Talia Tester discusses Tatty Teddy – and driving new business at Carte Blanche Group

Why Talia Tester – Head of Licensing at Carte Blanche Group – likes to hear ideas face to face.

Talia, before we start, let’s talk about your magnificent name! Does ‘Talia’ have a meaning?
Thank you very much! I usually get lots of confused looks when I first tell people my name. I’d love to tell you that it was selected because of some wonderful, deeper meaning, but the reality is slightly different!

When my mother was pregnant with me, she was watching the movie Rocky. During the credits she noticed that the actress who played Adrian was named Talia, and she loved it. So I guess you could say I was named after a Hollywood star?! I’ve looked into the meaning of that name, though, and it means ‘Dew of God’ in Hebrew and ‘the joyous/flourishing’ in Greek. Talia is also a Greek muse – so I have lots of origin options to choose from!

Strewth! I’m glad I asked! What’s your origin, Talia? How did you come to work in licensing?
Like many, I didn’t go into it intentionally. My background is actually in publishing, which was the first industry I worked in following the completion of an English degree. While working in publishing, I ended up overseeing the licensing portfolio, which then resulted in me becoming Group Licensing Manager – procuring licenses, and managing the relationships with the licensors. One of those was Carte Blanche Greetings – which is where I am now!

A nice straight line… And what did you learn in the role that set you up well for your current position?
I certainly learned that relationships are paramount. Even in those early days, I was fortunate enough to be able to build a network that I can still call upon today. I also learned that being adaptable, organised and reactive is a requirement! Licensing is such a varied discipline… Day to day, you’re communicating with retailers, licensees, designers, manufacturers, product specialists and other brand owners, to name a few! I do think it was incredibly invaluable to be a licensee before moving to the other side. It allows me to really understand the processes, challenges and support required from our partners’ perspective.

Talia Tester, Carte Blanche Group
Makes absolute sense; you’re able to empathise that much better… You’re now the Head of Licensing at Carte Blanche Greetings. For those not in the know, what do they do?

Carte Blanche Greetings are a brand owner, as well as having their own vast sales and manufacturing capabilities. The company began in the greeting card sector over three decades ago. This moved quickly into gifting and plush – all of which are categories that we’re market leaders in today and still manage in-house, from product development to retail supply.

The demand for the brand in additional product categories grew so much that the licensing arm of the business was created 20 years ago, which is now made up of a vast programme of over 90 licensing partners across 110 territories. Carte Blanche also has an incredible team of talented artists and designers who produce our character artwork, which is a part of our heritage that we’re incredibly proud of. It continues to be a real, unique offering with our brands.

Great answer, thank you. What are some of the intellectual properties you handle?
Me to You – our loveable grey bear with a blue nose – is our core, most recognised brand. We’ve built a Blue-Nose family around the hero character, with Tiny Tatty Teddy – our nursery character – also becoming a huge, award-winning brand in its own right. Away from our character brands, we also represent some more design-led, lifestyle and humour brands which are growing within the licensed space.

Can you give us an example of that?
Hotchpotch is a good example… Our beautiful trend-led brand that’s moved into stunning giftware and print-on-demand with key partners such as Widdop and Moonpig. In both categories, it’s already become a bestseller and was recently named as finalist for Gift of the Year 2023. On the humour side, our collections have also transcended the card space and moved into complimentary categories, such as giftware, and are showing lots of opportunity for growth.

Talia Tester, Carte Blanche Group
Naturally, you mentioned the Me to You brand – featuring Tatty Teddy… You helped us facilitate an interview with the artist, Steve Mort-Hill,

What opportunities are you pursuing there?
Toward the end of last year, we partnered with Bulldog Licensing here in the UK to work with us in driving new business in some core targeted areas. The brand is – of course – incredibly well-established and evergreen here, but there are still many opportunities to grow within categories that we’re not currently operating in. Some of these include brand collaborations, digital and event-based projects. We are already making some fantastic progress there, so watch this space!

What’s next for that brand?
Aside from moving into new categories, we’re also committed to opening up new opportunities within our brand portfolio with a relaunch of a bestselling property which we’ve heavily invested in. I’m afraid it’s a bit too early to announce what this will be, but make sure you come and visit us at BLE later on this year to hear all about it!

