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The Licensing Lookout: Stamp of approval

Start Licensing’s Ian Downes discovers how The Royal Mail has become a feature on the licensing map.

It is always good to see a company that was once regarded as ‘new to licensing’ sticking with it. The Royal Mail fits into this category. It has become a feature on the licensing map and has worked hard to develop a presence in the licensing market. I imagine lots of rights holders put the Royal Mail down on their ‘to do’ list and target the category for their licensing programmes. I wonder if anyone sends the Royal Mail licensing team a letter to attract their attention..?

As my dad was a postman, I have a soft spot for the Royal Mail and for stamps in general terms. Indeed, as well as being a postman my Dad was a philatelist. Not sure what came first in his life – the stamp or the sack.

So, because of the family connection I have always appreciated the appeal of stamps and recognised they are collectable. The latter factor makes them an ideal candidate for licensing.

The Royal Mail is an organisation that has embraced licensing really well. Its approach to licensing was recognised at The Licensing Awards in 2016 when it won an award for its Star Wars stamp range. It hasn’t stood still since then and has proactively been seeking out licensing opportunities. I imagine licences for it have to fit a specific brief and purpose.

One aspect of this is working with properties that can galvanise a fan base and lead onto a range of collectable products beyond the stamp set. For example framed stamp sets. Of course, it also needs to use licences that fit into the overall brief and also ones that it can create a stamp issue with. Sometimes subject matter and design material don’t fit.

The new James Bond collection from The Royal Mail will appeal to fans of the franchise and stamp collectors.
The new James Bond collection from The Royal Mail will appeal to fans of the franchise and stamp collectors.

But a new issue I spotted earlier this week seems tailor made for stamps and the collector market. The Royal Mail has launched a range of stamps based on James Bond, 007 and Bond movies. The issue of this collection was timed to coincide with the release of the new Bond film, but as reported last week the film release has been delayed.

While this is not ideal, one can imagine that this stamp issue will still be in demand and will still appeal to Bond fans, Bond collectors and of course stamp collectors. It is a really well designed collection featuring former Bonds such as Roger Moore and Sean Connery. It manages to look modern while respecting the history and tradition of the 007 films.

The Royal Mail looks at licensing as an opportunity to create a suite of products that have strong commercial potential, but also I think there is a role for licensing to play in keeping stamps, stamp collecting and collectables contemporary. There is also an international market for products like stamp collectables and clearly a property like Bond has appeal beyond the UK.

Hopefully the delay of the film release is something that won’t deter the Royal Mail from considering other licensing opportunities. For Licensing PLC it is important that companies like the Royal Mail stick with licensing as the industry needs to open up new distribution and routes to market.

The collector and fan markets are ones that are growing in importance for licensing. A lot of the focus for this is naturally around contemporary collectables like Funko Pop vinyl figures, but it is important to remember that there are older collectors out there and also more traditional products serving this collector community. This is notably through expert direct marketing companies such as MBI, The Bradford Exchange and The Westminster Collection.

These companies use a variety of techniques to reach consumers including off the page offers, direct mail and digital marketing. Product wise they are heavy users of licensing, but licences have to fit their business model. This includes testing concepts and gauging consumer interest. It is a specialist business model. They are also very good at cultivating anniversaries and targeting fans accordingly. Think of their consumer targeting like a Venn diagram – they are targeting the people in the middle of the Venn diagram. But they hope the middle is quite sizeable. They are keen to find products and opportunities that might appeal on a number of levels at the same time.

Steiff's limited edition Rupert Bear ties into the character's 100th birthday.
Steiff's limited edition Rupert Bear ties into the character's 100th birthday.

With this approach in mind it was interesting to see Danbury Mint promoting its Limited Edition Rupert Bear created by Steiff. This charming bear ties into Rupert’s 100th anniversary this year. The edition is limited to 5,000 pieces. It includes a 22 carat gold plated pin badge.

The Rupert Bear product works on a number of levels: for example three obvious consumer groups for it would be Steiff collectors, bear collectors and Rupert fans. Of course, Danbury Mint would hope to recruit new consumers and here the attention to detail in the product is important. This is a high quality product and has a fine attention to detail.

This kind and style of product is an area that should be noted and is one that I think will grow in importance. Direct marketing can be a very efficient way of reaching consumers, but it does require new thinking and also an acceptance that it doesn’t suit all brands. Check your anniversaries.

Peacocks is using its link with Scarlett Moffatt on its Mother's Day promotions.
Peacocks is using its link with Scarlett Moffatt on its Mother's Day promotions.

As we approach Mother’s Day I was interested to see how retailer Peacocks was approaching the event. Using its existing link with TV celebrity Scarlett Moffatt, it has developed an apparel offer ‘for Mum’ in tandem with the Make-a-Wish charity. The product features Make-a-Wish’s designs and is promoted in-store. Peacocks has worked with Make-a-Wish previously.

This seems a very positive and proactive partnership to me. It is in many ways a good template for other charities to look at. Again from the outside things look simple, but there is no doubt deals of these kind are complex and require fresh thinking. But there is a lot to be optimistic about the role licensing can play in activations like this one. I don’t think my mum reads LicensingSource so I hope I haven’t spoiled the surprise!

Of course, we are in difficult and challenging times on a personal and business basis. I think as much as we can we should look to help each other within the licensing community. I know lots of people will be working from home at the moment. As a veteran of home working I would be very happy to catch up with people on the phone if they fancy a licensing chat. Feel free to get in touch and I urge others to carry on talking. Hopefully we can keep doing business and help each other in challenging times.

As I said last week, I struggle to switch off from licensing at times. I saw this in action again this week when I was asked to take part in a Zoom call and a Google Hangout. I immediately thought about the licensing opportunities around these brands and conjured up a TV campaign for Zoom featuring Fat Larry and his band, while I could see The Stranglers promoting Google hangouts with Hugh Cornwell blasting out Hanging Around.

I realise younger readers may have to research both these references. At least that will fill ten minutes of your day..!

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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