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At home with the licensing industry: Penguin Ventures

How is business continuing for the industry now working from home is the new normal? Source talks to Susan Bolsover, licensing and consumer products director, about how Penguin Ventures 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: Susan Bolsover, licensing and consumer products director, Penguin Ventures.

How is the team’s day now structured, with everyone working from home? Could you provide a rough timeline of your day?

The first thing to make sure was that everyone had their IT kit and once that was in place we quickly set up a routine. Heads of team units check in with their reports each day and then team heads and I have a Google Hangout call three times a week. We kept the weekly team meeting in place, too, using Zoom. As a team we always had a WhatsApp group (which was always abuzz with news of late trains and delays on the District Line) but we use that too for quick comms. We have also started using Slack this week as well which is super helpful.

I encouraged the team to be available between 9 and 5, but that doesn’t mean being glued to our screens, especially now some of the team are also having to contend with home schooling, too.

We’ve found it easy to jump onto video calls to chat rather than just relying on email which has helped with feeling connected.

We also tried lots of ways of working and discovered even after the first week some things weren’t working, so we quickly dropped them and moved on which has meant we’ve been super flexible.

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

This is vital. One of our first actions was to reach out to our key licensees and partners in that first week, especially those with whom we had live and experiential events planned that were due to launch and see how we could support them. We then reached out to our key licensees and retailers and have kept in constant touch with them since last week. It was also important to connect with our agents around the world as well.

I have to say we have had some amazingly supportive responses from across the industry; whether it’s sharing updates on the fast changing retail situation to messages of support, communication is key. We’ve even had a photo of our Australian agent who had managed to score a kitchen roll in her local supermarket to our Chinese agent who has sent a delivery of facemasks! I think it really shows how this is a global issue and that we have to work together as a licensing community to respond.

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

Our focus is on supporting our licensees and partners now in the short-term, so looking at what business can still continue in the coming weeks. However, it’s important to keep focused and positive on the future so as a team we are now looking at those products, events and activations that we can get behind for the end of the year and into 2021. We are so lucky to have our beloved Snowman brand as part of our Ventures portfolio and this year the campaign focus will be about bringing friends and family together again, which takes on a much more important meaning that ever before.

What piece of advice would you give about how best to continue to feel like a team while WFH? How are you keeping up morale?

A sense of humour is key! We have to take each day as it comes so it’s good to celebrate a win (like actually managing to remember to mute yourself on a video call!) and, of course, who doesn’t love a funny GIF or video.

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

I already knew how innovative and unflappable the Ventures team were before this crisis, however the team has collectively and continually impressed me this past week with their can-do attitude, creative mind-set and adaptability during these unprecedented times. From those members who are flat-sharing and have had to come up with innovative desk solutions (cardboard boxes, upcycled furniture and even LEGO have all featured) to those with small children who are having to endure Frozen on repeat to enable them to take calls in relative peace, or juggle tea time with video conferencing.

All of us are concerned about the significance of the situation, as well as being worried about family relatives and day to day challenges, but we have managed to remain calm and professional during a time when the global outlook is bleak and uncertain. It has been an incredible time of swift change and I’m proud that we have managed to evolve our working practices nimbly and with a good deal of humour.

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

Penguin Random House has been really flexible in terms of those of us also now having to home school or entertain children while working from home.  Luckily my son is ten and although it’s likely he won’t be returning to see out the end of primary school his teachers have been amazing. He has a timetable to follow each day on Google Classroom including assembly and PE. If you want a shot of positivity every morning then tune into Mrs McGeoch’s YouTube assembly – it’s the best start to the day.

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

As our ceo reminded us all last week, Penguin has endured a lot in its history and we are survivors. I think that’s also true for the licensing industry. For all of us now this is about adapting, resilience and flexibility. The licensing community is strong and collegiate and I am sure together we will weather this storm. We may well emerge from this looking a little different than before, but I often think that when faced with adversity people get the most creative and I think that’s what we’ve got to focus on now.

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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