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The Science Museum’s Senior Partnerships Manager, Gemma Woodward, on partners, product and more.
Hello there! Gemma, you’re Senior Partnerships Manager at the much revered Science Museum. How did you come to be there?
I don’t think many of us specifically set out to work in this industry – if we even knew much about its existence to begin with. I stumbled into licensing by sheer luck and have never considered another career since.
Not a carefully carved career path, then?! So what’s your background?
After finishing university, I got a great introduction to IP and image licensing at Dorling Kindersley picture library. More more than that, though, in negotiating contracts for publications with photographers, museums and image-rights holders, I realised I loved the social interaction and engagement that came with working with a large client base. After a time, I was offered a licensing role at Sharpcards…
Sharpcards, did you say?
Yes – it was a start-up company, supplying branded content to mobile phone operators. When they offered me a role, I snapped it up: the opportunity to work as a licensee and with over 100 brands seemed a natural progression of what I was already enjoying. This introduction to licensing cemented my certainty that this was the industry I wanted to work in. I endeavoured to learn as much as I could working as a licensor at Entertainment Rights, and as an agent at TLC.
So you’ve worked as a licensee, licensor and agent?
Yes! And having done all three within character licensing, I was keen to try my hand with the strategic-nurturing side of Brand Licensing. Happily, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity at both the Natural History Museum and now at the Science Museum Group.
What’s the appeal of the heritage sector?
I really feel I’ve found my home there. I get a massive, personal buzz from working with amazing collections, artefacts and IP. More than this, national museums are massively underfunded, but knowing that the revenue we generate is channelled back into our national museums makes me incredibly happy! I’m passionate about this – sometimes life-changing – free resource for children and adults of all backgrounds. I like to think I’m helping to make a difference.
“I’m passionate about this – sometimes life-changing – free resource…”
I think every museum can help make a difference – although, as I say that, I realise I’ve been to a couple that give me pause! So! Science Museum products… You have everything from space-themed chocolate advent calendars, and mountain-rescue mechanic kits, to jumping robots, collectible coins commemorating innovative scientists and potato-powered clocks… What unites them all? What do you look for in a product?
It’s quite a range, isn’t it?! Our licensed products are innovative, and excite curiosity… But they also harness our unparalleled collections – spanning science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine. Products should be well-made and considered; sustainable, with minimal packaging. They should also reflect our ambition to inspire all, and provide the spark for future scientists, entrepreneurs and engineers.
Great answer! And a similar question: what do you look for in a partner, specifically?
I’m deciding whether I should make an unfunny joke about already being married!
I could’ve worded that better; you had fear in your eyes!
I say that, but my answer wouldn’t be too dissimilar: shared vision and excellent communication, ambition, sincerity and tenacity are all key; a passion for what you do and a good sense of humour is important too.
So much has changed in the high street, in such a little space of time – I mean, big changes were afoot, even prior to Covid… Distribution is still king, but I think you must be open to different ways of working and have thoughtful flexibility factored in. If one has a tenacious partner on board – licensing partner – all kinds of opportunities can present themselves that you haven’t planned for.
And on that score, how important is creativity in what you do?
It’s at the very heart of it: Science itself encompasses creativity, innovation and inventiveness – it’s at the root of it. Similarly, creativity and spark is essential in all good product development. That said, there’s no need to always re-invent the wheel. Certain children’s products are absolute classics and for a reason: mixing, building, testing and exploring how and why things work are central. STEAM ethos is at the heart of our product and this enables thoughtful risks and experiential learning, which is so important for a child’s learning. It’s quite the responsibility that we have.
And so we have some context, what are some of the more unusual things you license?
Top Secret Intruder Alarms, Fingerprint kits, RC Police Cars, Wearable Science Kits – a large part of our offering is unusual, actually, as science is relevant to anything and everything!
Let me ask you this: how do you source things? Do you go out actively looking? Or is your brand so magnetic that people gravitate towards you?
Absolutely both. We’re always actively seeking new partners, and for products we might not even know exist, until we see them. However, we also have many companies approach us directly, as they see an obvious synergy with our brand and their products. That includes those they’ve been keeping fiercely under wraps…
“You’ll be hard push to miss the friends of excitement surrounding this brand…”
The Science Museum Group, or SMG, has other brands in its portfolio… If readers want to find out more, what are they?
There’s the Flying Scotsman – the most famous locomotive in the world. This icon of engineering, glamour and speed celebrates its centenary in 2023/24 and you’ll be hard pushed to miss the frenzy of excitement surrounding this.
And to be clear, the Flying Scotsman isn’t IN a museum… It IS a museum! It still runs on tracks; it still tours?
It still tours! A beautiful locomotive… We also have the National Railway Museum brand, which takes inspiration from our thousands of art deco travel posters for a design-led feel, as well as the character cast of mighty locomotives that sit in our collection. And this isn’t mentioning the new style guides that we commission, to reflect collections that sit in any one of our five national museums.
Brilliant stuff. We need to wrap this up, Gemma, but let me finish off with this: What’s the one question I should’ve asked you but didn’t?
What do you enjoy most about licensing?
And what’s the answer?
So, putting aside the sense of community and close friendships that have come through working in this industry, I love the satisfaction that comes from brainstorming product ideas and conception, through to completion of actual product on shelf, or in people’s homes. As a mother of two young kids, it doesn’t feel completely dissimilar – it can be a bumpy road at times, but the joy of witnessing something you’ve invested so much time, energy and emotion go out into the big, wide world is immense!
Brilliant. Thank you so much for your time, Gemma. I’ll keep my eyes peeled for more on the Flying Scotsman…
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