Bulldog Licensing’s Karina Rhoden on creativity, design and the key to successful collaborations

Karina Rhoden – Senior Creative Manager at Bulldog Licensing – discusses her route into licensing, and why she loves to work with the creators behind the brands.

Karina, thanks for making time. To kick us off, how did you find your way into licensing? Was a career working with brands always on the cards?
Thank you so much for having me and a great question to start with! Unlike most in the industry, I did not stumble across brand licensing. I was introduced to it by one of my lecturers at uni.

As part of my overall course, I had taken a Brand Management module where we had to create a brand extension program for a brand of our choice. I chose Lurpak Butter and created an entire Christmas range of ready-made pastry and baking utensils.

I was so invested I turned down nights out for about a month to work on it, can you believe! I feel my lecturer saw my passion and let me know this could be a possible career choice and the rest is history. Thank you, Ann!

“Getting deep into the nitty gritty of how brands were created ­– from the minds that created them – is invaluable information.”

An impressive commitment to the Lurpak brand! Is there a licensing programme around it… We should look into that! Now, earlier this year you joined Bulldog Licensing as Senior Creative Manager. What does a typical day look like? If there is one!
As an agent whose main objective is to support both our licensees and licensors, I am the main contact who manages the product development process to ensure everything runs smoothly. I am here for general creative support, and this can include style guide creation and trend analysis. I also manage Bulldog’s marketing activity; this can include working with trade press to managing our social media pages, so truly no day is the same.

How important is design to the overall success of a licensing programme?
I feel it’s very important. This is a consumer-focused business with several branded or non-branded products that consumers can choose to buy over yours. Even if a consumer is buying based on practicality or price point, aesthetics can be a huge decision-decider as to why someone may choose your product over another. A successful licensing program is a mix of many things; design is definitely a piece of that pie.

We’re seeing more and more successful examples of ‘left field licensing’. From a design point of view, how do you assess how far you can stretch a brand, while retaining its authenticity?
For me, it’s important to ensure from a creative point of view that you fully understand the identity and values of a brand. With that always at the forefront, no matter how risky or crazy you are thinking to go, the partnership is more likely to be an enhancement to the brand than a hindrance.

Bulldog looks after a raft of IP, from Care Bears to Bullseye. What’s your process in terms of getting under the skin of your brands? How do you get to grips with them?
We are lucky enough to be working with some brands who still have their original creators on board and who are happy to chat with me… Getting deep into the nitty gritty of how brands were created ­– from the minds that created them – is invaluable information. I always like to know about the brand story, its values and what has worked well for them in the past to help shape what the future may look like.

What is it about Bulldog’s portfolio of brands that you feel fuels creativity in partners?
Our licensors are all committed to ensuring partners are receiving creative guidance where possible from a branding perspective. They welcome ideas from the individual partners who will know and understand their target audience better than anyone. Open conversations and working collaboratively provides a space to keep creativity flowing.

“Communication, flexibility and an open mind are key attributes to help ensure end goals become reality.”

On that, what do you think is the key to successful creative relationships between licensees and licensors?
I would say it is always remembering the end goal from the beginning. How you get there isn’t always straightforward, and opinions on how to get there may differ, but everyone involved always wants the same result – a successful product you are proud of. The relationship is a partnership, so communication, flexibility and keeping an open mind are key attributes to help ensure that joint end goal becomes reality.

What fuels your own creativity? What helps you have ideas?
I saw a meme once where you are in a boardroom purposely trying brainstorming and your mind is completely blank, but you could be standing in the shower, or walking your dog, or waiting in the line at the post office, then boom – here comes some of the best ideas you have ever had, flooding in all at once.

In your everyday life you come across so many different things that fuel ideas. That’s the base line for me, it can come at any time. Paying attention to the world around and staying inquisitive has helped me massively. I am constantly thinking, this idea is great or not that great, so how could I now make it work for me or re-work it to make it better.

Karina, huge thanks for this. Let’s tie-in again soon.

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