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The Licensing Lookout: Awarding creativity

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes on the winning ‘commercial and creative’ combination.

The UK licensing industry came together this week for the annual Licensing Awards. It is an opportunity to celebrate and focus on success. There are awards for products, promotions, properties and retailers. Every year the final award is an Honorary Achievement one designed to mark someone’s contribution to the industry during their career. Traditionally this has been awarded to a licensor, licensing agent or licensee. This year it went to Keith Chapman the creator of household name properties like Bob the Builder and PAW Patrol.

Keith was a most deserving recipient. He has a great track record of creating IP that in turn creates best selling product ranges. He is aware that licensing is a multi-layered business with an emphasis on partnerships. He is also a very friendly chap and has been very willing to pass on his advice to others.


A good idea needs good management and good licensees. But you need a good idea in the first place and one that is commercial. In this context it was refreshing to see a creative win the Honorary Achievement award and a timely reminder that creativity needs to be at the centre of the licensing process.

With this in mind, I think Brand Licensing Europe should be applauded for conceiving and continuing to host the License This event. The event allows companies and individuals who have created IP to enter a competition that ultimately ends in a final at BLE where the finalists pitch their new idea to a panel of licensing experts. This year the competition has been widened to shine a further light on art licensing.

License This really gives creators a chance to showcase their ideas and kickstart licensing programmes. It should be applauded for this. It is a great event to be involved in. I was a judge a few years ago and it was fascinating to review start up ideas. The ones that ended up in the final were ones that had a good handle on their property’s consumer appeal.


One of the finalists in the year I was a judge was artist Ailsa Black. Her art and illustrations have a distinct style and are influenced by her local surroundings. They are charming and distinct.

While Ailsa didn’t win, I think it was clear that her art had wider commercial potential in licensing – I introduced her to art licensing agency This is Iris and together with their careful nurturing Ailsa now has a successful and growing licensing programme.

One of her licensees Apple to Pears showcased a fabulous giftware range at the Autumn Fair recently. A really good example of how licensing can help grow a brand, but also a good illustration of the fact that licensing needs fresh creativity to keep evolving. Also a good example of how a well qualified and focused licensing agent can help a creator reach a bigger audience in a strategic way.

I spotted a further example of License This working at Top Drawer. Last year’s winning brand I Like Birds has made rapid progress in licensing and a range of its products were showcased on My Gifts Trade stand. The product was really well presented and a key feature of the stand, underpinning the commercial potential of the designs.

Again this emphasises how important creativity is to the licensing business and in this context how a creator can really help the commercial side of licensing by being tuned into consumer trends, retail developments and bespoke opportunities. Creatives in licensing need to be market savvy. License This has helped promote this way of thinking.


There were some other good examples of licensing at Top Drawer. This is a show that doesn’t shout about licensing that loudly, but probably has more licensed products in it than you might expect. Arguably a few more of the exhibitors should consider licensing as a source of design and a way of differentiating themselves from their competitors.

Housewares company BlissHome uses licensing in a careful and considered way. It has an excellent ceramics range produced in association with Rick Stein. The products are stylish, contemporary and finished in brilliant blue hues. The design was developed by Rick, Bliss and students from a college in Cornwall. The designs celebrate Cornish locations and emphasise Rick’s connection with the county. Licensing being used to help shine a light on new design talent.

In fact I am working with Bliss to create a range of housewares in association with Nadiya Hussain. Nadiya is very hands on with the development helping to select colours, patterns and finishes. A further example of how the licensing process is changing with creativity at the forefront of the business. Simply handing over a style guide is not always enough these days. As an aside, you can hear from Nadiya at BLE this year. She is being interviewed at the show on day one (Tuesday October 9).


Top Drawer provided further evidence that licences can emerge from different sources.

Octopus Publishing featured the official Jim Beam Bourbon Cookbook – a reminder that food and drink brands are an emerging force in licensing – while Happy Socks had gift boxes of socks featuring The Beatles and Andy Warhol.

Meanwhile, ECP Design featured designs from newspaper cartoonist Matt.


It was also really good to see character licensing being used in a new way, with tech toy company Tech Will Save Us showcasing a range of Marvel products that are make and do science kits. As new types of toys emerge that are linked to tech and science, licensing can play a part but again there has to be an emphasise on creativity.

Licensing is a partnership business and the creative partner needs to be a part of the process. Keith Chapman winning an award shines a light on creativity in licensing and License This allows new talent to gain traction.

It was lovely to be part of Keith’s special night and very interesting to see his face change as he realised the recipient was him… I have already placed a bet on Rory Bremner voicing Keith’s next creation. I am sure I saw a deal being struck on stage. Although I am not sure a Preschool Politics show will work so well. Although Obama the Orator has a nice ring to it.

Being commercial and creative is a great combination. Well done Keith!

Ian Downes runs Start Licensing, an independent brand licensing agency. His Twitter handle is @startlicensing – he would welcome your suggestions for what to look out for.

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