When all the world’s a stage: Festival of Licensing and lessons in staying global

In a year that has so far witnessed brands the world over pushing the envelope of innovation in a bid to maintain a foothold
in a rapidly shifting ground underfoot, it is perhaps the events and hospitality space that has had to do the most legwork.

Industry-wide, the usual calendar of events and trade shows has well and truly been through the grinder, but when it comes to making the best of a bad situation, the organisers of Brand Licensing Europe are looking to re-write the rule book.

It came as little surprise to many that the annual trade show would not be taking place in its physical form this year, opting instead for the virtual platform to best facilitate the yearly event with digital interactivity that will allow the show’s usual crowds to enjoy Brand Licensing Europe’s usual fodder -minus a drink or two at The Hand and Flower – from the comfort of their own homes.

But why on earth would it want to stop there? And, with a global audience of licensing industry bods surfing the digital interface over face-to-face meetings, why indeed would it stop short? Well, it hasn’t. And so it was that Brand Licensing Europe announced over this summer that it will be but one week of a four-week long Festival of Licensing covering the European, Asian, and Americas markets, culminating with its Licensing Leadership Summit in the fourth and final week.

Licensing.biz catches up with Anna Knight, Informa Markets’ Global Licensing Group Vice President, to talk about Festival of Licensing, and how it could be setting a new precedent for trade shows to work across the physical and the digital as part of the world’s search for the ‘new normal’.

So, Anna – The Festival of Licensing sounds very grand and exciting. For those who haven’t heard yet, can you tell us about the premise? Why did you guys decide to turn this into a four-week licensing bonanza?

Well thank you for saying so, ToyNews. The premise of Festival of Licensing is that it’s a celebration of the global licensing community, and that’s why we’ve turned it into a four week ‘bonanza’. When we organised Licensing Week Virtual after postponing Expo, we quickly realised it’s not possible to host a global event on one time zone, and yet our brands have global coverage and resonance.

By launching Festival, we can have regional specific events that really work for those markets and the customers they serve, and
it means we can host live content specific to each market’s time zone. So, we have Europe in Week One, Asia in Week Two, and the Americas in Week Three. And when we were looking at postponing the Licensing Leadership Summit in New York, we realised it actually made perfect sense for this to become the fourth event and a great way to round up Festival.

What can visitors expect in terms of the layout and experiences? How will you guys be translating what we know of the physical BLE experience – and its brand immersion – onto the virtual platform?

If you’ve been to BLE before – either as an attendee or an exhibitor – you will find everything that you’re used to, and more. So, the focus will be on doing European licensing deals and we’re facilitating meetings in as many ways as we possibly can.

There will be daily live keynotes, live exhibitor showcases and live ‘after hours’ performances, which we’re hoping will blow people away. There will also be tons of content to view on demand, and a Community and Wellbeing offering that will include careers advice and business mentoring. And, for retailers, there will be exclusive content, too, including ask the expert sessions.

How will Festival of Licensing encourage and facilitate visitor engagement and interaction with exhibitors? Likewise, how will it help exhibitors connect with visitors?

We really want exhibitors to make the most of what virtual offers. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, but the virtual environment really does make the impossible possible. So instead of making a standard sizzle or product-focused PowerPoint, we want exhibitors to think about doing live store or design studio walk rounds, for example, to really wow attendees.

In that same vein, how do you best replicate the networking opportunities of a physical event within the confines of the virtual sphere? All attendees will get access to our Matchmaking service from September 8th, and they’ll be able to use this to pre-schedule meetings. We will have showcase pages for all of our exhibitors, which will be built to show off their IP, products and services and we will encourage attendees to view these and request meetings.

We’re also encouraging exhibitors to post videos that, again, will drive meetings. During the event, attendees will be able to go on to an exhibitor page and activate “drop-in” video meetings, which are similar to how a walk-on meeting would function at the physical event.

The Festival programme line up seems very exciting, with lots to engage with over the course of the four weeks. How will you guys be maintaining the momentum and atmosphere, and the general buzz of show, for the stretch of a month?

So, Festival takes place over a month, but it’s not 30 days of content, because that would be way too much for everyone. Each event is live for two to three days and we are suggesting that visitors only attend what’s right for them. There is absolutely no pressure to attend every event, or every day. So, if you’re interested in doing deals with European licensors, then come to BLE.

We’re acutely aware of time pressures on everyone, and that’s why we have restricted how much live content there is to just three hours per day, plus the evening performances. Everything else (and all of the lives once broadcast) will be available on demand for five weeks after each event has come to an end, so visitors really can take their time to take it all in.

In terms of the general buzz, we’ve some great ideas and mini events for keeping everyone enthused, including our wellbeing workshops and our global charity fundraiser, that we’re hoping to announce shortly, and which will of course include a leader board that will keep everyone tuned in.

How will the show’s main components be presented to visitors and exhibitors? How can the toy industry, for example, best navigate the Character & Entertainment zone?

Much in the same way BLE works, there will be multiple ways of searching the Festival exhibitor list, including by category, which will really help visitors to identify which companies to contact. Also, we can’t emphasise enough how important it is to populate your Matchmaking profile with as much information as possible. The more you put in, you will receive more and better targeted suggestions of companies to meet.

To what extent do you think Festival of Licensing can set a new precedent for trade shows going forward? What do you think the future of trade shows will look like in the years following this pandemic – are we looking at a transition to virtual-physical hybrid?

Licensing is such a relationship-based industrythat I am 100 per cent confident that physical trade shows – BLE, Expo, and soon – will return in 2021. However, I also believe that – moving forward – all trade shows should include a hybrid element.

We reached new audiences – exhibitors and attendees – during Licensing Week Virtual because it was virtual. And this is brilliant news for Brand Licensing Europe and for the industry as a whole, so it would be remiss of us to then exclude these people from future events.

We want to be inclusive and educate more and more people about the power of brand licensing. Licensing is also a very creative industry and virtual allows, stimulates and encourages innovation, which is a great thing for everyone.

Any food for thought to leave us all with?

The only thing I would like to add is that we appreciate that virtual is new and for first time attendees it can feel intimidating, so we do recommend everyone registers in advance (from August 17), plans their diary, and reaches out to us if they have any questions at all. We’re here to help and we’re happy to do so.

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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