Brandchannel: You continue to define the brand licensing space, first as a pioneer and now ushering in a new wave of young licensing professionals as a professor at Baruch University. How did it all begin?
Stone: My career in brand licensing is a crossroads of professional and personal development. Growing up, my Dad was engaged in entertainment licensing, which exposed me to the business at an early age. Professionally, I began as an attorney working as part of the legal team representing National Football League Properties, earning my stripes evaluating license agreements and litigating infrngers. With the skills I learned and developed as an attorney, combined with the knowledge of the business I had growing up I joined forces with an entertainment lawyer as my partner (we remained partners for over 20 years) and found myself engaged in licensing in the mid-1980ís, representing clients such as Harley-Davidson and The Coca-Cola Company (both of which pursued licensing, initially, as a legal tool to protect their trademarks). We founded Beanstalk in 1992. Today, Iím taking the knowledge I have gained and sharing it with graduate students through an introduction to brand licensing course.
Bailey: Brand licensing was a career path I chose after many years in marketing and advertising, so I canít truthfully say itís something Iíve dreamed of since I was a little girl. Throughout my career I was fortunate to spend time both in-house and on the agency side. I had my start working in-house at Procter & Gamble, later moving to different advertising agencies, then, working in-house again at various fast-food chains including Royal Castle and Burger King. While my initial experience provided a lot of perspective and experience, it was at Burger King where I discovered licensing would be my bread and butter (no pun intended). I then launched Nancy Bailey & Associates in 1982 and the rest was history.
BC: How has the role of a brand licensing executive changed since you started your respective agencies?
Stone: Itís not so much a matter of how the role has changed as how itís grown in terms of the skills required. Brands now recognize that there is real value in brand licensing as a marketing and communications tool. The Coca-Cola Company was really the first brand to recognize this in the late 1980s when it launched a line of fashion apparel sold in department and free standing stores, which generated several $100 million at retail. Leveraging a brandís name and logo, essentially the brandís ďcrown jewels,Ē through great licensing has proved invaluable in realizing the full potential of a brandís equity and marketers are now well aware of the opportunity available to them.
Bailey: Brand licensing wasnít on the radar screen in terms of a companyís marketing strategy. Licensing, if you can even call it that, was more promotional marketing handled by a junior staffer who made novelty items, t-shirts and other ďtrinketsĒ It took a long time for brands to understand that brand extensions would be more strategic and didnít mean that their logo would be stamped on a product for decoration. Today, brand extensions have become more about innovative product lines that are seamless to consumers and appear to be made by the core brand.
BC: What skill sets are required for success on the agency and client side? Have they changed since you first started?
Stone: In the beginning, agencies generally recruited strong salespeople, because it was mostly about selling a brand to a licensee. Now, the industry and its professionals have evolved, calling for more strategic thinkers who can identify brand partnerships that push the envelope, create valuable touchpoints with consumers and tie back to a brandís core business. And agencies have also had to keep up with the skill sets of those assigned to licensing on the client side; frequently executives with strong marketing, strategic and account backgrounds.
Bailey: While licensors tend to share a common marketing past, practitioners on the agency side have adapted to serve a wide spectrum of clients. In-house, thereís typically one brand, one logo and one message, and while that should not take away from the creativity required to sustain relevancy for that brand, which admittedly can be tricky, succeeding on the agency side often requires running a gauntlet of continuously evolving client needs.
BC: What do you think is the most appealing aspect of brand licensing for prospective talent, or students, interested in entering the field?
Stone: One of the great advantages of a career in licensing is the exposure to a wide variety of industries and business skills, especially on the agency side. Itís a wonderful learning experience for young professionals still trying to determine where to plant their feet. While I make a conscious effort not to pitch licensing as a career to my students, I teach a curriculum that I developed through an introduction to brand licensing and I get the sense that the students enjoy the creative process of brand licensing and can appreciate the range of skills that it represents and requires. The reality is that as licensing continues to expand across new vertical channels there will be an increase in demand for smart, creative, strategic executives, especially in corporate trademark licensing.
Bailey: Licensing is the most intricate of all marketing disciplines. For those looking to build a strong marketing foundation, learning to peel back the layers of a brandís equity is an invaluable skill in the larger marketing scheme. Young people today are very brand savvy. A career in licensing offers exposure to all types of consumer brands as well as celebrities, sports and entertainment properties that are also considered ďbrands.Ē Itís an exciting ever-evolving industry that continues to expand.
BC: What personality types are better suited for success in the business?
Stone: An entrepreneurial edge is a strong characteristic in this business Ė we find those personalities can better guide clients with rational, creative and appropriate levels of aggressiveness and enthusiasm. Also, people need to feel secure ďspinning lots of platesĒ at the same time. Working for multiple clients on multiple strategies with all sorts of different daily requirements requires a certain type of executive. Be fearless!
Bailey: A-type personalities Ė itís important that our young professionals are not afraid to take initiative and share ideas. Our success depends heavily on collaboration and creative thinking, so itís in everyoneís best interest to contribute positively to the clients and our company.
BC: Is the business of brand licensing defined yet, or is it still evolving?
Stone: Today, more people, especially younger generations, are aware of licensing. Mary Kate & Ashley Olsen, one of the youngest celebrity brands to license, drove a lot of attention back to the business and helped younger consumers understand how celebrities could extend their brands. But itís only recently that licensing received a true seat at the marketing table among corporate brands. There are more brands and properties engaged in licensing than ever before, and as competition builds, brands will continue to seek strategic extensions that help expand touch points with consumers.
Bailey: Corporations are looking to brand licensing as a means to extend their brand more than ever. It has become an efficient, low risk way to test new and existing markets, as well as position and extend a brand. The restaurant industry, for example, has recognized the value in bringing product lines to grocery in some cases as a way to launch a brand ahead of brick-and-mortar expansion. With new channels such as direct to retail, the rise of online and mobile shopping, and emerging brands in the restaurant, celebrity and digital categories, thereís no question that licensing will continue to grow as a marketing tool.
Michael Stone is the CEO of Beanstalk & Nancy Bailey is the Vice Chairperson of Beanstalk.