“The fit between the cause and the IP is essential”: Louis Kennedy’s Tracey Richardson on crafting partnerships with purpose

Tracey Richardson, Charity and Partnerships Lead at Louis Kennedy, discusses her approach to bringing brands and good causes together.

Tracey, thanks for taking time out for this! To kick us off, how did you find yourself working at Louis Kennedy?
Well, I worked for Marks & Spencer for 20 years, largely in project management; development of new stores, new product range launches and entering new countries.

Marks & Spencer spearheaded the concept of the ‘High Street charity of the year’ approach with a campaign called Children’s Promise. It was known as the Final Hour Appeal, and the whole idea was for everybody to donate their last hour’s wages of 1999 to the children of the 2000s.

The seven charity partners chosen to benefit said to me: “Let’s put a pin badge in every Marks & Spencer store; we’ll raise a fortune!” On the surface, that sounds simple – but it’s actually quite complex, for example which supplier and what buying team that would come under and so on…

So, I said to the charities: “Where do you go for your pin badges?” They said: “Louis Kennedy”. I phoned Louis Kennedy and said: “This is Tracey from Marks & Spencer; I’d like to order around a million pin badges.” Grant Morgan, Louis Kennedy’s Founder and CEO, came on the phone and said: “Are you based in Baker Street? I’m on my way!”

Louis Kennedy already had 10 years’ experience of working with charities, so Grant was a great sounding board for that initiative, and we raised £21m in the end, with each partner charity receiving £3m, rather than the original target of £1m .

Grant then said: “What are you doing after this amazing project?” I’d become passionate about having a commercial approach to helping charities work with businesses, so I joined Louis Kennedy from there.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

Amazing. And your first experience of licensing came shortly after joining?
Yes. We were awarded the license to produce the Queen’s Jubilee pin badges in 2002 and my job was to find retailer partners to sell the badges. Having just left M&S, it was relatively easy for me to pick up the phone because I knew a lot of people from being involved in Children’s Promise.

A eureka moment for Louis Kennedy came shortly after then when we did some work for the National Autistic Society. We’d been mostly designing generic charity products up to that point, but someone at the Society said: “We actually have the licence for Thomas the Tank Engine, could that be useful?” The licence had been gifted to them by the author.

“Most of our partnerships have three parts: the charity, a brand and a route to market.”

Having Thomas meant we would sell more collectibles and get the range into more retailers. That started us on the path to where we are now, as the go-to organisation for anyone looking to do develop a licensed charity campaign.

How does it tend to work? Do charities come to you for help choosing a brand partner or is it the other way around?
Most of our partnerships have three parts: the charity, a brand and a route to market. Our briefs come from any of those three avenues.

A lot of press releases around brand partnerships will mention “purpose”, whether talking about sustainability or a charity angle. Has the licensing industry’s relationship with the charity sector evolved much in the time you’ve been working in it?
Yes! We’ve always talked about partnerships with purpose, especially on the sustainability of the product and with regards to social compliance and the working conditions in factories. Grant could see that if we were to really grow this space, he needed to take the lead on these and invested significantly in doing so. These things have always been important to charity partners too; you have to meet their standards to work with them.

Do you think there’s a purposeful partnership out there for every brand, or do these charity collaborations primarily work in the character space?
Absolutely. We’ve started to work more and more with people like Pink Key’s Richard Pink in the food brand area; there’s lots of interesting opportunities there. We also worked with Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on a project with The Ashmolean Museum; the heritage space is an interesting one. So yes, I think there’s something for everyone out there, partly because there’s such a broad spectrum of charities.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

The Ashmolean partnership saw Louis Kennedy launch five limited edition Giclée prints through its Blu Goblin arm. Talk us through what that’s all about.
Blu Goblin is a direct-to-consumer retail platform that sells exclusive, beautifully made, licensed, limited-edition collectables – uniquely each and every one raises money for a partner charity. The idea came about during lockdown, when businesses had some time to pause and think. We had a review of where we are, what we do and how we do it.

