Louisa Skevington on the RSPB’s sustainability-focused approach to licensing

Louisa Skevington – Product Licensing Manager at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – talks us through recent launches from Half Moon Bay and Moorcroft.

Louisa, thanks for making time. Firstly can you tell us a bit about the RSPB – the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds – in regards to its remit, aims and objectives?
The RSPB is the UK’s largest nature conservation charity, working locally in the UK, and around the world. Our vision is a shared world where wildlife, wild places and all people thrive. Our purpose is to advance the conservation of birds, other wildlife and the natural world, by protecting and restoring habitats, saving species, sharing knowledge and connecting people to nature.

Fantastic. As Product Licensing Manager at RSPdB, what would you say are the key objectives and motivators behind the charity’s licensing programme?
Our licensing programme is an important way of generating funds and awareness for the RSPB. Minimum Guarantees and royalties are donated to RSPB Sales Ltd, which gives all its distributable profits through Gift Aid to the RSPB to fund vital conservation work. And our products, including our extensive natural history publishing programme with Bloomsbury, are fantastic tools for educating and inspiring people about nature.

We also use our licensing programme to communicate key messaging about our campaigns. For example, our licensee Pawprint Family create collectable badges and challenge packs to tie in with Big Garden Birdwatch, again generating RSPB awareness across new audiences. The RSPB licensing programme also supports the sourcing for the RSPB’s own retail channels.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
You exhibited at BLE for the first time this year. How did that go?

We were delighted to exhibit at BLE for the first time this year. It was a positive few days and a great platform to generate awareness of the RSPB and our licensing programme. We had exciting conversations across a range of key categories including toy, gift, homewares, apparel and outdoors, caught up with our existing licensees and discussed several potential brand collaboration opportunities.

We were also pleased to connect with companies who are really making the environment and sustainable sourcing a priority, and it was amazing to have some of our own sustainable products on display at the Products of Change café activation.

In regards to the current licensing programme, what is the RSPB’s approach to design? How do you work with licensees to develop distinctive products?
At the RSPB, we have a very strong brand identity ­– including our refreshed logo – that we communicate clearly across our licensed designs. Beyond that, our licensees are granted creative freedom to develop designs that work for their customers and brand handwriting, as well as the RSPB’s.

We guide partners on recommended species and themes, and refine distinctive and nature-accurate ranges together, assisted by our Wildlife team. The implementing of our brand identity also goes beyond just the design visuals as we look at what RSPB values – such as sustainability and connection to nature – can be communicated through product development.

Speaking of sustainability, can you tell us a bit more about how this focus shapes your approach to product development?
Yes, as an environmental charity, encouraging sustainable development for our products is a priority. We ask prospect partners to complete an environmental questionnaire prior to signing and development plans are checked with our Commercial Environmental Specialist.

Our policy encourages standards such as that wood and paper products are all FSC-certified, and that packaging, as far as possible, is plastic-free and fully recyclable. Our approach sees us target partners that already have good sustainable credentials, but also partners that have the potential to improve and implement better methods through our RSPB ranges.

That’s great to hear. I know that the RSPB have their own retail outlets and a mail order business. How do you work with them and what role does licensing play in this part of the RSPB’s operation?
Licensing is an important part of our sourcing as it allows us to develop appropriate, appealing product that meets our sourcing criteria and reflects RSPB values. I work within the product and Gift teams to ensure that our licensed products form an integral part of our RSPB ranges. Working with the team, we identify areas of potential development for licensing that might benefit our own channels, in addition to the licensees’ own. Licensed products are reviewed in relation to our mail order catalogue, 23 physical shops and growing ecommerce site.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,

One of your licensees is Half Moon Bay. I’ve noticed their RSPB products at trade fairs, including the collection of 3D mugs. Can you tell us a bit more about how you work with them and the successes you’ve had?
Half Moon Bay is one of our core licensees, producing beautiful RSPB homewares ranges since 2017. Over the last couple of years, we’ve worked closely to develop and extend a couple of core ranges – Free As a Bird and Puffin. As you say, the bird-shaped mugs and egg cups are a lovely part of the Free As a Bird range, and we have extended this more playful aspect of the range for SS23 by developing designs featuring some popular bird-related slogans.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,
We are also really pleased with the Puffin range, which reflects the popularity of these birds with our RPSB customers, particularly in association with our coastal reserves at Bempton Cliffs and South Stack.

Half Moon Bay is a fantastic partner in terms of breadth of range and introducing new products, for example we have worked with them on new rPET picnicware and reusable drinkware for the new season.

I also noticed that your licensee Moorcroft takes inspiration from the RSPB’s activities for their range of vases and plaques. Talk us through the design process when it comes to this category.
Moorcroft is a wonderful and unique partner for us in design terms, as they create pottery collections that take inspiration from the birds, wildlife, plants and landscapes of our RSPB nature reserves. In 2021, they created their Leighton Moss collection, and this year launched collections inspired by both Minsmere, which was celebrating its 75th anniversary, and Bempton Cliffs.

Our Wildlife and reserves teams advise on the key species found at these sites and we work with Moorcroft and their amazing designers to develop ranges that celebrate these and give a strong sense of place. Moorcroft usually launch their collections with a special event on the relevant reserve, often including demonstrations of how the designs are created.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds,

Louisa, this has been great. One final question… Do you have a favourite bird?
Working at the RSPB is an amazing job as I am still learning about different species every day. My current favourite is probably the kingfisher – such vivid colours and it’s always a special moment to see them darting around a riverbank. Not to mention, they look great translated onto product!

Good pick! Thanks again.

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