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Paul Black, from Anderson Press, on the directions they’d like to take Elmer…
Hi Paul. Thanks for joining us. I understand you’ve been involved in books one way or the other for quite some time. What’s your background?
Yes, I’ve been in publishing for 15 years or so now, starting off in events for a children’s book museum…
Oh! Which one?
It’s called Seven Stories; it’s in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. After moving to London, I started working in PR for a number of children’s publishers before coming to be PR and Brand Director at Andersen Press.
Andersen Press is very well established, right? How many titles do they have?
I don’t think I could count how many we’ve published! We’ve been publishing books for nearly 50 years…
Wow. And what percentage of those have active licensing opportunities?
A very, very small number have any active licensing! In that respect, Elmer the Patchwork Elephant is by far our biggest, with toys, cards and gifting, apparel for children and adults, and more. We’ve seen another book by David McKee, Not Now Bernard, picked up more recently, with merchandise and a stage show. Also, last Christmas saw the stage debut of The Bolds, a series of books we publish written by Julian Clary and illustrated by David Roberts.
That’s about the family of hyenas?!
Brilliant. So tell me, Paul, what are some of your day-to-day responsibilities?
I look after all our media and event appearances not only for Andersen Press as a publisher, but also all of our authors. On top of that, I work with my colleagues in marketing on the campaigns we run to get our books into the hands of booksellers, librarians and consumers.
Sounds like a huge job…
I also look after the Elmer brand. That means I work with our licensing agent, Metrostar, on our licensing partners, and my editorial colleagues on approvals for licensed goods and our partner organisations media, designs and activations.
“Not many other children’s characters have something like that, and that’s what marks Elmer out.”
You were at the Hay Festival recently, celebrating Elmer Day. For the uninitiated, what IS Elmer Day?
Elmer Day is our annual celebration for bookshops, libraries, schools, nurseries and those at home to celebrate David McKee’s iconic character with a free events pack to download. There are special events put on around the country to encourage everyone to love their colours and pick up and enjoy an Elmer book!
I used to read to children at the local library so I know that Elmer remains a popular character in – what? 27 books? In your opinion, what makes him so popular?
At the heart of Elmer is the message of acceptance, inclusivity and celebration – not many other children’s characters are lucky enough to have something like that and that’s what marks Elmer out – as well as his iconic, colourful design!
Yes – that can’t hurt! Elmer is identifiable from some distance! So, now… Elmer’s creator, David McKee, was also the brains behind Mr. Benn, King Rollo and many others… He authored dozens and dozens of books… Sadly, Mr. McKee passed over earlier this month. What’s his legacy, do you think?
David actually made well over 200 books, each one with a unique wit and outlook on the world. His playful style and use of perspective are particularly unique. His legacy will always be his iconic books, and the playful and interesting way they looked at the world. We could all do to be a bit more like David.
Good answer, thank you. And in terms of Elmer’s brand potential, it seems to me there are a number of directions in which the IP could go. Are there plans for animations in the future, for example?
There are plans in active development with Factory Films – but that’s as much as I can say at this point!
I had a feeling you’d say that, but it was worth a try! I also know you have a range of soft toys with Rainbow Designs. What else, do you think, might make a good brand extension for Elmer? Are there specific areas into which you’d like to take him?
We’ve got some great products coming out with Rainbow this year – wooden toys and cloth books to go with the brilliant plush toys they already make. Licensee Robert Frederick have made some great art and craft products, too, with more to come this year. We’d all love to see new bath toys for Elmer, he’s often found splashing about in the books!
Bath toys is a great shout!
We’d also love to see more adult clothing collaborations with Elmer as there’s so much potential visually with the character and with the ethos of the brand. There could be loads to play with in that nostalgia space!
“We’re really flexible with new partners, and welcome all ideas… Let’s talk!”
Great! I’ll ask you this… What ethos do potential brand partners have to bring to the table when looking at Elmer?
We’re really flexible with new partners, and welcome all ideas. However, we always want that sense of inclusivity and acceptance at the heart of Elmer and the licensing we do… So as long as they fit with that, let’s talk!
A clarion call! Paul, this has been lovely not least of all because I adore Elmer. Let me wrap up by asking you this… What’s the one thing I should’ve asked you today but didn’t?
Which is my favourite Elmer book by David McKee…
And what’s the answer?
Beautiful. Paul, thank you so much – do keep us posted on future developments!
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