The consumer products world may be flat right now, but these 29 exex are still finding ways to sail around it. Here are their stories
Stephen Berman, Jay Forman and Jennifer Richmond
Company: Jakks Pacific
Titles: Berman is president and COO of Jakks Pacific; Forman is CEO of Play Along Toys, now a division of Jakks; Richmond is senior VP of licensing and media for Jakks.
Pedigree: Former THQ exec Berman co-founded Jakks Pacific in 1995 with Jack Friedman, now CEO of the company. Jakks grew by making acquisitions and becoming a diversified licensee of kids’ properties. It has also succeeded in taking tired toy brands — such as the Road Champs line of die-cast miniature cars — and turning them into big sellers. In 2004, Jakks purchased Play Along — which is run by Forman and includes such notable properties as the Cabbage Patch Kids, Care Bears, Dragon Flyz and Sky Dancers — for $116 million. Play Along has since turned into a star division for the company, accounting for more than a quarter of its revenue in 2004.
Impact: The Malibu, Calif.-based Jakks saw sales grow 15% last year to $661.5 million, driven largely by its licensee endeavors, which now account for 65% of its overall business. Company has a deal with Viacom’s Nickelodeon for activity toys, interactive, publishing and stationary. And recently Walt Disney signed Jakks to license pet products derived from all Disney brands.
Jakks has major license agreements with World Wresting Entertainment and Marvel Entertainment as well. Notably, the bulk of the company’s nonlicense revenue comes from its TV games business — inexpensive handheld gaming systems. Jakks controls 85% of that market.
Berman: “Our business is based on singles and doubles. In the toy business you need to hit home runs. That’s why we are so diversified. We had never had a year or quarter of not being profitable.”
Forman: “The challenge is: Can we turn toys into entertainment properties? Steven Spielberg is going to make a ‘Transformers’ movie. That’s big. The entertainment business is backing into the toy business. Let a movie chase a toy line.”
Richmond: “We use a lot of gut instinct — there is no formula. We can spot trends early, and product can really be nurtured here. There are so many companies that take big risks. We take calculated risks.”
— Wayne Friedman
Company: Quattro Consumer Products
Pedigree: Binder began his licensing career representing comicbook creators and establishing an expertise in the collectibles and hobby areas. Quattro broke into movie properties by putting a pitch together in three days for Artisan’s “The Blair Witch Project” and later teamed with Revolution on “Hellboy.” Binder’s ability to create programs focused on genre audiences has led to deals with Lionsgate and other creative voices in niche markets with crossover potential.
Impact: Binder helped sustain the “Hellboy” property after the success of the feature film, setting up an animated TV series produced by IDT Entertainment and opening up the property to a new wave of licensing possibilities. He also closed a deal to get merchandise for “Honk-Honk-Ashoo” — a new children’s property from “Strawberry Shortcake” and Care Bears creator Ralph Cosentino — into Target stores without any media support. “To be able to effectuate this kind of consumer product opportunity on a lesser-known property at a major retailer is very significant,” he notes.
Mantra: “We don’t get to do the biggest financial deals, but I think we can create a lot of momentum by doing what we do best, which is creating brand extension opportunities by bringing creative voices together.”
— Thomas J. McLean
Leigh Anne Brodsky
Company: Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products
Pedigree: Brodsky has been involved with entertainment licensing most of her career, first working with Snoopy and Garfield at United Media, then moving on to VP marketing at Broadway Video and later senior VP of marketing for Golden Books. She now oversees the Viacom Consumer Products business, which comprises licensing and merchandising for Viacom subsids MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon and Paramount. She deals with the international division as well as software and publishing.
Impact: “SpongeBob SquarePants has by far been our most important property in the last few years. It has longetivity and broad appeal, and 30% of the total merchandising sales is to adults,” Brodsky notes. Still, from a global perspective, Dora the Explorer has had the most impact for her division. “Dora” has sold a million DVDs in Korea and is huge in France and Mexico.
This year, Brodsky is also concentrating on the 10th anniversaries of “Blue’s Clues” and “South Park” as well as newer properties “The “Backyardigans” and anime show “Avatar.” Although she’s only 7 years old, Dora is giving birth to offspring, with her cousin Diego getting a spinoff Nick Jr. show and a full range of products.
