Rob Corney on developing hit brands, winning awards and 10 years of Bulldog Licensing success

Robert Hutchins

By Robert Hutchins

April 13th 2017 at 2:48PM
UPDATED April 18th 2017 at 11:44AM
Rob Corney on developing hit brands, winning awards and 10 years of Bulldog Licensing success

With a string of industry leading properties in the portfolio, a cabinet full of awards and what looks like proficiency in tree felling to its name, the last year has been a 'phenomenal one' for Bulldog Licensing. MD, Rob Corney talks to Licensing.biz about the secrets to success and that runaway girls' brand, Shopkins.

It’s been a big past 12 months for Bulldog, what have been the biggest successes for you guys?

It’s been a phenomenal twelve months for us and I’m constantly amazed by the team’s capacity to deliver consistently to such a high standard.

Working on Shopkins and developing it into the UK’s biggest girls’ property has been an incredible achievement, whilst delivering a strong programme for the EA suite of games across Europe has been a great project. We’re hugely excited by the opportunity behind Miraculous which is now the hot new hero property on the market, and of course celebrating ten years in business with the people who have supported us throughout was a wonderful experience.

It has been a real privilege to see the hard work of the whole team recognised right across the industry with the Licensing.biz Peoples’ Awards, a Licensing Award and, more recently the Team of the Year award from Tesco.

You’re celebrating your 10th anniversary this year, how have you seen the licensing industry evolve over that time?

There have been enormous changes in the industry over recent years, many of them following the trend that began c. 15 years ago and precursored the formation of Bulldog.

It was becoming evident that licensing was no longer a linear business with a Licensor sitting at one end, a retailer at the other and a licensee holding each at arms length – it was becoming triangular and it seemed obvious to me that a ‘retail first’ approach was necessary.

To be effective in licensing, it was rapidly becoming clear that agencies needed to be lean and able to react quickly to the demands of all of the stakeholders – only by cutting through the bureaucracy created by the sheer scale of the old guard in the licensing industry could this dynamic approach be created.

The revolution in the agency model since the formation of Bulldog has been rapid and effective… although Bulldog has grown to become the biggest of the small agencies in the UK now, we remain small in comparison with the larger agencies and therefore better able to effect the needs of our licensees, licensors and retailers.

We have the scale to deliver industry-leading programmes for some of the biggest brands in licensing, but do not carry the unnecessary weight and cumbersomeness associated with huge overheads. Whilst the large agencies have spent so much time over the past decade introspectively reorganising, trying to work out how to compete with the rapid reaction capacity of agencies such as Bulldog, we have been able simply to deliver.

How do you keep at the forefront of the industry over the ten year history, how will you continue to do so over the next ten?

Hard work and an adherence to strong business ethics… there is no silver bullet.

We enter every negotiation with a view that all parties should benefit from every transaction – and that’s simply good practice. My dad was a senior figure in the insurance industry… I was only eleven when he retired but will never forget him saying that, 'no matter what course your life takes, you should be determined that, on your retirement, there should be nobody you’ve ever dealt with who could say they had not been dealt with fairly.'

That simple practice drives everything we have ever done and everything we ever will do. Our reputation for delivering against all manner of brands is the single biggest advert we have, but reputations are fragile things and need to be handled with great care.

What can we expect to see from you guys this year and beyond?

The Bulldog portfolio is truly staggering… to be managing the biggest girls’ brand in the business, which is still showing growth, is incredible and I think there are big things ahead for Shopkins.

We’ve been a little quiet on the boys’ side for a while so I’m delighted that we’re bringing Zak Storm to the industry – it’s just launched on Pop and is an amazing creative feat from our friends at Zag who are the team behind Miraculous which also has an incredible future.

Garfield will be turning 40 in 2018 and we’re already seeing some strong interest in building a broader programme for our porcine feline, while Angry Birds continues to hold strong appeal across a wide audience of gaming fans.

The EA licensing programme looks set to grow strongly as we develop new opportunities among the studios under their control and Bullseye continues to deliver strong sales for our licensees, something I expect to see grow over the next twelve months.

You’ve picked up a number of awards over the last year, including a handful at the Licensing.biz People Awards, what did the win mean to you guys?

My goal in creating Bulldog was simple – to be the best agency in the world… to measure that is very challenging, but of course to be recognised by the industry is a great yardstick towards that aim.

The industry has a number of different types of awards, but to win three People Awards across the team was a really special moment, particularly so as these are voted on by our peers in the industry – that validation of the way we work was a great testament.

Of all things I was especially proud of the Agency of the Year award – the team at Bulldog work incredibly hard and all share the same values, driving business to the benefit of all stakeholders… to see that recognised was a special moment indeed.

What advice can you offer those starting out in the industry, what’s the secret to Bulldog’s success?

The licensing world is a small community of incredibly dedicated people… everything you invest into it will be repaid many times over. It is an industry which requires hard work and an inclusive approach – as with most things in life, it’s a team game!