“Play the games, drive the cars, taste the sweets”: CAA-GBG’s Ellie Parry on being hands-on with brands

Ellie Parry – Senior Brand and Product Development Manager at CAA-GBG – discusses her approach to design, what fuels her creativity and the four Ps…

Representing an eclectic line-up of brands spanning everything from Netflix to Land Rover and League of Legends to Jelly Belly, CAA-GBG is one of the industry’s leading brand management firms.

We caught up with Ellie Parry – Senior Brand and Product Development Manager at CAA-GBG – to find out more about her approach to design, what fuels her creativity and the four Ps…

Ellie Parry, CAA-GBG
Ellie, great to chat. To kick us off, how did you find yourself working with brands?

I think, as with many of us in this industry, I fell into licensing. However, it wasn’t complete luck – my previous roles steered me towards the licensing industry and product development. I have a background in retail and prior to joining CAA-GBG I worked for an apparel supplier who was a Disney licensee. This is where I came across the world of licensing and brands.

I believe all my prior roles helped me get to where I am today. After university I joined a major UK grocer, Tesco, where I realised that a non-tangible, Excel-heavy role in space management wasn’t for me… But it left me with an amazing retail foundation from a large-scale business.

“Being hands-on is the best approach. Get immersed into the world of that brand as much as you can.”

At this point, I then took a gamble on my career, and a boy, and jumped on a plane to Australia where a fashion retailer awaited. It was Forever New, for any Aussies reading. It was here where the idea of product was cemented at the forefront of my mind.

In what way?
Well, working closely with the buying team and the factories developing the women’s range, I quickly learnt everything from sampling, strike offs, critical paths and ex-factory dates. I realised this was the area for me, and that product development suited my skills as a creative, hands on, efficient multitasker. In the end, the Australian gamble paid off – it cemented my career path and seven years later ‘that boy’ became my husband.

Sounds like it wasn’t a wasted trip! Now you’re Senior Brand & Product Development Manager at CAA-GBG. For anyone new to CAA-GBG, what sort of brands do you represent?
We represent a mix of entertainment, sporting, corporate, gaming and lifestyle brands. Our key brands that we work across at the moment are Netflix, Minecraft, League of Legends, Land Rover, F1, Jelly Belly and Playboy. I get to work across such a variety of areas in product development – I love it!

Ellie Parry, CAA-GBG
With such an eclectic portfolio, how do you get to grips with a brand? What’s your preferred ‘route in’?

Being hands-on is the best approach… Play the games, watch the shows, drive the cars, taste the sweets. Get immersed into the world of that brand as much as you can. Hands-on for me also means just getting stuck into the process. To get to grips with a brand you need to start working on it, look at the licensed products already in the market and jump headfirst into new projects with them.

There are always people around you that can help and advise. I work with so many amazing people at CAA-GBG who all have such brilliant knowledge of our brands; it’s about talking, asking questions and listening. Be a sponge and soon you will be immersed in that brand.

Great insights. And the brand owners can actively help with this process too I’d imagine?
Absolutely. We spend a lot of time with our clients immersing ourselves in their brand. When we sign a new client, it’s important that our product development team are involved from the very beginning.

“I think you can be as creative with lifestyle brands as you can with the character-led properties.”

For example, we’d want them to take us through their brand values, identity, and architecture. For entertainment brands, that could be them telling us about the fictional world and its main characters, its target audience or the key messages that are central to the storyline.

Some of the brands that CAA-GBG represent don’t necessarily have worlds or characters to lean into when it comes to product development. Do these kinds of limits help fuel your creativity or hinder it?
I think you can be as creative with lifestyle brands as you can with the character-led properties. I actually find character-led properties can sometimes hinder creativity.

How so?
You can tend to focus on the most important or lead character, and this sometimes causes a narrow design mindset when it comes to choosing creative assets to use. Character properties also tend to have more guidelines on character placement and usage, which sometimes could be seen as limiting.

Lifestyle brands have more linear guidelines and ‘do and don’ts’ in terms of asset and logo application, but it’s about how you combine these with key trends, product innovation and marketing stories to really bring that brand to life.

Playboy, one of our key lifestyle brands, has reinvented itself in the last decade into a global luxury and lifestyle brand. This brand perception allows consumers to buy into the lifestyle through their products and experiences. With Playboy’s legacy and history comes an extensive archive of imagery and assets availability to licensees. This – along with seasonal, trend and inspirational guides – means there is an abundance of material to fuel our creativity.

