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Victoria Whellans tells us how WildBrain CPLG expands its entertainment, sport and brand licensing.
Victoria, thanks for making time. As Group Brands Director at WildBrain CPLG, you count ChupaChups, Mentos, Smint, Yale University and Harvard University among your clients… There’s also Absolut Vodka, Motul, Osprey London, Karcher and Parental Advisory. Quite a range! What qualities are you looking for in your partnerships?
When looking at corporate and lifestyle brands for representation, we’re ideally looking for IP with long-term brand extension opportunities; iconic institutions that have been around for many years; FMCG and home brands that are part of consumers’ everyday lives; or properties that have strong values and heritage.
We also look closely at social trends and brands that fit into these areas – for example, the health and wellbeing sector is currently growing and is driving brand extension programmes in this space.
You’re not just after anything though, are you; you’re careful about what you take on…
Yes, we’re also mindful of carefully building a portfolio that doesn’t compete against itself through having a solid mix of brands from different categories, such as fashion, automotive, food, institutions or art. We’re fortunate enough to be working with a diverse mix of well-known brands across these spaces.
And how about when you’re looking for brand-extension partners?
With brand-extension partners, it’s all about finding companies that can help us achieve the relevant brand’s goals – whether that’s entering new distribution channels or increasing brand engagement. We also need to find partners that truly understand the brand’s mission, DNA and licensing goals and who are prepared to work closely with us to achieve these goals.
Are there any redlines for you? Things you look at and think, “We probably can’t do Lifestyle with this…”?
Generally, for lifestyle licensing everyone is looking to create long-term programmes that can generate steady revenue over many years. There’ll also be brands that can tap into passing trends, but having the longer-term brand extension programmes, that generate significant revenue, is the ultimate goal.
There’s always scope for licensed products and collaborations with any given brand – the real question is, what benefit will brand extensions bring to the core IP and is it sustainable for the longer term? Whether lifestyle or entertainment, not all brands can or should be extended into new category areas and not all brands work in traditional lifestyle categories, such as fragrance or watches. It’s more a case of thinking carefully about the product, the retailers and the overall strategic roll-out.
In terms of the types of brand partnerships, we stay away from anything that could be detrimental to the core property or doesn’t align with the brand. You also need to take a considered approach when looking at certain product categories that could be an in-and-out trend, it’s important to weigh-up the commercial opportunities versus the brand strategy and long-term goals.
So when you’re looking at a new partnership, what’s your creative process?
We start by delving into a brand’s DNA to gather an understanding of what it currently means to consumers. On the face of it, a brand like Absolut is simply an alcohol brand, but there’s so much more to the IP that makes it scalable and brings significant potential, including a rich heritage of collaborations with fashion designers, musicians and artists,strong ties to the LGBTQ+ community, innovate manufacturing and outspoken campaigns.
With brands such as the contemporary artist Charlotte Posner, our process is about selecting designs from her extensive collection that can be used to create beautiful product ranges across homewares, gifting, apparel and health and beauty…
Can you give us an example of that?
Well, we’ve recently seen the launch of a collaboration we secured with UK fashion brand Never Fully Dressed for an eye-catching summer collection that incorporates some of Charlotte’s hand-drawn illustrations. We’re fortunate that Charlotte is always creating new art, which gives us the opportunity to look at bespoke projects and evolve the programme over time.
It really does start with the art?
Right. It’s these attributes that help us start shaping what a licensing programme could look like – which categories make sense, the types of consumers we want to reach, and through which channels. We also think about how we create additional consumer touch points that take the brand into new retail channels or categories, and how this will help drive both the core brand and brand equity.
And is it the same with brand extensions?
When it comes to seeking brand extensions, we look at licensees that align closely to the brand’s DNA, but also outside-of-the-box ideas… These either take the brand into new and unexpected product areas, create experiences that grab people’s attention, or attract a new fanbase that otherwise may not have been engaged with the brand.
“Sometimes our strategy is about creating an initial vision for the brand owner…”
That’s great! And generally speaking, then, what do you find is the biggest obstacle to progressing ideas?
We sometimes find retailers can be hesitant when it comes to supporting new brand-extension categories. That’s been particularly understandable over the last year given the huge challenges the retail industry has faced. Just because a retailer stocks the core brand doesn’t mean they’ll immediately commit to dedicating shelf space to a broader range of licensed products. It’s much easier to secure a licensed partner if a retailer is already on board, or if they have a clear idea of which of their customers are likely to support a range.
