A salute to Fred Gaffney: Fred Gaffney: International Man of Licensing

Licensors, licensees and retailers may not always see eye to eye when conducting business, but when the subject turns to Fred Gaffney, they all smile in agreement....
August 1, 1997

Licensors, licensees and retailers may not always see eye to eye when conducting business, but when the subject turns to Fred Gaffney, they all smile in agreement.

The Australian licensing titan is one of the most universally respected and well-liked people in the business, at home and around the globe. His combination of licensing savvy matched with verve and good cheer has turned his company, Gaffney International Licensing, Ltd., from an upstart start-up into the best-known non-American affiliated licensing firm down under.

Since launching his company more than 20 years ago, Gaffney and his team of 30-odd employees have been instrumental in importing licensing properties such as Sesame Street, Star Wars and Barbie to the Australian market, as well as developing programs for home-bred Australian children’s shows, such as Bananas in Pajamas, to be exported abroad.

Gaffney International Licensing now manages over 100 licensed brands representing over AU$1 billion (US$748 million) at retail. Fred Gaffney leads the charge, hustling to trade shows and markets around the world and traveling an accumulated six months of the year to stay atop trends, manage relations and identify the hottest properties around.

‘Every day, I have to recharge my batteries after all of the early starts and the late finishes to keep myself refreshed,’ says Gaffney. ‘To stay on top of the game requires a combination of what good sportsmen learn, and that’s to improve on your personal best each year, and to set realistic and achievable goals that not only I can reach, but also that our staff can reach.’

Getting started

Gaffney’s education in licensing was rooted in his days in retail and in the toy business, when he had a chance to witness the Disney merchandising juggernaut in action. ‘Having observed the great Disney organization and what they did in America and Australia, I thought there would be some other opportunities for licensing,’ he says. On a business trip to the U.S. in the mid-1970s, he made a cold call to the head of Children’s Television Workshop’s (CTW) international division and suggested that the bustling business CTW was doing in the American market could be duplicated in Australia. Thus was born a relationship that exists to this day-and Gaffney International Licensing.

The licensing industry as a whole was in its genesis in the late 1970s, but even less so in Australia, with the exception of major players such as Disney, Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera. Gaffney spent the early years of his business learning about the needs of retailers and licensees and informing them that a new era in merchandising was dawning and they no longer were forced to play by Disney’s rules.

As licensing took off and more Australian retailers and manufacturers went to international trade shows like Toy Fair, the word spread that having a license was an asset that could offer companies big business opportunities that wouldn’t normally come their way. ‘It wasn’t long before great competition developed between several companies in each industry vying for the best that Disney, Warner or Gaffney had to offer,’ he says.

Doing business down under

Gaffney studied how Hollywood molded its licensing programs and began developing similar strategies for Australian-based shows in the mid-1980s. ‘We became very proactive in trying to chase good Australian ideas for the Australian market to build our very own licensing business using the American formula,’ he says. ‘In some instances, we were successful, with shows such as Bananas in Pajamas, and then we were able to export those ideas to various countries around the world, mainly in the last five years.’ Bananas now d’es about AU$50 million (US$37.4 million) at retail in Australia and an equal amount overseas.

The success of Bananas in Pajamas internationally, both as a TV program and as a licensing property, has turned eyes toward Australia as a more viable source of children’s programs. ‘Most people now look at Australia as a supplier of some very fresh ideas in the children’s entertainment business, and studios like ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation), are exporting a hell of a lot of Australian children’s television around the world now,’ says Gaffney.

As for companies looking to expand licensing programs into Australia, Gaffney advises that they should study the business there-the television networks, the cable networks, the video industry and the publishing industry-to get a full sense of the available media outlets. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, they should travel to the country to visit companies in person. ‘There’s nothing better than an owner of rights coming to visit and leaving a good impression that he really cares about the partnerships he wants to select,’ says Gaffney. ‘In most of the decisions that I know of that have been long-term and rewarding, the owners of rights go out of their way to come and make good friends in the country they do business with before they make their final decisions.’

The state of licensing

The biggest challenge the licensing industry faces today, according to Gaffney, is to build a property into a brand instead of relying on ‘velocity of anticipation’ for a movie or television show. If over-hyping a movie or a TV show that d’esn’t deserve the hype leads to disappointing sales, the retailer will not be as open-minded about supporting the next project.

‘It’s a matter of being honest and forthright about what a brand is worth,’ says Gaffney. ‘If its velocity is truly a 10 [on a scale of 10], like a Winnie the Pooh or a Sesame Street or a Bananas in Pajamas, then everyone should know that. On the other hand, if it’s a three or a four, and a limited opportunity, then I think you put that on the table with all the partners.’

