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Nick Barrington talks us through how the firm approaches licensing – and what the future looks like for The World of Dinosaur Roar.
Set up in 2013 by Nick Barrington and Peter Curtis, Nurture Rights is a kids’ entertainment company – and home to The World of Dinosaur Roar.
What began as a book series has since expanded into toys, magazines, apparel, homewares and more recently, live experiences thanks to a series of popular discovery trails.
We spoke with Nick Barrington to find out more about how the firm approach licensing for the brand – and what the future looks like for The World of Dinosaur Roar.
Nick, great to catch up. Before we look at The World of Dinosaur Roar, what was your route into working with brands?
My route in was being a television producer. Peter Curtis – the other half of Nurture Rights – came from HIT Entertainment, and I came from Endemol, but we teamed up to produce a series called The Koala Brothers together.
In animation, so much of your funding comes from licensing, but at the time, we didn’t know a great deal about licensing. Initially, it was a trial by fire but we eventually became fascinated by it.
We saw it as part of the creative process. Rather than creating an idea and handing it to someone else to do the licensing, our view is that from the first sketch of a dinosaur to the book and the plush toy, it’s all part of the same creative process.
Did other people in TV have the same realisation as you? Do you think that space has fully ‘wised up’ to licensing in the way you did?
The larger players have. They have brand plans, but there are always surprises. I remember at Endemol; someone did a pub quiz machine deal around Big Brother. It generated a huge amount of money and was properly left-field.
Smaller producers and people that have great ideas for books and shows can sometimes struggle with turning those ideas into a business plan. But that business plan is a creative process; it’s not something an accountant can do. People can be hesitant, and we certainly were when we started.
Talk us through Nurture Rights; how do you approach licensing?
We like to work on one project at a time. We worked on The Koala Brothers for eight years and then that ended its commercial life with us and carried on elsewhere. Then we moved on to ‘The World of Dinosaur Roar!’ and that’s what we focus on now.
The way we work, in a nutshell, is that we build IP and manage it, and we manage it all ourselves. Peter writes the books, manages the creative process and does the approvals on the products, while I work much more on the commercial side.
If we were a larger company, we might have a publishing division and a digital division, but we’re looking for a consistency when it comes to design and execution, and that’s easier if everything comes from the same people. We might need to employ a few people soon though because it’s getting a bit crazy!
How do you balance writing The World of Dinosaur Roar! stories with ensuring there are elements of in there that can be later explored commercially through product – without comprising the integrity of the books?
You have to have a particular mindset. We couldn’t be happier with the licensees that we work with now, but in our overall careers, we’ve had silly conversations like ‘Can you put a backpack on it because Dora the Explorer’s backpack is selling really well?’ You have to have a lot of integrity and avoid those quick money-making ideas. You want to keep your characters and your brand authentic, and Peter is exceptionally good at that.
We’ve learnt from style guides about how to think commercially when creating the books – like using on-trend colours – but we don’t entertain the ‘backpack’ style conversations.
Dinosaurs is such a well-established area, especially for kids in toys and movies. How did you guys approach bringing something new to this space?
We approached it with a clear mission as to who we were talking to. We work with Natural History Museum on ‘The World of Dinosaur Roar!’, and during development, we were talking about targeting a particular visitor to the Museum, and that’s a child who is three to five years old that loves dinosaurs, but they don’t like the elements that an eight-year-old boy might like.
Exactly… a T-Rex attacking a Triceratops; that aggressive side of dinosaurs. They love the concept of dinosaurs but they get a little bit frightened by the size of them. They can say the Latin names and they want information, but it’s a softer side of dinosaurs that they’re interested in. Areas like dinosaur babies, or how dinosaurs go to sleep; things like that. This is our audience for The World of Dinosaur Roar!
We have 13 characters and we’re adding more now. They’re colour coded, then each has its own unique a name based on an onomatopoeic word and they each have their Latin name.
The idea was that a younger child might refer to a dinosaur as ‘the red one’ and a parent could tell them that dinosaur’s name is Dinosaur Whizz. When they get older, they discover it’s called a Coelophysis, so kids can grow with the property.
Smart stuff. And these dinosaurs don’t talk or do cartoony things like drive cars or dance…
No, we agreed with the Natural History Museum that our dinosaurs wouldn’t talk or interact with the 21st Century. We took them off the timeline, so certain dinosaurs that didn’t exist together do exist together in The World of Dinosaur Roar! We also work on describing dinosaurs without using a unit of measurement or a number greater than nine. We use comparisons to a pre-schooler’s world. Our whole approach is the opposite of some properties that anthropomorphise their characters.
Did that take quite a leap of faith from you guys, especially as the norm is for talking creatures engaging with ‘our’ world?
At the beginning, everyone told us we were insane and that we’d never compete with generic dinosaurs. That said, we’ve stuck to our plan and we’ve grown every year.
Did some of these decisions impact the discussions you were having with potential licensees?
It was very difficult at the beginning. Potential licensing partners felt that we were competing with generic dinosaurs and that it wasn’t going to work. When the books and plush started selling, and we could see a child point to our plush and say “That’s Dinosaur Munch!” you know it’s working.
You’ve mentioned the Natural History Museum. What is their role in Dinosaur Roar?
It’s a licensing deal. They earn royalties on our product sales and they approve everything we do. They’ve been incredibly supportive and helpful. If we have questions about dinosaurs, we can tap straight into the palaeontology team and that’s fantastic. It’s been a good experience for us.
For designers within licensees, what makes designing Dinosaur Roar product a great creative project?
Well, everybody loves dinosaurs! What’s unique for licensees working with us is that they’re working directly with Peter, who created the characters. This helps them get into the vision for the brand and create some really great products.
Peter loves that process and licensees like the fact that they’re working directly with the guy who wrote the books.
And it’s not just consumer products, you’ve also launched a few Dinosaur Roar Discovery Trail experiences. What went into creating those?
Peter and I were trying to work out if you were three years old, how would you want to interact with our characters. We spoke about augmented reality, animation and eventually it came down to… You want to see one! To get up close and touch one!
We currently have three trails in the UK, all at farm parks. There’s one at Farmer Palmers Farm Park in Dorset, one at Godstone Farm in Surrey and one at Manor Farm Park & Woodlands in the East Midlands. We’re in discussions about launching a more trails next year and we’re looking for more locations to partner with.
And everything within them is authentic. The signage links back to the books. The way we present facts on the trail is the same as how we present facts in the books. You go through different colour zones on the trails. A lot of thought has gone into it.
One of the joys of licensing of you learn about other businesses and we’ve learnt a lot about the farm park world and it’s fascinating. What started off as a trail at these locations has since expanded to events and birthday parties. It’s moved on already and is growing organically.
Sticking with experiences, do you see opportunities in an area like hospitality?
Absolutely. Our Dinosaur Discovery Trail currently has seven of our characters on it, and we’ve started talking to theme parks. The whole family experience industry is a great opportunity for people with IP. We’re talking about all sorts of things, including touring experiences.
Exciting stuff. With your background in TV, is that on agenda at some point?
Well because our background is in television, we deliberately held off because we wanted the brand to grow slowly. That said, it’s something we’re looking at now. We’re also looking at live shows.
Before I let you go, how do you guys fuel your creativity?
Because Peter and I work very closely together, you have to keep the creative process very close to the running of the company. It keeps everything fresh.
We also probably obsess about our dinosaurs a bit too much; I can’t go shopping without spotting something and thinking how it might work for our brand.
Nick, this has been great. Huge thanks again for taking time out for this.
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