Billboard’s Francisco Arenas on the music mag’s bold move into merchandise

Where did this push for Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter to become fully fledged brands, complete with official product lines, come from?

Billboard has been around for 120 years and we also have The Hollywood Reporter, but they are very different brands. The Hollywood Reporter is movie-centric and skews older. Billboard is a global brand and the whole premise of licensing it was started by the media side of things. We wanted to take Billboard outside of the US and be more locally relevant outside of the US, so we launched in Latin America and we also launched Billboard Live venues in Japan. That’s how everything started.

The game changer came a year and a half ago. We thought about how we could stretch the DNA of the brand into retail and products and that was one of the main reasons I came to the company. They were looking for someone to structure this process. I joined and we put the creative vision and strategy in place.

We have a huge brand. We are the authority in the space, we have tons of heritage and we have a logo. It’s a great, fascinating product to have. We created a style guide and created two themes, both celebrating music and both boasting that boldness of colour that Billboard is all about.

We launched the first Billboard accessories collection earlier this year at CES and we are talking with lots of retailers now, so all of a sudden we’ve cracked a very crowded electronics market. There was an appetite for quality branded product and it makes sense. It was a no brainer for Billboard.

We are now expanding into soft lines, apparel and accessories. That’s where the style guide comes into it. We celebrate all music genres and so where do we start? We spoke with the editorial team, we spoke with the charts team and we gathered a lot of data relating to where music is going.

The first theme we created was a collection called ‘Sing It’ which celebrates music through editorial phrases. We are playing with phrases, there is art and colour and it’s working. It launched in Asia and we have a print on demand online store with Zazzle.

The other theme we developed is a trend we see at festivals and around EDM and dance music. We have a channel dedicated to that and we created a theme called ‘Glow’. It’s been well received around the world and we’ll launch a range of collections celebrating dance music.

As we move along, we can look at rock, country, Latin and a whole host of different music. And trends differ for each territory – the fashion and music consumed in Asia is very different to Latin America, so there is a global conversation and there is a local conversation. We have got to be a fluid brand that is constantly evolving with music. That’s what the style guide does. It allows for creativity.

We are now looking at the European market. We have signed with CPLG in Europe and IMG in Asia, so we have the right partnerships in place. Now we have the assets and the case studies, we are lifting the whole operation.

What sort of products are you looking to launch on The Hollywood Reporter side of things?

For The Hollywood Reporter, it’s more of a curation player. What right does the brand have to move into products? Billboard has more of a direct link into products – Billboard speakers and earphones make sense. Do I see a The Hollywood Reporter home collection? Yes, I see that. But it would start with us curating a line that a retailer has.

The Hollywood Reporter is a high-end brand, focusing on the Hollywood lifestyle. So we would go to a retailer and curate a signature collection ‘brought to you by The Hollywood Reporter’. That’s the vision. That’s the angle we’re taking with The Hollywood Reporter for beauty, for jewellery and probably with apparel and accessories.

Both brands also seem as if they would lend themselves to the live events space.

Yes. For Billboard, concerts and events like that are already part of our DNA.

We cover festivals, but last year we partnered with Live Nation and did the Hot 100 Festival in Jones Beach. The acts were based around the top ranking celebs on the Hot 100 charts. The festival was a great success. We had over 40,000 people come over two days with artists including Justin Bieber, The Weekend and Nicki Minaj.

We’re doing it again this year at the end of August. We want to take that idea and bring it to Asia and also Latin America.

What has the reception been like to both Billboard and The Hollywood Reporter from potential partners?

We are looking at media companies that can help us create local executions that digest all the information that we create in the US, but that also develops local content, like launching a Billboard UK for example.

As well as media partners, we are also looking at product partners and that’s where CPLG comes into it. Retailers want to know what we have done and although we are an old brand, we are very new to the licensing space. That’s a challenge but it’s also an opportunity. We have case studies now so those conversations are changing.

What other music media brand is globally known and has the authority that we have? There isn’t one. Whoever partners with us now is going to have a long term ride with us.

And how was this year’s Las Vegas Licensing Expo for you?

Last year’s show was about the vision, this year was all about how we’re executing that vision. We are entering into the second gear. Next year will be about those executions coming to life, so our booth will look very different in 2017. It’s an exciting time.

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