Gaffney says that the overwhelming success of the licensing of The Lion King skewed many people into thinking that every release afterward would perform as well or better, but that has not been the case. ‘We found that retailers are getting their fingers burned, and that can affect the overall stability, growth and respect that the licensing industry has built. As long you go in open-minded, knowing whether you are building a long-term brand or short-term strategic alliances, then everyone is in a win-win position.’

As licensing assumes more space on store shelves, retailers such as Toys ‘R’ Us-Australia and Target have taken an increased interest in monitoring trends, sharing information internally among their buyers and meeting with companies such as Gaffney on a regular basis to keep apprised of changes and trends in the marketplace. While too much licensed product may lead to a ‘day of reckoning,’ as he terms it, Gaffney believes that retailers can avoid poor sales or a downturn in interest in licensing product by limiting licensed inventory to about 20 percent of their total merchandising mix.

Making Gaffney International a success

Gaffney credits the success of his company to one simple thing: hard work. That hard work has won the trust of brand owners, it has forged key partnerships with retailers and licensees willing to invest time and money in these brands, and it has gotten all parties to cooperate.

‘With all of the hard work of our company, and myself, having traveled to many of the trade shows on an annual basis around the world, I think it’s kept us in a leadership capacity to not only stay in the game, but also ahead of the game. We hope to be seen as an industry leader or as a builder of an industry, which in turn not only rewards our company, but rewards all of the other companies in the licensing business as well.’

Over the next 20 years, Gaffney hopes to build upon the success of his company’s first two decades and to see ongoing growth with the established brands he represents, as well as introducing new favorites that hold long-term potential. ‘As we’ve often said, we’d rather do less each year for 10 years or 20, than one big hit over two years and then nothing for the next eight years. Slow and steady with the right brands builds the good relationships and, therefore, gives us a healthy future.’

Slow and steady is not an apt way to describe Fred Gaffney, because he’s probably off to some other trade show, some meeting, some deal, building bridges between licensees and retailers, countries and continents, and loving every second of it.

‘I’ve had the chance to meet some really terrific people around the world,’ says Gaffney. ‘There are many great memories of what we have learned and done together. I think licensing is a lot of fun, and as they say, if you’re not having fun, don’t do it.’

Some Australian Brands Represented by Gaffney International Licensing

Bananas in Pajamas

Blinky Bill

The Wiggles

Plucka Duck

Flat Cats

Music Shop

Humphrey B. Bear

Some Imported Brands Represented by Gaffney International Licensing

Sesame Street

Thomas the Tank Engine

Star Wars


The Smurfs


The Fred Gaffney they know

-Joy Tashjian

President, worldwide merchandising and sales – DIC Entertainment

Fred Gaffney is a special man. Over the years, working with Fred has brought me some of my most memorable and humorous moments. Fred, as everyone knows, is never short on words. He can talk so much that he could wear out anyone’s answering machine. If you plan a trip to Australia, sleep for a week first, since you will never have a chance to rest once you get there. Fred is the ambassador to the retail and manufacturing world in Australia. He is the life of the meeting, and he is respected by all.

Fred is never depleted of energy, so anyone who works with him knows they need lots of it. But don’t worry if you don’t have it. Fred will just keep talking even if you close your eyes.

I can’t think of another gentleman in the industry who has given the merchandising world so much charisma, vitality and success from down under.

It is with great pleasure that we salute him, and I personally wish him and Irene many years of happiness, good health and continued success.

-Tony Blain and staff

ACME Merchandising

Fred must be acknowledged and applauded for his tenacity, enthusiasm, commitment and knowledge of the licensing gambit. His focus and stamina are extraordinary!

The Gaffney portfolio of licenses, licensors and properties are a testimony to Fred’s achievements, licensing acumen and devotion in Australasia and, more recently, globally.

As Fred would put it: ‘to be in the inner sanctum and to be part of the family, Guru 1 should meet Guru 2, visit as many retail stores as possible and marry the legends to form the Licensed Property of the Year!’

Congratulations, Fred, and the staff of Gaffney International Licensing, for achieving this 20-year milestone.

-Rob Wijeratne

International Licensing Manager – BBC Worldwide

SCENE: MIP-TV, April 1997, BBC Worldwide Booth

I have arranged a meeting with Fred Gaffney and Liz Keynes, head of licensing for Aardman Animation (owners of the rights for Wallace and Gromit) to discuss the overall licensing strategy for Wallace and Gromit in Australia. The booth is, as usual, overcrowded and hot, the atmosphere is buzzing, and we have actually managed to get a table-a rarity at this market.

