RSPB’s Louisa Skevington on the brand’s unique approach to design

Louisa Skevington – Product Licensing Manager at RSPB – talks us through recent launches in gifting, greetings cards and crafts.

Louisa, thanks for making time. We last spoke in December 2022 – how would you assess progress with the RSPB’s licensing programme since then?
Over the last year or so, we have refined our licensing programme. The raft of new deals that were signed in 2022 – for example PlayPress, Pawprint and Peers Hardy – have resulted in fantastic product ranges that we are growing into 2024. We have also continued to do exciting new deals with companies including Bird Eyewear, Harkness Roses and Gibsons. The 2022/23 FY was the RSPB’s strongest ever for licensing income, and we are set to exceed this again as 2023/24 draws to a close.

Great to hear. Lots of people in licensing are reporting that market conditions are challenging at the moment. How are you finding things right now?
We understand that it has been a challenging time for many businesses. We appreciate transparency from our partners and aim to work with them however needed to enable long-term, successful relationships and to produce high quality, sustainable products to be sold at an accessible price point to our customers.

“The 2022/23 FY was the RSPB’s strongest ever for licensing income.”

Over the last year, we have seen a good demand for RSPB product. It feels as though, in difficult times when customers are looking for that extra ‘reason to buy’, environmentally conscious products that gives back to a good cause have that extra appeal.

The RSPB are working with young photographer Ben Pulletz and the Co-op on a range of six cards launching next month. How did this partnership develop?
As part of a three-year strategic partnership, in response to the nature and climate crises, Co-op and the RSPB are working together to enable the ongoing restoration and long-term management of over 300ha of peatland across Wales and Scotland.

As a result of the partnership, the commercial team at Co-op suggested the photographic greetings card range with Ben Pulletz. We love his photography, and at the RSPB, we encourage engagement with nature across all age groups, so it’s a fantastic opportunity to be able to champion Ben’s passion for nature photography.

The range of greetings card will be available in around 1000 Co-op stores this month. Working with Co-op, we selected Ben’s imagery that represented the UK’s flora, mammals and insects as well as birds, again reflecting the breadth of nature looked after by the RSPB.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

Thinking more generally, how do you make sure that the RSPB’s design offering is on trend, contemporary and offers the market something unique? Is there a RSPB ‘look’?
The RSPB’s approach to design is a little unique in the licensing space. We work with each licensee to refine looks that will work for their handwriting and customer, as well as our own – consulting with experts internally at the RSPB to ensure accuracy. Recently, we have carried out some audience segmentation work, identifying different groups of RSPB customers who we can develop and target our design work and ‘look’ for specifically.

I know you are working with crafting company The Makerss. Do you see the craft category as one that has potential for you?
It’s great to be working with The Makerss on a new category that fits well with the RSPB’s demographic. The Makerss already see success with nature-themed craft kits. We have worked with them on some beautiful, hooped felting kits that have a high level of detail in their representation of species, as we feel that this is what our customers are looking to recreate.

The Makerss are also a good fit for the RSPB because of their sustainability credentials… The kits are made in the UK using GOTS wool, organic cotton canvas, FSC wooden hoops and plastic-free packaging – which is essential for us as we review new deals and product development.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

You are also working with Muddy Puddles for a second year. How does this partnership work from a design point of view?
Yes, it’s fantastic to be working with Muddy Puddles for a second spring collection design. The process is very collaborative, as we advise Muddy Puddles on popular species that might appeal to their audience, and Muddy Puddles develop a design and style that compliments the other three prints in the season’s collection.

“The gifting category remains a strong one for us, with good support from garden centres and independents.”

The Avocet was a lovely choice for development as it’s representative of such a positive conservation story for the RSPB – of course being the main emblem on our logo – and the bird’s relationship with its environment… Wading through mud and shallow waters, reminds us of our own muddy puddle explorers and paddlers!

