How has 2014 been so far for DC Thomson?
2014 has been a really great year. With lots prepped and planned from 2012 and 2013, this year has enabled us to finally see real progress with our strategic ambitions rolling out successfully. Our main aim has been to develop more accessible content across the board for new and existing fans and that’s exactly what we’ve achieved.
Can you run through the structure of the business for me – how does the consumer products arm work with the other parts of the DC business?
It’s a bit of an odd set up, I know, but it works very well for us. DC Thomson is a very successful and profitable publisher with a highly regarded portfolio of newspapers and magazines which also includes a fantastic legacy of brands and characters including The Beano and its star characters Dennis the Menace and Bananaman, iconic 60’s magazine property Jackie and classic Scottish property, The Broons. The consumer products division and our wider brand development team is purely focused on the core IP and creating new ways of engaging with kids and loyal fans through film, TV, digital, publishing and merchandise. Our teams have strong links with the editorial departments but we are mostly self-sufficient with staff based in Scotland and London who work closely with our great and long standing agent, Start Licensing.
We all know how phenomenally successful The Beano is, but could you just run through some of the main deals from 2014 in the CP space?
A major highlight would be our partnership with Penguin for a series of fiction books that launched in February. Kid’s fiction for The Beano is a first for the brand. We really wanted to give kids the opportunity to be introduced to the characters in a whole new light, so it was crucial that we found the best partner. Penguin came up with Roald Dahl Funny Prize winning author, Steven Butler who instantly clicked with our team and ambitions. Steven’s now writing at least six books and that doesn’t even include the non-fiction tie-ins that are supporting the series. It’s doing incredibly well; we have worked on fresh new artwork that gives Dennis that little more ‘bite’ and the Penguin team have been busy speaking to international publishers to launch as a standalone product. In addition to this, we’ve expanded our gifting category with new developments from Lagoon Games and Wild & Wolf, and currently running a new partnership with Brewers Fayre family restaurants that sees The Beano characters reach three million kids and families a year.
What do you think is the secret to The Beano's longevity?
It just works. Dennis the Menace is the boy that every child wants to be. All the characters, pranks and jokes, and the ethos of putting the reader at the centre of the story with humour are timeless. We have also been trying new techniques and concepts to keep the brand as relevant as it has ever been. Due to its cross generational appeal, it’s been vital when targeting audiences that we separate the comic from the characters and stories. So for example, for those children who may not be reading the physical comic, we aim to reach and introduce these great characters to them through platforms such as the Dennis the Menace and Gnasher TV show on CBBC, toys and games or now reading the fiction books from Penguin.
Are there still CP categories left that you would like to move it into?
We have our sights set on further expanding The Beano apparel and possibly moving more into the live events category. To support our mission, I would like to get a proper ‘prank’ experience established at an accessible location such as a theme park, so that fans of all ages can immerse themselves into The Beano madness and really appreciate all that this versatile property embodies. Last year we organised the Beanotown ‘pop up’ at London Southbank which was a massive hit. It was wonderful to see kids engaging in the photo booths, drawing, pranking and general mischief that was on offer.
Moving on, and can you talk me through the other brands in the DC Thomson stable and the accompanying licensing programmes?
Another key player in our portfolio is Maw Broons Kitchen. Inspired by the matriarch of Scotland's favourite family - The Broons (The Browns for all international readers!) is the classic weekly comic strip from The Sunday Post newspaper. The Broons has been a staple of Scots lives for nearly 80 years and lived mainly in annuals and a small number of souvenirs until recently. In 2008 we decided to publish the first ever Maw Broon’s Cookbook that featured classic Scottish family recipes together with The Broons humour. This went on to sell over 270,000 copies and sparked interest in developing a ‘celebrity chef’ inspired food range with Maw Broon at the very centre. The range initially launched into independent stores, garden centres and delis, and due to its success we are now expanding into grocers from this Christmas. The range is essentially based on every-day and gift food such as cakes, confectionery, snacks, baked goods and preserves, and also features an extensive range of kitchen and home ware accessories, with a new cook book and further publishing products soon to be announced. We also had a pop up café operating in Edinburgh in September.
Additionally, iconic 60’s weekly magazine Jackie is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with the launch of Jackie – The Musical set to tour theatres nationwide in 2015. We’ll be busy speaking to new and existing partners at BLE to kick start an exciting new licensing programme from 2015.
How are you now looking to grow the business? Are you open to third party acquisitions? If so, what do you think DC can offer here that other companies can't?
As a leading independent kid’s publisher, the door is now firmly open for new licenses that we can publish - we have recently acquired a fantastic new property which will all be unveiled at BLE. However, our ambition doesn’t stop there. We are experts at creating content and understanding kids IP, the editorial teams live and breathe this space and their commitment to a license is quite frankly impressive. DC Thomson is active in the kids, puzzles and women’s weeklies market and being one of the UK’s biggest publishers; this gives us great leverage in distribution and marketing too.
What are the main challenges that are facing DC Thomson and the rest of the licensing industry? How are you working to overcome these?
It’s a tough market for sure, physical shelf space is shrinking and competition is increasing. I’m a firm believer in developing original products which is vital for the industry’s survival. The ‘label slapping’ technique has its place at some price points perhaps, but its where there’s great innovation in design and execution that should make us proud. At DC Thomson, we intentionally seek out partners that take a long-term view to our business, licensees that embrace our dedication to thoughtfully develop brands and pushing the boundaries of creativity across the entire process, right from product development through to marketing and retail support.
Part of the DC heritage is in the traditional print arena. How are you incorporating digital – such as online, apps, virtual worlds, social media - into the mix?
We have heavily invested in expanding into the digital arena which will all come to fruition very shortly. We are just about ready to unveil exciting developments that will see Dennis the Menace and Gnasher enter the digital marketplace for the very first time and will allow fans to reach Dennis and his friends at anytime through tablets and mobile – so watch this space.
Are you looking to grow the business further outside of the UK? If so, which territories are you targeting?
Our mission is to take Dennis the Menace and Gnasher into new territories and introduce children across the globe to the cheek and mischief that the brand has to offer. We have strong licensees in place in Australia which have initially launched with books, toys and gifts to support the highly popular Dennis the Menace and Gnasher TV show, with plans in place to expand in further categories with new partners.
What can we expect to see from DC Thomson at BLE? Why is the show so important to you?
The show is a fantastic platform to showcase our ambitions to key players in the industry and we’ll be at BLE this year to reinforce our main priorities. Firstly, to present new opportunities and unveil exciting updates for leading kids brands The Beano and Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, new developments for Maw Broons Kitchen and our plans for the Jackie 2015 licensing programme. And secondly, our innovation and editorial team will also be on the lookout for interesting third party brands to work with across magazines and comics in print and digital formats.
What would you most like to have achieved by the end of the year?
Well, first of all we have our sights set on a successful BLE. Our objective is to grow the international profile of our core brands and reach new audiences, and overall we intend to capitalise on the momentum that our iconic portfolio has achieved and continue on with our mission in creating innovative content. We’d also be keen to greenlight the Bananaman live action feature.