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At home with the licensing industry: Aardman

How is business continuing for the industry now working from home is the new normal? Source talks to Danny Heffer, creative design lead, about how Aardman has adapted.

With the licensing industry now working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, Source talks to key licensors, licensees and agents to find out how they are keeping business going.

Today: Danny Heffer, creative design lead, Aardman.

How is the team’s day now structured, with everyone working from home?

We’re spending a lot of time communicating – one of the things we learnt early on was to over communicate, it really helps to combat that feeling of isolation. I’ve found it really fresh to pick the phone up and actually talk to people rather than email… it’s great to hear another human (and a few dogs) at the other end of the phone.

Could you provide a rough timeline of your day?

I’ve always been an early riser and get my most creative work done first thing. It’s been good to take advantage of that. Most of my knotty problems unravel over a cup of tea. I tend to get on WhatsApp fairly early and chat to the team – it’s still nice to say hi and talk about last night’s Tiger King, just as we would in the office.

How is communication with licensees and retailers continuing? How important is it to continue keeping these lines of communication open during this time?

Super important. We’ve had some amazing emails of support from licensees all over the world. And, likewise, we’ve been in touch with our networks to check in on how they’re doing. This business maybe global and it maybe corny to say but I’ve realised how close we’ve all become. The best thing I’ve done recently was to swap some veg seeds with a licensee for some of her wildflower seedballs. Result!

We’re particularly close with our Japanese agents and it’s been really touching to get letters of support from them. There’s an investment in relationships there that really floats our boat. We love connecting and understanding folk.

Which projects are you able to move forward on right now?

A silver lining has been that people turn to our brands for comfort in times of stress. We’re the visual equivalent of a perfect cuppa so we’re working on design across Wallace & Gromit, Shaun the Sheep and Morph that bring home that comforting, nostalgic hit.

We’ve also had a lot of calls for content with channels wanting to meet the demand for entertainment. We’ve just launched ‘Aards & Crafts’, a raft of new and curated content to help children have fun while they learn at home during this period of lockdown. The initiative includes a new YouTube playlist, regularly updated with challenges set by Aardman’s creative team, Morph is setting a weekly Morph’s Art Challenge on his social media channels, and this year’s Wallace & Gromit-inspired Cracking Ideas competition is run in partnership with the Intellectual Property Office inviting kids to reinvent everyday objects, making them better than before, in the same way that Wallace & Gromit have been doing for years.

What piece of advice would you give about how best to continue to feel like a team while WFH?

Collaborate, share and be open. I think it’s best to give air to internalised thoughts. I’m one for open plan offices – I think there’s so much picked up from osmosis on a day to day basis. So to replace that again we’re communicating as much as possible, sharing thoughts, ideas and random mumblings. It’s all good.

How are you keeping up morale?

Friday garden beers! Also, Tiger King. Our team has been amazing actually; it’s been seriously tough to get up and running so quickly and they’ve responded in the usual Aardman way, roll your sleeves up, be inventive and don’t forget to put the kettle on lad!

The best thing about WFH?

Realising that you can, that it’s possible and that we can carry on. Also continual access to my fridge.

What’s the one thing you’ve discovered about each team member since WFH that you didn’t know before?

Rob Goodchild lives on a desert island (we’ve been getting creative with Zoom backgrounds).

If you have children, how are you managing keeping them entertained/educated while you work?

With Aardman’s incredible back catalogue of family favourites, of course. Seriously though the day gets broken up occasionally from shouts from our temporary home school downstairs. My kids have mainly loved butting into conference calls to show everyone their latest craft projects!

What advice would you give to people in the business who are worried about the future?

Try and be confident in the future. I, and a lot of folk I’ve spoken to, are looking for a bounce back in retail when this is done. Hopefully people will be looking for some comfort and joy and our brands and many others can bring that in spades.

If you or your team would like to take part in this feature, simply email Samantha Loveday on saml@max-publishing.co.uk.

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