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Tim Erickson on why Peanuts is still going strong… And what he looks for in potential partners.
Tim Erickson, terrific to meet you. Thanks for making time! You recently took the role of Executive Vice President of Brand for Peanuts Worldwide. How did you get into the industry?
I was first introduced to the entertainment and licensing industry while I worked for LEGO. I worked at LEGO during the launch of the Star Wars licence. That’s when I saw the power of authentic partnerships and products—I was hooked!
That’s a corking place to start! And where else have you worked subsequently?
I’ve been very fortunate to work for a number of world-class brands. They include Pepsi, Disney, DreamWorks, Fox – and now Peanuts.
To that end, this Saturday is the 71st anniversary of Peanuts… The first strip was published on October 2nd, 1950. After all this time, why is the brand so loved, do you think?
Because everyone can relate to Peanuts, whether you have a favourite character, or you relate to the stories. The creator, Charles Schulz, touched on every conceivable topic and emotion in this strip: the Earth, sports, holidays, medicine, sibling rivalry, politics, happiness, trust, disappointment, philosophy, space travel, friendship and love – often unrequited!
All quite philosophical…
Yes, and because every one of those is a universal experience, Peanuts is one of the rare brands that’s just as relevant today as it was when it began.
Great answer! So with IP that’s not only relevant and well loved, but also well established, how severe are the restrictions in regard to what you can and can’t do with it?
Well, you definitely have a responsibility to both the legacy and the fans to ensure you maintain and celebrate why the brand is special. I always try to look through the creator and fans’ lens to see if see if the opportunity is authentic. If it is – great. If not, then it doesn’t make sense to do it.
That being the case, how do you keep the brand fresh?
By focusing on what makes a brand special, and authentically leveraging platforms and themes that are relevant today. Peanuts has been a genius at this, in my opinion.
Can you give us an example of that?
A good example is the more-than 50-year relationship between Peanuts and NASA, which sent Charlie Brown and Snoopy on the Apollo 10 mission! Today, it extends to the Space Act Agreement, promoting STEM education through the Peanuts characters.
You know, I’d forgotten about that. For those that don’t know, the Apollo 10 command and lunar modules were named Charlie Brown and Snoopy! So there’s a pretty remarkable partnership there…
Right. More recently, we’ve established a hugely successful partnership with AppleTV+ for original specials and series… Two of these, starring Snoopy, are streaming right this minute, along with the classic Peanuts television specials. And more original Peanuts content is forthcoming!
It’s still going strong!
Peanuts has also launched a groundbreaking global initiative, Take Care With Peanuts. This focuses on good global citizenship by inspiring people worldwide to take care of themselves, of each other, and of the Earth. Peanuts has already developed highly effective partnerships – philanthropic, educational, and consumer facing – to spread the message on six of the seven continents.
Given, then, that you’re open to new licensing opportunities, which areas are you most keen to explore?
The world of gaming and metaverses are most exciting to me, both from a storytelling and revenue-generating opportunity. This is going to be a critical way that we’ll bring new fans into the Peanuts brand in a way that’s relevant to kids today.
And beyond offering quality, what are you looking for in potential partners?
Partners that are genuine fans of the Peanuts brand, that operate with integrity and transparency, and with whom we share a common vision.
Conversely, what sets off an alarm bell? What don’t you like to see in a pitch or meeting?
When a potential partner doesn’t truly understand a brand and is looking to treat Peanuts in the same manner as any other IP. This always produces products and experiences that aren’t rue to the legacy and fans’ expectations.
Makes perfect sense. With that in mind, you now work with the family of Peanuts creator, Charles M. Schulz. I’ve a feeling I’d find that intimidating! How involved are they in maintaining the license?
The Schulz family is truly a wonderful partner. Our goals are aligned: we all want to ensure that we deliver experiences that Charles Schulz would be proud of and that fans love.
I’m curious to ask, Tim: if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing, do you think?
At this point it’s hard to think about doing anything else. But I could see myself in the restaurant business. I am a foodie and I’ve always wanted to own my own business.
In the restaurant business. Not an answer I was expecting! Tim, we need to start wrapping this up, but before we do let me ask you this: what’s the one question I should’ve asked you in this interview, but didn’t?
Everyone seems to have their favourite personal Peanuts story. What’s yours?
That’s a great question! And what’s the answer?
My favourite story is how my grandmother and I were both huge fans of the comic strip, and would often read it together. Being a child at the time, I related to the characters, especially Snoopy. And my grandmother truly understood and appreciated the storylines.
Tim, this has been a pleasure! I’m sure fans of the brand will be delighted to see it’s in such a safe pair of hands. Thank you so much for making time to speak with us.
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