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How Festival of Licensing leveled the playing field

Sharon Weisman on why a hybrid future will enhance our ability to trade better year-round.

Festival of Licensing was three weeks of back to back video-calls… I met more people than at Burning Man Festival!

One of my industry faves coined the event ‘Festival of Lounging’ since most of us were wearing loungewear while sitting in our bedrooms throughout this virtual trade show.

Sure, people had questions and suggestions — from cancellations and time zones, through to where to find this, what do I click to find that…

But what is the #IRL equivalent of these?

Running around all day and slipping across the walkway to the Convention Center (some of us in heels), applying chapstick to dry lips, waiting agitated in our booth because our next meeting was high-jacked or has time management issues, looking for an Uber outside of ExCeL or figuring out where Islander B (or D or F?) is… all while jet lagged.

Level Playing Field

During the Festival, I asked an art licensor how she felt about the virtual show versus the live Expo. She said: “I took this very seriously – I sent out 253 invites, had 68 meetings and signed two deals already.”

Add the T&E she saved on flying all over the world during these three weeks, and I’m kinda loving the margins here.

In a way, this format leveled out the playing field. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if you have a 10×10 or a humongous booth. It didn’t matter if you were on the main aisle or by the restroom.

Your listing and overall digital entity was what got you the next meeting. And you got someone’s undivided attention – through a designated window – without people walking by and waving/blowing kisses/crashing your meetings (I’ll come clean, that’s usually me doing all that).

Without the white noise, people truly listened. We are all more attentive when we know we have a 30 minute window to advance a relationship. We cut to the chase, and we sum up the next steps efficiently.

A high-level licensing executive told me: “For the first time ever, I had an opportunity to attend the educational sessions and keynotes, instead of needing to be in the booth all day.”

The playground was open to all, and if you did your preparation correctly, you could maximise the opportunity without physical or operational limitations.

Shifting Medias

As always, we are a bit slow about shifting to new medias, and understanding the true potential of what we can create.

When we transferred from radio to television, we kept on mirroring the radio setting for a long while, until we understood we are capable to broadcast scenes way beyond two people sitting across each other and talking.

At the moment, we are cavemen (and cavewomen… and everything in-between) drawing on cave walls with chalk in comparison to how quickly we are going to unleash existing technology (AR/VR/AI) to take us to the next level of virtual events.

Before we know it, we will stop trying to mirror the traditional booth fixtures and displays, and partner with tech and creative design companies that will allow us to create amazing branded experiences at virtual trade shows.

We will forget about how our booth at Javits/Mandalay/ExCeL looked – no front desk (even the receptionist), we won’t need to access or download marketing material or look at a talking head during the keynote.

When we enter a ‘booth’ we will be able to undergo a true branded experience and get excited about the potential of bringing it to retail.

We will be able see licensed products (existing and mock-ups) from all angles, enjoy a customised experience, speak to avatars that have the true brand DNA and will know the answers to everything, unlock things behind closed doors (if you’re a retailer, for example) and so much more.

Don’t get me wrong, this will never ever replace human interaction.

I would not trade guac+chips with my licensing peeps in Vegas for meetings in my bedroom #allpunsintended.

However, the hybrid future of trading will enhance our ability to trade better year-round. If done correctly, it will complement existing formats and bring a more diverse audience into the fold.

It will keep us safe and healthy, enable tailored experience, save us time and money and enable us to collect data more efficiently (sorry people who still have a physical Rolodex in the draw of the office they don’t go to anymore).

Trick or Tick-Me-Off:

  • Try not to use a generic email address when registering for meetings at a virtual trade show. I am the last to force formality, but one of my takeaways is that I am going to be much pickier with whom I meet with. I know it sounds harsh, but it has been quite evident that there is a correlation between generic email account users (gmail/Hotmail/AOL and so on) and pitchy aggressive reps that have no skin in the game.
  • I am all for wearing masks… but let’s imagine we are in the movie ‘Covid-Kid’ and practice ‘Mask-On, Mask-Off’ in between Zoom calls. It’s hard enough to understand someone from the other side of the world in this muffled virtual space… if you put a mask on while we are zooming, I’m shifting to Charades.
  • Details! Your online profile is more important than ever. This includes the virtual show profile details, your LinkedIn presence, social media accounts, website and so forth. Take building your virtual profile seriously. It’s too easy to ignore a meeting request from someone who has no headshot, company logo, a good catch phrase, sufficient info, etc.
  • Feed Me, Seymour! I had one meeting where someone got up to make themselves coffee mid-convo, another where someone got up to “check on their burger”… There is a huge opportunity for a sponsor to send over a healthy snack to attendees during virtual shows. It will go a long way.

The bottom line

To anyone who is still asking “When are we going back to normal?”, I say “are you nuts? Who wants to go backwards? Who doesn’t enjoy going forwards?”

We are not going back. What’s normal anyway? It’s not about seeing the glass half full right now. It’s about understanding that the glass is half empty, and concentrating on how we all fill it up now (okay, I may or may not have read this in Matthew McConaughey’s new autobiography).

2021 is the jumping-jacks.

You know how you do jumping-jacks in between reps, just to keep your heart rate elevated in between the truly challenging reps?

Well, until things settle down and we have more clarity as to what the next ‘normal’ will look like, we have to keep going – stay relevant, adjusting vitals, networking, communicating, storytelling…

Let’s get cracking on those follow ups.

A huge round of applause to the Global Licensing Group and Licensing International teams for taking all the feedback from Licensing Week Virtual in June and applying it to create this impactful festival of licensing opportunities. It’s serious labour to give birth to a virtual festival (after all, we have been locked in for almost nine months now).

Continue to stay positive and testing negative!

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