The Brand Radar: RNLI, Finisterre and how licensing supports fundraising

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes looks at how the RNLI is finding fresh sources of fundraising through innovative licensing partnerships across apparel, booze and toys.

It’s interesting to see how charities are looking to licensing as a new and additional way of fundraising.

At the recent Brand Licensing Europe tradeshow, there were exhibitors and representatives from organisations such as Battersea Dogs Home, English Heritage and the RSPB. Elsewhere, specialist companies like Blu Goblin are working with charities to develop collectibles programmes in conjunction with IP owners, while events such as BBC Children In Need have a raft of partnerships and products associated with them.

Licensing deals can deliver income, but they can also deliver new audiences, new distribution opportunities and ­– in an increasingly cluttered world – they can also create communication platforms.

There are also some very innovative ways that charities are connecting with the licensing world. Wild In Art were able to showcase a range of Morph art figurines at BLE. These figurines will form part of a public art trail that will run in London next year.

The figurines, designed and decorated by artists, will be auctioned off at the end of the trail period with funds going to the Whizz-Kidz charity. During the trail, Whizz-Kidz will develop and sell specially designed Morph merchandise as an additional fundraising mechanic, while the figures themselves will be sponsored by companies. Aardman – the owners of Morph – are also working with Wild In Art on a number of Shaun the Sheep trails.

The Brand Radar, RNLI, Ian Downes

With this market development in mind, I found it very interesting to receive my RNLI Christmas Gift catalogue. As a supporter of RNLI, I am on their mailing list and receive updates about their commercial activities. They have a long-standing retail business which seems to blend licensing style deals with their own developments. As well as the catalogue, the RNLI have a number of retail outlets around the country most often adjacent to Lifeboat stations.

The catalogue pulls together a range of products that include licensed ranges but also products developed with some of the RNLI other partners. It’s a very good example of a blended commercial economy and programme.

One partnership that catches the eye in particular is the collaboration between the RNLI and Finisterre. Finisterre is an outdoor clothing company founded in 2003 by Tom Kay, who is also a volunteer at the RNLI ST Agnes Lifeboat Station. This, of course, creates a strong bond and sense of purpose behind the collection. Tom is quoted in the catalogue talking about the partnership: “With our shared love and respect for the sea, I can’t think of a better partner for Finisterre than the RNLI”.

The products developed through the partnership include knitwear such as a Men’s Cromarty jumper, a Women’s Lundy Cable jumper and boot socks. The range dials up traditional styles and materials well. It is presented in the catalogue using lifestyle shots taken at an RNLI station, further cementing the partnership. The RNLI x Finisterre Collection is really well conceived and having the link through Tom Kay makes it feel a very genuine one built on passion, commitment and insight.

The Brand Radar, RNLI, Ian Downes

Another significant name that the RNLI work with is Helly Hansen. Helly Hansen kit out the RNLI’s crews and lifeguards so there is a real connection with the charity built on functionality ­– the brand is tried and tested in a very authentic way.

The Helly Hansen range includes items such as jackets, bib trousers and t-shirts. They have also developed a children’s two-piece Bergen rain set. This is a nice way of extending the partnership and brand reach to younger consumers.

The Brand Radar, RNLI, Ian Downes

It would seem this partnership is a strategic one for Helly Hansen. The supply of kit to the RNLI crews helps in positioning the brand as high performance, reliable and dynamic brand. The return that this gives in terms of brand prestige and positioning would outweigh the returns from product sales, but it’s good additional business for the RNLI’s commercial arm. It’s also, of course, an efficient way of them sourcing high quality product from a branded supplier.

Outside of these two apparel deals, the RNLI product ranges also spans Christmas greetings cards – many of these feature specific designs that are tailored to the RNLI including lifeboats, lifeboat stations and icon devices such as the distinctive yellow wellies lifeboat crews wear.

The Brand Radar, RNLI, Ian DownesThe RNLI also has its own branded calendars which include specially commissioned art from illustrators such as Jackie Gale, Nicky Corker and Claire Henley. Not unexpectedly sea, seaside and coastal themes are to the fore. A key point here is that it is sensible for organisations like the RNLI to seek to ‘own’ themes and styles that are at the centre of their heritage and activities.

The RNLI also have some licensed publishing including a book Saved from the Waves : Animal Rescue of the RNLI. Publishing is an area that should and could be a solid foundation for organisations like RNLI. It opens up new opportunities and is a way of building equity in new IP, such as designs or characters.

Licensing partners showcased in the catalogue include Conker Gin, developers of a Conker Spirit RNLI Navy Strength gin. It’s a further example of how licensing is playing a part in the branded spirits market. A partnership with the RNLI gives Conker access to new distribution, but also helps build PR and marketing stories for them.

The Brand Radar, RNLI, Ian Downes

RNLI also have licensing partners in areas like toys and games. They work with Playpress on a papercraft kit based on a RNLI Inshore Lifeboat which won a Play Creators Award. Arts and crafts is an area that the RNLI should be able to build on with Playpress and other suppliers. Indeed, the RNLI works with Hornby and Corgi on model kits and die cast ranges as well.

The Brand Radar, RNLI, Ian Downes

It’s also interesting to see how the RNLI works with artists and illustrators. The RNLI is a charity that has a real community and local feel to it. Supporting local creatives fits well with this ethos and it would be interesting to see if the RNLI could expand its licensing programme with more artist-led collaborations, particularly that support local artists.

The RNLI is a good example of a charity that is seeking to use licensing and partnerships to support its fundraising, but also to give them fresh opportunities to engage with consumers and supporters. Having partners such as Helly Hansen and Finisterre should help them develop a lifestyle lead business in apparel built on a brand that has an authenticity to it.

The connection with Finisterre via their founder Tom Kay is a very impressive one – his 20 years as a RNLI volunteer really underpins the partnership. I imagine there may well be other commercial connections like this among the RNLI family. Likewise, working with brands that are based in coastal communities would seem a good line to follow, particularly those that create local employment opportunities or sourcing opportunities.

Stay up to date with the latest news, interviews and opinions with our weekly newsletter

Sign Up

Enter your details to receive Brands Untapped updates & news.

    This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.