Suddenly, what is supposed to be a reasonably straightforward discussion turns into a full-scale film set!


Fred with mobile phones at either ear and an Australian film crew in tow, complete with cameraman, soundman with a.v. large boom, lighting, director, etc. The aim: to get a slice of the action as far as international licensing g’es. Who better to give them a flavor of this highly successful industry than the irrepressible Fred himself, in full flight at a high-level meeting! Fred, as always, takes center stage, playing to the camera, explaining the whole Gaffney International philosophy and going to great lengths to explain the worldwide Bananas in Pajamas licensing phenomenon.

While this is extremely interesting and informative, it isn’t entirely relevant to the BBC/Aardman/Wallace and Gromit meeting. However, it d’es illustrate Fred’s wealth of knowledge of the business and his recipe for licensing success. Only Fred could get away with this! In addition, Fred then proceeds to demonstrate his latest acquistion of techno-wizardry, a brand new digital camera, and isn’t content until he has succeeded in encouraging everyone to try it out!


This scene provides a fine testament to Fred’s warmth, energy, enthusiasm and total commitment to his portfolio of characters worldwide. Needless to say, Liz Keynes at Aardman was totally bowled over and impressed by Fred’s presence and unique style, and the meeting was a runaway sucess. In turn, the Wallace and Gromit Australian licensing campaign is still going from strength to strength.

Congratulations, Fred, on your 20 years in the business. It’s great to be working with you.

-John Howson

Head of Licensing – BBC Worldwide Publishing

Whatever trade fair you attend, wherever in the world, Fred Gaffney is the one larger-than-life person you’re guaranteed to meet, with his quadruple-fold business cards and an air miles statement that would make a pilot’s log book look fairly insignificant! When the Gaffney team enters the immigration hall, all the customs officers dive for cover.

Like most people who have been involved in international licensing, I have visited Australia on a number of occasions. To say that one’s itinerary has been hijacked is a polite way of saying that you’re Fred’s for the week. From dawn to dusk, this guy tears you around the place like a thing possessed, with the occasional break to jump on a plane to get to the next meeting. The stereo sound of Fred’s mobile phones are a constant reminder that his business tentacles reach out to all parts of the globe. The fact that they sound like my local church on a Sunday morning is somewhat irrelevant, but there are some vague similarities.

I wonder how many individuals outside Disney and Warner Bros. have the ability to convene a character conference up in the Blue Mountains and attract senior licensing executives from all over the world-a truly remarkable feat.

His magnetic personality probably ranks him as the number one ambassador for the Australian Tourist Board. I think I have more books and maps of Australia than I do of the U.K. and Europe. This is obviously a love affair between man and country that was bred into him. He takes every opportunity to tell the rest of the world that Australia is as much part of the focal point of licensing as any other country. With his level of energy, no unsuspecting potential licensee is safe!

Contratulations, Fred, on the 20th anniversary of Gaffney International. I, together with the world’s airlines and hoteliers, look forward to the next 20!

-Grahame Grassby

Head of ABC Licensing – ABC Enterprises

One of my favorite Fred stories, and there are many, occurred in November 1995, during the 2nd International Bananas in Pajamas Conference. As part of the conference, ABC Licensing arranged a mystery trip to a small Australian town called Wagga Wagga to witness The Wiggles live in concert.

The twin-propeller plane that flew from Sydney to Wagga Wagga was small. The plane that flew from Wagga Wagga to Melbourne was even smaller.

The time spent in Wagga Wagga was priceless, with activities including a cook-your-own barbecue at the Wagga Wagga Winery, featuring arguably the world’s weirdest wine, a trip to the Wagga Wagga Zoo, where the Aussie animals demonstrated to our overseas guests the meaning of ‘pouching’ and, of course, The Wiggles, who wowed them at the Wagga Wagga Leagues Club.

Following these festivities, it was time to fly to Melbourne.

So there we all were-Fred Gaffney and staff, the Sachs team (Jerry, Barbara and Jim), Sid Kaufman (TLS), Bill and Sharon Carlson (Tomy), Grant Irwin (Irwin Toys), Louise Coburn (NZ), Dennis Callaghan (Tree Toys), Anna Addicote (Acme Merchandising), Merryl Mills and myself-strapped in and ready to take off from Wagga Wagga.

