Hidden Pigeon Company’s Tori Cook on bringing Mo Willems’ characters to life in product

Tori Cook – Senior Vice President of Franchise Management at Hidden Pigeon Company – discusses the licensing potential of characters like The Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie.

Tori, it’s great to connect. You joined Hidden Pigeon earlier this year. What appealed about the company?
The appealing part of Hidden Pigeon for me is the untapped opportunity to bring Mo Willems’ characters to life beyond the books. Then I look at how he’s created these characters over the past 20 years with an intent to inspire kids – and former kids! – in developing healthy social emotional skills and independent thinking, but always with humour and curiosity at the forefront.

The elevated simplicity of his illustrations combined with the soft, muted colours in his books have a wonderful modern, mindful feel to them. This creative combination of social-emotional purpose, elevated simplicity and humour – combined with an untapped commercial appeal – is the perfect combination that sparks the drive for success within me.

Tori Cook, Hidden Pigeon Company, Publishing, Hidden Pigeon, Art

What is it about Mo’s roster of books that you feel lends itself especially well to licensing?
With more than 34 million books sold and over 70 books created, the opportunity for licensees is to be brand partners with us in bringing a portfolio of IP to consumer products. It’s a universe where characters cross-pollinate within the books and will continue to do so within entertainment.

“Softlines is an immediate opportunity.”

The simplicity of the character art with the softer colours is also a modern character offering that is both on-trend and evergreen. The other important fact is that Mo’s books, especially The Pigeon and Elephant & Piggie, are in schools and are part of the reading curriculum, so kids have daily exposure to these characters.

Tori Cook, Hidden Pigeon Company, Publishing, Hidden Pigeon, Art

What categories in particular do you feel are packed with opportunities?
There’s really an unlimited number of categories and opportunities with these brands. Because these properties haven’t really been commercialised in consumer products outside of publishing, it’s a clean landscape for licensees.

Certainly, softlines is an immediate opportunity, first with kids wearing their favourite characters in apparel and sleepwear, and then with family coordinated apparel and accessories. This is a brand that parents and kids experience together – reading together – that’s a shared experience we’d like to memorialise with products.

“We’d like to bring a modern toy line to pre-schoolers.”

In tandem with our new content, we’d also like to bring a modern toy line to pre-schoolers; offerings that deliver fun play with a purpose. For all categories and products, we always want to hide The Pigeon, just like Mo does in every one of his books!

Fun! And is Mo actively involved in the licensing side of the business? Does he take an interest?
As the creator of these beloved characters, Mo is always thinking about how to bring new experiences and unique products to kids and former kids – some may call them the “kidults”! He takes a very keen interest in how we’re going to bring these characters to life in products. He’s constantly sketching and doodling product ideas, which are incredibly helpful as we look to create unique products that are fun and evergreen. But he also trusts the team to bring the best partners that will grow our brands globally.

What sums up your approach to striking partnerships? What are some key things that guide you process?
I first look for licensees that will be great brand partners and thought partners – a healthy collaboration of ideas, not just items. Those partners that strive to really understand the brand and creatively think of how to deliver a unique experience through product are always those that stand out.

Tori Cook, Hidden Pigeon Company, Publishing, Hidden Pigeon, Art

On that, what’s key to crafting successful creative collaborations with licensees?
I always think of consumer products as the tangible souvenir of an emotional connection you had to either content or characters, then determine how that souvenir fits within a daily lifestyle. The creative collaboration comes when we think about the characters as lifestyle products: what the unique take is on that category or product that unlocks the emotional spark the consumer felt when they read or consumed the content.

And what fuels your creativity? What inspires you?
My creativity is always sparked by conversations and ideation with strong collaborators, both internally and externally. It’s not a single source of an idea. It’s the blend of ideas that come together that inspires me. With Mo and his characters, I’m constantly inspired by their wittiness, humour and reflective qualities. Strong characters that fans can see themselves reflected in always inspires me.

Tori Cook, Hidden Pigeon Company, Publishing, Hidden Pigeon, Art

Last question! What’s your favourite Mo Willems book?
I think it’s a tie between Don’t Let The Pigeon Drive the Bus and Elephant & Piggie’s Waiting is Not Easy. I love the eternal meme-worthiness of The Pigeon – his line, “I bet your mom would let me,” is kid comedy gold. But Waiting is Not Easy is beautifully rewarding. The subtle shift from day to night on each page is unexpected and so wonderful to watch kids experience the surprise at the end.

Thanks Tori!

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