"They’re also about helping to bring adults into a property, characters or storyline. Reading, especially for pre-schoolers, is an immensely social learning experience: who doesn’t treasure a memory of snuggling up with their mum or dad with a book? Which parent doesn’t love story time at the end of the day? Most of the really successful children’s characters are such because they resonate with both adults and children.”
David Riley, director of Egmont Publishing, is a man who should know how publishing works in the business of brand building.
The firm boasts a number of accolades including Scandinavia’s leading media group; the Kids Media division is Europe’s largest children’s publisher and the group sells stories through books, magazines, film, TV, music, games and mobile in an impressive 30 countries, employs over 7,000 staff and reported revenue of E1.5 billion in 2008.
Riley continues: “Any brand owner who wishes to build a children’s property needs to establish these foundations with adults and children alike. Without these foundations you may have a fad, but you’ve probably not got a brand.”
Egmont is the UK’s top specialist children’s publisher with three divisions selling more than 25 million books and 12 million magazines each year: Egmont Magazines, Egmont Press (fiction and picture books) and Egmont Publishing (the UK’s number 1 for licensed character books).
The structure of the group is unique in that the Egmont Group is owned by the Egmont Foundation, a charity whose aim is to bring lasting improvement to the lives of young people.
In the UK, the magazine and book businesses have developed over the past 50 years through a series of mergers and acquisitions, uniting under the current structure in 2005. The Egmont UK group of companies includes Egmont USA, launched in 2007 and joint-venture Hardie Grant Egmont in Australia.
Like many companies, The Egmont Group’s first licence was with Disney for the Donald Duck comic, first published in Denmark in 1949. In the UK, own brand magazines including Roy of the Rovers and Battle were launched in the 1950s and subsequent years and the first third party licence, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was signed in 1989.
Over the years, Egmont has picked up the majority of the best-known children’s properties. In books, the Mr Men & Little Miss property was acquired by World International (an Egmont company) in 1990. Thomas, Tintin and classic Winnie the Pooh came with the acquisition of Reed Children’s Books in 1998.
When asked what has been the most successful licence to date for the company, Riley commented: “A really difficult question – but Thomas & Friends and the Mr Men & Little Miss have been consistently strong for the last ten years.”
He continued: “If I had to define the ingredients for success I think I’d say it’s partly about the brand and partly about the brand owner and the consistency of our vision. A new brand needs to be compatible with our corporate ethos, but then I’d be looking for quality of writing, plot, characterisation and production.
“A good broadcast platform usually helps, with a broad appeal across a variety of ages, consumer and customer segments. Finally, I’m also looking to see if the property has legs: publishing is a slow business and if I think a brand won’t be around for long there’s little point in jumping in too deeply.“
And it would seem that this is what Egmont has found in its latest licensing deals with the group acquisition of rights to Waybuloo, which launches later this year. Also new to the stable is the David Beckham Academy, which is about to launch and Guess with Jess which publishes in 2010.
The addition of Brand Beckham signifies the growth of the older children’s properties along with Roy of the Rovers; and of course waiting in the wings is our very own Mr Gum. The bulk of Egmont’s portfolio is in pre-school characters, and it would be fair to say that traditionally this has been its homeland – but more recently it has branched out and also offers Ben 10, Tintin, the High School Musical and Hannah Montana annuals and a number of adult/child cross-over properties and titles.
Across the brands, there is a range of strong marketing hooks in 2009. Riley explains: “We are excited about the publication of the much anticipated sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, in October.
he PR launch in January generated a great deal of interest from the national media, and we are planning a concerted marketing campaign around the publication date which includes TV advertising, consumer ad placement and an outdoor campaign of bus shelters and telephone boxes across the UK.”
The firm will also be promoting Waybuloo, which publishes in September. This campaign has an interactive element, which will use online and direct to consumer marketing through email campaigns and direct mail pieces.
Riley continues: “2009 is also a special year for some of our other established brands. Barbie is celebrating her 50th birthday, Bob the Builder is 10 and Tintin reaches 80 this year. Each milestone will be supported with retail and consumer marketing activity, and with PR events.”
With this strong portfolio of brands backed by a comprehensive marketing campaign, it’s easy to see why 2008 was a strong year for the licensed character book business. Riley enthuses: “We had seven out of the top 20 best-selling annuals, including numbers one, three and five. The company also increased its share of the character book market to 45 per cent by volume, and of the annuals market to 41 per cent by volume.
Riley concludes: “Like everyone else we saw a softening of the market in December but we still came out significantly ahead of 2007.”
Going forward, despite a declining economic environment, the firm is confident for the year ahead. Rob McMenemy, managing director, Egmont UK has the final word:
“Egmont UK has had a strong 2008 and we have our best ever publishing programme in 2009. It’s been a positive start to the year for us but in extraordinary economic times such as these, every business has to be prudent, plan ahead and keep a close eye on costs.
“Our publishing programme has started well with the publication of Mr Funny’s Red Nose Day which raised over £100,000 for Comic Relief, the publication of fiction title Gone which has been widely praised by reviewers and retailers alike, the launch of our Classic Comics series which kicked off with a souvenir issue of Roy of the Rovers and we’re excited about the publication of the official sequel to the Winnie the Pooh books, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood.
“While trading conditions are undoubtedly tough, as a business we’re using all our expertise in the children’s market to make careful decisions but also make sure that we are still innovating. Obviously all the signals are that it’ll continue to be a tough year but, historically, children’s and pre-school have been relatively well-protected and have held up well.”