People Awards 2017: Ian Downes details Start Licensing's progressive year

Jade Burke

By Jade Burke

August 1st 2017 at 11:45AM
UPDATED August 2nd 2017 at 9:40AM
People Awards 2017: Ian Downes details Start Licensing's progressive year

After a stellar year securing new clients in the form of Rhino Rugby and the Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain, Start Licensing’s Ian Downes is looking to the future to build on existing relationships. Despite this, here he reveals why firm’s should never be complacent.

Congratulations on receiving the award! What are your thoughts on winning?

It was a genuine surprise. In part because Start Licensing won the same award in the inaugural year for the awards and partly because of the standard of competition from the other nominated companies. The licensing agency sector in the UK has grown over recent years and is a very competitive one with a range of companies doing some great work.

It was very gratifying to be recognised for our accomplishments and a real badge of honour. While we are a small team at Start Licensing, I think we pack a good punch and are a very effective business. Karen Addison has done a great sales job for Start Licensing and I would like to highlight her contribution to our success. So in summary I was surprised, delighted and honoured all within 15 seconds.

What has 2017 been like so far for you?

So far so good. As an agent I think you are looking at a number of key areas to focus on to grow and develop your business and in turn your client’s business as well. I think one area is developing new business and growing activity for your existing clients.

I think we have managed to do this across our portfolio this year – good examples include concluding a deal for Rachael Hale in the personalised product sector – a natural home for the fantastic photographs in that collection; launching a new Tango product and getting the Kendra Dandy Bouffants and Broken Hearts programme underway in the UK.

We are also building our relationship with Aardman and have secured a number of new deals across their portfolio, while also closing deals with licensing partners to help mark and celebrate Beano's 80th anniversary next year. It is good to see how the celebrations to mark such a prestigious anniversary are coming together.

Times are tough in terms of getting commitments from people for new business, but I think with a focused approach you can grow existing business as long as you build a business on firm ground rather than sand.

Are there any achievements in particular you’d like to share?

As an agent you are almost duty bound to look to add new representation to your portfolio. There is always a dilemma whether new rights will undermine and distract you from existing rights. I have always felt that you have to take this point seriously and really weigh up the role of new rights in your portfolio.

We have looked to add new things to bring balance to our business, provide us with new opportunities often in new categories and to have a strong offer in market sectors we feel are in growth or 'need' new properties. With this in mind we have been really pleased to add two new properties to our portfolio this year. The first is representing Rhino Rugby, while the other it representing the Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain in licensing.

It has also been good to get to know Wayne Hemingway and his archive collection, Land of Lost Content, more over recent months. I love Wayne's passion for design and popular culture. The Land of Lost Content is a wonderful collection and one I think that has a lot of scope in licensing. We have got some great new deals in development with Wayne and it is nice to be able to work with someone who is so passionate about their subject.

We have also just completed the second and final of two years of licensing consultancy work for Penguin Random House – this has meant being involved with some lovely brands and people looking after Ladybird Books, Flower Fairies and Matt Sewell's Birds. It has been great to see some of our deals come to fruition and contribute to their development.

Maybe we should create a New Business Day for the industry once a year and make a concerted effort to develop licensing in new ways.

 Ian Downes, Start Licensing

What are your thoughts on awards such as the Licensing.biz People Awards? Do you feel it is important to shine the light on people in the industry? 

Yes, at its heart licensing is a people business and it is good to see their achievements recognised. I am particularly pleased to see younger people and teams recognised – I think it is encouraging to see our industry investing in talent for the future and also recognising teamwork.

In recognising younger people we shouldn't undervalue experience and the value of role models. I also like to think licensing is a team business – it is about partnerships and I think there is a real value in being a team player. I think these awards shine a light on people and their achievements well.

As a licensing agent, what do you look for when taking on a new license? 

I think it is important to build a portfolio that sits well together – so one of our first measurements is do the rights fit with our portfolio and us. I think you also have to be honest to assess whether you can add value to the rights. With this in mind I try to weigh up where we would take the rights, what sort of deals and what sort of sectors. I also think as a people business a lot is about the people involved in a deal – can you work with each other well?

We also look at longevity of rights. In my view it takes at least a year to get a new representation started so we are keen to work with long-term partners and brands. We are investing a lot of time in them and they in us.

What are your thoughts on the licensing industry? What do you enjoy the most about working in this sector? 

I think it is a business that suits me and my personality, so I am glad we found each other. It really is a people business founded on a network model, you have to be willing to work in partnership with people and accept that you aren't always in control.

I think it is an industry that is still creative and wants 'good' ideas – I have my leg pulled for saying innovation too much but I will say it again – we need to make sure the industry keeps freshening things up and innovates. I think we do need some new licensees both in existing categories and some new categories. I am always looking for new business opportunities and I think as an industry this is vital. Maybe we should create a New Business Day for the industry once a year and make a concerted effort to develop licensing in new ways.

What does the future hold for Start Licensing? 

I guess more of the same, to keep trying to do more things right than wrong. Stick to our basic fundamentals and build a business by sensible decision- making. Portfolio wise I think we have a strong commercially attractive portfolio, which sits together well. You can never be complacent because as an agent the rights you represent are on loan – hopefully a long-term loan but nevertheless you have to be aware of the market and market developments.  

I expect to undertake more consultancy work. This has been a fascinating and rewarding experience for me. Recent consultancy clients have included Dinosaur Roar, the Royal Mail, the Royal Albert Hall and Penguin Random House.

Anything else you’d like to add?

I would like to thank our clients, licensors and licensees for placing their trust in us. As an agent you have to work for and with people, and I never underestimate the importance of the rights we represent and we are grateful that companies believe enough in us to grant us the right to represent them.

I also appreciate when I first set up Start Licensing a number of licensees who signed deals with us in the first few months of us opening for business. I would also like to thank Licensing.Biz for the award and creating this event. I think focusing on and recognising people is a really good thing to do. It was a great thrill to be a winner on the night.