In these unprecedented times for the global community, it’s nice to keep connected – and for an industry as reliant on peer to peer networking as the licensing business, maintaining those connections with our industry colleagues is paramount. That’ why Licensing.biz is kicking off a new series of interviews to get to know a bit more about the people driving it forward.
Continuing our Licensing Chatter interview series, we catch up with the founder of Riverside Brands and Licensing.biz Power 50 alumni, Ashley Holman
Hello Ashley, hope you’re staying safe and well! to kick us off, can you tell us how you got into the licensing business?
I’m one of the few people that actively looked to get into licensing from the outset. While studying for a degree in Marketing at university I was introduced to a number of people by my father in all sorts of industries from Banking to Specialist Ship Insurance Brokering. One introduction was to David Scott from Rainbow Productions who invited me for a beer with Ian Downes from Start Licensing and himself one half term…
They gave me an overview of the industry, the different roles that existed and how it all fitted together as an industry. Following a visit to Brand Licensing Show Europe in 2003 as a visitor I was amazed at the scale of the industry and the size of the commerce but at the same time the fun nature of the subject matter …….(including the Roy Lowe & Son boys walking around in Elvis suits for good measure).
I then knew that it was licensing over insurance for me… Following my graduation, I then managed to secure a role selling advertising into the industry with LicensingPages which gave me a great network and experience before a stint at Coolabi in my first licensing role. From there I moved to Nickelodeon where I had various licensing roles over a 12 year period before setting up Riverside Brand at the end of 2018.
That must have given quite a varied perspective of the industry – what have been the biggest changes you’ve seen in the space over that time?
I’ve spent most of my career in the kids’ space of the industry and the main shift there has been the sheer level of competition. Previously for kids content, consumer products was seen as the icing on the cake commercially but now with so many shows, so many different platforms, CP is a core revenue driving element to a kids IP from the outset.
More day to day in the workflow; retail is now the first element to onboard, with licensees then much more likely to partner once they know there is demand. This is in contrast to around 2005 to 2007, when it was a much more licensee first approach.
What then Ashley, has been the proudest moment of your career to date?
The day I got the Companies House registration certificate for Riverside Brands Limited. Setting up my own business is something I have wanted to do since the very first moment I started my career and I came very close a number of times over the years in doing it, however to have finally taken the plunge and received the industry support that I have been lucky enough to have been afforded has been incredible and I am truly thankful.
Have you got a favourite licensing deal/partnership on the CV – what makes it stand out for you?
Tough one to answer this as I have been fortunate to work on a number of great partnerships from multi-million dollar strategic partnerships which are exciting to be a part of, to smaller yet innovative ones too. A couple that stand out have to be:
My first deal at Nickelodeon was for a range of SpongeBob Real Musical Instruments with John Hornby Skewes and Sons. It was their first foray into licensing, it went on to win a number of awards, was a great commercial success for both them and Nickelodeon and they were still a partner nearly 12yrs later when I left…
Of course, the first licenses which I signed as Riverside Brands on behalf of ZURU for its brand Rainbocorns were very special too which were with Danilo, Fashion UK and Roy Lowe & Sons. I am grateful for their support so early on and the other partners that are now onboard with all the brand I work on.
What are some of the biggest hurdles the licensing business is facing at the moment?
Given we are in the midst of frankly an unbelievable moment in time, aside from the immediate issues of stores being shut, the longer term impact is likely to be the reduction of support of new/smaller brands in or coming to the market. Retailers will likely be incredibly risk adverse for a considerable period of time as they look to rebuild themselves. This will have a big impact into the licensing world with IP that perhaps would have been given shelf space, now likely to get a reduced opportunity to show it can work.
Therefore online will become even more important to get right to ensure you stand out from the crowd.
What conversation do you think the industry needs to be having right now?
Aside from the obvious of when will stores re-open, it will be around how do all sides involved work together with fairer commercial terms for all to ensure everyone can survive the coming 18months or so.
No one knows what the full impact will be or when things will be ‘back to normal’, if indeed they ever do so open dialogue will be key.
Retail is one of the biggest topics of talk at the moment – what do you think the future relationship between retail and licensing looks like?
There is always the balance between own brand/label and licensed brands and the margin mix buyers try to achieve between the two. However there is no denying that with the right brand, you will sell more of the same generic product so it’s about better partnerships between all those involved which is a term that gets thrown around a lot but if done properly will ensure there is a great long term relationship between retail and licensing for years to come.
If retailers get burnt time after time after a ‘big sell in’ and promise, then licensed space will only get less and less.
What would be your dream brand to work with or licensing deal to establish?
If I could work on Peppa Pig / Hey Dougie and Fireman Sam / PJ Masks right now, then I would be a hero in my household. Failing that, there are a number of gin licensed deals being done at the moment so I’d love to get a partnership away in that category… not just because I’m a gin fan, of course.
What is the best part of your job?
We get to talk about fun things like cartoons and toys, yet it is part of a huge commercial industry where no two days are the same. I love working on bringing products to market through a great working partnership between the brand owner, licensee and retailer and ultimately seeing a child’s joy through the product they are using / playing with. That gives great satisfaction.
What advice would you give to anyone starting out their career in licensing?
The industry is really welcoming and there are a lot of people out there that will offer you great advice and help you as much as they can (as they did for me all those years ago) so don’t be afraid to ask.
Also, put yourself out there as much as you can, this is a very sociable and close industry. Hard work gets rewarded but be patient and try and get involved and learn as many of the different aspects to the business even if that is informally from colleagues and peers as it’ll give you a greater perspective of the way it all fits together.
Finally, you’ve got to enjoy what you do otherwise you’ll never be good at it if you don’t.