Mantra: “It’s so critical that there is an emotional connection between the audience and the brand. There has to be great characters and great stories. We wait and see if a property is a hit — the audience has to be so into the work that they want a piece of it to take home or wear. Not everything translates.”
— Pat Saperstein
Company: 20th Century Fox Licensing & Merchandising
Title: Executive VP, licensing and merchandising
Pedigree: As president of Saban Consumer Products/Fox Family Worldwide, Dekel launched “Power Rangers” in 1993 — and true to the TV series’ industry tagline, children’s TV was never the same. Following a stint as a marketing and licensing specialist at the Creative Artists Agency, Dekel rejoined Fox in 2005, redefining the licensing group’s approach to properties including “The Simpsons,” “Family Guy,” “Napoleon Dynamite” and “24.”
Impact: Focusing on the “Generation Fox” demographic of teens and young adults, Dekel is reaching out to new partners to broaden his group’s portfolio. His first act at Fox L&M was to join LIMA, the licensing trade group; while striking new relationships with sister divisions such as Fox Sports and Fuel TV, Fox L&M recently landed the role of licensing agent for Microsoft Xbox 360 videogame franchises including “Perfect Dark Zero.”
Now in its 17th year on TV, “The Simpsons” sees its first theatrical title next summer along with videogames to be developed by Electronic Arts. Dekel is confident the best is yet to come for the franchise, which currently rings up $600 million in annual retail sales worldwide. Another animated prime-time property, “Family Guy,” is growing in stature, with more than 50 attached licensees.
Mantra: Studio licensors “occupy an interesting crossroads between entertainment and consumer purchasing. For us, the challenge is identifying products and categories that are consistent with demographics and consumer behavior.”
— Terence Keegan
Company: Viz Media
Title: Acting exec VP of business
Pedigree: A self-proclaimed “Japan guy,” Easum worked in Tokyo for ShoPro (the largest licensing agency in Japan) on the Pokemon property and on non-Japanese properties from Lucasfilm, Fox and HIT Entertainment. He opened ShoPro USA in 2000 and came to Viz in a merger last year between ShoPro, Shogakukan and Shueisha — the largest content providers in Japan. “It really made sense to bridge publishing, manga and DVD with the rest of that media mix, which was the TV component and the consumer-products component and the brand strategy component,” he says.
Impact: “Naruto” has been a huge hit for Viz, with anime airing on Cartoon Network, a line of bestselling manga and new merchandise coming from master toy partner Mattel. Deals have been struck with Bandai, Tomi and Ubisoft to bring the property to all videogame platforms, and a “Naruto” collectible card game from Bandai has done well in the hobby market. Up next is “Bleach,” coming to Adult Swim this autumn, and a joint venture with Cartoon Network for a broadband service called Toonami Jetstream.
Mantra: “What’s important is valuing partners, valuing relationships, being an honest partner at all times and not always being focused on the immediate big dollar figures but keeping an eye on the bigger vision.”
— Thomas J. McLean
Neil Friedman & Richard Dickson
Company: Mattel Brands
Titles: Friedman is president, of Mattel Brands; Dickson is senior VP worldwide consumer products
Pedigree: Friedman launched the smash toy hit Tickle Me Elmo for Tyco, which was then acquired by Mattel. Prior to joining Mattel and Tyco, he was president of MCA/Universal Merchandising.
Dickson spent 10 years at Bloomingdale’s before helping launch e-commerce site Gloss.com, which was acquired by cosmetics giant Estee Lauder. He joined Mattel in 2000. “The toy business is actually remarkably similar to the fashion business,” he says. “It’s very fast-moving, it reacts to trends — the entire line gets changed every year.”
Impact: Friedman brought Mattel’s Fisher-Price preschool toys into the 21st century, moving them from 15% electronic-based when he arrived to 80% today. “There was a lack of magic,” Friedman says. “You had to make these toys come to the next level.”
Both Friedman and Dickson are concentrating on reviving the popular but aging Barbie as a lifestyle brand, which can appeal to girls who are tiring of dolls at ever-earlier ages.
“When we saw kids starting to go online, we invested in Barbie.com, which is now the No 1 site for girls,” Dickson says. “The brand is incredibly healthy, whether they’re playing with the dolls or watching the DVDs 10 to 12 times each — they’re maintaining their relationship with the brand.”
