Hachette's Hilary Murray Hill on plans to develop the Enid Blyton brand

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

September 9th 2015 at 10:10AM
UPDATED September 11th 2015 at 10:31AM
Hachette's Hilary Murray Hill on plans to develop the Enid Blyton brand

Hachette CEO Hilary Murray Hill explains brand will launch a stationery line this autumn and is looking to build a full range of products across a broad array of categories.

Can you give us a brief history of the Enid Blyton brand?

Enid Blyton first appeared in print in 1917, almost 100 years ago, and has sold over 500 million books worldwide. She published over 600 stories in her lifetime, writing up to 13,000 words per day – an extraordinary output – on her manual typewriter, which she balanced precariously on her knees!

She was an astute businesswoman, and was acutely aware of the importance of brand recognition and connecting with her young fans. Enid was the first author to use her signature on her book covers, and she approved all the artwork created for her books.

She was absolutely devoted to her fans – from the 1950s The Famous Five had a fan club with over 100,000 members. There was a wealth of Famous Five merchandise produced at that time, including card games, puzzles, stationery and gifts.

How did Hachette come to buy the estate from Chorion back in 2012?

Hodder (part of Hachette UK) were the original publishers of The Famous Five, and we had been publishing Enid Blyton for over 70 years.

Buying the estate seemed the logical next step in our long association with Enid’s work. There is a huge amount of untapped licensing potential in the Blyton estate, and this gave us the opportunity to look for underexploited areas and build the brand afresh.

We are getting a very enthusiastic response from the industry as we begin to bring the brand to market with our agent Brands with Influence. (Aside from Noddy, which was purchased separately by Classic Media and is now a part of Dreamworks.)

What can we expect to see publishing wise going forward?

An Enid Blyton book is sold every minute in the UK, and we find that parents and grandparents are keen to share their love of Blyton with the next generation.

In 2015 we have new Blyton publishing every month – new covers, illustrated editions, gift books, compilations, an annual, a quiz book, and box sets. The Holiday Stories, a new compilation of summer-themed stories, published last month and debuted in the top ten children’s bestseller list.

We offer a wide range of price points and products, and we are constantly creating innovative formats to reach new readers. 

In 2016, we will publish new editions of The Famous Five books 11 to 15, with brand new covers by some of the UK’s top illustrators. The Secret Island, Enid Blyton’s first full-length adventure novel, will be back in print, and we will release colour readers for The Secret Seven, with fantastic illustrations by Tony Ross.

You've appointed Brands with Influence to develop the licensing programme. How is this progressing so far?

We appointed BWI because they demonstrated a very clear understanding of the brand and had concrete plans to implement their licensing strategy. We have been impressed with what has been achieved so far, although we are at a relatively early stage.

We have a number of commercial opportunities on the table, across multiple categories, and will soon be announcing these to the trade. This autumn, there will be a soft launch with a beautiful stationery line coming to retail. This will include a linen notebook, postcards, thank you notes and invitations. We will follow this with a broader CP launch in 2016 and 2017.

Which particular books will you be focusing on?

Our initial focus will be on The Famous Five, for which there is huge nostalgia and affection.  We will look to expand our offering across additional series and titles in the long term.

Are there any categories in particular you would like to see the brand move into?

Our strategy is to build a full range of products across a broad array of categories, but we will be focusing initially on a core set of categories including stationery, bags, homewares, gifting, apparel and toys and games. We also see a great opportunity in the outdoor product area, given how much of the brand essence centres on outdoor adventure, exploration and group gatherings.

We are currently discussing picnic necessities such as hampers, blankets and flasks.

What kind of audiences are you targeting with the product?

There are two key audiences.

The primary one is adults (parents and grandparents) who grew up reading Enid Blyton, became fans of her books and are now looking to relive childhood memories through branded merchandise.

The secondary audience is children who continue, in their millions, to read Enid’s hugely appealing stories.

What kind of reaction have you received from retail so far?

Although it’s still early days, there has been a strong positive reaction from retailers across the board, from independents through to multiples and department stores.

Are there any other ways that you are planning to extend the brand?

Partnerships are key in our brand strategy for Enid Blyton. Last year, we partnered with McDonald’s to bring The Secret Seven to children across the UK and Ireland, with more than 13 million books being distributed in Happy Meal boxes over the month of May. This was accompanied by a major TV advertising campaign. 

It was a huge success for both partners, and it was fantastic to be able to get Enid Blyton, who was a huge advocate for children’s literacy, into the hands of so many children.

This year, we have run an Enid Blyton’s Summer of Adventure campaign, linking up with partners including the National Trust, Center Parcs and Go Ape.

Can you talk a bit more about the planned film for The Magic Faraway Tree?

We are very excited about the film deal with Sam Mendes’ company Neal Street Productions. They are still in the early stages of development, but things are going extremely well and we can’t wait to see what they come up with.

What are the biggest challenges when developing a licensing programme for such a classic brand with so much heritage? 

The heart of The Famous Five, what it stands for, its essential quality and its key attributes are front of mind when we work with licensees to develop merchandise. We are leading the creative look and feel with the very recognisable book artwork created by Eileen Soper.

These covers and inside artworks are the cornerstone of our nostalgia programme. The overall challenge is to keep true to the core values of the brand while also maintaining a contemporary feel that appeals to modern audiences.

Can you tell us about any promotional initiatives with Enid Blyton?

Absolutely. The Summer of Adventure campaign was designed to engage children and families. The campaign culminated in a celebration of Enid’s birthday with the National Trust at Corfe Castle on 11th August.

We partnered with Center Parcs to provide content for a number of activities including tips on how to build a hideout den and how to create an adventure short story. The Woodland Trust put together recommendations of the best woods in the UK to visit through the summer.  Our partnership with the National Trust also included The Famous Five’s top picks from their celebrated 50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 ¾ list, competition prizes and events at National Trust properties.

Other partners included Go Ape, with great tips on getting the best out of your days out, Kids’ Kitchen, which shared a number of easy-to-do delicious recipes and The Adventure Company, which imparted great advice on how to take the best pictures as a really effective way to record adventures.

The campaign was supported by a website (www.enidblyton.co.uk/adventureday) featuring competitions including great prizes from the National Trust, updates on special events, adventurous ideas and much more. Fans were encouraged to share their adventures throughout the summer with #BlytonSummer on Facebook (www.facebook.com/enidblytonclub) and Twitter (@EnidBlytonClub).  A very special Which Famous Five Are You? quiz was also been created for Facebook.

What would you most like to have achieved with the brand in the licensing space by the end of 2015?

I would like us to have agreed our product range in the outdoor area, ready for summer 2016.

And looking at the longer-term?

We plan to have laid the foundations for the long-term success of the brand licensing programme. We are not defined by a broadcast schedule or a film release window. The strong heritage of the brand and the robust ongoing book sales put us in a strong position to establish the brand as an evergreen.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

The Enid Blyton brand has extraordinary potential, millions of loyal fans and is embraced by every generation. This is a very exciting time for everyone who is privileged to work with these unique books.