Josh Romm – Head of Global Licensing and Partnerships at The Met – on community, culture and creativity

We catch up with The Met’s Josh Romm to discuss recent launches with PacSun and Dr. Martens – and find out what he feels is the key to successful creative collaborations.

Hi Josh, it’s great to connect – and Happy New Year! Most people we speak to say that a career in the licensing industry kind of snuck up on them! Was this the case for you?
Happy New Year! Well, like so many other licensing professionals from my generation, I had no concept of the licensing industry when I began my career in marketing.

I started out as a brand manager at Mattel working on both Barbie and action figures. That’s where I became fascinated with the power of brand licensing. Being charged with bringing a brand to life in our category as a licensee, Mattel was just one piece on a chessboard that was being directed by the brand owner. The chess match was only won if the chess pieces could work in synchronisation, following the creative and strategic direction of the brand owner.

“Programs such as ours at The Met are only successful if museums are positioned as brands, rather than relying solely on the works of art housed in their collections.”

During my years at Mattel, the retail sales of outbound Barbie licensed product surpassed their actual doll sales, and the company redefined itself as a kids brand developer rather than just another toy company. All of the boys’ action figure programs I oversaw involved working with a licensor, which provided my bridge to move over to Warner Bros, where I started down my path as a brand owner/licensor and eventually a licensing agent as well.

Fantastic – and I like the chess analogy! Now, you’re Head of Global Licensing and Partnerships at The Metropolitan Museum of Art – or The Met as it’s often shortened to. What are some of the brand values of The Met that makes it a unique proposition in this area of licensing right now?
Programs such as ours at The Met are only successful if museums are positioned as brands, rather than relying solely on the works of art housed in their collections. The Met is unique because we have a clearly defined set of values, or brand equity components, that form the building blocks of our brand positioning and commercial extensions.

The Met DNA is rooted in a collection of art spanning 5,000 years – reflecting creativity, self-expression, deep understanding of cultures, and a drive to connect to a wide audience who can learn and be inspired by these works of art. Our brand is about connecting people and creating community. The Met is also special in that it is inextricably linked to NYC, putting it at the intersection of art, fashion, and visual culture.

Josh Romm, The Met
You mentioned creativity there. What makes The Met an exciting brand for designers at licensees to work with?

Our process always begins with selecting the right set of assets that will be most meaningful in creating programs that help to create a link between our DNA and the unique stories and creative perspective of our licensed partners. We work individually with licensees to interpret our brand positioning for their respective consumers, sharing our core values with audiences along the way.

The Met provides licensees with design direction and product development support by one the best inhouse creative teams I’ve ever worked with, rivalling some of the largest global licensing agencies, studios, brand owners, and surpassing most other museums.

“One strategic goal we have for The Met licensing program is to connect with new audiences in meaningful ways.”

Our design and marketing team work closely with The Met curators and educators to tell stories and inspire an audience by way of our licensed products, promotions, and programs.

Let’s dive into a few recent launches. Your collection with PacSun looks fantastic. It utilises everything from iconic artwork to The Met’s address… From a design perspective, how exciting was it to see the brand extend in this way?
The entire team at The Met is thrilled with the resonance of our recent launches among a sophisticated audience of gen Z and millennials. We attribute the success of these programs to our development of authentic product and stories. The strategic goal here was to inspire this new audience to see art as form of self-expression and connect to the artwork – and to each other – in new ways.

Josh Romm, The Met
We should also discuss the Dr Martens collaboration! What made Dr. Martens appeal as a partner? And how pleased are you with how the collection turned out?

We are so proud of the stunning designs that Dr. Martens put forth. Every detail – from the treatment of the source artwork and the packaging, to the layout and copy on the Dr. Martens landing page – was spot-on. I credit our outstanding design team and our remarkable licensee who both value the collaboration.

I also want to answer this question on an even more personal level. It’s one thing when your licensee reports outstanding sell-through numbers and says that the program resonates with their consumer, it’s another when your 16 year old daughter tells you it’s cool and wears them to school.

Josh Romm, The Met
Yes, I can imagine that’s the true seal of approval right there! One thing with both of these launches is that they’re stylish, authentic – but also quite playful. How important is it for an institution like The Met to be open to the brand stretching in creative, playful ways?

One strategic goal we have for The Met licensing program is to connect with new audiences in meaningful ways. We feel confident we’ve checked that box by bringing these two wonderful programs into the market, targeting the same demographic in such a closely coordinated manner.

Both licensees were able to layer on a degree of playfulness, but did so without compromising the integrity of the source artwork or our brand. Our licensees, consumers, and stakeholders across the Museum have expressed that these executions feel authentic and succeed in activating our assets in a fresh and creative way that allows The Met to resonate and stimulate interest. This type of positive response is a huge driver in pushing us further as we explore the creative possibilities that The Met brand can present.

Josh Romm, The Met
Absolutely. As you say, there’s obviously great respect and appreciation around these iconic pieces of art that goes. On that, how do you ensure you’re stretching the brand without ‘snapping’ it? Is it a tough tightrope to walk?

We are mindful not to oversaturate the market and to remain true to brand and to our purpose – to support the collection, study, conservation, and presentation of 5,000 years of art. We are very selective when deciding what opportunities to pursue and who to partner with so that that we can ensure the results are beautiful, quality, and tell stories that are completely genuine.

Because of the popularity of The Met, we’re lucky to receive an overwhelming amount of interest from prospective licensees. We have some amazing new programs in the pipeline that are both on-brand and I believe ground-breaking in the licensing industry. Stay tuned.

Josh Romm, The Met

We will! Before I let you go, what for you is the key to ensuring a successful creative collaboration?
The key to ensuring a successful creative collaboration is remaining true to your own brand, yet respectful of the expertise that your licensee brings to the table in terms of understanding their consumer and business category.

Good answer. Last question… How do you fuel your creativity? What helps you have ideas?
Our best ideas come from a true understanding of who we are as a brand. When you break down a brand into its essential building blocks, step back and look at those key elements from a different perspective, you start to see new directions emerge by selecting the right combination and putting them together in new ways.

“Both licensees were able to layer on a degree of playfulness, but did so without compromising the integrity of the source artwork or our brand.”

We have a collaborative process to fuelling innovation and new ideas, involving proactive brainstorming sessions with our licensees, curators, other Museum departments, and our licensing agencies – including Beanstalk, who was instrumental in forging our relationship with Pacsun.

From a design perspective, it starts by having best-of-class internal resources to steer the ship, inspire, and guide licensees to make the most of our brand and assets. I’m lucky enough to work with the best.

Josh, a huge thanks again for taking time out for this. Let’s tie in again soon.

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