“We know she’s relevant to older girls. What we need to do is make sure the products we’re bringing to market pique the interest of the girls,” Friedman adds.
In addition to its own brands , which also include the venerable boy toy line Hot Wheels, Mattel is one of the biggest licensees of properties such as Harry Potter, “Superman Returns,” “Sesame Street” and Nickelodeon.
Dickson: “It’s all about the classic, premiere toy brands. Some companies have a short-term approach, but ours is to enhance the long-term proposition of our brands and own more of a child’s day from a play perspective.”
Friedman: “In the preschool arena, if you can make it more engaging, it’s going to be a better toy. They learn whatever you’re trying to teach them by playing with it over and over again — they don’t even realize they’re learning.”
— Pat Saperstein
Oliver Gers and David Luner
Titles: Gers is exec VP Licensing, Americas; Luner is VP Licensing, Americas.
Pedigree: The dynamic duo behind Fremantle’s licensing division, Gers and Luner have established brand-enhancement histories. Gers founded and led Odaddy.com, the first Web community for dads. He also served as VP of strategic planning for the online and novelty divisions of Golden Books. Luner joined Fremantle from Moon Mesa Media, where he was VP of licensing and new business development.
Impact: Fremantle looks to “extend properties as far as we can in areas that are not obvious, but are relevant,” Gers says. That strategy has served the Bertelsmann-owned company well: In 2005, it took in a reported $280 million in revenue.
Of course, with a signature property like “American Idol” in the fold, that revenue should only continue to grow. “Idol” has crossed into Canada and Latin America, and the show has solid relationships with Ford, Cingular and Coca-Cola.
Gers and Luner work closely with inhouse production, marketing and wireless/Web teams to craft efforts such as Screenlife’s “American Idol All-Star Challenge” DVD game, which features exclusive footage of show host Ryan Seacrest.
Last year, Fremantle launched live stage versions of “The Price Is Right,” accompanied by tie-ins including merchandise, branded slot machines and lottery scratch cards. Current company concentration is on Simon Cowell’s “America’s Got Talent” and the reintroduction of “Baywatch.”
Luner: “Creating successful ancillary programs isn’t about flooding the market. It’s about long-term relationships.”
Gers: “We’re managing programs like Procter & Gamble manages brands.”
— Randi Schmelzer
Company: DreamWorks Animation
Title: Head of worldwide promotions and consumer products
Pedigee: Globe joined DreamWorks after serving as VP of promotions at MCA/Universal, where she developed the promotional campaign for the 1997 release of Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” She has led the way as DreamWorks has capitalized on the global success of its computer-animated hits, starting with the birth of the “Shrek” franchise in 2001.
Impact: DreamWorks has had some of its biggest success with videogames published through Activision. More than 10 million units built around titles including “Shrek 2,” “Shark Tale” and “Madagascar” have been sold so far, and Activision now has its sights set on DreamWorks’ upcoming “Over the Hedge” and “Shrek the Third.” Outside games, Hasbro’s “Shrek 2”-themed action figures, playsets, interactive talking plush toys and themed Operation and Monopoly board games added up to one of the top licensed toy lines in 2004.
Having earlier negotiated a five-picture pact with Burger King and a multipicture program with General Mills, Globe recently tied DreamWorks properties to a two-year non-exclusive worldwide promotional deal with McDonalds Corp.
Paramount’s recent purchase of DreamWorks’ live-action theatrical division should mean little in terms of DreamWorks Animation’s licensing revenue, since most deals stem from the studio’s slate of computer-animated movies.
Mantra: “Retailers are always more confident with a sequel. But you have to have a central character that lends itself to licensing, and then you have to have retail partners that produce the right mix of product for consumers.”
— Wayne Friedman
Company: Warner Bros. Consumer Products
Pedigree: The former DreamWorks consumer products topper now guides the division responsible for worldwide marketing, licensing and retail-business development for properties including Looney Tunes, “Harry Potter” and Hanna-Barbera. Globe says his mission is not only to bring characters to the marketplace, but to keep “them relevant and cool.”
