Head2Head: Neil Ross Russell and Alan Fenwick

The bosses of BBC Worldwide and Turner CN Enterprises quiz each other.
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Want to know what happens when you ask two high profile licensing industry bosses to interview each other? Turns out they swap US immigration stories. Samantha Loveday listens in on Neil Ross Russell, MD of Children's Global Brands and Licensed Consumer Products at BBC Worldwide, and Turner CN Enterprises' VP EMEA, Alan Fenwick...

Neil Ross Russell:
You’ve experienced phenomenal growth over the past couple of years. What are you going to do to ensure this continues?

Alan Fenwick: Wow, the multi million dollar question right from the start… trying to boil down our 360 approach to growth is not easy, but, simply, it would be distribution, portfolio and commercial models. Distribution is ensuring we have the right exposure across pay and free-to-air channels that complement our core pay channels; portfolio is expanding into new areas such as nursery, as well as adding complementary brands to the Turner library; and finally it’s developing new commercial models to reward product innovation and success. Can I ask if you feel your business is being forced to change due to the political climate and new government coalition?

NRR: Our focus is always to drive the maximum value to the BBC and, ultimately, the licence fee payer. So, while the political climate provides a colourful and ever changing backdrop to what we do, our focus remains the same.

AF: And how about internationally? Do you see the pace accelerating there?

NRR: The plans are going very nicely. Brands like Lonely Planet, In the Night Garden, Top Gear, Charlie & Lola and Teletubbies are providing us with opportunities everywhere from Shenzhen to San Francisco. We’re putting the building blocks in place at present to have the right infrastructure to be able to develop the opportunities. I know that you guys are very strong in digital, what’s the biggest challenge of engaging with children in that space?

AF: The biggest challenge is keeping our digital proposition fresh while trying to keep ahead of the curve. Thankfully we have a fantastic team in both digital and research which ensures we understand the changing needs of our fans, as well as developers who produce great digital solutions from games to content to new experiences. Speaking of new experiences, are you looking into third party representation?

NRR: Definitely. Our strength is derived from the fact that retailers in the UK know that their customers know and love our brands. The ultimate goal is a portfolio with no gaps or overlaps, with brands that appeal to each customer of each major retailer in every major market. I mean, you’re best known for boys brands, like Ben 10. Would you say that expanding into the girls sector is a priority?

AF: I wouldn’t say it’s our highest priority given our strength in boys, but I agree that it’s important that our portfolio has the right balance. Girls are circa 50 per cent of the licensing business, so it strikes me that we couldn’t deliver the growth we have planned if we didn’t have a girls proposition in there. You seem pretty confident in your portfolio, how are you planning to show it at BLE? I heard about your new stand and screening room, does this change the way you want to use the show to communicate to the trade?

NRR: Yes, I think BLE should be about making new contacts and developing new business opportunities. We are in constant dialogue with our existing partners – as you obviously are too – and don’t need to discuss ongoing business with them on a bustling exhibition floor. The new stand has been developed to showcase the key brands and the new initiatives around them to inspire and encourage new partners into the family. Alan, if you could change one decision that you have ever made, what would it be?

AF: Well, speaking of family, from a personal aspect it would be all those times I stayed late at work and didn’t get home to spend time with them. Professionally, it would be properties I passed on that have gone on to be successful for obvious reasons.

NRR: And have any?

AF: Thankfully none, as yet, have become huge hits!

NRR: Can we be less serious now? In a supermarket sweep, what would be the top three products you would want to grab?

AF: In the best fantasy supermarket in the world, my first grab would be an iPad, the second an Aston Martin DB9 and third would be a passport that never got me stopped and interviewed by Homeland Security every time I travel to the US. Unlike my current – and new – passport which seems to enjoy hitting alarms whenever I travel Stateside. But then, you know all about US immigration, don’t you Neil…?

NRR: I’ve learned the hard way; an hour in the holding bay at McCarran International in Las Vegas with the prospect of interrogation is not my idea of fun. My advice to anyone listening is, do not get your passport stolen.

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