Nicholas Durbridge and Linda Pooley take us inside the brand refresh of Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Lilytig Licensing’s Nicholas Durbridge and Linda Pooley discuss refocusing a beloved brand.

Nicholas, Linda, it’s great to catch up. Before we start – some background! During your time at Copyrights, you looked after The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady where it has enjoyed a successful licensing programme for many years. For a few different reasons, the brand is back with your company – Lilytig Licensing – and you have entrusted Start Licensing to look after its UK licensing push. As part of all this, the brand has had a refresh – but for anyone new to the IP, how would you pitch it?
The origins of the brand date back to 1977 when the book The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady was first published in the UK and internationally. It was a publishing phenomenon. It sold so many millions of copies in the UK that it still stands at number four in The Sunday Times overall list of the bestselling books of the last 40 years! Created by Edith Holden, the diary is a careful record of the natural flora and fauna of the English countryside during the year 1906, with exquisite watercolour art.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

It quickly gave rise to a large and diverse merchandising programme featuring many of the top consumer companies of the time, such as Dorma and M&S, who ran an Edwardian Lady stationery licence for over 35 years.

The brand has had a revamp, including a new name in Edith Holden: A Country Diary. Why was the time right for a refresh?
At the time the book was first published, Edwardian England was still a memory for some and the threat of climate change but a small cloud on a distant horizon. Fast forward to 2023 and today’s consumers are less interested in Edwardiana, but very concerned about nature and what we are in danger of losing though climate change.

Therefore, it’s sensible and relevant to refocus the brand on Edith Holden as the creator of the book’s beautiful artwork – and the diary as a record of what we are in danger of losing through climate change and urbanisation. These are themes that were always within the diary but have now been brought to the fore to better reflect the interests of today’s consumer.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Yes, make sense. Can you give some insights into the development of the new style guide and the themes within it?
As well as the new style guide refocusing the brand name and message, there have of course been huge technical advances in design and reproduction since the brand was first launched in 1977. The guide therefore includes all the natural themes that one would expect – such as the seasons – but with new sharper reproductions of Edith Holden’s art. This also includes new graphics, logos and typefaces which are appealing and relevant to today’s consumer. These have been created by Heidi Lightfoot and her team at her new agency Heidi Lightfoot & Co. The brand has benefitted from her love of design strategy and creative direction for author brands and publishers, and her work on numerous projects in licensing and the arts.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Expanding on that a little, what makes for a good style guide?
Obviously a style guide will always contain the key design rules which must be adhered to in order to preserve and represent the core integrity of a brand. However, a good style guide should go much further and provide guidance and inspiration to licensees on how to also get the best creatively from the brand.

It should not be too prescriptive – licensees know their customers and consumers – so it requires a degree of flexibility on how to translate the brand onto their product. Ideally a successful licensed product should reflect the brand values represented by a blending of the creativity of the brand with the creativity of the licensee. The job of the style guide is to create the environment where that can happen.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Fantastic answer. Now, let’s talk product. Who makes up your current roster of licensees?
The licensing programme continues with existing licensees in China, Korea, America and Germany, but naturally the home of the brand is the UK.

We have three key licensees. A2V has a very attractive range of crafting items that have recently gone into Hobbycraft. Crafting and the natural world are an excellent fit for the brand and its consumer. really need no introduction – they are the leading online greetings card brand and have been very successful with a Country Diary line of cards that draw on the exquisite artwork of Edith Holden. Finally we have Portico, who have successfully sold the most iconic of Country Diary products, a calendar and diary, for several years.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Why do you think publishing properties are successful in merchandising?
It has often been said about films and television that it all starts with the printed word. Well, with merchandising and consumer products it could similarly be said that it all starts with the printed picture! Of course, not all picture books make good merchandise. Often a book illustration is very specific to the text of the story it’s illustrating and when separated, it makes little sense on its own. But when they can stand alone, book illustrations are very powerful. Books stay in the home and are often treasured throughout life.

“They say variety is the spice of life and it doesn’t get more varied than merchandise licensing!”

Plush toys based on literary characters are also particularly powerful as they are love objects that stay with a child long past their original pre-school passion for a character. Book properties have deep foundations on which to build a licensing programme – Linda and I have always liked that.

As we mentioned at the start, Start Licensing is handling the UK licensing push for Edith Holden: A Country Diary. What qualities make a good licensing agent?
That has changed over the years… You need a different set of skills today than in the past. In the Eighties and Nineties, there were many more independent agencies than today when corporate entities dominate the industry.

As an independent agency, you need a highly developed sense of client service – and if that client is an individual artist, you need insights and empathy with the creative mind. You also need to be the bridge between that creative mind and the commercial world. Negotiating a compromise between an artist that’s concerned about the shape of a single letter in a logo and a licensee trying to get into production… Well, that requires patience and skill!

