The licensing industry is built on relationships, but the pandemic has meant our traditional networking opportunities – trade shows, business meetings, summits, social events – have been replaced with Zoom calls and virtual events. But, as Sharon Weisman explains, this doesn’t mean the art of schmoozing is dead, it’s just evolving.
Schmoozing, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is an intransitive verb which means to converse informally or to chat in a friendly and persuasive manner especially so as to gain favour, business or connections.
Please allow me to derail before we even get to the point: as I Googled this, I realised Britannica/Merriam-Webster is missing on a major merchandising opportunity. If you suffer through this blog, I promise to tie it all back to commerce and reveal the blind-spot.
Okay, back on track: licensing is an industry heavily dependent on relationships. Schmoozing is an absolute must.
Licensing is a relatively small community of creative, passionate, self-taught storytellers, who generate a whole lot of revenue… we #MFM (ask Stuart Pollock at Segal Licensing what that means).
Since licensing plays a part of every brand category, a revenue stream and an ‘invisible marketing’ (I recommend reading Jeff Lotman’s at Global Icons book to perfect your pitch), this intimate gang attends many trade shows, roadshows, showrooms, brand summits, conventions and social events all over the globe. After all, we have to keep up with pop culture, consumer demand and we’re expected to predict the future.
These storytelling-hustle-soothsayers didn’t invent, but perfected, the Art of Schmoozing.
And we schmooze our faces off: we know where your kids are going to college next year, we know who just got divorced, we know who is applying for which position, we know who is competing with who, who lives where, how they drink their coffee, what they eat for breakfast, if they prefer an aisle or a window seat (or jelly if only fly business/first), who their preferred partners in crime are, if they are good on their word or if they are full of s… surprises.
Where licensing execs differ from the traditional schmoozers is while always having an ‘agenda’, we accidentally become friends.
In most industries schmoozing concludes at coffee meeting, happy hour or client dinner.
In licensing, execs go on vacation together (heck, all the licensees in NY put their egos at the door and fly to Aruba together every summer), introduce families, go to each other’s weddings/birthdays, get tattoos together in Vegas and are all over each other’s DMs.
And can you blame us? We’re a bit like Chandler in Friends in that no one else really understands what we do for a living… we have to reduce our explanation to “I put Mickey Mouse on a watch”. We are the secret sauce. We are Fight Club (‘The first rule of licensing is: You do not talk about licensing’).
By now, we understand that 2020 is the year where we don’t get to break bread, catch up with old friends, make bets on who is the last one standing at Eye Candy or to guess who will be on your next flight…
Instead we’ve Zoomed our hearts out, clinked glasses with screens and shared stories with 12 nodding heads (while really just looking at ourselves), and we missed those trade show we used to attend…
Trade shows meant tons of new contacts. The younger generation skips the business cards and immediately add each other on social media – because we know our ability to close a deal depends mainly on the relationship, and less on the transaction veritable. The ‘best show for boy ages 6-8’ or ‘the hottest product for blonde girls who live in London’ will continue to change, but the licensing executives selling you on them won’t.
Recently, Dave Levich at Sunstashes, told me he “hasn’t made a new friend in almost six months”. We laughed. But I understood what he was saying.
Granted, this isn’t forever, but it means a person’s existing network/relationships are more valuable than ever. Maintaining relationships is easier now than to establish new meaningful business relationships… so we have to level up schmoozing based on how COVID-19 and current events are going to impact culture and change how we conduct business.
• Who? Diversity and inclusion will be reinforced, ensuring licensing programmes and decisions include more mind sets, opinions and backgrounds. We will be welcoming new players into this tight-knit group. Open minds and hearts, encouraging, integrating and holding ourselves accountable to strengthen and grow our businesses, provoking new CP lines and target new audiences.
• Where? Make peace with travel slowing down and make the best out of hybrid events. Eventually, in-person events will make a slow comeback, localised at first. Make sure you install Whatsapp, LINE, WeChat, Zoom, GoTo, Teams, Hangout, etc. to encourage and maintain your international relationships.
• What? New retail – if talking about bricks and mortar shrinking for over a decade hasn’t been enough to make us establish a solid ecommerce strategy, COVID-19 has acted as an accelerator agent. The ‘experiential’ piece of the puzzle has been removed from every 360 brand strategy (it will be a while before I waltz into Sephora and let an expert touch my face), and it’s on us to figure out how to engage with consumers – virtually. Third party partnerships to establish a competitive DTC programme at scale is key, especially with entities such as Amazon, Shopify Plus and Partnerships (reinforced by the deal with the Walmart marketplace), TikTok for Business, PODs, etc.
