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Studios cast execs in retail roles

Consumer-products manufacturers and Hollywood studios are turning to retailers for assistance when determining their merchandising mix for an ever-competitive marketplace drowning in licensed product....
July 1, 1997

Consumer-products manufacturers and Hollywood studios are turning to retailers for assistance when determining their merchandising mix for an ever-competitive marketplace drowning in licensed product.

It’s part of a growing trend among retailers and studios to work as partners to assess each other’s needs. Retailers such as Target and Toys ‘R’ Us have recently brought on executives who act as front men for their buyers and marketers to sort through available licensing opportunities. Studios are creating similar positions to augment retail relations.

‘The marketplace is so crowded and competitive that you need to let the retailer know what is happening,’ says Terri Helton, senior vice president of domestic licensing at Viacom Consumer Products. ‘You can’t force retailers to pick your property, but if they don’t know about it, they certainly can’t pick it.’

Viacom Consumer Products, which licenses such properties as Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, Star Trek and Clueless, has added Annie Sexton as director of retail relations. Sexton keeps retailers up-to-date on licensed product performance, informs them about properties in development and sustains awareness of the Paramount brand name. ‘Her purpose is to get them thinking about our properties,’ says Helton.

Hollywood had ignored retailers as partners for years because it assumed that retailers would buy every licensed product available, says Nancy Overfield-Delmar, a retail/licensing consultant for Parachute Consumer Products, licensor of Goosebumps. They did, for fear of missing the next big thing, until soft sales forced them to be more selective.

Ten years ago, JCPenney was ‘flattered’ when approached by Universal for an in-store The Land Before Time program, says Overfield-Delmar, who then worked as an executive with the retail chain. Her experiences at JCPenney working with studios that never clearly understood what retailers wanted eventually landed her at Fox, as one of the first studio executives with a retail background who dealt specifically with retail concerns.

Now, retailers want to know what’s in development one and even two years down the road, says Overfield-Delmar. ‘[And] Hollywood has become more sophisticated in understanding the awareness that can be created through all of the millions of people who walk through retail doors.’

Getting a mass-market retailer behind a project at the earliest stages benefits licensing efforts. ‘If you can say a mass-market retailer is very interested in a Paramount property, you pretty much can have your pick of licensees because there’s a ready-made outlet for product,’ says Helton.

Just as important as maintaining good retail relationships is understanding retailer mentality and sensitivities. ‘It’s hard to approach retailers because no two are alike in regards to their buying patterns,’ says Overfield-Delmar.

In the case of Goosebumps, Parachute has been reviewing current licensed product and developing a strategy for 1998. ‘When you go back to retailers,’ says Overfield-Delmar, ‘you have to show them that you are responding to what happened before and have adapted to what’s right for the property and the retailers.’

Film studios’ first priority will always be promotional partners because of the advertising bang they deliver, says Helton. However, studios are just beginning to understand how a retail presence can also encourage a consumer to see a movie, watch a show or buy a book. ‘We have perhaps underestimated the fact that retailers have millions of people who walk through their stores every week who see our product,’ says Helton.

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