Bulldog Licensing may not be the biggest agency in the world, but it doesn’t want to be.
The firm is now being pitched bigger brands than ever before.
Today it’s working with brand owners, licensees and retailers on the likes of hit app brand Plants vs Zombies, comic icon Garfield and even Dreamworks movies such as Turbo.
And it’s all down to its focused approach across a tight portfolio, which allows it to excel with a few select brands rather than averagely managing too many at once.
“We've never had ambitions for a big head count, only for being the best in what we do,” MD Rob Corney (pictured, below) tells Licensing.biz.
“As licensing firms grow, the head count inevitably grows. As a result, the number of brands grows as you have to cover the cost of the headcount. Then you have to bring in more junior people to manage the sheer workload. It's kind of an ever-decreasing spiral and I think the industry is recognising this about licensing agencies.
“Before, smaller agencies were only getting pitched small brands and the larger firms were getting the bigger ones. I think the absolute opposite is true today.
“I think the future of this industry will see larger licensors, like the Disneys and Warners of the world, only get bigger. Conversely, I think licensing agencies will probably be smaller.
“There's a recognition that smaller agencies with fewer brands give greater space for a brand's growth.”
ALL GOOD THINGS…
So what makes Bulldog a successful smaller agency?
Corney started the firm in 2007, after working at ITV and 4Kids. This gave him an overview of how to do business. Not only that, but during his time at those companies, he spotted a valuable trend.
“You speak to a licensee and a retailer and they often say the process with an agent is too slow, it can take months to sort out the paperwork and approvals,” he explains. “And that's partly why I set up Bulldog six years ago.
“The main driving factor for me was trying to iron out a lot of those problems and to be a bit easier to work with. To keep the communication flow open. Not to take on masses of brands but to do the brands we have very well.”
It does this using its formal review approach for new acquisitions, which helps it filter the hundreds of brands it gets pitched every year.
Bulldog has 37 questions it asks every different brand that comes in, starting with the arguably the most important: ‘What is it’?
“It sounds obvious, but the amount of brands we get that say they're a TV series, but haven't even been made yet... a lot are actually just concepts that don't have funding,” comments Corney.
“We're very happy to look at concepts at all stages of development, but the starting point for consideration must be a complete understanding of the current stage of development, not the future potential.
“Consumer dynamics are really important to this market and it's something often overlooked by the industry. You have to understand the product, price point, consumer and retailer. If you don't have answers to those four points, you don't have a concept that's going to make it to market.”
Corney also believes that in these tough economic times, brands need to offer that extra special something. Retail needs strong brands – and it needs to spot them early.
“The market is in a tough place right now. Retail is pulling back on product. They're not selling as many units as they were,” Corney adds.
“If you roll the clock back ten years, small agencies would have had a real problem today. I think we have a strong opportunity.
“There's got to be a change at retail where four or five major retailers all supporting the same brands in the same product categories isn't the future. Retailers who recognise emerging brands will win.
"Emerging brands will win by attracting new footfall in-store… they need the safety net of carrying the 'sure-fire hits' in depth, but it is spotting the emerging trends and acting on them early that will drive interest and point of difference.
"It is precisely the wrong time to be cutting back on the number of brands in store when consumers need to be seeing greater diversity on offer."
It’s the age of the app. And the general consensus is, if you’re a brand owner, you must have an app. If your original app is popular, why haven’t you extended it into other consumer product categories? After all, look at the success of Angry Birds.
But should the licensing industry be so fixated by apps? Is it really that simple to produce apps like Angry Birds?
Adds Corney: “Everybody says they want an app brand. Why?
“We want great brands, regardless of their medium of delivery. Great brands with great reach should be viewed in no different way. Some apps that have launched haven't set the world on fire, but they wouldn't have done if they were game shows or quiz shows.
“Angry Birds is a big brand even without apps. It’s an amazing achievement. I'm positive about it. But not because it's an app. Angry Birds is a strong brand – it doesn't matter that it's an app.
“It has scalability, great design, characterisation and massive reach. It just happens to use the mobile platform to achieve its reach, but it could have succeeded in any media.”
Bulldog has helped many brands succeed in a whole host of categories, signing deals such as Benchmark on board with LIFE bags, A4T producing Plants vs Zombies game accessories and a classic Garfield plush making a comeback, courtesy of Aurora World.
The firm says working on brands like Sindy and Garfield “has been a dream”, and Corney talked up the exciting plans ahead for both of these.
“There's such massive support for Sindy as a brand we've been delighted by the response we've had,” he explains. “The girls dolls market is notoriously difficult but the brand values of Sindy have never gone away.
“I'm also delighted by Garfield and we've been blown away by the brand's growth over the past year. He's up over 340 per cent year on year which is incredible.
“One of the unusual things about Garfield is in most territories he's a kids' brands, but in the UK he's a classic brand, whilst also remaining strong with kids.
“The viewing figures on Boomerang are staggering and that gives us an opportunity to grow areas like stationery, apparel, back pack stationery and novelty toys. There's a large area for growth potential for Garfield.
"A lot of our activity this year is about communicating to retail buyers so they're aware there's a strong opportunity for kids, too."
It might be a small agency, but it's these strong opportunities that make Bulldog such an increasingly appealing choice for more and more of the bigger brand owners.
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