Start Licensing was established in September 2003 by Ian Downes. Like many in working licensing, Downes started in the publishing industry and “stumbled” into the business.
The Start Licensing director explains: “My first exposure was when I was asked by my company to find a ‘property’ that could be used to create a football magazine. At that point none of us knew what a license was or what licensing was about.”
After that, Downes took a job at CPLG before moving on to Fox Kids. After building up his experience Downes then had the impulse to go it alone.
Downes says: “My main objective was to develop a licensing agency that worked in a focused fashion, with an emphasis on developing good quality licensed products in an innovative way and working with the rights holders in a bespoke way.”
Fast forward to 2012 and Start Licensing’s portfolio includes the likes of The Beano, Bananaman, Dennis & Gnasher, Britvic, Jacqueline Wilson and Unilever.
Many of those brands have a quintessentially cheeky British style. What attracted Downes to these properties, and what it about them that consumers identify with?
“Our first client was DC Thomson for The Beano, Dennis & Gnasher, Bash Street Kids, Desperate Dan and Bananaman," says Downes.
“Given The Beano is a British classic I think others noticed this and that has helped create some momentum in this sphere. Licensing skills can be applied in a number of sectors equally as you develop a ‘toolkit’ but I think it is important to have some kind of connection to the property you work on - I like to work with properties that you can explore new opportunities with, have some freedom with the creativity and also that have a readymade audience.”
He continues: “Furthermore I decided early on to focus most of my business on the UK market. I think we know this market well and have a great network. I think consumers identify with properties that have a clear identity, a real uniqueness and ones that have a slight quirkiness to them – they have a real affinity for them. From a licensing point of view it has hard to replicate them and so they have a real commercial value.”
Key partners for Start Licensing include Wild & Wolf, Hype, Gibson’s, Truffleshuffle, Blues, Smiffy’s, GB Eye, Danilo, Hallmark, Blueprint, Rainbow Productions and Kinnerton.
“We have enjoyed working with Wild & Wolf on their Beano range of stationery and giftware. Their use of classic Beano Comic Art has prompted a lot of positive remarks from our competitors and other licensees – it is always nice to hear praise in the industry. I think this has created a buzz around comic art and a recognition of the cultural appeal of The Beano. We have been able to build on this.”
Following a successful food products partnership with Britvic, Downes believes his company is “well placed and qualified to talk to more food and drink brand owners.
“We would be keen to explore more opportunities here. We have also taken on the representation of Monty Bojangles’ own brand. We are quite pleased with our current portfolio and feel it is important to only add things when you can do a good job for the rights holder and not take away from the portfolio you already have.”
Start Licensing’s tagline is 'a results orientated agency', but what does this mean?
Downes explains: “In licensing we try to have clear objectives for our clients and licensees – we are happy to be measured against a plan and try to be accountable. It is a two way process and we hope our partners contribute to it but I think you only succeed if you get results.
“Having first started my career in a media buying agency where I bought TV advertising campaigns I have always felt that there needs to be some measurement of ‘success’. When you bought a TV spot in the 1980s you had to wait a week to see if your judgement was right – did the right people watch the show and see your advert but you were judged on this basis.”
See what Start Licensing has to offer at Brand Licensing Europe booth FO40.