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From Peter Rabbit to David Bowie: Phillippa Green on The Royal Mint’s iconic designs.
Hi Philippa! Thanks for making time. I can’t even begin to imagine how somebody comes to do the job you do… What’s your background?
Ha! I actually started in music licensing back in the 90s. My first real job after music college was PA to the Head of Licensing at the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, which is now PRS for Music. I slowly worked my way into the licensing team there, licensing music onto TV programmes & ads, motivational corporate videos.
Interesting! Much variety in that?
Yes, but not when it came to corporate videos because everyone wanted Moving On Up by M People… We also sorted music for feature films and home karaoke videos! That’s how I came to learn about IP and how to licence it onto a physical product. It wasn’t until I moved out of London and was looking for a job closer to home that I discovered brand licensing.
And where was this?
I started out with a short maternity cover role at English Heritage based in Swindon. From there moved onto another Brand Licensing Manager maternity-cover role at The National Trust. That turned into a more permanent position; I was there for about six years. Following that, I wanted to try my hand at running my own business, so I added licensing consultancy to the list of activities that my husband’s marketing business provided. Through that, I was introduced to Adam Bass at Golden Goose.
Golden Goose? The licensing agency?
Yes. I worked on great brands like Oasis Fashion, St Pancras International and The Original Stormtrooper, mainly handling the product development side of things. When COVID hit last year, though, I needed to find something to supplement my work portfolio. That’s when I came across the role being advertised by The Royal Mint.
And was that a part-time role? Or full-time?
Full time. And I wasn’t really looking for that but the more I looked into it, the more it drew me in – and now I’m so glad that I made the decision to join them. With experience of brand licensing as brand owner, agency representative and licensee I can really say that I’ve see it from all angles!
Yes, that must be great! And how do you bring that to bear? That’s a polite way of asking what is it you actually do?!
As Licensing Manager for The Royal Mint, I’m responsible for making first contact with licensors. I explain the coin design and approval process which is usually completely new to people. I also negotiate commercial terms and liaise with our amazing legal team to get a contract in place before launch. I love it because in my previous roles I was always focusing on a small number of brands. Here, I get to talk to a huge number of brands on a daily basis from Natural History Museum to Disney and many more besides.
“We’re always looking for ways to celebrate the nation’s story through anniversaries, iconic people or themes.”
Well, let’s talk about that. Dinosaurs from The Natural History Museum. Winnie the Pooh. Wallace and Gromit… The list of iconic imagery in the hands of The Royal Mint goes on and on and on. What is it you look for when you’re lining up a partnership?
UK coinage commemorates some of the most revered British people, events and achievements of all time. We have designs that represent a lasting legacy and contribution to British history and culture. We’re always looking for ways to celebrate the nation’s story through anniversaries, iconic people or themes that haven’t featured on UK coinage before.
So what’s your process? How do you generate a shortlist of brands that could go on new coins? How long does it take?
The process often starts about three years before launch – starting with research, design submissions, formal approvals and then manufacturing on site in South Wales. All proposed coin themes go through a rigorous planning and design selection process governed by an independent panel known as The Royal Mint Advisory Committee; the RMAC. Their purpose is to ensure that UK coins are varied, and reflect the most significant or appropriate events for commemoration.
Great! But in my head – and don’t disappoint me, Phillippa – the Queen personally makes the final decision. Please tell me that’s true!
That is, in fact… Absolutely true! The coin doesn’t become legal tender until it’s gone through the process of Royal Proclamation. That’s published in the London Gazette – and that’s the point when the information about the coins we’re planning to launch enters the public domain for the first time.
“Everyone who carries coins in their pocket carries a piece of the history of our world”
Brilliant! So let’s see… The Royal Mint’s history tracks back over 1,100 years. I mean – Sir Isaac Newton was an employee, for heaven’s sake! So it’s a pretty serious business…
Yes, we’ve been around a very long time! When we were established in London, around 886AD, we had a duty of service to every civilian who possessed one of our coins. To this day, everyone who carries our coins in their pocket carries a piece of the history of our world. So in everything we make today, we do our best to honour that unique heritage, and our original maker status.
And at what point, then, did someone start thinking that coin designs should be fun as well as functional? What was the first licensed design?
I’ve only been at The Royal Mint for about eight months… I think, though, the first licensed partnership was our Peter Rabbit 50p commemorative and circulating coin collection. That would have been in 2016.
Oh! As recent as that?
Yes; it’s fairly new. Since then, the number of licensed commemorative collections has expanded into other subject areas. They include our Music Legends like Queen and David Bowie, and our Innovations in Science including a range celebrating Stephen Hawking’s achievements. As you mentioned, our Childhood Characters product area has seen big licensed growth too, with brands like The Snowman, The Gruffalo and Paddington on board. There are also more recent brands like Disney and Mr Men and Little Miss entering the fold.
And are there any areas you feel are under-explored? More things The Royal Mint would like to do as a license in and of itself?
I’d love to see more ranges with brands that appeal to an even younger audience… Bing for example, and Elmer the Patchwork Elephant… Brands that can engage and excite future coin collectors. We’ve been thinking a lot about how we could expand our licensed products into new areas though.
In what ways?
Well, we’ve started developing additional product lines that support the commemorative coin ranges we develop. These include limited-edition licensed versions of Minty – our piggy bank. This is an exclusive shape to us… There are also limited-edition prints which have proven very popular. I think our 2020 The Snowman print sold out within three hours of launch!
You said earlier you plan things up to three years ahead… And you have to keep things under wraps, obviously. What can you tell me about the next lineup of coins, though?
Tough question! Unfortunately, I can only tell you about products that have already been through Royal Proclamation by Her Majesty The Queen…
Well, I could just ask her myself… Is there anything you think it’s safe to say?
I think I’m safe to say that there are more Winnie the Pooh and Mr Men & Little Miss coins on the way in 2021, as well as some epic Music Legends in the planning for 2021 and beyond… Some anticipated, and perhaps some unexpected ones. We also have the postponed launch of our 2020 Team GB 50p to coincide with the Tokyo Olympics in the summer. And I don’t think anyone will be surprised if a certain character made out of snow appeared on a beautiful new coin design at Christmas!
Great answer! We need to start wrapping this up, sadly, but before I do: what’s the one question I should ask you that I haven’t yet?
What’s your favourite thing to do when you’re not working at The Royal Mint?
By Jove! That is the exact wording I have for the last question! What’s the answer?
I’m a classically trained freelance soprano! Before COVID was around, I spent a lot of evenings and weekends performing as the soprano soloist for oratorios with choral societies. I’d also perform at parties and events as part of my classical crossover duo Poperasops. Every singing booking I had in the diary for 2020 was cancelled or postponed, so I’m really hoping that I’ll be able to do some more singing to a live audience in 2021 and beyond!
Brilliant! What a great answer. Well, look; I hope that all comes back together again as we start looking to get back to normal. Thanks for a great interview.
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