THE BIG INTERVIEW: Maurizio Distefano, General Manager, WBCP Italy, agent markets

We talk about developments and plans for the Eastern European territory.
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Warner Bros Consumer Products operates in Eastern Europe through its agency, the European Licensing Company (ELC), a relationship that began in 2005. So while Eastern Europe is an emerging market for many, it’s already something of an established one for Warner Bros.

ELC has strong links throughout the territory with four offices in Bucharest, Budapest, Warsaw and Moscow, giving it a wide coverage of the 400 million+ population.

Maurizio Distefano, general manager, WBCP Italy, agent markets, explains the firm’s strategy in the growing territory: “For Warner Bros, Eastern Europe is a very promising territory. We already generate high revenues in Hungary and have a very strong working relationship with ELC who have been named Warner Bros’ Agent of the Year for the third consecutive year.

“This is testament not only to how powerful and effective the agency is but also the potential of the territories they are dealing with – the Eastern European territories - which are extremely perceptive to licensing and really seem to understand the commercial potential of the industry.”

The Eastern European market is an attractive one for licensors, with its large population and its enthusiasm and receptiveness to licensing. As such, many licensees in the area are growing rapidly and have ambitions to be best in class in terms of product development.

Distefano furthers: “We are very proud and happy with the outcome of our relationship with ELC so far. They are doing a great job in the region and we are happy but we are never satisfied. As you can imagine, we have big plans for further growth in the emerging markets and we’re strategically working with partners with local know-how who can help us achieve our goals.”

“We’re very ambitious for what can be achieved and we have clearly outlined that we want to double our revenues coming from Eastern Europe in the next three years. We believe ELC is doing a great job, thanks to the four offices and the support and resource that their teams provide and also all the great new content coming through from Warner Bros over the next three years we strongly believe that these targets can be met “

The new content starts this year with movie releases including Green Lantern, Happy Feet 2 and Harry Potter, the eighth and final instalment.

Following this, a Batman movie is set for release next summer (2012) and a Superman movie will hit screens in December 2012, in time for Christmas.

There is also the Hobbit, the prequel to the Lord of the Rings movies, with two instalments, one released in 2012 and the next in 2013.

As well as movie content, WBCP has a raft of new material in the animation portfolio. There is the Looney Tunes show, a new series which has 26 fresh episodes, 30 minutes each, with new animation, new environments and newly designed characters.

The show will premiere on Cartoon Network later this year in the US and will land into European territories any time between the end of this year and the year 2012.

Distefano adds: “More new animation is coming from Scooby Doo, which continues to be popular in established markets like the UK, France and Italy but is also a leading property in Eastern Europe for Warner Bros.

“It is number one in Poland and Hungary, so there is a great legacy for the property in these countries. The new animation has 52 new episodes, so that will fuel brand awareness and brand visibility with the brand new content.”

Batman: The Brave and the Bold will also have up to 65 new episodes. Some of them are available already and others are still to come during the remaining part of the year.

Finally on a rather different thread, WBCP will manage all licensing programmes for UEFA’s Euro 2012 as exclusive worldwide licensing representative, hosted by Poland/Ukraine. The deal incorporates helping to fund the event by signing new licensees and creating the event mascots, Slavek and Slavko. This represents the third consecutive tournament that WBCP has worked with UEFA on the Euro licensing programme.

Distefano concludes: “So we have a really strong offering that will be used in the marketplace and with broadcasters on board to further widen awareness of the brand. So lots of new content, lots of great new products supported by strong retail activations and that is why I feel confident that this team of people, can deliver more and double the revenues in the next three years.”

In terms of product development, ELC works closely with licensees and retailers in the market and is working with Cora, Ocean, Tesco in Poland, and many more on promotional activity.

A recent example of this activity was a back to school campaign, taking place in Hungary’s Cora hypermarkets. The campaign ran from August to September last year and features a wide range of merchandise, including toys and back to school products like stationery and apparel.

Strong in-store marketing communications included POS materials, stands and banners and this was backed up by a web-based promotional campaign.

Across the Eastern European market, WBCP and ELC have formed strong relationships with key licensees across the portfolio of brands, with some unusual products included. Looney Tunes is represented by Cactus Clone for apparel, Demastil for homeware, MSI for plastic accessories and Cardex for gift wrap. The brand is also featured on a range of detergents from V-contact.

Tom and Jerry is also growing, with Glo Story, Mikro Trading for Plush, Vajda Papir for Tissues, party drinks from Vitapress and again, detergents.

Although Scooby-Doo is number one in a number of the Eastern European countries, Tom and Jerry are also well-loved.

Distefano explains: “Tom and Jerry enjoy great popularity in Poland and Hungary, but also in Russia. I think this is thanks to the fact that the Tom and Jerry animation does not require any dubbing or translation, so it’s a truly universal property.”

“The attractiveness of Tom and Jerry is the way they interact with each other, which is comedic, slapstick mimicking and child’s play - internationally, worldwide recognised ways of communication and humour.”

Batman also works with Cactus Clone for apparel, Ars Una for back to school, Demastil for homewares, Character Group for toys, Naturtex and Cactus clone for bedding. Finally, the Scooby Doo brand is represented by Demastil and Cardex and a food licensee.

Alongside detergents, one of the less obvious licensees signed up in the market, was Tatra Banka in Slovakia. The bank signed an agreement for a debit card, powered by Visa, to feature Tweety.

Unusual, maybe, but the support given to the product gave the brand unprecedented visibility. The huge launch campaign included posters, moving posters on buses and trams, POP materials and TV advertising.

Distefano says: “The target audience is young kids and it’s very impressive that a serious institution like a bank – in order to hit their target audience – teamed up with Warner Bros via ELC to promote the debit card.”

He continues: “The plan is to roll out the same approach to other banks throughout the region. It’s a booming market, the debit card for kids, as a way for parents to control what their kids are spending.”

So it seems that between ELC, WBCP and a portfolio of strong existing and upcoming brands, the firm is set to further capture and grow revenues in the Eastern European region, taking both a traditional and more unusual licensing path.

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