successful licensing program is, in many ways, like putting a puzzle together. When every piece fits, the results are perfect. The opportunity to take a powerful brand, extend it with great product, find the best way to message it to consumers and find the right retail home is always an exciting challenge.

Loria: What I've always loved about licensing is the diversity. As an agent, I get to work in so many different industries from entertainment to food and beverage to waste management and everything in between. I am learning all the time, and it never gets boring. Having the opportunity to develop programs for iconic brands like Pepsi and Kellogg's and be in on the cutting edge of break-out phenomenon like South Park and Annoying Orange was and is always exciting to me.

What do you believe have been your biggest accomplishments in brand licensing?

Joester: Many of my biggest accomplishments have been grounded in a firm belief that our vision for developing and executing a licensing program was doable, even when initial response was less than enthusiastic. "Beverly Hills 90210" was the first live action teen/tween TV show licensing success on an enormous global scale; "South Park" came from what many believed was an offensive video short and went on to brilliantly skewer everything and everyone, yet the characters connected to an entire generation hungry for honest humor; Jeep's greatest successes include more than 600 apparel shops in China and other global markets, as well as top-selling luggage and strollers, all of which defied the expectations that automotive brand licensing was centered on toys, t-shirts and products for enthusiasts; and no one believed Dr. Scholl's footwear could be comfortable and stylish, yet we were able to successfully sell the collections at retailers from Saks Fifth Avenue to Walmart. Care Bears was one of my favorite programs for many reasons. Every aspect of that program, from product to marketing to retail programs and consumer promotions both in the U.S. and around the world, came together beautifully, and the results were exceptional. On a smaller scale, the World of Eric Carle featuring The Very Hungry Caterpillar is coming together in a similar fashion. Finally, working with brands like Pepsi and Kellogg's teaches me something new all the time, and it is a true privilege to work with the world's leading brands.

Loria: It starts first and foremost with the stellar clients we have secured over the years–Pepsi, Kellogg's, Jeep, South Park, Care Bears, Parents magazine, Discovery and many others. The competition is always stiff, and the caliber of some of the agencies that we compete with is impressive. So to be selected as an agent is, in itself, a big accomplishment. The work that came out of JLG on Jeep and Care Bears was truly astounding. Jeep set the bar as a lifestyle brand, and no other automotive brand has ever come close. One of my proudest accomplishments early on at JLG was the development of the successful Parents magazine licensing program, a strategic program that focused on two key areas–early learning and child safety.

How has brand licensing changed over the years?

Joester: Over the years, brand licensing has become more strategic, certainly more competitive and cluttered and, in some cases, brand owners have become more conservative. Retailers have become far more receptive to brand extensions over the past decade as they see the power these brands have to drive sales. Brand marketers have come to recognize the power of branded licensed products, events and collaborations to engage consumers, leading to a shift in their objectives for licensing. Increasingly, buzz building is the primary goal.

Loria: In the past, it was common industry practice for brands to have full, well-rounded licensing programs across multiple, meaningful product categories and distribution channels. Today, given the competitive market not only at retail but amongst agencies competing for brand representation as well, we are starting to see more and more highly strategic niche programs evolve. Brands that were at one time reticent to go full steam ahead in licensing are more open to getting started in just a few select categories. Agencies, as a result, have begun to transform their businesses to accommodate the narrow or one-off licensing opportunities.

What have been your biggest challenges in growing the business in such a competitive marketplace?

Joester: It is essential to have a plan and important to understand it takes time to build licensing programs. As an independent agency, we are fortunate to be able to work in sectors that are not directly competitive with the properties that dominate consumer share of mind and retail space. Those sectors include designers, corporate brands, personalities, food and beverage brands and much more. This business sharpens one's intuitive intelligence and ability to discern areas of opportunity that aren't always obvious.

Loria: The shift in the economy several years ago has changed the retail landscape significantly. Manufacturers, retailers and consumers have all become more cautious, and that is not going to change for the foreseeable future. Also, the competition is not only coming from other brands, but also from retailers themselves who are continually expanding their own private label brands. As an agency, what we have going for us is that we represent a diverse range of brands across multiple industries. So for example, when digital is down, food and beverage is trending. We are always challenging ourselves to find new areas of opportunity for our clients and find clients that can open up new areas of opportunities for us.

Would you do it all over again if given the chance?

Joester: Absolutely. I have had a chance to meet smart, accomplished and terrific people, made lifelong friends, done work I am proud of and still love going to work every day. I have also had a chance to give back. LIMA's work over the years with the Hole in the Wall Gang and the Children's Brain Tumor Foundation has been an inspiration, and my ability to serve on the board of Kids in Distressed Situations, and now on the board of K.I.D.S./Fashion Delivers, is something I am very proud of.

Loria: Building an agency from the ground up in an industry that I love has been such a gift. When I look back, I am so proud of the people that I have worked with over the last 20 years. So many have gone on to be successful executives in their own right and some business owners themselves. Our team today–every single one of them–is so important to me. We are an extended family, with many of us together since the very beginning. They are a huge part of what makes this all worthwhile for me.

What do you envision for the future of brand licensing and how will JLG have to change accordingly?

Joester: Brand licensing will continue to morph, as will retail and consumer shopping habits. Our motto is "bring it on," so we can immerse ourselves in the new and find ways to succeed in the now.

Loria: Collaborations with designers, celebrities and brands will increase in importance. Food and beverage brands will turn more and more to licensing to fast-track brand extensions in adjacent categories. Brand mash-ups are taking co-branding to a whole new level in a fun and unexpected way. On the retail front, Amazon is becoming a huge game changer. Change is what makes the business of licensing so dynamic. As an agency, it has never been in our DNA to stand still. Deb and I are forever challenging ourselves and our team (and they challenge us) to explore the fringes for emerging trends and find new opportunities in the mainstream by turning everything on its side to always keep a fresh perspective.

Debra Joester, president and chief executive officer, The Joester Loria Group

Joester has more than 20 years experience with strategic brand extensions, entertainment licensing, promotions and special events marketing. She continues to drive the global success of the Jeep brand and has developed the licensing strategy for some of the world's top media brands such as The Discovery Channel and Animal Planet, among others.

Joanne Loria, executive vice president and chief operating officer, The Joester Loria Group

With 20-plus years of experience in licensing and merchandising, Loria has created retail programs for Parents magazine, "South Park," PepsiCo North America brands and Kellogg's, and has grown JLG's food and beverage portfolio with brands such as Johnsonville Foods, Entenmann's and SoBe.

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