“Creativity in licensing is at an all-time high”: Informa’s Anna Knight on design, innovation and returning to live events with BLE 2021

We caught up with Anna Knight – VP of Licensing at Informa Markets – to find out why BLE 2021 is a must-attend show for the industry’s designer community.

Next month, the licensing industry will be reuniting in real life as Brand Licensing Europe returns to London’s ExCeL from November 17th to 19th.

With 168 exhibitors confirmed – and counting – and registrations well under way, we caught up with Anna Knight – VP of Licensing at Informa Markets – to find out more about this years show, and why it’s shaping up to be a must-attend for the industry’s designer community.

Anna Knight, Brand Licensing Europe

Hi Anna, great to catch up; first off, BLE is back to being IRL and it’s not far off – what’s the mood in the camp like?
Hey Billy! The mood in the camp is electric – we’re all really excited to get back onsite at ExCeL next month. We’ve had brilliant support from the industry with over 160 exhibitors already confirmed and a strong start with visitor registration.

Our online meetings system is now open, so as soon as you register you can start booking appointments at ExCeL (17-19 November) or online (30 November – 1 December).

The new simplified travel system was very welcome news, too, because it just makes things that much easier and cheaper for international attendees to visit and exhibit and we’re seeing a lot more non-domestic visitor registrations coming through now.

Absolutely, we can’t wait. Can you talk us through some of things you’re most excited about regarding this year’s show?
Our BLE Sustainability Activation that we’re building in collaboration with Helena Mansell-Stopher and Products of Change will include spotlights on fashion, material and retail innovation and product showcases.

The character parade is back and not once, but twice at 11:30 on Wednesday and Thursday.

Anna Knight, Brand Licensing Europe

The Retail Trends Lounge will return, with inspirational and really fun content exclusively for retailers (to be announced very shortly) and our Retail Mentoring Programme is a record breaker this year with 84 retailers taking part, showing just what an appetite there is for gaining a better understanding of the licensing industry.

We’ve also got two incredible keynotes lined up for the show – one from ViacomCBS Consumer Products discussing Diversity & Inclusion, new toy research and the impact of both on consumer product. The second is sport-related and it will blow your mind, but I can’t share more than that right now. Both keynotes will take place at ExCeL and are addition to all the online content we’ll have available following the event, including Licensing U from Licensing International.

On the social side, we invite all exhibitors and attendees to join us for a welcome back drinks reception on the evening of day one from 5pm to 7pm on the show floor. Then on the second day we pay tribute to Kelvyn Gardner with Colour for Kelvyn Day – everyone is encouraged to wear bright colours in his honour and make a donation to The Light Fund in his name.

Lastly, the amazing array of exhibitors we have showcasing this year. The effort going into booth designs and product displays is once again, second to none, and I’m so proud to see such a wide variety of brands from across the licensing spectrum join us for our welcome back event.

Anna Knight, Brand Licensing Europe

Amazing stuff; lots of everyone to sink their teeth into there. For designers – or anyone interested in design – reading, why is BLE a must-attend show?
Because there is so much IP on display in terms of brands but also product, and from such a wide range of categories, so it is impossible to walk the floor without being inspired. On top of that, there will be loads of content about trends and forecasting in our on-demand sessions and, of course, the ViacomCBS D&I keynote is a must for designers (especially toy designers) to attend.

Designers from both licensors and licensees will no doubt be at the show again this year. Do you think it’s a great place to get the creative juices running and find inspiration in some of the products on show?
Yes, I do. For all of the reasons I’ve mentioned above, but also because there’s nothing better for brainstorming and lightbulb moments than being face to face with people again; reconnecting with existing business partners, but also meeting new people with different ideas, knowledge and experiences.

Anna Knight, Brand Licensing Europe

The Sustainability Activation is a must-stop for both brand and manufacturing designers. It will be packed with innovation when it comes to sustainable technology, processes, materials, retail, product and fashion design. We’ll have product showcases from the likes of Hasbro, LEGO and Keel Toys, and real chin-scratching exhibits from George at Asda, The Eden Project and Teemill and many more.

You mentioned earlier about the return of the fantastic License This returns again this year. Talk us through why this is an important part of the show?
It does and, in honour of the late and legendary Kelvyn Gardner we’ve renamed it the Kelvyn Gardner License This! competition. We’re delighted that Mojo is partnering with us on a brand new third award category designed for product inventors who are being asked to design a desktop accessory based on Aardman Animations’ Morph IP. Great to have you join us on the judging panel as well, Billy.

We’ve already had over 50 entries and we’re really looking forward to judging day on October 21st when we decide who is on the shortlist. The final will take place live in the Retail Trends Lounge on Friday 19 November.

Thank you for having me involved! I too can’t wait to check out the entries – properly inspiring stuff. Looking more broadly at the industry, how do you assess the state of creativity in the licensing space at present?
The pandemic has reminded us that creativity doesn’t just mean good design; it can reference innovation in terms of content, consumer-focus, delivery and distribution and, in those terms, I think creativity in licensing is at an all-time high.

We’ve seen some amazing collabs recently that would never have been imaginable 10 years ago – where couture meets Smiley, and Adidas meets Kermit. Retailers have been more creative than ever when it comes to licensed product design, but also instore and online experiences that maximise the IP.

And sustainability and diversity, equity and inclusion are no longer ‘nice to haves’ they are critical business considerations, and we are seeing these being incorporated more into creative and design, which is brilliant news.

Agreed. On that, are there any recent launches or ranges that you feel highlight how creative brand licensing can be design-wise?
The work Max Lister at the Natural History Museum is ground-breaking in terms of sustainability, especially their collab with pioneering, outdoor eco brand Finisterre and now Desmond & Dempsey, which uses organic buttons and corozo (not mother of pearl) buttons on the limited-edition pyjamas.

Anna Knight, Brand Licensing Europe

Absolutely. Well Anna, this has been a pleasure. I can imagine you’re swamped so we’ll wrap things up here and look ahead to connecting in real life at BLE next month. And for anyone that hasn’t done so yet, you can book your free ticket to the show here.

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