Asgard Media’s Robyn Cowling discusses honesty, fandom and trend-spotting

Robyn Cowling – Head of Strategic Partnerships at Asgard Media – on championing, elevating and protecting clients and licensors.

Hi Robyn. Could you give us a quick introduction to Asgard and your role there?
We are a licensing consultant – in short, we bring manufacturers into the fold of the lovely licensing community! We help to explore licensing opportunities, strategise and negotiate contracts for our clients to help them align with the right brands and utilise licensing to elevate their position within the market. Part of my role is also to keep on top of trends and to nurture licensor connections.

One of your clients is Harrogate Tipple. How has Asgard helped them develop their licensing portfolio?
First off, I can’t take credit for onboarding Harrogate Tipple – they were one of Kelvyn’s clients who I’m now working with. Founded in 2016, they worked with Asgard to find their place in a crowded craft gin market by taking a Downton Abbey license. This helped strengthen their international distribution and won them multiple awards.

“Licensing should always support your existing business rather than the other way around.”

They have recently partnered with the RHS – brokered by us, naturally – and have released a beautiful range of gin, rum and whisky, infused with the botanicals handpicked from the 750-year-old gardens at Ripley Castle, made with Harrogate Spring Water – a perfect blend.

Robyn Cowling, Asgard Media, Harrogate Tipple

The range looks great – and very on trend. On that, how do you keep up with the latest trends and developments in licensing?
I’m deep rooted in the industry with *cough* several years under my belt in the toy industry, so I’m fortunate enough to be included in lots of licensor presentations, roundtable discussions and general chit-chats. This all helps me to form a bigger picture of the current and future landscape of retail, manufacture and licensing.

You mentioned your toy industry experience there and before Asgard you worked with Funko. Fan-led licensing seems to be an area of dynamic growth at the moment.
Absolutely! I’ve said it before but it still rings true, fans are proud of their brands and enjoy playing a part in their journey to success. Prouder than they’ve been comfortable admitting in the past, they’re pleased to have the opportunity to show their allegiance to brands as an extension of their sense of self – and they tend to do it in a more sophisticated way than just wearing band t-shirts and playing with action figures.

There are so many more options now, a sterling silver Marvel bracelet, Downton Abbey gin, Xbox nail varnish, Stranger Things bath bombs… That said, with so much content being created, they can’t all be hits and they won’t all translate well to consumer product programs. It needs to be a team effort and it needs to engage and enrich the consumers experience by strengthening their sense of connection to the franchise.

“Post-pandemic, I’ve noticed that there’s a lot less nonsense to cut through during licensor presentations.”

If you were advising a manufacturer who was eyeing up the licensing sector, what would you advise them to be thinking about? How should they prepare themselves to be market ready?
Make sure that the brand aligns with your growth strategy. Don’t try to make connections where it doesn’t make total sense for your own brand. Licensing should always support your existing business rather than the other way around.

Also, I know it’s tempting to promise the world but don’t overreach or make up things you think licensors want to hear – it will only bite you in the arse! That’s why I really enjoy getting stuck into my role at Asgard. I get to champion, encourage, elevate and protect our clients and licensors – truly objectively, it’s a privilege to be able to be so honest in my work!

You obviously see a lot of rights owners, agents and presentations. Have you any observations around how licensed IP is sold and marketed? Are there aspects of these kinds of presentations that could be improved?
Actually, post-pandemic I’ve noticed that there’s a lot less nonsense to cut through during licensor presentations. Rights owners should – and for the most part are – so focused on nurturing the connection with consumers and finding ways for consumer products to support that; it’s refreshing to see.

We’ve all heard enough that XYZ license is number one – on a Wednesday, on that specific channel, for boys aged three to three and a half, who are looking left and wearing red trousers – too many times!

“Fans are proud of their brands and enjoy playing a part in their journey to success.”

Absolutely. Looping back to trends, what are you seeing trend-wise in terms of design in licensing? Are there new themes, styles and looks emerging?
Sustainability now plays a part in every brand and product strategy – it’s unavoidable. The key to doing that successfully is to find a way to include that message in innovative ways. Already I’ve seen recycled packaging opening to form a diorama playset… In years gone by, that would’ve all been plastic and would’ve gone straight in the bin after five minutes! I am following the recycling toys journey closely and hope that green educational ethos grows into other product categories.

Design-wise, I think it’s much of a muchness to be honest. It’s at the whim of the modern consumers and they’re all over the place after recent years so I’ll be interested to see what shakes out and survives over the coming years!

Are there some specific business sectors that you feel would benefit from using licenses more?
Given it’s the area we’re focused on as a business, I would say the food and beverage industry is ripe for licensing. It’s a great way to get more eyeballs on your brand outside of the traditional toy and publishing aisles.

Robyn, this has been great. Huge thanks and let’s catch up again soon!

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