Special Report: Licensing International ’97: Fox tries for a great retail statement with Anastasia

The term 'licensing partnerships' has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job...
June 1, 1997

The term ‘licensing partnerships’ has come to mean much more than the relationships between licensors and licensees. As more and more studios integrate the licensing discipline into their own operations, new partnerships have developed internally among departments and across traditional job functions.

In our special report on licensing and merchandising, we trace the evolution of a number of licensing programs as they developed within leading studios. Each story begins when the licensing and merchandising departments first became involved in a property and then tracks the campaign as licensing and promotional partners join in culminating in the presentation of the property at Licensing ’97 International in New York.

* * *

Anastasia is a modern look at the legend of the lost princess Anastasia now a willful and determined 18-year-old orphan who struggles to reclaim her identity as the only surviving child of Russia’s last czar. Set in St. Petersburg and Paris in the 1920s, the film features animation and storytelling by Don Bluth and Gary Goldman, creators of All Dogs Go To Heaven, An American Tail and The Land Before Time. Meg Ryan, John Cusack, Angela Lansbury, Kelsey Grammer and Bernadette Peters provide vocal talent.

Licensing and merchandising efforts on the film began very early in the three-year animation development process, and with just five months to release date, the evolution of the program is still unfolding. ‘A strategy developed that every category was to be represented by the best licensee and promotional partners,’ says Pat Wyatt, president of Twentieth Century Fox Licensing and Merchandising. ‘The goal was to make it a world-class licensing program that would rival anything that had been done before.’

How the campaign started:

January 1997 (10 months ahead of release date)

Although early discussions about Anastasia’s licensing started in 1995, Fox marketers officially kicked off the campaign at the Anastasia Licensing Summit, a gathering of all potential licensing, promotional and retail players.

‘At the Anastasia Summit, all of our U.S. partners and potential partners got together for a behind-the-scenes look at the film,’ says Wyatt. ‘We showed them as much as we could, encouraged people to talk together.’ The event allowed people to judge the property before committing. ‘I think the strategy we’re developing is to make sure that every category is covered and represented by the best. Anyone that seemed like they would make a good partner was invited,’ she notes.

‘The film itself as it evolved and developed with the original music and the set and the characters, which are lovable, warm and endearing all this really makes people want to be part of it,’ says Wyatt.

Naturally, the team kept their eye on its competitors. ‘I don’t think that anyone could have intelligently ignored the competition. Disney has set very high standards. But we figured we wanted to beat everything. If you’re going to do it, do it,’ she says.

First Licensee

Galoob Toys, the master toy licensee, came aboard early November 1995 thanks in part to Galoob’s ‘right of first refusal’ deal with Fox. Featured for the first time during the 1997 International Toy Fair, Galoob’s Anastasia toy line includes fashion dolls, plush toys and playsets. The line is set to arrive at retail concurrent with release date.

Other Licensees

The next key license for Wyatt’s team is the publishing deal, which involves two companies. In January 1997, News Corporation’s HarperCollins signs on for books retailing for US$5 and higher, and Golden Books joins for publications under US$5. Securing this license was critical, according to Wyatt, because proper handling of illustrations requires a lot of planning. ‘Books are a major component of the licensing of an animated movie,’ says Wyatt. ‘There’s a very long lead time for books because of the artwork. Every illustration has to be created individually, and there is a lot of interface with the animators.’

Once the publishers sign, a number of other contracts fall into place that same month, including Sun Sports, Com Lucas, Fruit of the Loom and Pagoda. In choosing whom to close deals with, Wyatt notes, ‘people that we’ve known a long time rose to the top of the list. Also, we did a lot of research about companies that retailers like to work with.’ Members of Wyatt’s team visit retailers to research their needs and preferences. ‘Because some retailers prefer some licensees, and some have strong relationships with others, it was all really a matter of trying to service the retailers. We’re the only ones who do that to my knowledge. The reason was to bring a more marketing-driven approach to licensing,’ she says.

Beyond prior relationships and research, Fox considers which companies have the most innovative products, and which companies submit business plans.

‘It’s not just great product, it’s delivery, history, marketing background, retail support and commitment to the property,’ Wyatt says, in defining her criteria for choosing partners. ‘What Fox wanted to do was have the fewest number of strong partnerships as possible. We didn’t want to cut the licenses up into multiple licenses in one category because we wanted everybody we were partners with to develop the property all the time.’

A potential licensee’s roster of deals also comes into play. ‘If we were one out of five, six, seven licensors, the [licensee] really wouldn’t be able to give us the focus we deserve,’ she says. Wyatt flies to many different corporate headquarters around the globe to see their operations, assess their creative structure and tour the factories.

The Promotional Campaign

No official announcements have been made concerning licensing partners for the movie, although meetings have been taking place over the past year regarding promotions. Fox is finalizing those deals now, many of which will launch a few months before or concurrent with release date.

At the Licensing Show

At press time, Fox was still finalizing plans for this year’s Licensing Show. But according to Wyatt, Fox is ‘making it a very visual presentation, geared towards international [attendees]. We want people to understand what the program encompasses. If they’re excited, we can carry the momentum of June through to the film release,’ she says.

The presentation will, among other things, show retailers how they can create events in each store. ‘It’s not good enough to put products on the shelf. You’ve got to sell through to the consumer make a great retail statement with the property,’ Wyatt says. ‘Retailers all want to be as unique as possible these days. And they’re working with a very particular consumer. Licensing provides an opportunity for retailers to take part in big cultural events.’

Release Date: November 1997

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