LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Rob Corney, Group Managing Director, Bulldog Licensing

Bulldog Licensing is readying for its second face-to-face trade show since restrictions were lifted, with an appearance at Licensing Expo in Las Vegas later this month. Licensing Biz asked Group Managing Director Rob Corney to talk us through some of the key brands that Bulldog will be showcasing, including Care Bears, as it celebrates a big milestone anniversary; the much-loved heritage brand, Sesame Street; the ever-popular Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug and Cat Noir; sell-out Christmas sensation Magic Mixies, and new preschool animation Odo, among others.

How has the last year been for Bulldog? Have you expanded the team at all?

The last year has been a good one for Bulldog. After the chaos of the pandemic, we were delighted to move back into our London Bridge offices; whilst we’re all set up to be able to function fully with the team all working from home, you can’t beat the efficiencies of being office-based to fully plan the roll-out of licensing programmes. Unless the team are able to be hands-on with the product and able to benefit from the cross-pollination of ideas, inefficiencies creep in and, whilst I think we’ve coped admirably throughout the lockdowns, it’s a much healthier environment to separate home from work and be able to function as a full unit once again.

What would you say is Bulldog’s USP/the main reason for its success? You’ve secured some pretty huge brands – how have you achieved that, and where do you see yourself positioned in the global market?

When Bulldog first launched in 2007, we were the first agency to take what we call a ‘retail first approach’ to licensing – starting with the retail proposition and working back from there. To this day, we remain unparalleled in our relationships with retail and this is key to our successes, but overriding this principle is the determination to always act with integrity. We enter every discussion believing it can be a win-win outcome and work hard to ensure that is the case. We don’t see the signing of a contract as the end game – it’s the point at which the hard work begins in order to ensure the signatories enjoy real success and rewards from it. Our partners recognise that we don’t frame an unachievable narrative around our brands and that honesty means that stakeholders throughout the value chain recognise us as a safe pair of hands for building world-beating brands.

Briefly, what can visitors to your stand at Licensing Expo expect to see/discover/hear about? 

We’ve seen strong growth across a number of properties in our portfolio over the last year, and Vegas provides the perfect platform to update our partners on plans for continued growth, as well as to continue to expand the opportunities for our more nascent brands.

Why do you think lies behind the evergreen (and cross-generational) appeal of Care Bears?

Care Bears has seen staggering growth over the last two years and that is set to continue over the next two. The brand has timeless appeal, bringing back fond memories for older fans; exuding strong fashion credentials thanks to our high profile collaborations with labels including Dolls Kill and Skinny Dip for young adults; delivering cuteness in abundance for today’s kids; and having the perfect brand values for newborns in our baby collections. The world needs a little more caring right now and Care Bears is the perfect solution for all ages.

What excites you about Magic Mixies? Can you tell us about any partners in the pipeline for the brand? 

Magic Mixies is one of the most exciting properties we’ve ever launched. Sales of the hero toy line through last Christmas were phenomenal and the surge has continued throughout this year, making it one of the hottest new brands on the market. Having launched the licensing programme at BLE last year, we’ve had a huge reaction from licensees and retail and are about to start announcing the first tranche of partners. This is set to be a big hit over the next few years.

Can you tell us a bit more about Odo? Do you think this property is going to take flight in a big way?

Odo is stunning and drives one of the most important messages there is in the preschool market. We’ve long been fans of the work of animation studio  Sixteen South and are delighted to be working with them on this beautiful show. With some of the world’s leading broadcasters on board, from Milkshake! in the UK to ABC in Australia and Kika in Germany, we have the platform to deliver a huge audience for a show whose primary driver is to encourage self-efficacy in preschool kids. With rates of anxiety and depression within the age group soaring, Odo is not only a vital piece of work to help in this area, but a hugely entertaining comedic journey with an incredibly compelling cast of colourful characters. With master toy and master publishing now in place, we have a lot of conversations underway across key categories in all major territories and Odo looks set to become one of the key preschool properties everywhere.

What do you think is the secret of Miraculous’s success? Are there any new/unexplored spaces, licensing-wise, that the property could expand into?

Miraculous is simply a beautiful show with an incredible storyline. The media pipeline is incredible, with huge amounts of content across linear, digital and on-demand channels, and the brand carries a huge fanbase. In the UK, we’re seeing astonishing sales growth on the toy (it was one of only two doll brands to show growth over the last 12 months) and this is translating into increased opportunities across the already-strong sales of softlines and accessories. Miraculous has always had great presence in fashion and we’re now looking to expand further across stationery, gifting and ancillary toy channels.

Do you think the proliferation of platforms on which kids consume content makes it harder, or easier, for new IPs to ‘break through’?

The fragmentation of content delivery mechanisms has created a hugely increased challenge for brand building. It has simultaneously made it easier for content to be delivered, but more challenging to build a loyal audience. In many ways the growth in dominance of remakes across action and super-hero franchises was a symptom of this fragmentation – it was a safer option to expand an existing universe into new media, shored up by traditional channels, than it was to create entirely new content which may or may not achieve penetration into a crowded market.

However, the world is changing as we’ve seen in the industry’s reduced reliance on some of the hackneyed ‘fan favourites’ over the last few years. New content creators approach the market with an holistic approach, well aware that delivering linear programming is not enough to build a content universe – the industry has adapted and great new creative is securing its place in the top echelons of the product sales charts at the expense of the traditional mega-brands which dominated for so long.

The increase in channels is both a threat and an opportunity, but where it was traditionally an opportunity for the big content owners, squeezing out the smaller guys through their spending power, it has now become a threat to the traditional big players as they struggle to adapt and develop new content where more nimble creatives are more capable of developing relevant brands, ready to disseminate across multiple streams and with a marketplace very receptive to their wares.

What are biggest opportunities in the licensing space right now? And conversely, what are the greatest challenges?

As nations around the world struggle with the post-Covid cost of living crisis, two of the strongest trends to emerge are brands which are driven by values which suit the current mood and those brands which are driven by a pricing architecture sympathetic to the squeeze on the pockets of consumers.

Brands like Sesame Street, which brings an abundance of both classic love for adults and relevance to the preschool consumer of today will benefit from a desire for the home comforts of the familiar whilst brands like Magic Mixies, which has a price point to suit all pockets across its core offering, will build strong opportunities thanks to its newness and excitement.

In 2008, after the financial crash, we saw retailers jumping on what they considered to be the ‘safe’ brands of the day before realising that they’d all jumped on the same brands, leaving their only refuge on price. As the challenges grow in today’s market, there is a more savvy reaction with buyers looking to innovate to drive sales. As the media market has adapted away from the traditional big players, so too must the consumer market change, supporting innovation and fresh ideas, in order to thrive in the current world.

Bulldog Licensing will be at Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24-26 May 2022. 

About Tessa Clayton

A former Chief Sub of Red magazine, Tessa Clayton is the Digital Editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. As a freelance journalist she specialised in writing about parenting and family life, and has contributed to a wide variety of publications and websites including Tesco online, Mother & Baby, Livingetc, Junior, Boots Health & Beauty, Practical Parenting and babycentre.co.uk. Get in touch at tessa.clayton@biz-media.co.uk

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