Slawomir Ekiert is managing director CEE & Nordics at WildBrain CPLG.
LicensingSource.net sat down with him to find out more about both regions’ hottest properties, the exciting opportunities for growth within FMCG and what he loves best – as well as what frustrates him – about the licensing industry.
How was 2022 for WildBrain CPLG CEE & Nordics?
It was a fantastic year across both CEE and the Nordics, one which saw us continue to strengthen our footprint in each market. For the Nordics, we’re particularly proud of our ongoing partnership with H&M, which continues to grow and now encompasses a broad range of colourful collaborations with many brands we represent. We’ve also been busy building strong direct to retail relationships with additional local partners, such as Kappahl, Bestseller and Coop. Alongside this, we have great projects in the pipeline with the likes of fast food chain Hesburger for PAW Patrol, and make-up brand CAIA, which was co-founded by Bianca Ingrosso, one of the most prolific influencers in the Nordics.
Publishing is also a very exciting area for us, and we’ve been working closely with many great partners, such as Otava, Story House Egmont, Forlaget Alvilda, Gyldendal Norsk Forlag, Tukan förlag and Vigmostad & Bjørke to bring their brands to life for consumers. We also recently executed an engaging book campaign with Burger King for a series of PAW Patrol activity books.
We’re also rapidly building our FMCG business across CEE and the Nordics. Although this can be considered a difficult category to crack, FMCG deals can add a real stability to consumer products programmes when done effectively. In the Nordics, we have a fun collaboration coming up with Bonne for Peppa Pig, alongside activations like PAW Patrol smoothies on behalf of our respective partners Hasbro/eOne and Nickelodeon that have really allowed us to take a creative approach. The CEE region can offer really diverse opportunities within the FMCG category. Dairy 4 Fun, Hortex, Maspex and FoodCare are just a few examples of the fantastic partners we currently work with.
As part of our growth strategy, we recently expanded the Nordic team’s remit to include responsibility for the Baltic states. This felt like a natural step given the growing of business relationships we’re seeing between Finland and the Baltics. As part of this, we have partnered with DTR company AB Utenos Trikotažas in Lithuania, and we’re busy pitching to many others, including major food retailers to expand and strengthen our partnership opportunities.
Poland plays a significant part in our CEE business with a lot of activity in fashion, accessories and homeware categories, thanks to our ongoing relationships with great local partners like LPP, Smyk, Pepco, E plus M, CCC, Kondor, Keeper and Carbotex. It’s also fantastic to see the strong performance of toy partners, such as Trefl and HH Poland and their ranges for PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig and Bing. Just as in the Nordics, publishing also plays an important role in our Polish licensing programmes, and we work closely with companies such as Media Service Zawada, Egmont, Burda and, most recently, Dressler.
In the Nordics, our most popular properties include PAW Patrol and local brand Babblarna. My Little Pony, Peanuts and Sonic the Hedgehog are also attracting more attention, while SpongeBob SquarePants and Peppa Pig are among our evergreen brands that have really captured the loyalty of local audiences, and play a significant part in our business in the region.
We’re also seeing the growth of lifestyle brands like Yale and Harvard universities under ASPIRE, WildBrain CPLG’s dedicated corporate and lifestyle division. Looking ahead, we have high hopes for the ongoing expansion of Dr. Seuss Enterprises’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas! and also for properties from Perfetti Van Melle.
Over in CEE, we’re lucky to have some gems of the preschool world within our portfolio – PAW Patrol, Peppa Pig and Bing – which are all enjoying enduring success. Elsewhere in the kids’ market, we’re finding that traditionally adult-targeted and lifestyle-skewing brands, such as Chupa Chups, Pink Panther, Peanuts and Yale University, are looking to expand their target consumer demographic to include older kids and teens. How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a particularly great example of how we’ve built a cross-demographic licensing programme, which now encompasses products for infants, kids, teens and adults. The recent autumn/winter 2022 Grinch collection at Polish fashion retailer LPP is a prime example of this, which included products for the whole family to enjoy over the ‘Grinchmas’ season.
Across the Nordics and CEE, gaming brands are really growing in popularity and we’re certainly seeing this reflected within our own portfolio. For example, Sonic the Hedgehog has seen huge success amongst consumers following Netflix’s launch in December 2022 of the new series, Sonic Prime, co-produced by SEGA and WildBrain. We’ve had many partners coming on board for activations with the brand, such as H&M and Skybrands (accessories, apparel, and homewares) for the Nordics, and E plus M (apparel) and Kondor (footwear) in CEE, with plenty more cross-category deals in the pipeline for each market.
I think there’s an exciting opportunity for growth within niche categories, such as adult toys, gaming, jewellery and porcelain. There’s huge value in working with licensees and retail partners that have global or pan-European recognition. As an example, we have a new project with Danish design company Boyhood, which will see the global launch of special wooden figurines for Peanuts on behalf of Peanuts Worldwide, bringing a Danish product to a global audience.
Additionally, there’s still notable growth potential within the FMCG category across both the Nordics and CEE, while partners taking their brands into gaming spaces can also be very lucrative.
Can you tell us a little about your strategy for 2023? What do you think the biggest hurdles will be?
As part of our 2023 strategy, we’ll aim to further diversify revenue streams for our brands and continue to establish a solid balance across multiple channels and categories. We’ll also look to build additional strategic alliances with retailers and e-commerce platforms to drive growth for our partners. Underpinning this, we’ll be looking at creating fresh marketing tools for brands that may need support in this area. Another key focus will be continuing to push forward with lifestyle brands, enabling us to meet the growing and evolving demands from the markets.
With everyone currently facing challenging economic conditions, we’ll be committed to working closely with our retailers and partners to bring consumers the type of engaging, uplifting and accessible partnerships they continue to look for, even in uncertain times.
When I first started in licensing, I couldn’t understand why it took so long for contracts to be finalised – my often-impatient nature emerged and started to give me second thoughts. However, what encouraged me to stick with it was the range of incredible people and companies I got to work with on a daily basis. I also love that no two days are the same; one day, I would be meeting with a company that had begun life in a garage, and the next a large corporate organisation with hundreds of employees. I take pride in being a very communicative and open person, so meeting new people really energises and motivates me.
When it comes to WildBrain CPLG, I love the fact we have a culture and way of working that sits somewhere between the style of a large corporation and a medium-size company – there’s open communication and a real sense of collaboration across all our global offices, paired with exciting energy and evolving dynamics as the agency continues to grow. I also really value that, ever since I started at the company, Maarten Weck, our evp and md, has placed his unwavering trust in me and allowed me the freedom to make decisions to enhance the ongoing success of both our CEE and Nordics offices.
Finally, what I love most about the licensing industry can be expressed in one simple word: “fun.”