Global Licensing Group’s Laura Freedman-Dagg on the key to fruitful relationships between buyers and brands

Laura Freedman-Dagg – Global Licensing Group’s Head of Retail – talks us through the enduring success of BLE’s Retail Mentoring Programme.

Hi Laura, it’s great to chat. Before we dive into the Brand Licensing Europe Retail Mentoring Programme, how did you come to be working in the licensing industry?
I was lucky enough to be working for UBM – now Informa – when it acquired Advanstar whose licensing portfolio became part of my job as a tradeshow marketing manager. Having started my career in health and safety, care home and IT events, you can imagine what a treat it was to discover BLE and Licensing Expo! It wasn’t long before I moved over to event management on BLE and more recently have been running retail strategy for the Global Licensing Group.

In a nutshell my role is twofold… I look after retail experience, making sure that our products are fit for purpose for a retail attendee, and I drive new retail audiences for BLE, Licensing Expo and our local events too.

For anyone new to the BLE Retail Mentoring Programme, who is it for?
It’s a six-month course with various in-person touch points designed to teach retailers about brand licensing; the end game being that they feel empowered and ready for productive meetings when they arrive at BLE.

We welcome delegates from all categories – some are new starters at retail organisations with established licensing specialists and teams, like George, TruffleShuffle or M&S. Others work with licenses as a smaller part of their remit. This year we were delighted to include buyers, marketers and designers from a diverse group including Ann Summers, DFS, John Lewis, My 1st Years, Vanilla Underground, HMV, Frasers Group and Card Factory.

Great! And you mentioned in-person touch points…
Yes! The in-person elements include attendance at seminars, the opportunity to judge the Licensing Awards’ product categories and days hosted by leading licensors. I’m grateful to the licensors who take the time to partner with us on this – the hosted days are a highlight of the programme. This year they include Bravado, CAA Brand Management, Hasbro, Wildbrain CPLG, Acamar, Sega, Natural History Museum and Pink Key Licensing.

“One of the main objectives of the Retail Mentoring Programme is to settle nerves and explain the basics.”

And what would you say buyers take away from the experience?
I think the retailers themselves are best placed to explain. Elicia Hicks at My First Years is on this year’s programme and is hoping to make connections. She said: “I always stand by the idea that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know… Building a network of great relationships in the licensing industry is a game changer if you want to build a compelling and successful product offering as a retailer.”

Well said Elicia! Now, I understand the programme has been running for quite a few years. How has it the evolved over time?
It was launched almost 14 years ago by Keith Pashley, my retail partner in crime, who won’t mind me calling him an industry veteran. Keith is the heart and soul of the programme and mentors all the delegates through it. In that launch year he had two retailers take part – Mothercare and Sainsbury’s Tu.

Then, under his stewardship, it’s grown organically. As BLE has gone from grown and evolved, it’s been so important that we keep our foot on the pedal to drive audience growth. It’s equally important that the retailers who attend the shows are prepared for it. So, since 2016 – when we formalised the course and introduced CPD accreditation – it’s gone from strength to strength. This year 100 people from 22 companies joined the programme before the end of January, causing us to close applications more than a month early.

We’ve also introduced an alumni element, so we continue to keep retailers engaged and connected to the licensing industry after they have graduated.

Laura Freedman-Dagg, Global Licensing Group, BLE, Brand Licensing Europe,

Fantastic. I want to dig into some of the areas of learning on the course… Are there any common misconceptions buyers have about the licensing space?
Yes, absolutely. This isn’t everyone by any stretch but there is a nervousness around the contractual side. Also knowing what to invest their time in outside of the ‘safe bets’ from the entertainment world. And lastly, knowing who to talk to and who owns the rights to what… This is actually why we introduced the Brand Directory online so that BLE visitors can easily identify which stands they will find brands on without having to know who owns them.

One of the main objectives of the Retail Mentoring Programme is to settle those nerves and explain the basics. We then work hard to introduce the delegates to different types of licenses and licensors so that they can get an idea of the range of opportunity. It never takes long to get them excited about the potential once you look beyond the obvious.

I can imagine! Now, what do you think is key to fruitful relationships between buyers and licensees? And buyers and brand owners?
I think the key to any business relationship is communication, trust and mutual respect – that’s the same between buyers and licensees, and buyers and brand owners or agents.

Licensing is a wonderfully creative business, but it’s also a complex one when it comes to contracts and legalities, so there must be trust and communication there. Brand owners also need to trust that buyers – and licensees – are going to uphold and stay true to the values and standards of their brand.

And finally, I think there’s a role for each party to challenge each other and get the best from the brand in question, to stretch the brand’s potential, for example, by tapping into cross category and marketing opportunities.

Great insights, thank you! And do you have any key tips for brand owners looking to best capture the enthusiasm of buyers?
This is the million-dollar question! I think the more clarity the brand owners can give at the outset the better. Relevance is also key. The retailers we bring to BLE through initiatives like the mentoring programme are in demand and they really feel it. I’d say the biggest complaint I get pre-show is the cut and paste meeting requests they get. The onus is on the brands to show the retailer that they understand where they’d fit, who their customer is and what additional support they’d get.

“The key to any business relationship is communication, trust and mutual respect.”

It’s difficult to cut through the noise, which is another reason we work hard to educate the retailers pre-show. They should arrive knowing exactly what to ask and where to scrutinize what they’re being told. They’re excited about the potential of brand partnerships that’ll give their customers that extra thrill when they come to store or shop online. But they’re working in a tough environment with so many challenges.

It’s on us to make it as easy as possible for them to engage in licensing. The best licensees, brand owners and agents do this beautifully.

Laura, this has been great. I have one last question… At BLE this year, are there key things buyers should make sure they get involved with?
We’re already working with retail pre-registrants to get their meetings in. That is, after all, the key to a useful BLE experience. In addition, we encourage them to keep time aside to ‘shop the show floor’. Trend spotting is always a key objective for retail, and you don’t know what you don’t know, so unexpected discoveries are a real benefit of a show like BLE. My favourite post show conversations are the ones that start with “I stumbled across X and now we’re working together.”

Retailers in the UK should come and talk to Keith and me in the Retail Lounge about the mentoring programme. We’re open for submissions for next year’s course now, and that includes a free ticket to the Licensing for Retail Day, which we launched to fab feedback this April. When all is said and done, it’s the exhibiting brands which make BLE what it is. This year the theme is Location Based Experiences and that will add lots of exciting experiential elements to the show in the LBE Pavilion.

Retailers can always contact me directly for recommendations based on their particular requirements. I promise, there’s something for everyone at BLE. I’m on [email protected].

Great stuff. Terrific insights. It’s also worth mentioning that applications for next year’s Retail Mentoring Programme are open now – email Laura for more information on that. A huge thanks again Laura – see you at BLE! And if anyone still haven’t registered for BLE this year, click here to do so!

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