There was one small problem. The weight of all the overseas luggage and various menfolk who had congregated in the back seats meant that the plane was so back-heavy that the front wheel of the plane was off the ground.

The hostess of Air Small made an announcement. ‘Would all the men move to the front of the aircraft, and would all the women move to the rear of the aircraft.’ These instructions were dutifully carried out, except by Fred, who was so busy in the backseat on his mobile phones imparting therapy on some licensees, that he had failed to notice the major seating rearrangement that was taking place.

Jerry Sachs, seeing the need for leadership, responded, ‘hey, Fred, move your ass up to the front seat!’ Fred relocated himself up front and sure enough, the hostess confirmed that the weight was now distributed satisfactorily in order to attempt a takeoff.

The little plane proceeded down the runway, saying to itself, ‘I think I can, I think I can,’ and with everyone holding their breath, up we went and the International Bananas Team landed safely in Melbourne.

Fred, thanks for the memories and for being a terrific licensing agent and friend.

-David Hendy

Joint managing director – Funtastic

One of the most memorable occasions was seeing Fred in Sydney at the Nike Hotel when the staff had lost his laundry and he had a 7:30 a.m. breakfast meeting. So there he was at breakfast, surrounded by Japaneses tourists, in his dressing gown. Oh, what a sight!

Fred is an expert negotiator with his licensees. He sits them down, gives them a lovely cup of coffee and a biscuit and g’es into major negotiations. The negotiations are always very, very meaningful. This is what you’ll be paying, this is what you’ll be doing and this is how you do it!

-David Tolmer

Joint managing director – Funtastic

There are so many stories about Fred, and the taller they appear, the truer they likely are.

I grew up with Fred in Beaumaris and after completing school, Fred took a job at Woolworth, where he quickly rose to the position of store manager. In the late ’60s, Fred joined the toy industry in reply to an ad for a bright, energetic young salesman who must be a self-starter with determination and application. The ad was headed, ‘Australia’s Go-Ahead Toy Company,’ and at the bottom of the ad was the line, ‘the right man will find us.’ The ad appeared in Saturday’s paper, and at 7 a.m. that same morning, Fred was on the phone to the managing director, Alex Tolmer, saying he wanted the job. Naturally, he got it.

Ian Frederick Gaffney arrived for work at Toltoys to be greeted by Alex Tolmer, who said they had a sales director named Ian McMurtie and a manufacturing director named Ian Anderson. ‘We have enough Ians here already. You need another name.’ And so Fred was christened into the toy industry.

I have been to many presentations given by Fred, but one that quickly comes to mind was a luncheon meeting at a restaurant in south Melbourne, where Fred was informing a table of four about a new license he was interested in. At the conclusion of his intimate discussion with the four diners, the whole restaurant rose and applauded.

-Jon C. Thorpe

General Manager, Marketing – Hasbro Australia

Fred Gaffney is a legend in the Australian licensing industry. His outstanding achievements have been accomplished through a dynamic mixture of the ability to identify opportunity, indefatigable efforts to establish and nurture key relationships, unbridled enthusiasm and irrepressible energy. In fact, if you could harness the energy Fred emits, it would probably be enough to light up his home base of Melbourne city. We love him!

-David Jacobs

Regional Vice President, Asia and Latin America – Children’s Television Workshop

I’ve known Fred for about 10 years, and he’s been Children’s Television Workshop’s representative in Australia on and off for nearly 20 years. So he’s had a helping hand in building the Sesame Street franchise of publishing and products in Australia.

General impressions of Fred:

- One of a kind. That’s probably the best way to describe him. One of a kind, and with a passion for, and a thorough knowledge of, licensing.

- Incredibly knowledgeable about the licensing business. His clear understanding that retail is an integral part of the licensing business and that you have to understand how retail works and all of its machinations to implement a strong licensing program have made him a leader and an innovator in licensing.

- Aside from Fred’s unique personality, he is as knowledgeable as anyone in the business about licensing.

A classic Fred experience:

Fred tries to be the first at everything, especially when it comes to technology. One day, about 10 years ago, he wanted to be one of the first in Australia to have a mobile phone. The only type of phone that worked at the time was one in which you had to have the car running to keep the battery going. Fred would go to meetings with us and keep an assistant in the car with the engine running so as not to miss a call from a retailer.

Fred wants to be reached anywhere in the world. Despite the fact that he’s never in Australia, he claims that he can be reached through his business card, which, to this day, is the longest business card that anyone has ever seen. It lists almost every major hotel in the world that Fred has thought about staying at or has visited, with every telephone, fax and mobile link number possible.

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