Ha! That sounds like it comes from a painful lived experience!
Yes, this is an actual example! It took two hours of tactful negotiation to get a result that kept everyone happy! Another attribute licensing agents must have is the ability to think laterally. You need to look at a picture in a book and see how that could be developed onto a range of tableware or food items. Label slapping does not work, nor does simply licensing the obvious. A good licensing agent must have the ability to see beyond that to those dimensions which are not immediately obvious but will add to the relevance of the brand to the consumer.

Finally, these days a licensing agent must understand the social media world in which so many consumers now live. Staying on top of that – and the changing world of marketing – is another necessary and valuable skill set of the merchandising agent.

I mentioned at the start about your time at Copyrights, but I feel I’ve hardly done your licensing careers justice! Can you talk us through your backgrounds?
We have both been in licensing for over 40 years, but our previous careers have definitely had an influence on us. My father was a very successful thriller writer for radio, television and the stage so I grew up in an environment where the entertainment industry was a source of constant conversation. After university I joined a law practice which worked in films and television. I had the great good fortune, when still an articled clerk, to draft the very first Paddington Bear merchandise licence in 1972.

Then in 1977, Michael Bond found he didn’t have enough time to write books because he was being swamped with merchandise deals! So, he asked me to join him to run Paddington and Company. The rest, as they say, is history.

Linda joined Copyrights from HarperCollins where she had been foreign rights manager for children’s books. HarperCollins are Michael Bond’s publisher, so she had been selling the many Paddington picture books internationally and knew many people in the children’s publishing industry at the time. All of Copyrights’ early properties came from books including Brambly Hedge, Peter Rabbit, Maisy, Flower Fairies, Spot and Where’s Wally.

“When they can stand alone, book illustrations are very powerful.”

Linda also had a background of having studied art, so she assumed the role of Copyrights Creative Director while I – with my legal background – dealt with commercial affairs. Our skills are very complementary. And Linda and I married in 1986 – something that hadn’t been in the business plan!

Ha! You mentioned having been in licensing for over 40 years… How would you sell someone on a career in licensing?
The big upside is the variety of the work and the diverse and interesting people you will meet. In the course of a day’s work, it’s perfectly possible to talk to a major retailer, discuss the launch of a food brand, imagine what a character looks like from behind for a figurine when the original creator never created a back view, and grapple with a language or marketing issue on a product for an overseas market…. They say variety is the spice of life and it doesn’t get more varied than merchandise licensing!

What would you advise an IP owner to do to break into the market?
The answer depends on the nature of the IP owner. If the owner is the artist or creator of the brand, they are likely to care passionately about the IP and have their own vision for what it is – and what it could become. Stay true to that vision would be the advice we’d give to such an IP owner. Ultimately, if they let others take their character or brand in directions with which they are inherently uncomfortable, they will be dissatisfied and unhappy.

That said, many IP owners nowadays control brands and characters of which they are not themselves the creators. They may be book publishers or social media companies… For these, the key question is how to broaden the footprint of the brand so as to bring it to a wider audience – and particularly an international one. That often means films or television, but allied to that are the commercial compromises needed to achieve such big budget expansions.

Guys, this has been great. I have one final question. Could you highlight a deal that highlights licensing working well commercially and creatively?
That’s a hard question to answer… Linda and I have probably licensed close to 500,000 individual products over our careers! Some of the more unusual licences come to mind. We are very fond of the live Peter Rabbits sold through pet shops in Japan – still the only actual pet licence that I have heard of!

Breaking new ground is also satisfying. Paddington Bear appeared on credit cards issued by Mitsui Bank in 1988, the first character ever to do so.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary
But if we had to pick two particular initiatives then the first would be what we succeeded in doing with Where’s Wally in the early 1990s. The Where’s Wally books – in which the reader had to find Wally hidden amongst the densely packed illustrations by Martin Handford – were a huge success. When it came to merchandise, we were determined to bring the same sense of adventure and fun to finding Wally on each product. However, this was the early Nineties, when computer graphic programmes were non-existent… We had to find a way to remove Wally from each picture and hide him in a new place on each product. It took a time to work out how to do it, but we managed it so that Wally was always in a different place from the books. The success of the programme was enormous and gave Copyrights its best ever results.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Fantastic. And your second pick?
The other licence which was hugely influential was the licence to Mead Johnson Nutritionals to use Peter Rabbit on Enfamil infant formula. The rules surrounding what can or cannot be put on the label of such a product are detailed and complex… That said, Peter Rabbit was such an iconic property for the infant market that it was accepted by the medical profession who were very influential in recommending infant formula brands to mothers.

Nicholas Pooley, Linda Pooley, Edith Holden: A Country Diary

Having Peter Rabbit visible on millions of cans of infant formula in every supermarket and grocery store across America was hugely influential. It allowed us to expand the merchandising programme successfully into the mass market, even though the brand had no media support at that time. Again, that was transformative for Copyrights.

Great examples. Nicholas, Linda, a huge thanks again for taking time out to chat.

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