Having only been founded in January 2021, Boutique Licensing Agency is already making its mark. Source chats to co-founder Maria Maranesi to find out more about the new business and its plans.
Firstly, can you tell me how BLA came about? Why did you decide to work together? What USP can you bring to the licensing agency space?
Heading up the BLA outfit are its founders and managing directors, Maria Maranesi (pictured left) and Marie-Noelle Lutte (pictured right). We each boast more than 20 years of experience in senior regional licensing positions for the largest toy and entertainment companies (Mattel, Fox Network Group and The Walt Disney Company). The BLA! team is multi-cultural and multi-regional with backgrounds in the US, Latin America and EMEA.
This experience informs our deep understanding of what our brand owner clients need in terms of licensing out IP brand rights, processes and policies, customer service and business deliverables. In addition, we bring to this new venture an extensive global network of licensing partners.
We also have a clearly defined mission statement. We aim to transform the partnership experience by providing a highly adaptable and personalised service to our partners. Successfully achieving our customers’ desired outcome is our ultimate focus.
And we’re ambitious. Consumer habits are changing, growth targets are more demanding – and yet there is a growing need to focus on global sustainability, on diversity and on inclusion. Can it be done? We think so.
For our IP owner clients, the brands we represent are at the forefront of everything we do. For our licensee clients it’s not just about the next deal, or the right retail execution. We need to be fast, flexible, customer-centric and agile in our approach – in terms of product approvals, compliance, contracts, amendments and more. And for all of our clients it’s about seamless communication.
How will your previous career experience help when it comes to building BLA?
We’ve worked for – and with – some of the world’s largest toy and entertainment companies. We understand the needs of global corporations and brands. We also understand the needs of licensees across very diverse demographics.
We’ve both got international backgrounds; this is important. But it also helps to be experienced in leadership, strategy, brand architecture, product development, contract negotiations, customer service, retail execution, marketing and sales. And we are.
We also know the business from a number of angles – as agents and managers of agents. We know what is expected of an agent and what an agency can and can’t deliver. That has been a key asset for us in our pitch process.
I understand that you’ve signed Mr Men Little Miss as your first representation – congratulations!
Thank you very much!
How did the relationship come about? Which territories will you be handling? Can you share any plans you have for the brand for this year and the 50th anniversary?
The markets include Germany, Iberia, Nordic, Benelux, Poland & CEE and Russia. We reached out to Sanrio chief operating officer, Silvia Figini, to participate in the pitch process for Mr. Men Little Miss. We are thrilled to be working with the Sanrio team.
Mr. Men is the number one top selling picture book brand in France and second preschool brand in UK market. Publishing content is the core of this brand, so our priority is to roll the brand out to more countries in EMEA and Latin America by focusing first and foremost on expanding the rich Mr Men Little Miss publishing library. Other categories closely linked to the DNA of the brand – fashion, gifting, home to name only a few – are longer-term aims. And, of course, the brand lends itself wonderfully well to promotions, due to the depth and diversity of its characters, it’s collectability and its multi-gender attributes. There really is a Mr Men or Little Miss character for everyone.
Are there any other new signings to your portfolio you can tell us about? What type of brands would you be keen to work with?
We have some exciting news about two new partnerships that will, just like Mr Men Little Miss, align to our values-driven business objectives of diversity, inclusion, and sustainability. One of these – which we can now mention – is Karma’s World from 9Story Media, for which we have been signed to manage licensing for the Nordics and Eastern Europe. This is a coming-of-age story about a young girl finding her voice and using it to change her world. Karma’s World has strong momentum already with an impressive roster of licensees and a global premiere on Netflix in the autumn. But it’s also fun and inspirational. That’s important and at least partly answers your second question: working with brands that have a relevant message matter to us.
How healthy is the licensing business in your home territory right now? What are the immediate challenges?
The market environment has been affected – not just in our core markets but everywhere. But we do see a bright future ahead; licensing is continuing to grow across new categories and business models. We need to grasp the opportunity of online retail and marketing, while not losing sight of the continuing opportunities offered by physical retail and traditional advertising and promotion. We also need to be aware of both conventional categories like homeware and apparel and fast-growing ones like gaming and virtual experiences.
What impact do you continue to see from the Covid-19 pandemic?
Storytelling matters. Thus, for Mr. Men – where the focus is on publishing – the pandemic has brought growth, especially in supermarkets, hypermarkets, and online sales. And many brands have gained new fans. We see this lasting and possibly expanding slightly, with a post-Covid retail bounce likely to extend to toys and games – and possibly more outdoor pursuits as people mingle more freely.
Where do you see further growth opportunities coming from – both for BLA and the licensing industry in general?
Sustainability, innovation in product and communication, hybrid innovative executions, learning, embracing diversity: all of these offer real opportunities for growth. Again, storytelling is important, but so too is what we call ‘story-being’, turning positive words into real actions that help and support people. This is especially important in the light of Covid when donations, pausing policies, promoting helpful action and other concrete statements mean more than ever. There may be opportunities for brand collaboration too, not just involving brands but also involving the artists and designers who work on those brands – so long as these opportunities are managed with sensitivity and a clear purpose.
What are the key trends that you’re spotting at the moment?
Sustainability, purpose-led brands, and brands that embrace diversity and inclusion. The pandemic, and 2020 in general, brought these trends even more into focus and magnified them. We are partnering with companies that believe, as we do, in embracing more sustainable ways of living for the sake of our children and our planet.
New technologies – like the non-fungible token (NFT), which certifies a digital asset to be unique. This is making inroads into multiple consumer and tech sectors.
Different ways to consume content –short form, mobile, streaming, free – that allow niche brands to flourish.
Hybrid and flexible business models with partners.
Did you take part in the virtual Brand & Licensing Innovation Summits (B&LIS) in June and will you go to the Brand Licensing Europe in November (Covid permitting)?
Yes, we attended the virtual B&LIS in June. As for BLE in November, I think we must have been among the first people to book a hotel. We just can’t wait to meet with partners and colleagues face to face – finally!
What is your main aim for 2021?
We founded BLA! in January 2021, so this is a key year for us, a year to establish and consolidate our business with selected business partners. Our aim is to make sure our partners’ brands get the exposure they deserve. We want to be part of disrupting the business – but for positive change.
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Yes! A quick shout-out to our friends at Products of Change, with whom we have partnered. POC is a global educational hub aimed at driving sustainable change across consumer product markets and beyond.