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Declan McCarthy, Head of Publishing & Licensing at the Ashmolean, talks us through recent partnerships in tea, coffee and ale.
Declan, it’s great to catch up. Since we last chatted for BU, there has been a number of new licensing deals signed by the Ashmolean. Can you update us on those?
There have been a number of really interesting collaborations. We have widened our range of partnerships, from the more traditional links such as social stationery and the art market in general, into really diverse links – including our wonderful paint range with Graphenstone. As possibly the greenest paint manufacturer on the market, this really chimes with our own net zero targets and is a really great story and partnership. It clearly resonates with a wider audience and has won a number of awards since the launch.
We have also extended our beverage partnerships… We already work successfully with The Oxford Artisan Distillery for Ashmolean Gin and we have extended that to beer with Hook Norton Brewery for an Ashmolean Ale. Elsewhere, we have Ashmolean Tea with Team Tea and a soon to be launched Ashmolean Coffee with Jericho Coffee Traders.
As the Ashmolean programme has grown, have you gained any new insights into how best to use your collection?
I think we are still honing the best offers. The Ashmolean is a collection of around 1.5 million objects, so we are really still scratching the surface! As the oldest public museum in the world – and the reason the word ‘museum’ was introduced into modern language – I feel we can tailor almost anything to fit with a licensee and their market. We like to go behind the object or artwork and find the story. It’s all about the story before the product.
“We like to go behind the object or artwork and find the story.”
You have worked with a number of new to licensing companies. How have you found that process?
I really enjoy it. We always invite potential new partners to come and visit. I like to take them on a tour of the Museum, telling stories along the way. A really hands-on approach helps to build the relationship and overcome any hurdles to licensing. There are so many benefits to be had from endorsement.
Apparel has proved very successful for the Ashmolean, in particular working with Park Agencies. How does this relationship work from a R&D development perspective?
It’s very dynamic. Park often come to us with ideas for season colourways, shapes, patterns or other insider knowledge into future season favourites. With this knowledge, we are able to match collections and stories in order to make a compelling pitch.
This is a fast-moving market, and we are aware we need to respond appropriately. I am proud that Carrie and I respond to this market within days, rather than have extended deadlines or committee decisions – this is vital to a successful partnership.
Heritage licensing seems to be on trend at the moment and growing in popularity. Why do you think that is?
There is an authenticity that comes with heritage licensing. Again, the stories are at the heart of it, and I think this is a tangible link people associate with, from past to present.
Can you tell us about the current exhibition Victorian Colour Revolution at the Ashmolean?
Colour Revolution is the fascinating story of how colour pigments of the entire spectrum became available during the Industrial Revolution during the reign of Queen Victoria. It is beautifully researched and presented. Shows like this really help us to get great stories out to the public, and in turn, to our partners. Special exhibitions such as this, really produce a hot spot for creativity.
“There is an authenticity that comes with heritage licensing.”
Finally, thinking of the Graphenstone Treasured Collection paint collection, can you tell us what your favourite colour shade is – and why?
I really love the Kingfisher Blue. This was inspired by a ‘Study of a Kingfisher’ by John Ruskin who was such an incredible draughtsman and ran his School of Drawing from the Ashmolean building in the 19th-century. We painted an entire wall of the Ashmolean shop with this shade and it’s a consistent talking point with our visitors.
Thanks again Declan.
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