Impact: While Warner’s licensing strategies — overseen in the U.S. by Karen McTier and internationally by Jordan Sollitto — often rely on big-event tie-ins, the company is experimenting with nontraditional partnerships as well. Last summer’s repositioning of Tweety Bird, for example, “aged up” the classic character’s appeal and linked it to trendsetting manufacturers including Scoop and Kitson.
On the other end of the spectrum is Warner’s demo-spanning effort on behalf of “Superman Returns.” Ancillary options range from Hallmark gifts and a line of Mattel toys to La Rok Coin cashmere sweaters and Alienware computers. Another current concentration is identifying advertising opportunities for the studio’s massive movie library.
Mantra: “Our job is to make sure potential customers understand what’s available and help partners conceptualize how to make it as flexible as possible. We’re only limited by our own creativity.”
— Randi Schmelzer
Beth Lauren Goss
Company: Universal Studios Consumer Products
Title: Exec VP
Pedigree: Helming U’s consumer products group since 2003, Goss led the division to more than $2 billion in retail sales in 2005. With offices in Los Angeles, London and Tokyo — and a new team focused on mobile entertainment opportunities — Goss’ division has transformed library properties into lucrative franchises while managing current theatrical and TV hits.
Impact: Last year, Goss managed the licensing program for U’s “King Kong,” involving more than 80 partners worldwide for products including an acclaimed videogame and a high-end collectibles line. The title proved to be the licensing group’s biggest achievement ever, generating more than $500 million at retail.
Goss’ group has found a “little friend” of late in the 23-year-old “Scarface” property: With the help of specialty retailers, it’s built into one of the most successful urban licensing programs ever.
The division has played an integral role in U’s revival of Curious George, aiding the redesign of the character’s look for the animated feature released earlier this year as well as a forthcoming TV series.
Meanwhile, as “The Fast and the Furious” franchise lands in Tokyo for its latest theatrical installment, a driving game based on the property runs far ahead of the pack on mobile phone networks.
Mantra: “In some categories, the margins are so low, it requires you to really look at manufacturers you may not have gone to previously. That extra 5%, 10% or 20% that they’ve got to give you is something they’re still trying to cut on their own. We have to be smart enough about these industries that we’re working in to know (categories) where we can tap new players because there’s room in the margin — vs. ones where there’s no room — so we’ve got to stick with manufacturers who understand the formula.”
— Terence Keegan
Company: DIC Entertainment
Title: Chairman and CEO
Pedigree: Heyward has headed DIC for 25 years, since he acquired it as a small Paris-based production company. Prior to DIC, he was a writer and producer at Hanna-Barbera. In the last two decades, DIC has produced dozens of animated series including “Inspector Gadget,” “Madeleine” and “Super Mario Bros.”
Impact: DIC has had several hit properties, including Ghostbusters, Hello Kitty and Care Bears, but its biggest success has been the relaunch of 1970s icon Strawberry Shortcake. With DVDs, toys and publishing, Heyward says the pink property has made more than $1.2 billion. “There’s a lot of brand equity still there — moms and grandmothers remember it,” he explains.
At the Licensing Show, DIC’s senior VP of worldwide consumer products, Cynthia Modders, will introduce properties including Horseland, based on an online community for young girls. The Web site will branch into a TV show and licensing program, Heyward says.
He’s also excited about “Cake,” an arts and crafts show that will appeal to preteen Martha Stewarts, and a TV show based on the “Dance Dance Revolution” videogame.
Every new show will have an online dimension and a licensing program, he says. “You can’t just put something on television anymore and expect it’s going to work. It has to be approached with a holistic point of view.”
Mantra: “You’ve got to have characters that are going to engage the audience. Is it evergreen? You don’t want something ephemeral. It has to have all the tools of drama and storytelling, and it has to work internationally and for TV, DVD, consumer products, toys, books and videogames.”
— Pat Saperstein
Company: New Line Cinema
Title: Senior exec VP, worldwide licensing and merchandising
Pedigree: Back in the 1980s and ’90s, retailers and licensees were skeptical regarding the potential of New Line’s seminal horror franchises, which included “Friday the 13th” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Imhoff found a way to turn it around by, in part, targeting adult collectors and partnering with the likes of Todd McFarlane to create unusual, heavily detailed action figures. Imhoff also found a steady Halloween market for these horror franchises — all of which pull in $20 million a year at retail.
