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The Licensing Lookout: In conversation with… Sally Addison and Gemma Fitzgibbon

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes catches up with two newcomers to licensing to get their views on the industry.

This week I have chatted to Sally Addison and Gemma Fitzgibbon. Both Sally and Gemma are at the beginning of their licensing careers. Unfortunately both of them recently left their first jobs in licensing due to the current economic conditions and the fact that their employers had to reduce headcount.

Of course, given current circumstances this is understandable, but nevertheless for the people who have been laid off from businesses it is a tough thing to face up to. Sally and Gemma are not the only licensing executives currently out of work and I think we need to be aware of our industry colleagues who are in this situation.

Licensing is a business that needs to encourage new people to join it and to nurture younger people. They bring fresh thinking, a different outlook and contemporary skills. It is important that we try to find ways of keeping people like Sally and Gemma within the licensing business. It was great to talk to them and to get their insights into the licensing business. I would also like to be a fly on the wall at their dinner parties!

Sending Sally, Gemma and other colleagues who are ‘open to work’ my best wishes and encouragement.

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Sally Addison:

As someone who is relatively new to the licensing world what have been your first impressions of the industry?

My first impression was how busy and lively the whole industry feels – going to licensing shows, there is always a real buzz of excitement and everyone appears to be so passionate about their licences and products. I also quickly learnt how small the industry is – everyone really does seem to know each other!

Your first role in licensing was in publishing. What drew you towards the publishing sector?

I have always adored books and children’s literary characters. There was a point at university where I was tearing my hair out, with no idea on what I actually wanted to do for a career. My aunt, who works in the licensing industry, suggested I research about publishing as a potential career. I was lucky enough to gain work experience at Penguin Random House, after spending a week there I fell in love with the industry and made it my mission to gain as much experience as I could to support my chosen career path.

What has been your favourite product or project you have worked on so far?

Working at Egmont Magazines was a fantastic experience, and through my role as associate publisher I worked on numerous children’s licensed titles including L.O.L. Surprise, Thomas and Friends, PAW Patrol and Ryan’s World. I enjoyed working with these major brands, while getting to know the fast paced and dynamic magazine industry.

Thinking about licensed publishing in particular what do you think have been some of the best examples of licensed publishing this year?

When I first started at Egmont Magazines, there was a huge buzz around the new Ryan’s World magazine, which had been launched into the market a month or so before I arrived. Ryan Kaji is eight years old and is the number one creator on YouTube, with 27.3 million subscribers to his channel. The first issue had sold an amazing 49,000 copies, with the second surpassing this with 52,000 copies – making it the most successful preschool launch in the last three years. The magazine market has been in decline year on year, with more children and adults now turning to their screens instead. This made the launch of this magazine even more impressive. I think this is a great example of licensed publishing done well, through embracing this huge trend of YouTube stars and providing fun activities and stories within the magazine, which parent and child can do and read together – proving that the massive rise in YouTubers can make for a success within publishing.

Do you think more publishers should look at licensed properties and if so what should they consider before entering the licensing market?

This is a really hard question! I think it’s great to turn towards licensed properties, as a way of extending brands and encouraging children in particular to read their favourite brands. I would say a good balance of licensed and non-licensed should be the objective, to ensure that up and coming authors are also able to showcase their work and be published. I suppose one thing to consider is the vast amount of licensed properties out there and not every property is going to work as a reading material. Through my experience, some properties work well as one consumer product but not necessarily in others. It takes a while to get a strong licensing programme going and publishers may need to allow the brand some time to flourish before they utilise it as a book.

Thinking of your time as a student, how would you sell a career in licensing to those that are students today?

It’s a really interesting career, one that if you don’t know anyone working within it, I don’t think young people will necessarily know too much about the licensing industry. It’s one that combines creativity with business, you may get to work on major brands that everyone knows and loves and then smaller, up and coming ones that could turn out to be a massive success (or not, but such is life!). As I’ve already mentioned, it’s incredibly lively and fast-paced, but also a lovely one to work in. As a new comer, I always felt welcomed and supported by people, who would always have fond memories of their first time working in the industry. I feel really grateful to have been introduced to the crazy world of licensing.

If you had to invite three literary characters – licensed or otherwise – to dinner who would you invite and why?

Dumbledore – just to sit and listen to all his wisdom; Rachel, from My Cousin Rachel – one of my favourite novels by my favourite author, Daphne Du Maurier. I’d love to know more about this ambiguous character; finally, it would be great to have a drink with the hilarious Bridget Jones as my third guest.

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Gemma Fitzgibbon:

As someone who is relatively new to the licensing world what have been your first impressions of the industry?

My first impressions of the licensing world have been so positive. I’ve been so lucky to meet and work with some really lovely people and be involved in some amazing projects. It’s such a creative and exciting industry, I’m really grateful to have fallen into it.

You have recently worked at Funko. How did you keep in touch with and identify properties that were becoming fan favourites?

Social media is such a useful tool to see which properties fans are going crazy for, and TikTok in particular has really changed things this year with fans able to interact with their favourite properties in more and more interesting and unique ways. The fan-made Ratatouille musical has been one of the highlights of this year for me.

What has been your favourite product or project you have worked on so far?

I’m a huge fan of Schitt’s Creek so seeing the development of the Pop! range was so exciting for me – the chase version of David in the field is just hilarious!

Being a fan of Schitt's Creek, working on the brand during her time at Funko was exciting for Gemma.
Being a fan of Schitt's Creek, working on the brand during her time at Funko was exciting for Gemma.

Do you think there are some product categories or business areas that don’t currently use licensing but could. What are they?

This is a really tough question, it’s hard to think of an area which hasn’t embraced licensing in some way! I think it will be interesting to see how licensing takes advantage of the trend for influencer-led marketing as it continues to grow and adapt. Artists like Sophie Tea and Florence Given, who have built their brands on social media, could provide an opportunity for a licensing project that builds on their work in an authentic way.

Thinking of your time as a student how would you sell a career in licensing to those that are students today?

Licensing is such an easy sell to students in creative industries as it combines creativity and business acumen across such interesting brands and products. I’d say if you want to work in a creative field with brands and characters you know and love then this is a great industry to enter. Add to that the numerous opportunities for a glass of wine or two with lovely colleagues and it’s a winner.

If you had to invite three licensed characters to dinner who would you invite and why?

Given my love for Schitt’s Creek I can’t turn down the opportunity to have dinner with Moira Rose and her many wigs, so she would be my number one invite. I’d also love to spend some time with Elle Woods as I think the queen of spinning a negative into a positive would have some great words of wisdom about this year. And then last but by no means least – Captain America, since who wouldn’t want to have dinner with America’s ass!

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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