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

Thinking about your work with the likes of Otter House and Half Moon Bay in gifting, how do you manage to achieve a uniform look and approach across this category?
When it comes to our gifting ranges, we like to offer styles and designs that appeal to a broad customer base. In these two major new spring/summer collections – Beyond the Hedgerow and Making a Splash – we have differentiated with both colour palette and subject matter.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

Otter House’s Beyond the Hedgerow stationery collection, designed by popular artist Anne Mortimer, uses rich jewel colours and depicts garden birds, bees and hedgehogs amongst delicate wildflower and autumn leaf prints. Meanwhile, our Making A Splash homewares have a much bolder graphic look, depicting water and wader birds against a bright pastel palette.

Overall, the gifting category remains a strong one for us, with good support from garden centres and independents, resulting in us expanding both the Otter House and Half Moon Bay collections with new products for this season.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

Good to hear. You mentioned Pawprint earlier; a relative newcomer to licensing. How has this relationship developed?
Our relationship with Pawprint has had a really positive development. When we began working with Pawprint in 2021, it was small donation-per-product partnership in connection with Big Garden Birdwatch. Pawprint developed an activity challenge pack and a sew-on patch to launch alongside the annual event, which was a lovely way of engaging younger audiences with the campaign. Since then, the partnership has expanded into a full licensing agreement, marked by the development of sew-on patches of popular bird species as well as souvenir patches for some of our flagship RSPB nature reserves.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

Do you want to work with more ‘new to licensing’ companies?
Our licensees come from varied backgrounds and levels of licensing experience, but what we look for above all is an understanding and passion for our RSPB cause and strong sustainability/environmental values. At the moment, we are particularly looking to grow in the Health & Beauty and Food Gifting categories.

Your publishing partner Bloomsbury launched some new children’s books in 2023. Can you talk us through some launches in that space?
Bloomsbury have been doing a great job of expanding our children’s publishing range. In December 2023, they published the Big Garden Birdwatch Activity Sticker book ahead of our January 2024 campaign, with the support of our campaigns team. I am also particularly excited about their upcoming Birds Eye Spy title which launches in August.

This Search & Find activity title was inspired by our brand mission of taking ‘action for nature with a bird’s eye view’, as well as our focus on spring migration and flyways. The beautiful, illustrated spreads follow a Swallow’s amazing migration journey through cities, countryside, rainforest, desert, open water and more. Our Wildlife team were incredibly helpful in guiding on the locations and species featured.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

How important is publishing to your licensing programme?
Publishing, both adults and children’s, is a hugely important part of our licensing campaign. Our nature guides and reference books are core to our aim of Education and our gifting and children’s titles are important for engaging new audiences with nature.

The RSPB has a number of its own shops and a mail order catalogue. How are these integrated with licensing and licensees?
As Licensing Manager, I work within the RSPB’s Buying & Merchandising team and look for ways in which my product strategy can complement and support that of our channels. Licensed product is an important part of our whole product range, spanning optics, calendars, homewares, publishing – and even a cat deterrent!

Our licensed watches from Peers Hardy and birdsong clock from Zeon are two of our bestselling products in our Gift category. However, while licensing is important for our own channel sourcing, ultimately, we see it as a way of reaching new and different audiences and increasing brand awareness through external retail channels.

Louisa Skevington, RSPB, Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Art, Homewares, Fashion

Louisa, this has been great. Before I let you go, one last question… Is there a specific RSPB location that you would recommend people to visit?
There are so many wonderful RSPB reserves. As we approach summer, I would recommend a visit to one of our coastal reserves, such as Bempton Cliffs in North Yorkshire. Every year, between March and August, around half a million seabirds gather on Bempton’s chalk cliffs to breed, including everyone’s favourite – the Puffin, loved for its brightly coloured beak and pairing for life, but now sadly under threat. Bempton is a beautiful location home to an impressive amount of birds!

It’s on the list! Thanks again!

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