Impact: New Line’s licensing acumen continued to grow in the ’90s along with hit film franchises such as “The Mask” and the Austin Powers movies. Then came “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, which amassed an army of 350 worldwide licensees, ringing up more than $1.5 billion in retail business.
Mantra: “No matter how big we’ve gotten, we kind of go back to the idea that we’re guerrilla marketers. We go out with such enthusiasm with properties that people love them. And our partners give us creative ideas. It’s not just a job for them.”
— Wayne Friedman
Company: Joester Loria Group
Pedigree: At Hamilton Projects in the late 1980s, Joester originated the licensing program for “Beverly Hills 90210,” showing the potential in a teen market that was considered “undesirable” at the time. She later launched the licensing program for “South Park,” generating more than a half-billion dollars in global sales in its first two years. She founded Joester Loria Group with Joanne Loria in September 1999 and successfully re-launched Care Bears licensing.
Impact: Joester finalized master toy agreements with Playmates Toys for BBC kidvid “Little Robots” and with Shelcore Toys for another U.K. preschool property, “Peppa Pig.” She also granted a license to Target for Care Bears diapers and training pants as part of the Care Bears Baby program. “It is a key initiative for the brand, and this association with Target will deliver hundreds of millions of impressions reinforcing Care Bears as a wonderful choice for baby,” she explains.
Mantra: “We have been particularly successful in identifying emerging market trends and developing licensing program segments that target distinct consumer groups. In an ever-changing market, these disciplines have been the constant that allow our programs to break out from the clutter.”
— Thomas J. McLean
Alfred R. Kahn
Company: 4Kids Entertainment
Title: Chairman & CEO
Pedigree: Kahn previously led Coleco’s licensing division, where he oversaw one of the top toy properties of the 1980s, the Cabbage Patch Kids. In 1988, he joined Leisure Concepts, which later became 4Kids Entertainment — and ultimately one of the largest publicly traded licensors in North America. Today, the longtime moppet entertainment company’s work is most visible on Fox TV stations as the Saturday morning 4KidsNetwork block.
Impact: The company enjoyed huge success in the late ’90s with Pokemon, a property that threw off $2 billion in yearly business at its peak. In fact, Pokemon and fellow Japanese animation sensation Yu-Gi-Oh! pulled in $23 billion over 10 years for 4Kids. More recently, a deal with Microsoft will result in Viva Pinata — a new videogame and TV show. As part of its Microsoft arrangement, 4Kids gets to be the license agent for Microsoft’s Xbox videogame brand name. New projects for 2007 include the relaunch of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Cabbage Patch Dolls brands. The company also plans to start a new adult licensing division.
Mantra: “We’re entrusted with these brands. We have to create a mutual (flow) of interest and understanding with our (licensing) partners. The business is also a trust factor with consumers, retailers and children. It’s a three-prong hat.”
— Wayne Friedman
Company: United Media
Title: Senior VP, domestic licensing
Pedigree: Part cultural observer, part business strategist, in his seven years with United Media, Kislevitz — the former president of Colorforms — has spearheaded eye-on-the-long-term initiatives for United properties including Peanuts, Precious Moments and Dilbert; ancillary options on behalf of these helped the E.W. Scripps-owned company take in an estimated $2.4 billion in revenue in 2005.
Impact: In February 2005, United added a new asset to its portfolio — and made a significant leap in connecting with the nation’s undercapitalized Hispanic segment. The company partnered with Spanish media giant Televisa to represent the U.S. rights to its hit TV program “El Chavo.” Launched in fourth quarter of 2005, United’s complementary campaign focused on what company officials call “retro trends with attitude.”
An initial apparel partnership with Hot Topic is expected to extend into accessories, packaged goods and publishing later this year. Also in the works is a fourth-quarter 2006 gift- and apparel-focused effort in support of the 20th anniversary of Lionsgate’s “Dirty Dancing.” While the appeal of the Patrick Swayze vehicle may not be as obvious as, say, Peanuts’ Snoopy, “it’s amazing how it continues to resonate,” Kislevitz notes.
Mantra: “It’s about keeping the brand in the right places and avoiding having a one-size-fits all approach.”