• How? Technology will take over. In a way, we are living in the ‘dark age of technology’ now. Like bigger industries before us, tech will take over licensing’s communications and processes. Software will streamline our relationships with overseas agents, the way partners collect and submit data/reports, how we communicate internally, how we design and where we deploy, to whom and how we sell our products and so much more.
• When? NOW! Don’t wait for the ‘new normal’. Start riding the ‘new now’ like there’s no tomorrow #NoPunIntended.
Earlier last week, Russell Binder at Striker Entertainment reminded me every cloud has a silver lining. We spoke about how there is so much more time to read about what’s going on beyond our bubbles and reach out to new prospects based on current events and breaking news. Things we couldn’t find time to do if we were stuck behind whats-her-face complaining about approvals in the never-ending Starbucks line.
To be fair, sometimes Zooming from home can be a more focused and intimate setting than a trade show booth – getting a peek at the Target buyer’s bedroom (I might have stolen that joke from Marshall Mizrahi), getting to know my favorite licensee’s kids (all six of them), knowing exactly who has a furry friend and who needs to upgrade their WiFi plan.
Bottom line: that Rolodex you have been building over the past few years is ‘licensing equity’ and LinkedIn will become a true goldmine.
So no. Smoozing hasn’t been written-off, it’s just evolving.
A few things we can do to up our schmoozing game in the New Now:
Create a minimum of one thought-leadership piece every quarter. It can be in form of a blog, post, trade publication quote/story, participate in a podcast episode and so forth. Don’t go off on a never-ending rant or BFOs. Respect people’s time and human limited capacity for compiling content now. Make sure you include practical advice.
Update all your online listings: these are your new business cards. Create/update your Licensing International listing, LinkedIn profile, etc.
Write at least one outrageous email you would have never dreamt to write or didn’t have time to.
Pre-COVID, did you have a brilliant idea, an amazing strategy, an out of the box offer you can bring to the plate? Muster up the courage to craft a sharp email and send it to the ceo or C-Suite at companies such as Spotify, Walmart, Shopify, Amazon… go for it, I dare you!
Reach out to at least three new people a month. Create conversation. Be serious about it. Create an Excel document to track contact info and traction. You never know where the next opportunity will come from.
Attend a virtual event this year. But really commit and maximise the opportunity: dress to impress, offer to speak, create a presentation, craft an online pitch and demo/deck, be strategic when you fill out your attendee information, use the chatbox and matchmaking functions, follow up no later than the following week.
Host a small networking event (obeying health and safety guidelines in your zip code, of course) at home or outside. Make sure to mix it up and always include one person you don’t know (a friend of an industry friend or relevant sector). Think old-school like-minded mixers: Viewing parties, book club, sangria night at a local bar, picnic at the park, etc.
Unsolicited offer to help: write a post, pick up the phone, text a few people you haven’t heard from in a while and offer to help. It can be something simple as volunteering your time/expertise, vent sesh, brainstorm, connecting them with someone, helping them figure out the next step.
Invite different licensing executives from outside of your company, to be a guest at your ongoing team calls. It’s exciting, new and offers perspective. I was lucky enough to be invited to one of Netflix’s monthly calls and it was mutually beneficial to be able to hear more about what they are up to and what perspective I can share from the outside world.
One more thing. This is an important one: if you’re having an external call and your webcam/mobile camera isn’t working, FIX IT! At the very least let the person/people know you’re not going to be using your camera and encourage a good ol’ voice call. It’s beyond annoying to set yourself up, and end up talking to someone’s initials or seriously outdated photograph, or godforbid an avatar for 30 mins, without being able to gather any social cues, while you’re on full display.
And you know what? It’s 2020 and you’ve been at home for five months, so get your virtual act together… because we totally don’t believe you, and say things like “Yup, her ‘camera isn’t working’… again” (cue dramatic air quotes).
To tie this all up, and make good on my promise, here is the merchandising opportunity for Britannica/M-W (Matt Dube, you’re welcome):
When I looked up the definition of ‘schmooze’ on Urban Dictionary, I discovered it offers a POD mug or a neck-gaiter with the word you searched for purchase (this is either very random or it is an actual genius and predicted that neck gaiters are the winter version of face coverings).