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The do’s and don’ts of getting your licensees together under one roof

It's no secret that clear and frequent communication between licensors and licensees can make or break a consumer products program. But for property owners working with a large pool of domestic and international licensees, it can be tricky to find the time to check in. So why not get the whole gang together for a pow-wow that ensures everyone from the Belgian sock manufacturer to the worldwide master toy partner is on the same page?
October 1, 2007

It’s no secret that clear and frequent communication between licensors and licensees can make or break a consumer products program. But for property owners working with a large pool of domestic and international licensees, it can be tricky to find the time to check in. So why not get the whole gang together for a pow-wow that ensures everyone from the Belgian sock manufacturer to the worldwide master toy partner is on the same page?

Licensee summits have been warmly embraced by the industry’s power players over the last few years as a more efficient way to connect with partners once or twice a year and help them stay on-side of the brand vision. It’s a chance for manufacturers to get a sense of how the overall program is developing, share best practice tips with other licensees, and hear first-hand about the property’s latest and greatest achievements and goals for the future.

But given how many bodies these events involve, and how much info there is to download, it’s not the easiest thing in the world to pull one off. So KidScreen talked to several regular attendees to glean some basic do’s and don’ts that may help licensors pack the room and send partners away with renewed focus and passion for their brands.

Basically, there are two kinds of summits: the multi-brand variety that sees companies devote an entire day to going through their portfolios of existing and upcoming properties; and one-trick ponies that zero in on a single IP at a time and take about a half day to present. But regardless of the summit’s length, it’s important to keep them as focused as possible – long enough to provide all the salient details, but concise enough to keep your licensees listening and not overload them with information.

It’s pretty common to kick off the summit with a general overview of the brand, recent updates in key categories and broadcast activity, and any news on upcoming events, promotions and launches. There’s a break for lunch to give everyone a breather, usually followed by an afternoon of breakout sessions, when licensees gather together in smaller discussion groups to tackle specific topics.

When you’re looking at an already-crowded event calendar and trying to pick a time that might work for a meeting of the minds, you may be tempted to piggyback on a pre-existing trade event such as Licensing Show or Toy Fair. After all, you know your invitees will be in one place and focused on their licensing business. And working during these time frames can be an excellent way to get international partners into the mix. ‘We take advantage of their travel plans versus trying to get them here a third or fourth time a year just for the summit,’ says Rick Glankler, VP of licensing at HIT Entertainment, which hosts around those times. He adds that it also works to the advantage of smaller manufacturing companies that may have tighter travel budgets.

But despite the convenient timing, a counterpoint worth taking into consideration is that licensees are maxed out in terms of time and attention at these events, so there’s potential for lower attendance, and a crowd that may not be as focused as you’d like.

Even though she’s been around the block a bit, Valerie Garfield, VP and publisher of novelty and licensed publishing at Simon & Schuster, still finds it extremely useful when licensors present what she calls the 30,000-foot view. ‘I am keenly aware what the expectations are for the book group,’ she says. ‘But in terms of the brand in general, it helps me see where it’s headed and how to position my group’s activities within those plans.’ So if a licensor announced a strategy for exclusivity at a mass retailer with multiple partners, Garfield would talk with the licensor about the opportunity to participate and work on an exclusive book for the account.

Meeting other partners is also an advantage. An important component to include during licensee gatherings is a breakout session that gives invitees an opportunity to swap tips and tricks of the trade with each other. For HIT, Glankler says breakout sessions will typically have a moderator present to lead the discussion. The smaller gatherings, say for softlines partners, are also helpful for licensees who have more specific questions that pertain to their categories. ‘We all have struggles,’ says Lisa Streff, DIC Entertainment’s VP of domestic licensing. ‘If one partner is successful at one retailer and one’s not, they can share information on how they did it, or didn’t do it, and look at ways to improve their respective businesses.’

Facilitating an open dialogue with other licensees can also lead to cross-promotional opportunities that may benefit the brand. HIT’s Glankler recalls that at the latest Thomas the Tank Engine summit, partners RC2 (toy), Random House (publishing) and Fox (home entertainment) discussed working together on a fall 2008 promotion for a Thomas’ Great Discovery DVD in which Thomas and his friends discover a long-lost town and set about rebuilding it. The partners made plans to support each other’s products at retail, in the form of inside cover ads in publishing, promo tags on toy packaging and insert sheets in the DVD.

But Henry Stupp, president of L.A.-based NTD Apparel, says the best summits don’t try to bite off more than they can chew. While he agrees that grouping a bunch of licensees to discuss joint promos is a good idea, he feels that they should be segmented and more strategically grouped together. The toy partner, for example, doesn’t have to be present at every gathering.

Though talking shop is the raison d’etre, summits don’t have to be boring either. This is the kids industry, after all, and it doesn’t hurt to inject a little fun. Plus entertainment breaks are a great way to lighten up the mood after information-heavy sessions and keep everyone engaged. Thermos’ director of licensing Julie Ryan says that Disney has brought licensees to its theme park to re-energize and refresh everyone. And with such a vast array of cutting-edge technology at our fingertips, audio and video can certainly help make presentations more appealing. But be careful not to go overboard and be all flash and no substance. Audio visual aids should be used to enhance the purpose of your summit, not mask it entirely.

HIT’s Glankler says everyone is always eager to hear about what’s going on at retail, and some licensees find that having a few retailers present during summits can provide them with valuable insight into their own programs. Ryan says that some licensors bring in retail business development groups who compile information on licensed products from different departments at various retailers, enabling licensees to find out why they may be performing well in one channel, but not in another. These reports are often her best take-aways from summits, and she’s pleased that they’ve become more common in recent years because they reveal that a particular property is selling well in mass apparel, for example, or if it’s a bestseller for holiday, so she can pushing that license for back-to-school.

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