— Randi Schmelzer
Company: MGA Entertainment
Title: Chairman & CEO
Pedigree: Born to Jewish parents in Iran and immigrating to the U.S. in 1971, Larian founded what would become the biggest privately held toy company in the world. MGA toiled away in the 1980s and ’90s, primarily exporting electronic toys. In 2000, the company struck it big, developing an edgy, scantily clad line of dolls called Bratz.
Impact: While the private company doesn’t disclose financials, the licensing line for Bratz, according to sources, has generated $1 billion since 2001 and continues on a double-digit growth pace. Sources say Bratz pulls in somewhere between $600 million to $800 million in annual revenue for the MGA.
The company is now looking to move the property into theatrical films and is planning its first live-action Bratz movie. No U.S. distributor has signed on yet, but Larian says there’s heavy interest, given Bratz’s established consumer base. MGA also wants to acquire nonkids consumer products companies that would work in conjunction with the Bratz line of dolls. In addition, MGA has a big licensee deal with DreamWorks Animation for the Shrek franchise.
Mantra: “Kids are smarter than adults give them credit for. Give them great product, and they will buy it. We definitely look for partners who are not going to just slap a label on product but can add to the brand in terms of marketing.”
— Wayne Friedman
Company: Sony Consumer Marketing
Title: Executive VP, worldwide consumer marketing
Pedigree: Already credited with establishing Fox Family Worldwide’s first consumer promotions division, Leon last year took the reins at Sony as the company consolidated theatrical licensing, merchandising, product placement and promotions within a single new division. This marketing-oriented structure, Leon says, allows Sony to “look at licensing outside of its traditional boundaries.” It also helped boost the division’s 2005 revenue to an estimated $1 billion.
Impact: While Sony’s licensing efforts continue to support key categories such as toys, interactive and publishing, the company has also begun to explore high-end niche opportunities. To complement 2005’s “Memoirs of Geisha,” for example, the consumer products team — helmed by former retail head Juli Boylan — focused on relationships with beauty and luxury brands such as a bath-and-body collection by Fresh, Icon-label bags and shoes, and D.L. & Co. scented candles. For “The Da Vinci Code,” Sony passed on murderous monk action figures in favor of a strategic board game by Warren Industries and film-inspired jewelry by Royal Link. Current projects include “aggressive” campaigns on behalf of Sony Pictures’ forthcoming features “Open Season” and “Spider-Man 3” as well as PBS’s new diaper-set series “It’s A Big, Big, World.”
Mantra: “Keep doors open, and touch the consumer where it makes sense.”
— Randi Schmelzer
Company: Disney Consumer Products
Pedigree: No stranger to global brands, Mooney spent more than 20 years at Nike, rising to helm the company’s $3 billion apparel business as its chief marketing officer. Mooney joined Disney in 1999, recasting the division as an “active” licensor involved in actual product development, with six specialty teams, each dedicated to a particular product category (like beauty or stationary). The division also courted direct relationships with the world’s retail giants, establishing field offices within minutes of home offices for Wal-Mart, Target, Carrefour and other big-box chains. The strategy has paid off: 2005 retail sales totaled $21 billion for the division, compared with 2000’s $12 billion.
Impact: Looking to build on its Disney Princess line for young girls, DCP saw “latent demand” for the studio’s Tinker Bell character. The result is Disney Fairies, a full-on franchise that began last fall with a bestselling book from Disney Publishing, and continues in 2007 with animated films from Buena Vista Home Entertainment and a line of dolls and role-play assortments.
Mooney says that even with Disney’s ever-popular Power Rangers, the unit historically “underserved” the young boys market. But that all changes with Disney-Pixar’s “Cars,” for which key DCP partner Mattel is rushing to keep pace with die-cast vehicle demand. Expectations were so high for “Cars,” Mooney adds, that DCP has made a hefty investment to create character-branded consumer electronics, similar to the Princess TV sets and boomboxes it hit with earlier in the girls segment.
Mantra: “Great brands, in the long run, are defined by great products. My mantra with the teams is to really focus on the inherent quality of the product. If we do that, it will enable us to get our market share in the consumer products space up to the market share (enjoyed by) the studio and theme park sides of Disney’s business.”
