The old truism that great characters are the secret to any successful licensing and merchandising campaign is as valid today as it ever was. But it no longer stands alone. Strong characters now need equally compelling marketing programs involving close collaboration among a variety of special interests, such as toy companies, home and theatrical release, and an army of promotional and licensing tie-ins.
Today, great characters need marketing synergies.
Richard Cohen, the recently named head of MGM Home Entertainment and MGM Consumer Products, wants to make the most of MGM characters and brands and of the potential synergies within his own organization as he sets out to build a new consumer products division at the Santa Monica, California-based studio.
Under Cohen’s new mandate, the former MGM/UA Licensing and Merchandising ceases to exist, and will be replaced by the new Consumer Products division.
Cohen, who has been president of MGM/UA Home Entertainment since 1994 and before that spent seven years, mostly in home video, with the Walt Disney Co., says MGM is in a good position to bring synergies to its businesses because of its flat management structure. ‘The ease of cooperation is extraordinary and this is an advantage we can exploit.’
Cohen points out that MGM is structured so that it can avoid many of the interdivisional issues, such as cost allocations and compensation questions, that can slow down collaborative projects.
‘The interdivisional negotiations are often more contentious than the negotiations with outside parties,’ he says, adding: ‘We have the ability to move very quickly.’
Cohen says he’s spending his time now ‘going to school on the realities of this business.’
He expects to have a new organization in place before the summer. He acknowledges that ancillary market opportunities from MGM characters and brands have not experienced significant growth to date. ‘Our belief is that MGM has a valuable brand and a group of properties that could be exploited,’ properties such as All Dogs Go To Heaven, the Pink Panther, James Bond, and the MGM lion logo.
Cohen says he is looking for strategic marketing executives ‘who understand how to exploit and extend the value of brands, and that what we do in licensing has to flow from those strategies.’
He’ll be looking for these people wherever he can find them, including classic packaged-goods marketing circles. ‘Possibly there, but not necessarily. I don’t really care where they come from as long as they’re good.’
He says developing a consumer products strategy within a studio such as MGM is not necessary to survival, but ‘a company such as ours is not running itself properly if it’s failing to exploit all its intellectual properties intelligently, effectively and in all areas.
‘Our intellectual properties represent business assets that are very real, and we should be making the most of them.’
Cohen says opportunities in the international marketplace are a major priority, as much, if not greater than the U.S. domestic market. ‘The opportunities [internationally] are truly mouth-watering,’ he says. ‘Our brands have tremendous value that hasn’t been tapped in the least.’
Cohen would not place a dollar figure on the current value of MGM’s consumer products business, but he d’es say it is ‘less than 10 percent of where I want it to be in a few years.
‘This is a very exciting opportunity.’