We did some research on the wider collectables market, and we have a great design team in-house so we felt there was no limit to what we could try. We ran two pilot projects, one with Matt Lucas and his Thank You Baked Potato and a second with BBC Children in Need and a collaboration with BBC Studios.

Oh really!
Yes, Matt’s a close friend of Grant’s. Matt had written the song for which Louis Kennedy managed and developed the singing Baked Potato toy. Matt promoted it through his social channels, gave people a window of time to order one and then we made them. We sold around 15,000 with all the proceeds to The FEED NHS appeal.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

BBC Children in Need is a major client of ours and along similar lines, we took a concept to them called VIP Pudseys – these are Pudseys that are dressed in costumes from various BBC Studios shows, like Doctor Who and MasterChef.

Again, we did it all as pre-orders, and we sold about 12,000 of those through Pudsey’s online store. So, these two examples drove us to develop the Blu Goblin platform.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

Also, to celebrate the launch of www.blugoblin.com and as a thank you to the licensing industry for their support of the platform, I’m thrilled to offer a 10% discount on our first drop – the wonderful prints inspired by the Ashmolean Museum’s Tokyo: Art and Photography Exhibition. Just enter BELLAS10 at checkout.

That’s very kind of you! Now, you recently announced a collaboration with Bulldog Licensing on a limited-edition run of replica Bronze Bully Trophies. This is celebrating the 40th anniversary of Bullseye and in support of the Stroke Association. How has that been received?
We’ve had an amazing response, both from the darts world and from fans of Bullseye. The thing we understood was that key to the success of Blu Goblin would be the support of the licensing world, working with us to develop the exclusive, licensed collectables that would be sold via Blu Goblin to raise funds for partner causes. Without this support to create these special, limited-edition products, there wouldn’t be a platform, and the Bullseye collaboration is a perfect example of what Blu Goblin is all about.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

Here’s another quick example… I spoke to the team at Beano Studios about the concept and they loved the idea because they’re great supporters of Save the Children and said they’d love to do a product to raise funds. They asked me what sort of product it could be, and I said: “We were thinking of a Beano chess set?” They said: “We’ve always wanted to do a chess set!” Watch this space.

“The fit between the cause and the IP is essential. The public isn’t daft, and logo slapping doesn’t work.”

We can design and develop products that might be challenging to secure a regular retail license for, because they’re high-end products, beautifully made, packaged and fabulously collectible. Each item requires the specialist skill-set we have in house to bring to market.

Every drop, being limited-edition, we won’t be offering a huge volume and whilst the items are high value, it is a risk, but mitigated by being a pre-order model! And we are all confident that Beano fans and chess set collectors will want a Beano chess set. The added fact that 10% of the price they pay is going to Beano’s charity partner is part of the decision-making process. It might even be the thing that pushes some of them over the line.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

How important is it to have an authentic link between the charity and the brand?
The fit between the cause and the IP is essential. The public isn’t daft, and logo slapping doesn’t work. The integrity of the partnership is absolutely vital. It goes right back to the partnership between Thomas and the National Autistic Society. The charity conducted a study which showed autistic children associated far more strongly with Thomas than with other children’s characters. That drove it home to me that these partnerships have to make sense.

We worked with Boat Rocker to help them find an authentic charity partner for Danger Mouse; we secured a partnership with a charity called KidsOut, which is all about giving disadvantaged kids the chance to go out and have adventures.

The other thing to note is that the size of the charity really doesn’t matter; it’s all about the fit. KidsOut is well known, but not huge, and Boat Rocker and Danger Mouse is enormous. It’s all about the fit.

Tracey Richardson, Louis Kennedy

Tracey, this has been great. I have one last question: How do you fuel your own creativity?
I think because I’ve always been involved in project management, that helps, because it’s a creative process; it’s problem-solving. Working in this industry, I rely a lot on industry news and looking at what’s going on. That helps spark ideas and opens up opportunities – and everybody is positive to hearing about a new concept. It’s an industry environment that encourages you to come up with ideas. It’s one of the reasons why I enjoy it!

Thanks again Tracey – I look forward to seeing what other great stuff lands on Blu Goblin soon.

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