Industry leaders back licensing to ride out recession

Licensing.biz Executive Advisory Panel offers verdict on a tough year so far ? and advice on how to survive the second half.
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Some of the biggest names in the licensing industry have given their half time reports on 2009 – and the good news is, we seem to be winning.

The common consensus on all sides of the industry, from brand holders to retailers is that, in tough times, the licensing industry is doing better than most – but that the business must continue to change in order to prosper.

BBC Worldwide Children’s & Licensing MD Neil Ross Russell told Licensing.biz that the UK industry has been “heavily impacted” by the economic downturn and the demise of Woolworths, but added despite that, “we’re in a good place”. He said: “The brands that will ride out the storm are those that resonate with their audience.”

Melanie Beer, head of licensing and content development at HarperCollins also conceded that “the licensing industry is suffering as a result of the recession”, but also agreed that “the key to turning things around is focusing on timeless brands”.

Caroline Mickler Associates’ eponymous boss echoed that “classic brands will not necessarily be hit” and that “a short or medium term recession will not be allowed to get in the way of strategies that can run into decades”, although “one-off launches tied to short-run films or TV series might be in more danger”.

At Warner Bros Consumer Products, SVP of sales and business development EMEA, Bruno Schwobthaler struck a similar chord: “The focus on classics and big blockbusters is happening, but as an industry we are fortunate that we have those strong, classic, evergreen properties.”

Encouraging news from the frontline came courtesy of Fran Jones, entertainment product buyer at HMV. She confirmed that there is “more of a focus on key lines” and that “we are fortunate enough to see growth in our key licensed product areas despite the economic downturn”.

A bullish Stephen Gould, senior consultant at RDF Rights, argued that licensing, whilst not immune from the problem, can be part of the solution: “During economic crunch times brands need to differentiate more than ever and there is no better way of doing this than through the medium of licensing.”

One point on which all contributors agreed was that the industry needs to stay on its toes and continue adapting to conditions. “We can’t and won’t rest on our laurels”, said BBCW's Ross Russell, adding that maximising the scale of international markets, such as the US, is key to securing investment in future projects.

4Kids’ MD, Sandra Vauthier-Cellier spelt things out very clearly: “You have to accept that the world is different. Forget about what you know or did before as it might not be relevant anymore. I think it is vital for the licensing industry as a whole to realise the economic landscape has completely changed and adapt accordingly. Go back to basics and keep our approach simple so that everybody undetsrands what the consumer needs.”

Meanwhile, Mickler warned: “The boom is over and we may have to be ready to work harder and better just to stand still.”

At Start Licensing, MD Ian Downes also highlighted the economic crisis as a catalyst for positive change: “I think in some respects we have become a little complacent and this is a wake up call to think about new markets and new distribution channels. We are in a tough period, but I think a bunker or blinker mentality is ill advised.”

To read the full comments of the Executive Advisory Board, click here.

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