On the map: Helena Mansell Stopher talks the National Geographic licensing journey

It’s coming up to a year since Helena Mansell Stopher took up the role of director of consumer products for the UK and Europe at National Geographic.

Over the course of that year, Mansell Stopher has been hard at work putting National Geographic firmly on the licensing map for both kids and adults.

Licensing.biz takes a moment to look ahead at the coming year in which much of the labours of the past 12 months will come into fruition for this ever-evolving lifestyle brand.

It’s coming up to a year since you joined National Geographic. With your first Brand Licensing for National Geographic back in October, how has the brand been received?

Mansell Stopher: It’s been a crazy year to say the least – but the response I’ve received from the licensing community and retail has been phenomenal. 

We have successfully put Nat Geo on the map for both kids and adult licensing and I’m looking forward to multiple successful launches moving in to 2019.

What has changed for you to achieve success in such a short time frame?

Well, firstly we laid the foundations for growth, putting in place key licensed partners and aligning with successful retailers. 

As a brand, we are expanding our branding marketing across the full scale of National Geographic partners. This gives us the ability to tie together one unified experience for our consumers, across our TV channels, theatrical releases, magazines and publishing, digital, and consumer products and licensing. 

We have also looked at how we align with key retail partners to drive a brand conversation. 

What does this mean in practice? 

Well, we launched our first publishing promotion with Sainsbury’s back in September, which was so successful that we have secured a second in early 2019. 

We also partnered with Smyth’s toy stores in Ireland to drive a joint conversation around the country’s Science Week. We’re now looking to drive similar conversations for the UK in March 2019. 

We are also looking forward to our global partnership with Clarks shoes – launching on Earth Day April 2019 – and to the arrival of our gender-neutral kids’ clothing range launching at John Lewis in March 2019.

National Geographic is a brand that has a wide-ranging consumer base. Is there a campaign that focuses on the brand or highlights certain associations of the brand?

As a brand we have our ‘core missions’ that are aligned with the National Geographic Society – our global non-profit parent organization, which is committed to exploring and protecting our planet – and the work we are funding in the field. 

We have focused this on three areas. One of these is Planet or Plastic, our ongoing mission to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in the world’s oceans.

This drive informs important licensing partnerships involving sustainable or recycled materials such as the sixteen pairs of shoes in the Clarks collection made from 100 per cent recycled bottles, the water bottles launched through S’well or the Teemil t-shirts made from recycled 100 per cent organic cotton and produced in a factory run on 100 per cent renewable energy.

The second core mission is the kids’ campaign. This aligns directly with our mission to educate children through the National Geographic brand, which also builds on our strong kids’ magazine and book business.

The third mission focuses on connecting the world of National Geographic to maximise brand awareness through our partnerships, always aligning directly to the core of the brand through the National Geographic Society and its commitment to the well-being of our planet.

And what about target markets?

Though the brand message is the same for both kids and adults, the way we deliver this message has a different flavour. 

For example, for adults we have the initiative ‘Planet or Plastic’. For kids its ‘Kids versus Plastic’. 

Another area we have been driving is our reach with kids. In magazines, TV and online, the reach has always been strong, but we can do more – and we have. 

With toys – especially STEM toys – we are experiencing fantastic success, notably with Bandai. Non-toy categories include bedding with Dreamtex and footwear with Clarks, to name only a couple. 

For our adult offering it’s slightly different; here we’re focusing on our key strengths, referring back to exploration and driving an emphasis on sustainability. 

We intend to take a lead in sustainability messaging and this strong differentiating position has already attracted a number of consumer products partners.

The brand is also about exploration, however. How is this conveyed in the partnerships?

That’s right. And that brings me to our emphasis on space. In 2019, for instance, National Geographic will be focused on ‘the year of space’: the anniversary of the first moon landing and our TV hits like MARS and Mission To The Sun as well. All of these themes can be extended to carefully chosen and appropriate retail and licensing opportunities.

Do you have any launches planned?

Yes! As I mentioned earlier, we have been busy this year, and there’s more to come – with John Lewis, Clarks, Topps, Teemil, First Natural Brands, Dreamtex and many others in line to launch in SS19. 

We also had an extremely positive BLE, receiving proposals from potential partners across home, gift, fashion, stationery, gaming and many more, which we are currently working through with potential launch dates in AW19. 

2019 will bring new product launches across both adult and kids licensing, and secondary promotions across retail from March, as well as sponsorships of local science festivals and using the National Geographic Explorers to support and drive our local messages. 

2019 is set to be an extremely exciting year.

About Robert Hutchins

Robert Hutchins is the editor of Licensing.biz and ToyNews. Hutchins has worked his way up from Staff Writer to the position of Editor across the two titles, having spent almost eight years with both ToyNews and Licensing.biz, and what now seems like a lifetime surrounded by toys. You can contact him by emailing robert.hutchins@biz-media.co.uk or calling him on 0203 143 8780 You can even follow him on Twitter @RobGHutchins if ranting is your thing...

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