The BLE Blog

The lowdown: LIMA’s Licensing Essentials

Sam Phillips gives us the lowdown on last week’s LIMA Licensing Essentials course which covered future trends, taking risks and Star Trek pizza cutters… 

LIMA’s Licensing Essentials is the studious precursor to the annual Spring Fling knees up. It’s a first rate day, stuffed full of the sort of shamelessly detailed nitty-gritty you have to get to grips with in this industry. This year’s course, held on the day of the general election, was opened by LIMA’s very own Kelvyn Gardner in uncharacteristically sombre jacket but complete with his favourite example of the Star Trek pizza cutter and a warm congratulation to everyone learning about licensing.

The morning’s presentations attempted to define the industry and its important concepts, ground rules and terminology. It was lovely to hear Charlie Donaldson talking about Rocket Licensing, the agency he set up in 2007, about what it’s like never to know what will be the next big thing and the magic of working with a brand when it really flies (Dangerous Book for Boys, in this case). He emphasised the patience and time it takes to bring great licensed products to market – the first of many speakers to talk about this.

Tim Kilby from Character World strayed into corporate sales territory but it’s so brilliant to hear an expert licensee talk in fine detail about process, sourcing, relationship building and contracts that no-one minded. He described the need for a mix of caution and hunch (One Direction, for example, signed while still in the X Factor) when choosing brands and offered great insight into retail segmentation. He pondered whether Frozen has been the biggest licensing programme the industry had ever seen and stressed the importance of face to face work in licensing. In fact, by the coffee break you’d have been forgiven for thinking it all parties in this industry. Kelvyn called it ‘great fun’, Charlie called it ‘a team game’ and Tim said it was a ‘very sociable business’.

Disney’s Mike Stagg (an FMCG man, by the way) raised the presentation bar with a Disney sizzle that oozed the magic. He talked about the importance of keeping the C in CP and illustrated this with the single product example of backpacks, showing how the category could be segmented by, for example, life stage, price, function, retailer and many others, using the good, better, best model. It was a very effective and helpful masterclass. Such an approach, he said, presents endless opportunity and can be the basis for a more co-ordinated category approach at retail. Sadly he couldn’t hang around after the presentation as I’m sure half the people in the room would have liked a moment with him.

GfK’s Max Templeman is tops when it comes to making research findings interesting. And he offers out the sort of soundbites that can make you sound super knowledgeable in meetings. GfK measures sales of 350 different product categories totalling £36.1m (a third of which is spent in Q4, by the way) from heaps of different retailers. Here’s a soundbite: attitudes towards spending are at their highest in the UK for ten years. And another: the surprising news is that DIY is the biggest category (and with this weather!) There was an astonishing uplift in sales around Black Friday last year at the expense of Boxing Day. Tablet sales are in decline, as are Sat Nav sales, but Kettles and Docking Speakers are in growth. Turntables, Media Gateways and Go Pro cameras really flew during 2014. But all this information is more than soundbite fodder – there are real opportunities in identifying growth categories and understanding your market. He broke the worst news to us last and gently – the bakeware category is levelling.

After lunch came the heavy stuff: the law and finance that underpin the sociability and the consumer insight driven product in our marvellous licensing business. Henna Riaz from 360 Audit said 100% of their audits find some level of underpayment (yikes) and took us through some audit hotspots – discounting, net sales, and over and under reporting. Wiggin’s Gurminder Panasar is a real master at making the law clear, approachable and pragmatic. He also gave us a quick overview of the Rhianna v Top Shop case settled in the star’s favour in January this year. Nothing about fun and team games there.

In his unique style, Gary Pope talked about licensing, retail and kids, offering up insight and scientific learning relating to the mind of a child, from the licensing perspective. Dave Collins from Powerstation Studios had compelling visual prompts to demonstrate the importance of styling and drive home the opportunity in good design. It wrapped a course that started with “what is licensing” and moved through “how does it work” and finished with “how we make it better” all in a short space of time. ‘It’s a bit daunting,’ I heard one delegate say into her tea cup. But so is every business at the beginning. Hooray that this one is also ever-changing and, of course, highly sociable. At this point I had to flee to a date with First Great Western, the sound of prosecco corks popping behind me as I went. I’ve no doubt it was a fantastic evening ahead.

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