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Rocket men: How Rocket Licensing is marking 15 years

From Beano to Vikings and the freshly signed Miffy, Rocket Licensing has built a packed portfolio of brands over its 15 years in business – a milestone it is marking this year. catches up with joint managing directors, Charlie Donaldson and Rob Wijeratna, to find out more.

Arriving on the scene in 2007, Rocket Licensing is marking 15 years in business this year… and joint managing directors, Charlie Donaldson and Rob Wijeratna are certainly proud to be among the independent licensing agencies currently successfully operating in the UK market. Even more so considering the challenges of the last couple of years.

“[2021] was a challenging year for us, as it was for many,” begins Rob, “but we were able to be fast and flexible, adapting some new practices and pivoting slightly in some areas.”

The tie-up between Deliveroo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar was award nominated.
The tie-up between Deliveroo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar was award nominated.

Rocket2Highlights included the agency acquiring the rights to represent the European Space Agency, plus its first experiential tie-up with Kew Gardens and Wakehurst for the Easter Beano Dennis & Gnasher’s Birthday Bonanza trail – which was nominated for a Licensing Award. It also developed new licensing relationships for its brand portfolio, notably another award nominated tie-up between Deliveroo and The Very Hungry Caterpillar. 2021 also saw the first Fuzzballs product (left) launch in the UK market – a brand which Rocket is predicting will make a big impact at retail this year.

So, what does the agency look for in a brand? Rob continues: “Brands need to have lots of elements to be licensable. Desirability, they need to be compelling enough to make fans really love them; a platform to give them good exposure and keep them front of mind; and of course elements that can be translated into great product. We look for these elements in any brands we take on and, most importantly, we need to really connect with the brands and enjoy embarking on what are often very long-term relationships.”

Rocket5Rocket has certainly been lucky enough to establish long-term relationships with a number of licensors and brands including MGM – which it has represented since 2008 – and The World of Eric Carle, which it began working with in 2010.

“The hope is that the harder we work at building successful programmes for our partners and seeking out new opportunities, the luckier we’ll get,” says Charlie.

While the past few years have brought a succession of real-world challenges, affecting businesses across many different industries – Brexit, Covid and now the Ukraine crisis – the licensing landscape has also changed in other ways over Rocket’s 15 years.

The second movie in the Oscar winning Dune series is due to arrive in 2023.
The second movie in the Oscar winning Dune series is due to arrive in 2023.

Charlie continues: “When we started Rocket, one of our key retail relationships was with that ‘one stop shop’ Woolworths and online retailing was in its infancy. Look how the retail landscape has now changed, with the hollowing out of the mid-market and huge growth in online retail offerings. This is coupled with the enormous changes in entertainment, with the rise of the streamers, social media, the sheer volume of content and how consumers view and enjoy that content, has changed massively and continues to do so.”

Both Charlie and Rob are unequivocal in their belief in independent licensing agents’ place in the market: “Independent agencies are the heart and soul of the licensing industry, as we are positive, fast moving, flexible, creative, passionate, fun and always embracing change. We – and our fellow independents – offer a service dedicated and focused both on the licensed sector and an individual licensor’s brand. We don’t own brands or have other areas of our business that take attention away from making the brands we represent successful.”

As for the next 15 years, the duo believe that the future is bright. By the end of 2022 they would like to achieve “continued success of our brands, along with continuing to build our great licensor, licensee and retail relationships, and the industry recognition that winning a licensing trade award brings, would be great”. And in the next 15? “We will continue to successfully develop the brands in our portfolio, build our partner relationships and have lots of fun,” they conclude.

Rocket42022 so far

“2022 has been great so far and it was fantastic to be back at Toy Fair and Spring Fair, finally having face to face meetings,” says Charlie.

On top of this, May saw the agency appointed to manage the UK and Eire rights to classic property, Miffy, and it is now building towards the Year of the Rabbit in 2023.

Rocket is also looking forward to building the product range based on MGM’s Vikings: Valhalla and future seasons following its launch on Netflix in February, while there will also be some 35th anniversary activity for RoboCop. The Very Hungry Caterpillar Easter trail at Kew Gardens and Wakehurst was also a huge success, with sell out crowds and coverage on BBC News. There are also plans to continue the growth of perennial Christmas classic, The Elf on the Shelf.

Rob continues: “We also have some very exciting announcements to make about new brands, ranges and deals we are representing in the next couple of months. New ranges to launch this year include additional lines of the hugely successful Horrible Science and Horrible Histories brands, with Galt and University Games. A fantastic range of The Very Hungry Caterpillar housewares and wonderful picnic set also launched from DNC. Look out also for some great Godzilla and Kodak apparel ranges to be launched at retail from Bioworld.”

Planning will also be taking place ahead of Beano’s 85th anniversary in 2023, while Rocket is anticipating strong interest in the second movie in the Oscar winning Dune series, also in 2023.

This feature originally appeared in the summer 2022 edition of Licensing Source Book. To read the full publication, click on this link.

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