— Terence Keegan
Company: The William Morris Agency
Title: Head of merchandising and licensing division
Pedigree: Before joining William Morris, Palmer was senior VP of marketing and promotions at Sony Pictures Television, and also worked in marketing and promotion for MGM, Film Roman, Turner Broadcasting and Walt Disney.
Impact: “Clients are looking at their agency to be more full-service these days,” Palmer says. So William Morris’ year-old licensing division is helping its clients build their brands, whether it’s working with Macy Gray to develop her apparel line, helping craft lifestyle products for Prince or creating a licensing program for director Tim Burton.
For Palmer, creativity is key. One example: WMA is helping launch a line of canine accessories for Snoop Dogg through mass-market and specialty pet shops. “Pet products are the fastest-growing area of licensing,” he explains. Palmer is also trying to leverage the heat of celebrity chefs — WMA reps several culinary stars, including Bobby Flay, Tyler Florence and Cat Cora. “Flay, for example, has the opportunity to own everything grilling,” Palmer says. At this year’s licensing confab, he says he’ll explore opportunities for directors, music talent and chef clients as well as literary properties like “Freakonomics.”
Mantra: “It’s all about having talent that’s passionate about the products — they can’t be a passive participant. They have to be involved with the product, and be creative and innovative.”
— Pat Saperstein
Jane Ritson Parsons
Company: Hasbro Properties
Pedigree: Ritson Parsons began her licensing career with Jim Henson in England, working on Fraggle Rock and the Muppets brands. She moved on to the newly formed HIT Entertainment, where Hasbro was one of the principal licensees, then pulled up her family’s stakes in the U.K. to join Hasbro at its Rhode Island headquarters, with a mandate to strengthen the international biz.
Impact: Working with Hasbro’s major brands like My Little Pony, Tonka and the Transformers, Ritson Parsons has watched international licensing become increasingly important, driven by the expansion of TV channels around the world. Regions like Eastern Europe and Asia are becoming more essential, and certain forward-looking markets like South Korea demand sophisticated products like online and cell phone offerings. “Our brands are being enjoyed in all different ways,” she says. Digital gaming has become a major focus for Hasbro, with the company launching properties like Tonka games for Game Boy and the Dungeons and Dragons online community.
Hasbro just inked a “nine-figure” licensee deal with Marvel Entertainment. And at this year’s Licensing Show, Hasbro is showcasing the Littlest Pet Shop and will be looking at digital gaming in all categories, since the company reacquired game rights for most of its brands from Atari last year. Hasbro has high hopes for entertainment tie-ins like Michael Bay’s upcoming “Transformers” feature and the My Little Pony DVDs. “We’re also very focused on publishing. It’s a phenomenal way to tell your story,” she says.
Mantra: “We ask: Can we create a compelling experience? Can it work across all divisions? Can we deliver something creative, and relevant to our audience?”
— Pat Saperstein
Company: Lucas Licensing
Pedigree: Trained as a lawyer, Roffman joined Lucasfilm as legal counsel the week “The Empire Strikes Back” bowed in 1980. After Lucas brought licensing inhouse, Roffman turned from the Dark Side of the legal world to build evergreen lines of “Star Wars” toys, books, videogames and collectibles. Lucas Licensing runs lean and mean, with a team of just 35 staffers based in San Francisco’s Presidio, along with a network of international agents.
Impact: Roffman helped Lucas Licensing realize its biggest year ever in 2005, generating $3 billion globally at retail for “Star Wars” — a quarter of the franchise’s total product sales since its 1977 inception. Key to those sales were deals Lucas had inked years earlier with the likes of Hasbro (1997) and Lego (1999). Now, with two “Star Wars” TV series in the works, Roffman’s team is also gearing up to rejuvenate the Indiana Jones franchise, with a next-gen vidgame being developed by sister unit LucasArts and a fourth theatrical title in pre-production.
Mantra: “We’re in for the long term. With ‘Star Wars,’ we realize that we’ve got a consumer franchise that has touched millions of people; we never want to go in and overexploit an opportunity.” Case in point: Lucas waited “very patiently” for the DVD player base to match the original “Star Wars” trilogy’s broad audience. The films made their disc debut in 2004.
