Asgard Media’s Robyn Cowling on why successful licensing should be a two-way street and not a cul-de-sac

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes talks with Robyn Cowling – Head of Strategic Partnerships at Asgard Media – about how best to bring new companies into licensing.

Hi Robyn. First off, can you tell us a bit more about Asgard and its position in the licensing world?
Asgard are a licensing consultant, acting on behalf of manufacturers within the wonderful world of licensing. We are unbiased, so don’t represent the brand, but we work with business owners to put together a licensing strategy – and then approach those relevant licensors with a partnership proposal in mind.

I act on behalf of the manufacture to educate the licensor on their sales and marketing endeavours whilst also negotiating the best deal for all parties.

You are Head of Strategic Partnerships at Asgard – talk us through what that involves.
My role is twofold – managing client and licensor partnerships. I am well-connected within the licensing industry and part of my role is to nurture those relationships to benefit our new and existing clients, while also keeping on top of trends and brands as they emerge.

“There’s no point doing a deal for doing a deal’s sake – many companies have and failed.”

As well as managing existing client relationships, I also introduce new businesses to the licensing arena and enlighten them as to how they can use brands to elevate their position and reach new audiences through meaningful partnerships and products. We act as their licensing department when they don’t have the know-how, connections or time.

Given your experience in the industry, how would you sell the benefits of licensing to a company new to this space?
My experience is mainly in character licensing, but my personal interest is in heritage and lifestyle brands. While talking to new and existing clients, I encourage them to look for natural synergy. I recommend they align themselves with a licensor whose core values mirror their own – be playful, sophisticated, sustainable and so on.

What are some of the common mistakes that you have seen those new to licensing make?
There’s no point doing a deal for doing a deal’s sake – many companies have and failed. They can also target only one licence, which in my opinion is not really a strategy and can lead to over-paying for contracts.

“For meaningful product ranges to be a success, it should be a joint effort!”

Sometimes a licensor sees the opportunity but then they don’t put the work in themselves. I truly believe that for meaningful product ranges to be a success, it should be a joint effort! That’s not a message that all licensors are aligned with, but it’s my job to protect the manufacturers and ensure they’re entering a two-way street and not a cul-de-sac!

Great line! Prior to Asgard, you worked at the likes of Underground Toys and Funko. What is your take on the current trend for ‘pop culture’ brands and products? What’s driving the interest in this category?
I’m loving the pop culture trend and long may it continue. People no longer feel they need to hide their nerdiness and there’s so many great consumer product ranges which allow people to express themselves and their interests – it’s fantastic to see.

People are still craving newness and change after *cough* covid times but it’ll be a while before retailers feel they can take risks on new properties, so I think the classic properties have still got some time on the clock.

I know you recently attended the toy and gift fairs. Did you pick up on any trends or developments worth highlighting?
Something we are trying to align ourselves with is sustainability and we saw a huge amount of people representing that at recent shows. We hope that we can connect the demand from licensors to align themselves with that message, with the right products and partners.

How do you think rights owners and licensing agents could work smarter when it comes to attracting new licensees to the market?
Looking for natural links is a great place to start. Similar brand values, aspirations and messaging will mean that both parties will work hard to make their products and ranges a success.

“People are still craving newness and change after covid times, but it’ll be a while before retailers feel they can take risks on new properties.”

If a licensor doesn’t have time to look for those opportunities or to educate potential new partners on how licensing works, then that’s where Asgard come in!

Are there some product categories you feel are licensing ‘lite’?
I think creative crafting could do with some heritage brand partnerships, as well as healthier food options aligning themselves with brands who have a similar set of values. If you represent any of those product categories and are reading this then please get in touch – we’d love to guide you into making the right license choices, for the best price.

Similarly, if you’re a licensor looking for partners in particular areas then we’d love to look at introducing clients in those areas.

Finally, could you highlight a few products or ranges that you see as good examples of licensing?
It would be remiss of me not to take the chance to mention our gin distillery client Harrogate Tipple and the recently announced deal we brokered with the lovely Cathy Snow at The RHS. They are using botanicals inspired by the five gardens of the Royal Horticultural Society and taking inspiration from the RHS Flower Shows to create a beautifully presented gin range which I can’t wait to see released at The Chelsea Flower Show in May this year.

Robyn Cowling, Asgard Media, Ian Downes

Another great licensed item which fills my heart with joy is the Van Gogh Museum x Floral Street perfume inspired by the life and work of the artist.

Robyn Cowling, Asgard Media, Ian Downes

It feels really unique and truly collaborative, where fine art meets fine fragrance, brilliant.

Great insight and nice examples. Thanks Robyn.

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