When we spoke at BLE, we discussed the Crayola Beauty line from a few years back. It was a widely celebrated collection, and one you worked on! Why do you think it went down so well?
It was amazing to be involved on a project that took Crayola into the adult space through licensing for the first time. The beauty range consisted of 52 SKUs – 92 colourways! – that launched with ASOS back in June 2018. As the range was so large, it required weekly calls and checks ins with the licensee, the licensor Crayola, and further towards launch, the retailer ASOS.

Ellie Parry, CAA-GBG
ASOS also developed an amazing and robust marketing campaign for the collection’s launch which was key for the overall success of the collaboration. Launching with ASOS across their digital platforms enabled Crayola to target the Gen-Z market, who could resonate with the brand in a nostalgic way, remembering their ‘inner child’ where make-up application is inspired by drawing. It generated over one billion global press impressions, which meant it reached new adult audiences and extended into the self-expression creative beauty market.

The product design and the innovative ‘Face Crayon’ also contributed to the success of the range. The Face Crayon is the first of its kind as it can be used across the eye, lip and cheek – bringing leading-edge applications to the beauty industry.

Great stuff. Were there any key challenges involved in the project?
Of course, it had its stressful moments! Working with so many stakeholders meant there were a lot of different creative opinions and input, and bringing a brand into a new space can mean challenges at licensor approval level too. Our job as the middleman was to educate all parties on either the Crayola brand guidelines or the beauty fashion led online market. We got there in the end, and the range was widely celebrated.

You mentioned the Face Crayon design was a key factor in the success of that collection. How key do you think smart design is to the overall success of brand extensions?
There are many different factors that contribute to the success of a licensed product range. Design is a key factor – making sure the product concept and creative is on brand and follows the brand guidelines – but there are other things to consider too.

“I learn and take inspiration from all the brands, licensees and stakeholders I work with.”

This question takes me back to my business and retail degree… For a product to be successful you need to execute the four Ps: product, price, promotion and place.

I’m afraid I did film studies at university, so you’ll have to talk me through these!
Ha! So…

Place: Where will the product be distributed and sold. Are we working with the right retailers to reach our brands target audience? Should the range be sold online or in brick and mortar?

Promotion: How will the range be marketed? Do we have a 360-degree marketing plan in place? Is it being pushed on social media? Do we need to work with key influencers? How can the core brand promote the range?

Price: Is the range priced correctly and placed at the right end of the market? Do we need to push for high end fashion collaborations, or can we bring the brand to mass or grocer level?

Product: This is where the design aspect comes in. Great design does make a great product, and it’s one of the basic touchpoints to execute. Is the product design, quality, materials and packaging all on brand? Are the elements that make up the visual identity of the brand been captured in the overall design.

Take the rest of the day off! Properly useful stuff there, thanks for sharing. We’ve discussed some past highlights, but let’s look ahead. Are there any launches on the way that you’re excited to have been involved with?
We have lots to look forward to in 2022 across the brands we represent – there are so many projects in the works at the moment! A few highlights to call out… Netflix launches Stranger Things 4 in May this year, so we have new and current licensees onboard to launch apparel collections to coincide with the new series.

Ellie Parry, CAA-GBG
We also have some great new food partners signed for Jelly Belly, so look out for these in Spring/Summer. There are also new men’s and women’s collections from our Playboy apparel partner, Missguided, this Spring.

Fab, I’ll be sure to check back in for some deep dives into those later in the year! I have one last question: How do you fuel your creativity?
Working in an agency means I get to experience and work on such a variety of brands and product categories, which means my creativity is always challenged. I learn and take inspiration from all the brands, licensees and stakeholders I work with.

I work with some amazing people across our company who always inspire me, and as a team we are always bouncing ideas off each other. That’s what makes my job exciting; the new product categories, brands and projects that come our way. Every day brings such variety; we are always learning and this fuels the creative mind.

We also have a brilliant in-house creative team that we work closely with. These guys are great at seeing the brand in a new perspective, taking it into new categories that you never imagined would work and really break conventional design ideas. The work this team does really inspires me, as well as the rest of the business.

I’d say being creative comes in all different forms – from simply suggesting a different colourway, solving a problem for increased efficiency or creating a new internal process. Ultimately, creativity is what keeps you and the business moving forward.

Ellie, this has been fun. A huge thanks again for taking time out for this and we’ll catch up again soon.

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