“It’s bonkers, but welcome to licensing!”: The Point.1888’s Will Stewart on the value of exploring ‘out-there’ ideas

Will Stewart ­– Founder & MD of The Point.1888 – talks purpose, podcasts and playing in the food space.

Will, it’s always great to catch up. We’ve spoke before about The Point.1888 taking a retail-first approach to licensing, but how does that actually shape how you go out and strike deals for brands?
We spend a lot of time with retail buyers explaining problems they’ve got and how we can fix them. We work backwards to solve the problem, which helps de-risk licensing. It moves the conversation away from being a very salesy “Here’s a brand, do you want to buy it?” Instead, it becomes more about creating a demand for a brand, in a product category, at a retailer… It makes it easier for everyone in the chain, particularly licensees. Lots of people are doing more demand-driven, retail-led licensing these days because it makes sense.

It begs the question, do buyers get the chance to share their insights enough with brand owners, licensees and agencies?
Everyone in licensing would like to talk to buyers if they could. The trouble is they’re very busy and it’s such a tough job. They’re under a lot of pressure because they’re trading live all the time. In licensing, we’re planning nine to 12 months ahead, and they’re buying nine to 12 months ahead, but they’re trading every single day.

“Who doesn’t want to sit in the pub coming up with ideas for brands? It’s what ties the industry together.”

Something you see more of these days is licensees speaking to buyers before they sign a licensing deal for a brand. Brand owners don’t like it, but all they’re doing is their own due diligence. And let’s be honest, there’s not enough due diligence done in the licensing industry. Licensing isn’t quick or easy – it looks it, but it isn’t! Lots of brands have woken up to it, but they need to do some basic market analysis in order to put together a proper strategy. Otherwise, a lot of enthusiasm and planning can end up being a complete waste of time.

The Point.1888 has an eclectic portfolio of brands – from Abbey Road to Barratt sweets to Royal Historic Palaces. What makes an IP well suited to you guys?
Variety is the spice of life. We look for ambitious brands with purpose. We want brands that have a cause, want to change something or can generate money to go back into something. Beyond that, it’s about people. We want to work with people that share our morals, ethics and values.

“We look for ambitious brands with purpose.”

Abbey Road is a good example. We love music, it’s iconic and it has a purpose behind it because it’s trying to drive an interest in music among the youth. It really means something. Are we going to do loads and loads of licensing for it? No – but the people are cool, the purpose is there and it’s something very special that we like doing.

These are also brands that don’t necessarily have an obvious route into consumer products.
We love that aspect of it. Who doesn’t want to sit in the pub coming up with ideas for brands? That’s what ties the whole industry together. We love coming up with ideas and we’re also not shy in coming up with shite ideas. We like building on ideas, even if they’re not quite right initially. If you shoot ideas down straight away, you’re losing the potential for that to spark other, better thoughts. We’ve got a lot of great ideas-people here and ideas can really come from anywhere.

Historic Royal Palaces is a great example. The Gin in a Tin partnership came out of nowhere and it’s done really well. At some point that would’ve sounded like a crazy idea, but everyone loves it now!

Will Stewart, The Point.1888, Food & Drink

How do you see the relationship between commercial teams and design teams?
Designers push beyond your initial vision and commercial’s job is to work with them to figure out how far you can actually push things. That’s how you get great things that you wouldn’t have got to on your own. Creatives have something that commercial brains don’t have, so we need to tap into that otherwise we’ll all stay average.

When we’re pitching to brands, we always give them a couple of really out-there ideas because you never know what will come off. We work with Mumsnet and the only licensing deal we’ve done with them so far is a vibrator. Of all the things we’ve explored for that brand, a vibrator is the first one to come off… It’s bonkers, but welcome to licensing!

Will Stewart, The Point.1888, Food & Drink

You mentioned earlier about putting purpose at the core of everything you do, and you’ve recently launched a podcast all about it – the True Purpose Podcast. Day-to-day, how does being purpose-led shape the business?
We’ve turned down opportunities and exited clients because they weren’t aligned to our purpose. Anything that any business does to be more purposeful is a positive step towards a better future. Every brand needs to be looking at it because purpose is important to Gen Z and Gen Alphas – and they’ll research and find out if companies are doing things to help the planet or make it worse. We should celebrate every move a company or brand makes to being more purpose-led.

“We should celebrate every move a brand makes to being more purpose-led.”

The podcast is called The True Purpose Podcast, and The Point’s parent company is called True Purpose Enterprises. How do you assess a true purpose versus a fake one?
Well, if you can cut open a business open and everything is tied to a purpose, then that’s true purpose. Fake purpose covers things like greenwashing or cases where companies jump on a bandwagon for the sake of it. Your purpose might be to sell a shit-tonne of kitchen towels! That’s fine! But if you’re doing that and saying that you’re planting 10,000 trees to be a purposeful business, but you’re actually cutting down 10 million… Well that’s a fake purpose, and the end consumer will catch those kinds of businesses out.

Just on the podcast, what does it focus on?
It’s about inspiring people to be more purposeful. We interview people about their own personal purpose, and it’s been amazing. I hope it’s something I do for the rest of my life.

Will Stewart, The Point.1888, Food & Drink

And for anyone interested in checking that out, it’s here. I also wanted to speak with you about the launch of your new food and drink-focused licensing agency, Eighty Ate. Top marks for the name! Why is now the right time for this venture?
Food and location-based entertainment are some of the key growth areas in our industry, and you want to be in those areas. We also have a rich history with food and drink brands; the first thing we ever did was the Innocent woolly hats with Oliver Bonas. The second thing we did was taking Leon into cookware with John Lewis. And our biggest thing outside of entertainment is the Barratt lollies – it’s a £25m turnover business. Huge! Food is such an innovative space in licensing; there’s lots of exciting things going on. And it’s fun! Who doesn’t want to sit and taste ice cream!

Will Stewart, The Point.1888, Food & Drink

I’m sold! And where is the focus for you in terms of food brands going into non-food categories, non-food IP going into food…
Food brands going into non-food is massive and there’s people knocking that out of the park, like the guys at Pink Key. Non-food brands going into food, like the recent Barbie popcorn, is also really interesting. But in my opinion, the big one is food brands extending into other food brands.

A lot of food companies like to think they should do that sort of thing in-house, but their innovation funnels can last three or four years; it’s too slow. Our industry does things quickly and if something lands, it can be massive. That’s the opportunity for our industry. We can tap into the big food producers and offer them a faster route – that’s less stressful – and just as lucrative and innovative. That’s one of our big targets for Eighty Ate and we have some exciting announcements coming up.

Will Stewart, The Point.1888, Food & Drink

For a food brand moving into a different food category, what makes or breaks a launch like that?
The flavour. It’s tricky, but consumers love their food brands and so you need to spend the time to get it right. It needs to be authentic and recognisably that flavour. That means you usually need to do lots of testing, and that means lots of eating – so it’s not all bad!

Ha! If you ever need help with that, you have my details! Will, this has been great! I have one last question: What would you say is the most underrated project you’ve worked on?
We’ve not done too much press on it, but I’d say Story1888’s marketing campaign with Tourettes Action to raise awareness of Tourette’s. That campaign is so purpose-led and it will end up as a TikTok docuseries. It’s very different but a great brand. I’m very proud of the work we’ve done there.

Will, thanks again for making time.

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