When you begin to unearth details about Claire Derry’s background, it becomes clear why Link has demonstrated such sophistication in the licensing business.
From university, she joined U.K. retailer Boots, where she received what she describes as ‘traditional retail marketing training.’
Her first job was with Boots’ audiovisual department, and it was from here that she transferred her skills to a media environment. ‘I was headhunted by a man called Michael Barrett who set up his own production company, which I joined as marketing manager,’ she says.
While working for Barrett, she handled video distribution and PR for a project called Princess, which she took into the retail sector. ‘I also took the company into producing films for the video market when sell-through was just starting.’ It was also at this point that she first worked with David Hamilton.
Subsequently, she was again headhunted by Link House Publications, which wanted to diversify into production investment. It was then that Derry first identified the children’s audience as a potentially lucrative market. ‘With my marketing background, I felt children’s was different from other areas,’ she says. ‘You don’t get a huge amount per hour when you sell the program, but it is very easy to dub and offers many more areas of exploitation.’
One of her first ventures at Link House was to reunite with David Hamilton as an investor in one of his productions. She also handled the program’s distribution and attended MIP-TV for the first time.
Her recollections are that the MIP-TV market was a lot smaller and more insular in those days. ‘There was less razzmatazz, and the video business was still very tacky.’
She did, however, draw a positive impression of the children’s distributors. ‘I felt then and still feel that children’s buyers are a different bunch from the rest. They are very knowledgeable. And because they are not acquiring across the board, it is easier to target them.’
That said, she believes that in television marketing, there ‘still isn’t the sophistication you’d expect when you have to sell to retailers like Woolworth’s, Boots or Marks & Spencer.
‘There aren’t as many promotional opportunities. I think in many ways the broadcasters still don’t like to acknowledge that that this side of the business exists.’
Ironically, the unwillingness of broadcasters to get too close to merchandising seems to create an inverse problem, as Derry herself recently demonstrated at the Cardiff Animation Festival.
‘We did some basic research that showed that of 70 children’s programs currently on British television, only about 20 had any merchandising attached to them. Of those, only five were European.’
While broadcasters have reduced license fees on the assumption that merchandising will make up the shortfall, Derry says, ‘the reality is that very few series make a lot of money in merchandising terms. It is a useful form of additional revenue, but you can’t look to fund your program on a merchandising campaign.’
Since merchandisers are also unwilling to put money up front (except on guaranteed winners), it makes the role of Link particularly important.
For Derry, as for any self-made manager, an important part of successful expansion is knowing when to delegate. To date, she seems to have successfully handed on across-the-board responsibilities to Jo Kavanagh, Mayuri Amin, (director of U.K. Licensing) Sariah Smalley (director of new business development) and David Llewellyn-Jones.
‘I’ve got an excellent team that runs its areas. I now spend a lot of time on client relations, particularly with Mattel and Scholastic. I’m also building international links with Japan and a co-venture in Germany.’
Derry believes that ‘in every category, we’ve got strong properties. Our focus now is to grow internationally.’
She is very clear about the nature of the company, however. ‘We probably wouldn’t be right for shortlived properties. We’re trying to be a little Disney that manages and develop its brand in as many markets as possible.’