We also find that not all brands want to move into licensed products, or only want to be in certain categories… So sometimes our strategy is about creating an initial vision for the brand owner, giving them a chance to see the potential of licensing and how it can support their core offering, protect their IP, open up new channels of distribution, and engage new and existing consumers.
Conversely, then, what makes progressing ideas easier? How do you persuade people to try something a bit different?
It depends on the brand but it can make it easier to target retailers that already sell the core brand and to make them part of the licensing extension conversations from an early stage. Developing the category or product in partnership with a retailer can help overcome some of the challenges, and they can also advise on what products they see working in their store and who are their preferred suppliers in the space.
Our work as agents is often to come up with creative ideas, which in some cases means visualising what the end product could look like with product mock-ups. We’re fortunate enough to have a great in-house creative team we can utilise to create product concepts and pitch ideas to both potential licensees and retailers. Essentially, it comes down to bringing the right licensee or supplier on board that you can work in partnership with and build the programme together.
What are you working on currently?
A lot of the brands in our Lifestyle portfolio are at the start of their licensing journey, so the strategies have been finalised and now we’re signing our first partners. For Absolut, we have our first apparel partner on board for the UK – Brand Design – and we’re in conversations for potential collaborations in the fashion space, both in the UK and North America.
Also, we’ve just launched our first Malibu alcoholic ice pop – with 24 ICE in the Netherlands – and are finalising a second global deal in the food space. We’ve also started outreach on the latest brand to join our Lifestyle portfolio, Motul, targeting automotive categories but also motorbike protective gear, lifestyle products and fashion collaborations.
I was interested to hear you represent both Yale and Harvard. What’s the latest there?
The licensing programme for both universities are doing very well! They have a number of new apparel licensees on board, and growing programmes at fashion retailers across Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Our programme for OSPREY LONDON is also well underway, with the first footwear range from 33 Joints launched recently – and further partners in the home and fashion accessories space to be announced soon.
My days! You’re not slacking are you? So busy!
For more established brands, such as Chupa Chups, we have core partners on board in fashion across key European territories where we represent the brand, so we’re supporting them to extend their retail distribution and also build out into additional categories, such as fashion accessories, homewares and health & beauty…
Additionally, we’re assembling programmes for Mentos and Smint. Part of my role is also looking at developing the Lifestyle portfolio, so I’m having some exciting conversations about potential new rights opportunities.
You do sound passionate about things… Why is that? What do you find exciting about it?
No day is ever the same! I’ll also always be excited by the pedigree of the brand owners and array of household brand names we work with, as well the variety of categories we work across… We can be exploring food extension areas for Malibu one minute, then talking to potential licensees about motorbike gear for Motul the next. I also really enjoy pitching for new rights representation, creating consumer products strategies and on-boarding our sales teams around the world. Of course, one of the most exciting parts is seeing the final product on shelf!
I can only imagine… You know, I meant to ask earlier: how did you come to be in licensing?
After graduating with an English Literature and Language degree, I landed a job at the global PR agency, Ketchum. After two years, I moved into a PR role at Entertainment Rights – media and entertainment company, which later became Classic Media and then Universal – and worked across trade and consumer PR and marketing, attending trade shows MipTV, Mipcom and Brand Licensing Europe, and creating news and brand marketing materials for our extensive catalogue.
“As most people in licensing know, once you’re in the industry, you rarely leave…”
Then, as most people in licensing know, once you’re in the industry, you rarely leave… I moved into additional marketing and business development roles over the years, working across entertainment and lifestyle properties and then went on to do further studying Chartered Institute of Marketing Post-Grad whilst working at various agents and licensors before joining WildBrain CPLG four and a half years ago.
So if you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
Anything to do with psychology – whether consumer behaviour analysis, criminology, forensic psychologist or a therapist. I love understanding what motivates people to act in a certain way and how their personal situations, society or other trends affect this – I find it fascinating.
Great answer; I’m with you there; fascinating area. Victoria, This has been very insightful and good fun but we need to wrap things up …before I do, let me ask you this: what’s the one question I haven’t asked that I should have?
What’s the one lifestyle brand extension programme you wished you’d been around for to see its inception?
Excellent question; love it… What’s the answer?!
Coca Cola – I would’ve loved to have been around in the ’70s to see the start of this brand extension into new product areas; to have been a fly on the wall when this was first discussed. Who would have thought back then that a drink, with a simple yet iconic logo, could be extended into so many different product areas? Coca Cola is a great example of a long-term sustainable lifestyle licensing programme – the brand has collaborated with the biggest names in fashion and is still innovating through new product areas.
Terrific. Thank you, Victoria, for making time for us. And do keep me posted on anything to do with absolute: my friend Stuart has a forensic interest in it!
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