Brands & Retail UK’s Ryan Beaird on what he’s looking to bring to the industry with his Pitch Smarter Conference

We spoke with Ryan to find out more about the origins of the event – and the areas he hopes it will expand into.

January will see the arrival of the inaugural Pitch Smarter Conference – the first event from Ryan Beaird’s Brands & Retail UK.

The event will see licensors deliver 15 minute brand presentations to an audience of retail buyers and licensees. We spoke with Ryan to find out more about the origins of the event – and the areas he hopes it will expand into.

Ryan Beaird, Brands & Retail UK, Pitch Smarter Conference

Hi Ryan, it’s nice to catch up. To kick us off, how did you find yourself working in the brands and licensing space?
I come from an investment banking and creative background which means I can use the left side and right side of my brain – this helps because the creative industry is a business.

I remember how I first found out about consumer product licensing. Back in 2012 I was given details by the Department for international Trade about a trade show called Licensing Expo which took place in Vegas. The Princes Trust were supporting me at the time as a young creator and they helped fund me to attend the show. From that moment on, I loved the business.

I remember meeting the US association team of LIMA – or Licensing International as they are now known – at Licensing Expo 2012. Mary Verdegaal, the membership director, was one of the most helpful people I have ever met in the business and the most connected. Mary told me that a role was vacant to run the membership for the UK office of LIMA. It was one of those chance meetings and I’m grateful for her help all those years ago.

So, for seven years I worked in the licensing industry running the association and got to know so many friends and colleagues in the licensing business – across all sectors, publishing, sports, heritage, character, charity and art.

Now, let’s talk about this event you’re launching in January, the Pitch Smarter Conference. For anyone new to it, how would you pitch it? Who is it for?
I like the joke about pitching my Pitch Smarter Conference – thanks Billy you set me up there!

You’re very welcome!
For years I could see a need for more business-focused licensing events in the UK. Especially screenings and brand key partner summits, which all seemed to be sporadic. I spoke with some character and entertainment licensors and some licensees a couple of months back and brainstormed with them how the first Brands & Retail UK event should work. We spoke about how holding it in January it would fit into the retail buying calendar.

Having twenty brands taking part it and giving them 15 minutes to tell the audience – made up of retailers and licensees – what they are doing for the coming year was an easy sell. I also want the event on January 23rd and 24th and going forward to be where brands show their new unseen IP.

So that’s a focus for the event moving forward? A spotlight on brand new IP?
I predict it will become the event that brand owners want to take part in to showcase their new IP. I’ve also decided to make sure that the audience – who will be able to come for free – will only be made up of retail buyers and licensees.

In terms of that licensee audience, do you want designers and product development teams from licensees attending?
I think given the nature of the event – where there will be ‘first looks’ and brands presenting plans for the coming year – product development teams who work with and are employed by licensees should be coming. I sent out an email a week or so ago to the licensees and suggested the very same and I’m delighted to say alongside sales and account managers, product developers as now coming as well.

“I predict it will become the event that brand owners want to take part in to showcase their new IP.”

You mentioned earlier about a need for more business-focused licensing events in the UK. Could you expand on that a little?
Well, I looked at the animation industry, which I am well connected in, and over the years I have seen so many sizzles and screenings at the likes of CMC, Kidscreen, Cartoon Forum (which the brits aren’t allowed to attend anymore) and MIPJunior.

It was always hard to watch someone’s new show on an iMac in a busy conference or in a café on the Croisette in Cannes. That’s why I thought an event where everyone can do short elevator sizzles back-to-back in one day – and under NDA – was a great idea.

Looking ahead, do you see the Pitch Smarter Conference being a once-a-year event or do you have your eye on more?
I remember I came to your first Play Creators Conference back in 2018 and knew you had a winning formula – so I hope to follow in your footsteps! I love how Mojo Nation and Brands Untapped look at the start of the brand product cycle and how my Brands & Retail conferences will be at the end of the product cycle.

I’m looking at putting on one for the lifestyle, commercial, charity, art and heritage brands. They have told me that want me to do one for their side of the business, so I’ll take that challenge up. I’m looking at summer for that one and I reckon another character and entertainment one.

I want to walk before I run but stand-alone sports and gaming Pitch Smarter conferences are on my mind as well. I have the connections and know them all personally so if they are reading… Let’s talk!

Sounds like you’ll be busy! And thanks for the kind words! Now, looking more broadly at the licensing space, do you think we in a good place from a design point of view?
100%. Looking at how licensed product is developed and made now, some of it can be mind-blowing. Gone are the days of slapping a logo on a t-shirt – and it is all down to the very creative minds working in the design side of the business. I also think if the product is great and inventive, selling it becomes the easiest part!

Finally, how do you fuel your own creativity?
Years of running a trade association means I learnt to listen – especially to licensees. I also think taking onboard what is going on around you helps you to naturally become more creative.

I’m extremely self-critical. If an idea I come up with looks good on paper, I’ll throw every negative angle and every possible scenario at it. If it survives and still looks good as an idea, I know it’s something to move forward with.

I also immerse myself in the arts, TV and film, and I’ve learnt if an idea pops in your head, don’t write it down! If it’s still in your head a week later and it won’t go away, then it’s a winner.

Thanks Ryan – good luck with the event next month. And if anyone wants to learn more about it, they can head to

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