The Brand Radar: Mr Men & Little Miss, Comic Relief and the thriving world of charity collaborations

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at the ever-tightening relationship between the charity space and the licensing industry.

One category of licensing and partnerships that seems to be one going through dynamic changes is that of charity-based deals.

Charities seem to be embracing more commercial partnerships and engaging in licensing deals as they seek new ways of fundraising. While fundraising is arguably a key motivator for these developments, charities are also looking for new ways to engage with the public and to communicate their core messages.

Louis Kennedy has been a long-term flag bearer in the intersection between charities and licensing. Louis Kennedy and their Big Badge business developed charity partnerships over the years where they brought together a charity, a high street partner and a well-known licensed character. Big Badge created character pin badges that were sold as fundraisers for charities in locations such as banks and building societies.

“Partnerships in this sector bring a lot of attention, create momentum and deliver good results.”

Louis Kennedy continue to work in the sector and are an ongoing partner of BBC Children in Need. They have also launched a new company Blu Goblin to sell limited edition merchandise online in conjunction with charities, like with its recent Amazing Maurice statue raising funds for Cats Protection.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

More recently, Pawprint Family have entered the licensing market and are bringing together IP owners and charities developing fundraising products like patches. Paw Print Family is itself linked directly to a charitable trust which raises money for youth projects.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

There are also examples of IP owners working closely with charities over the long term and in-depth. For example, Aardman has developed a long-term partnership with the Bristol Childrens’ Hospital to create and theme The Grand Appeal, featuring Wallace & Gromit.

Wallace & Gromit are used for a range of promotional and fundraising activities, while the charity also runs a large-scale shop in Cribbs Causeway Shopping Centre in Bristol. The shop blends a range of exclusive Wallace & Gromit merchandise that the charity has developed with licensed product bought in from Aardman’s licensees. The shop is popular with Aardman fans and is described as a destination store. For the charity it has created a unique fundraising opportunity as well as a community outreach platform.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

The Grand Appeal shop includes a number of statues that previously appeared in public art trails. A leading player in this market is Wild in Art, who have brokered a number of partnerships between charities, IP owners and local authorities to create public art trails. In this context, a charity can benefit from the publicity that the trails bring along with the sponsorship opportunities they also generate.

Generally, the statues are sponsored by local businesses and at the end of the trails they are auctioned off in a further fundraising drive for the charity. Of course, before, during and after the trail the charity gets significant publicity around their cause, so the art trails provide a unique form of public engagement.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

Wild in Art are currently working with Aardman to develop Morph and Shaun the Sheep trails for later this year and have also recently worked with IP such as Snoopy, Oor Wullie and Elmer in conjunction with charities. This form of charity partnership really opens new doors for charities, while also giving IP owners a very public means of promoting their IP in a positive way. A further benefit comes from an opportunity to retail licensed products, as most of the trails have pop up shops alongside them.

“Charities seem to be embracing more commercial partnerships and engaging in licensing deals as they seek new ways of fundraising.”

Another recent example of an innovative approach to fundraising that has been delivered through a licensing partnership is the release by Scholastic of a book called ‘Dear Nurse – Stories of Strength, Kindness and Skill’. The book is published in association with the Royal College of Nursing Foundation to mark the 75th Anniversary of the NHS.

Dear Nurse – illustrated by award winning illustrator Michael Foreman OBE – features true stories from nurses and midwives and 50p from every copy sold will be donated to the Foundation, which is the Royal College of Nurses’ charity. The Foundation provides a range of services and support to the nursing community.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

The book has a dual purpose in that it’s a fundraiser, but also a novel way for the Royal College of Nursing Foundation to shine a light on its members’ work; it helps to give them a public voice. Deepa Korea of the RCN Foundation said: “Nursing and midwifery staff play an invaluable role in keeping the public safe and well. We are excited to be able to showcase some of their incredible stories and hope that this book will perhaps encourage young readers to consider a career in these professions”. For Scholastic, it’s a proactive way of supporting the charity and has given them access to unique content.

Another good example of how charities and commercial partners are finding new ways of working together is the RSPCA’s partnership with pet food company McAdams. McAdams have undertaken to raise at least £80,000 for the RSPCA in the first year of their partnership from sales of McAdams baked complete dog food.

This partnership gives McAdams a point of difference in a competitive marketplace – the RSPCA brand and logo stands out on the shelf and the fundraising campaign is very motivational at consumer, retail and company level. It is a strong PR story.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

An interesting aspect of the partnership is that McAdams make their dry pet food from ingredients sourced from RSPCA Assured Farms which set standards around animal welfare. McAdams mention when talking about the partnership that they “want to encourage people who share our values to think about how their pets’ food is farmed, as well as their own”. The partnership delivers funds but also raises issues around food standards, product sourcing and welfare. Arguably this gives the RSPCA an opportunity to communicate some of its campaign objectives more directly and effectively than it could do through other more traditional channels.

Some charities have embraced licensing full on and have developed licensing programmes supported by in-house licensing teams. At BLE last year, a number of charities had stands to help build their presence in licensing. These included the RSPB who are a great example of a charity with a proactive approach to licensing.

The RSPB have an in-house Licensing Manager who oversees a growing licensing programme that covers areas like bird food, publishing, stationery, giftware and greetings cards. The RSPB are able to integrate their licensing programme into their retail and promotional activities and by being on the front foot, the RSPB can build a programme that fits in with their aims and also reflects their values. It gives them direct access to an exciting range of partners that have the ability to develop products dynamically and offer the potential to grow into other areas.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

There are also longstanding charity events in which licensing plays a role. Comic Relief is a great example of this. A long-standing well-established fundraising event, Comic Relief is always looking for new ways of connecting with consumers and engaging with retailers. Licensing partnerships help with both these objectives.

This year, Comic Relief, retailer TK Maxx and Sanrio have partnered to develop a range of Comic Relief x Mr Men & Little Miss T Shirts and other products that are being sold exclusively at TK Maxx to raise money for Comic Relief. Designs include adaptations of characters like Mr Nosey – naturally Mr Red Nosey – and feature the iconic red nose design on them.

The Brand Radar, Ian Downes

It’s quite an extensive range across adult and children’s products with tailor made design work – and is being promoted on TV , online and through social media. For Sanrio, it’s a great showcase for the characters and an effective way of showing the creativity associated with them. Of course, it’s also a worthwhile cause and one that fits with the Mr Men & Little Miss brand ethos. As noted earlier, it gives Comic Relief some fresh impetus and an opportunity to re-engage with consumers.

Licensing and charity seems to go together well. Partnerships in this sector bring a lot of attention, create momentum and deliver good results. It will be interesting to see how the category develops further, but I expect to see more partnerships emerging with charities and IP owners recognising that working together like this can be mutually beneficial and very effective.

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