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Surge Licensing’s Elan Freedman reveals how he brings out the best in creative people…
Elan, thanks for joining us. You’re the Executive Vice President at Surge Licensing. Tell us a little about what Surge Licensing does?
Surge Licensing, at its core, is a brand development agency. We love to partner visionary creators or licensors, and scale their nascent brands into multifaceted consumer product and entertainment franchises. We treat every licensing partnership as an opportunity to offer fans a new way of engaging with the brand they love and adore. So long as we can feed a community of fans with innovative experiences, we can give a brand a chance to be meaningful in peoples’ lives.
How did you get into the industry?
The character brand-licensing industry is quite unique in that many of the leading companies are family businesses. Similarly, I was born into the industry and quite literally grew up in Surge Licensing. My parents, Mark and Renay Freedman, founded the company in 1986
On what did they build the business?
They built it with their discovery of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles! As they were global agents and brand stewards of the Ninja Turtles, I spent much of my childhood at toy fairs and licensing expos. I did my homework in a conference room surrounded by Ninja Turtles’ toys, writing with a Leonardo pencil in a Donatello notebook. So you can say building brands is in my blood.
Love it! And recently, Surge Licensing became the North American Licensing Agent for the Anime mobile role-playing game, Epic Seven. For those unfamiliar with Epic Seven, or E7 as it’s also known, what is it?
Epic Seven is an episodic role playing game where players adventure through a fantasy world ,with over 230 characters, to save it from its demise. But where the game really shines is that it’s a gorgeous playable anime, with incredibly rich storytelling. The game is updated all the time; new adventure and challenges bring players back for non-stop action.
The animation on it is incredible. I’ve seen cinema movies that can’t hold a candle to it! How easy is it to translate to physical products, do you think?
There’s no question that the animation is absolutely stunning, the character design is gorgeous, and the story line provides for incredible play pattern. However, what makes E7 easy to translate to physical product is actually the audience.
The fans have an appetite for product. Our challenge is making sure we carefully select product that fans are most excited for… But also make sure we add an element of innovation that WOWS the community.
I like the idea that the word WOWS is in the brief! To that point what, specifically, have you been engaged to do?
Surge Licensing has been engaged as the North America agent for E7. In partnership and collaboration with Smilegate, the licensor, we’re tasked with leading the development of the licensing and merchandising program in the territory. We’ll be working intimately with Smilegate to architect the merchandising strategy and execute it.
And in terms of the ideation behind the deal, how are you going about it? Where do you start with such a massive undertaking?
We always start with the fanbase and attempt to uncover what they’re looking for, what they’re craving. With social media, the amount of user-generated content and – in this instance – a strong fanbase, it’s more fun than it is a challenge to learn about the community’s “wish list.” From there, we factor in the appropriate retail distribution, core categories and timing. Then we’re off to the races!
Great turn of phrase! Conversely, which one area needs far more thought than the others?
Innovation. Our clients work with Surge because we don’t believe in ‘label slapping’. Finding innovative ways to deliver new experiences always takes extra thought. But it’s also where developing brands becomes a lot of fun.
How important is that extra thought then, that creativity?
Simply put, it’s a necessity. It’s a vital ingredient in an exciting product assortment. It’s the only strategy to bring a nascent brand to market. Creativity, imagination, and innovation give an emerging brand a chance to find its audience. Let’s not forget, before a product on a shelf can excite a fan, a licensee and a licensor or agent have to dream a dream together about the future.
That’s a lovely way of putting it. And from your point of view, how do you bring out the best in creative people?
In licensing, creativity is the byproduct of a shared vision and a shared goal. As a brand manager, it’s my job to help creatives understand the greater goal, the desire to shoot for the stars and then offer a platform for his or her work to reach a fanbase. In short, once we all know where we’re going, it’s time for me to step out of the way and enjoy watching the process.
Great answer! What else are you working on at the moment?
We’re really excited about the portfolio of brands we’re working with. They span brands native to YouTube – Spy Ninjas, Cosmic Kids Yoga; Publishing – Diane Alber’s Spot, Scribble, and Never Let a Unicorn series, Nick Seluk’s The Awkward Yeti… There are Toy-First brands – Feisty Pets, Thimblestump Hollow, and Boglins; and gaming brands Munchkin and Ninjatown.
Sounds incredibly busy!
We recently launched a brands licensing business, called Surge Brands. As a family-run business, I have a younger brother who’s very passionate about food brands… It’s been a lot of fun to help him launch a new vertical and see his career blossom. We’re also pretty excited about the future of the content business, and growing a kids and family entertainment slate with our sister companies, Capacitor Studios and Electric Monster Media.
Well thank you, Elan. This has been the most insightful and I appreciate your time. Just before we wrap it up, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you but didn’t?
Thank you for the lay-up! Are there any types of clients or brands you’d like to work with?
Seems like a damn-fine question. What’s the answer?!
Inventors! We’d love to work with great inventors to build out feature-driven toy concepts in to brands. We’ve been lucky to have worked with great inventors like Mark Forti of Feisty Pets to help turn a feature plush toy in to a true character brand… And we’d love to have the opportunity to create more consumer product and entertainment franchises in this manner.
Aces. Sounds like we should have a separate conversation about Mojo Nation, but for now, Elan, thank you for your time!
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