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At home with the licensing industry: TSBA Group

How is business continuing for the industry now working from home is the new normal? Source talks to Stephanie Freeman, chief brand officer, about how TSBA Group has adapted.

With the licensing and related industries all working from home due to COVID-19 restrictions and lockdowns, Source talks to key companies across the spectrum to find out how they are keeping business going.

Today: Stephanie Freeman, chief brand officer, TSBA Group.

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

TSBA Group is in fact part of a larger company called Innovation 1st – together we provide licensing and merchandise solutions, which include on-event retailing, building and maintaining ecommerce stores for many brands, creation of marketing sales tools, creative services plus licensing for brands. Due to a high percentage of our workforce focused around events and due to the reduction in licensing revenue right now, we have sadly had to furlough 80% of our staff, leaving just a few of us holding the fort for now. For the small number of staff left working from home our days are never the same with so many different roles needing to be covered.

Could you provide a rough timeline of your day?

Start the day with Joe Wicks PE (if the step-kids are staying), emails, daily team video call, update pipelines and at lunch I normally head out on the bike for some fresh air. After lunch more emails, video or audio calls with brands and licensees, while thinking up new ways of marketing brands/products during these times.

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

It’s imperative, and the best part about catching up with any licensee or retailer during lockdown, is the 10 minutes of personal chat you have, catching up about how they are feeling or what you’ve been through with home schooling or just life in general. Everyone in our industry are very personable and I class many of them as my friends, but this pandemic has brought us even closer when we speak!

It’s heart warming and some days it’s the one thing that picks me up when I’m on a low. Those of us striving towards a future and finding new ways of doing business has fascinated me and it adds another reason as to why I love brand licensing.

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

The toys and games licensees are keeping me busy at present as most have seen an increase in sales through online. Currently one of my focus brands is Formula E, which is currently on a red flag, like all motorsport and events, but I am still actively working with the key toy licensees LEGO Group, Simba Dickie/Majorette and Mattel to find new ways we can support the products online and through social media.

It’s really interesting how licensees are working to find a solution to the current situation and not just rolling over in defeat. Sadly however, the retail conversations haven’t progressed as well, but they haven’t gone away. Moving plans that had been in the diary to later in the year or next year is key and we are working on how we can continue these activations once shops can start to open their doors once again.

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?

Video calls, they are essential! Even though the majority of our team are furloughed, we still have Friday drinks in the diary every week to catch up with all our colleagues on a social level through Microsoft Teams or Zoom. Same applies to licensees/retailers/brand owners… having that time to chat about life, it helps us all get through the day and reminds us all we are only human and we are all doing our best. Personally I love it when kids, pets or spouses turn up in the background of a call – my advice is not to hide the reality, embrace it.

Best thing about WFH?

Time… suddenly I have time to spend with my family, do a workout and still eat dinner at a sensible time, while getting my work done. Plus during the sunny days, I get to sit outside in my garden and enjoy the fresh air.

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

Majority of the new things I’ve learnt I couldn’t repeat in public… haha… but it’s safe to say we are all a bunch of lushes, no matter what our age… But team spirit is within everyone and this has actually brought us together further as a tighter group of people.

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

I have two step-kids (ten and seven) and they come to us each week for part of their schooling week and the weekend. My partner was furloughed at the start of April so he’s been able to do the home schooling, but we also try and physically tire them out with a Joe Wicks workout and bike rides. But funnily enough one of the most played board games in our house right now is Snakes & Ladders, because it’s a game of chance and there can be no disagreements! LEGO, jigsaws and card games also feature heavily as does Disney+.

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

Take encouragement from those companies which have adapted in this pandemic and realise that although it’s going to be a difficult ride for a while, remain positive, stay connected with everyone and we will all get through this together.

Together is the operative word – ask for help if you need it and don’t be ashamed to either admit you’re worried or talk to people to get ideas and advice, because we are all in this together.

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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