— Terence Keegan
Travis J. Rutherford
Company: MGM Consumer Products and Location-Based Entertainment
Title: Executive VP
Pedigree: The New Zealand native’s licensing career began with lifestyle brands at Logan James before he joined Disney, where he worked on “The Little Mermaid” and “The Lion King” licenses. “I was groomed by what I would call the Procter & Gamble of the business,” he says. After stints at DreamWorks and Ememories.com, Rutherford joined MGM in 2001 and now oversees licensing, merchandising and interactive for MGM properties such as James Bond, the Pink Panther, Rocky and “Stargate” as well as third-party properties such as kids’ imports “Bing and Bong’s Tiny Planets” and “Team Galaxy.”
Impact: Rutherford oversaw the transfer of videogame rights to the James Bond franchise from Electronic Arts to Activision, a deal that runs through 2014. “It’s probably the single largest single-property entertainment deal that we can think of in its size and scope,” he says. The studio also is working with Cheyenne Mountain Entertainment on a massive multiplayer online videogame based on the long-running “Stargate” TV series. He has overseen location-based entertainment projects, including the MGM Studios Plaza in Niagara Falls, a “Stargate” ride at Space Park Bremen and Six Flags theme parks, as well as licensing the Pink Panther character to Universal Studios Osaka.
Mantra: “Entertainment licensing is a tough business. It is very competitive. We’re all competing for the same shelf space. You’ve got to differentiate yourself as best as possible.”
— Thomas J. McLean
Company: Marvel Entertainment
Title: Prexy, worldwide consumer products media group
Pedigree: The former senior VP of North American consumer products for Universal Studios, Rothwell led brand-enhancing campaigns for properties including films “Jurassic Park,” “The Cat in the Hat,” and Ang Lee’s “The Hulk.”
Impact: When Rothwell joined Marvel in 2004, the licensing division was in its infancy. Since then, it has seen a superhero-worthy transformation. Rothwell oversaw the opening of offices in London and Tokyo, reinforcing Marvel’s international presence.
And to capitalize on the company’s 5,000-plus character roster, Rothwell has led the development of demographic-spanning strategies including toddler-oriented Marvel Babies and fashion-focused Marvel Juniors for girls.
One of this year’s chief initiatives, Marvel Heroes, teams core characters such as the X-Men and Fantastic Four with less-familiar heroes. In addition, the company’s licensing endeavors — which generated a reported $5 billion in 2005 — continue to support big-event movies and animation with interactive, toys, collectibles and apparel. Partners include Hallmark, Microsoft, J&J, Activision, Hands-On Mobile, Hanes and Hasbro.
Marvel recently inked the latter for what Rothwell calls a “transformative 9-figure deal” for action figures and toys, kicking off in 2007 with merchandise to support “Spider-Man 3” and “GhostRider.” With Microsoft, meanwhile, Marvel has pacted to license a massively multiplayer online game — potentially one of the most lucrative licensing deals in the Marvel portfolio. That launches in early 2008. Yet another recent focus — spearheaded by Marvel Intl. president Bruno Maglione — is on comic-inspired ancillary publishing.
Mantra: “Ultimately, successful licensing efforts come back to the characters themselves. They give us the ammunition we need to create the most exciting deals we possibly can.”
— Randi Schmelzer
Patricia Wyatt & Jamie Cygielman
Company: HIT Entertainment
Title: Wyatt is president; Cygielman is senior VP consumer products
Pedigree: Both are veterans of Mattel’s Barbie brand. Wyatt spent time at Applause and was exposed to all major studio licenses. Cygielman previously was VP of marketing for Revlon. HIT has become a premier producer and licensor for preschool entertainment, representing Barney, Bob the Builder, Thomas the Tank Engine and the Wiggles.
Impact: Cygielman is excited about a recent deal with Jakks Pacific for Tele-Story interactive books — it taps into the current trend of younger children migrating to electronic gizmos, she says. The company is experimenting with event-based programs such as “Day Out With Thomas,” and it just struck a major deal with Fox to distribute new direct-to-video and catalog titles from HIT Entertainment’s library.
Cygielman: “To consistently develop preschool hits, one needs to create quality content that children love and parents trust and then extend the brand with relevant merchandise and programs that capture what is unique and special about the property.”
Wyatt: “Great licensing captures what kids love about the entertainment and translates that into great products that they also want to have.”
— Thomas J. McLean