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How Penguin Ventures became a modern classic

Source catches up with the team to discuss how it has licensing for literary brands down to a fine art.

One genre which has been a consistent strong performer within the licensing space is that of classic literary brands… and one company at the forefront is Penguin Ventures.

It boasts an enviable portfolio – including The Snowman, Peter Rabbit and Spot – which it has expertly managed and expanded into not only a host of consumer products, but also into experiential events, bespoke retail activities and initiatives.

“Our classic literary brands are performing increasingly well year on year,” begins Thomas Merrington, creative director at Penguin Ventures. “This is in part because they are trusted brands that have stood the test of time. Classic brands are synonymous with heritage and quality which gives us a unique proposition, however they can also be misconceived as old fashioned or outmoded, so we are always seeking new ways to connect with young families and to ensure our offering is relevant and competitive while remaining mindful of the respective brand’s legacy.”

Penguin Ventures worked with Royal Mint on Beatrix Potter commemorative coins.
Penguin Ventures worked with Royal Mint on Beatrix Potter commemorative coins.

Thomas says that the team works hard to ensure the brands continue to appeal to the widest demographic possible. A steady supply of new content – film, TV, apps and publishing – is crucial, while live performances and experiential events, as well as art exhibitions of original artwork, all play their part.

Recent examples of this include the interactive screening of The Snowman at Winter Wonderland in Hyde Park with Backyard Cinema, licensed Peter Rabbit afternoon teas at Le Meridien Piccadilly hotel, plus live stage show Where is Peter Rabbit? In addition, the second Peter Rabbit Movie launches in the UK in March 2020 for which Penguin Ventures is currently developing a programme of consumer products and promotional partnerships.

Another key factor is the close working relationship that the Ventures team enjoys with PRH Children’s on the publishing side. Izzy Richardson, head of brand management, explains: “A defining principle for Ventures is that a book should be at the heart of any of the brands that we represent or manage. We are able to add value to a campaign or proposal through our non-trade sales team and create bespoke offerings for our partners.

“The high awareness of our properties offers an opportunity to leverage a breadth of retail accounts, from high end through to mass plus specialist accounts and independents. Bespoke publishing helps us to open doors in areas that other brands might struggle.”

Le Meridien Piccadilly hotel is hosting special Peter Rabbit Afternoon Teas.
Le Meridien Piccadilly hotel is hosting special Peter Rabbit Afternoon Teas.

There is also a focus on expanding its brands across territories, as Lindsay Pearl, softlines category manager, offers: “We are focused on growing our portfolio of brands across global markets and will be appointing agents in new territories. The US is a key growth market for Spot and The Snowman in particular and we have appointed Licensing Works to represent both of these brands there.”

Lindsay and Thomas also both headed to Licensing Expo in June, where they met with international agents and partners to discuss plans across the brand portfolio.

With Spot marking 40 years in 2020, the Ventures team’s prowess when it comes to creating exemplary anniversary programmes will once again be in full force. “Really understanding the unique appeal of each of our brands is essential,” concludes Susan Bolsover, licensing and consumer products director. This certainly seems to be something which Penguin Ventures has got spot on.

Where's Spot? will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2020.
Where's Spot? will celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2020.

Spot at 40

Where’s Spot? the classic ‘lift the flap’ picture book by Eric Hill was created in 1980 and Penguin Ventures will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.

This will be a year-long campaign with Penguin promising  wealth of product launches, events and partnerships to be announced later this year. Puffin is to publish a series of commemorative editions and brand new titles and a raft of licensees have been secured in all key categories ahead of the anniversary.

Rainbow Designs is on board for toy and gift, while apparel partner Dennicci continues to grow Spot’s presence in major grocers. Smiffys has just been signed for dress-up and will launch ahead of World Book Day next year.

The Spot stage show from CDP Kids, meanwhile, is currently touring in Australia with new dates and venues recently added. It will open in New Zealand in 2020 with additional territories currently under discussion for the anniversary year.

Penguin Ventures is also investing heavily in its Spot social media channels with a digital campaign underpinning all of the key activations.

The Snowman had an incredible year in 2018 with record numbers of partners on board.
The Snowman had an incredible year in 2018 with record numbers of partners on board.

Anniversaries and collaborations

“Careful collaboration is incredibly important for us when it comes to planning the anniversary of a brand as big as The Snowman,” admits Susan. “A strong book offering will always be at the heart of our brands’ anniversaries. It’s important to us to acknowledge the heritage of our classic brands when celebrating a milestone, but also to ensure we are propelling the brand forward, remaining relevant to young families and new generations of fans.”

For The Snowman, this meant working with innovative partners who shared the vision to offer meaningful opportunities for families to engage with the brand in new ways, such as Backyard Cinema.

“Anniversaries afford us the opportunity to refocus the lens on a brand; to apply any learnings from other recent campaigns and to position the brand accordingly via our messaging across marketing and PR,” Susan continues. “A brand anniversary also allows us to drive momentum and excitement. Our anniversary campaigns have seen huge demand from retailers who have been keen to work with us on bespoke offerings due to the breadth of products available and our ability to create something unique for their audience.”

This feature originally appeared in the summer 2019 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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