We certainly will, thank you. And if people have an idea that they feel would connect with any of your IP, Talia, what’s the best way to progress it? How do you like to be approached?
I always love to hear from people who’d like to collaborate with us on our brands! I’m happy to be reached via email, video call, phone call or – even better – face to face! We attend and exhibit at all key trade shows so can be found there. The team and I are equally happy to travel for those in-person meetings… In my opinion – even now – you still can’t beat them!

Indeed! As I recall, that’s how we met: face to face at Brand Licensing Europe… While we were there, you showed me some fantastic concept boards. They were made “in relief“; sort of 3D in effect. I loved them!
Thank you, yes we’re very proud of those boards! We’ve been creating them for our showcases for a number of years now, and each time we get the same overwhelmingly positive feedback from our audience; they certainly have a lasting impact. As I said earlier, our artwork really sets our brands apart… Presenting them this way really helps bring the brands and creative to life.

Talia Tester, Carte Blanche Group
How did the idea for those come about?

When just presenting off a flat iPad or PDF! I always think there’s a danger that it really doesn’t do our beautiful artwork justice… And that would be a complete disservice. Now, we’re certainly remembered for the style guides being shown in this way – licensees and retailers always feedback after the meetings about them; we’re often told we’re the best brand at showcasing our creative.

That’s pretty encouraging!
It’s a lovely thing to hear! Especially given how much time and effort goes into bringing them together; from all of the work our wonderful in-house Studio and our external design agency Dot Dash do for them, to the intricate task our Studio has of putting them together manually.

It’s hard to put over the degree to which balance creativity and an eye for detail… Which is what I was going to ask you about! If I asked you which aspect of your role is more important to you, Talia, the creativity or the detail, what would you say?
Oh! I don’t think I can decide between the two I’m afraid! Both are incredibly important for different reasons… That’s the beauty of working in a role such as mine and in an industry such as licensing. We’re fortunate enough to don plenty of different hats on a daily basis, depending on which task’s being carried out. Of course, the excitement and limitlessness of being creative is incredibly appealing, it’s so rewarding to see an idea for the brands or a product come to life… But I’m a sucker for detail too! It helps provide direction and strategy, and when you work on brands as successful as ours we do need a focus to drown out some of the noise!

What’s next for you, Talia? What news might you have that I haven’t heard elsewhere?
As I alluded to earlier, we have an exciting launch coming later on this year which will certainly be a focus at BLE. We’ve also just secured distribution in a major retailer which gives us thousands more stores for the brand to be present in. As a business, we’re currently in the process of conducting a huge consumer insights project… The information we gain from that will prove invaluable in shaping future strategies. It’s safe to say great things are coming!

Talia Tester, Carte Blanche Group
Fantastic! Well, I hope you’ll keep us posted on all that. Finally, then, what’s the one question I could’ve asked you today but didn’t?

You could’ve asked me what it is that I love so much about the brands I work on…

That would’ve been a very intelligent question. Let’s pretend I asked! What’s the answer?
Working on such a variety of brands certainly keeps my job exciting! By representing brands like Hotchpotch, it allows me to license out beautiful artwork, cross into categories that are different to our core brand – and that suit the audience – and work with retailers in the design and lifestyle space.

Working on a brand with such resounding success and heritage as Me to You makes me feel lucky, and also allows me to work with best-in-class partners. When a brand’s been going for over 30 years, it could or should be challenging to keep moving forward and stay in demand. With Me to You, we have a talented team who work hard to constantly innovate and evolve the brand, ensuring that it continues to surprise, delight and resonate with our fans, who remain incredibly engaged and love the brand as much as we do. It’s a brand that’s not only stood the test of time, but continues to stay relevant.

Being a sentimental brand, it’s one that people have many emotional attachments to. Most people I come into contact with will instantly tell me a story of what the brand means to them… It’s always linked to a memory of a first Valentine’s Day card, or it’s their child’s favourite bear, or a gift they were given at graduation… It’s a brand that brings a smile and joy to those who see it, and that is a wonderful thing.

Brilliant! Sounds like it’s joyful and flourishing, Talia! Thank you so much for chatting.

Talia Tester, Carte Blanche Group

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