LM had the pleasure to interview Susan Bolsover, Director of Licensing and Consumer Products of Penguin Venture
Stories have always been at the heart of Penguin Random House and Penguin Ventures was created to bring together the Licensing, Consumer Products, TV Production, Retail, Exhibitions and Live events strategies in new ways to tell the world’s favorite stories. Penguin Ventures manages a portfolio of licensed literary brands and characters which, together with an archive of original art, provide the magic and wonder for all kinds of different consumer products, media and experiences.
Could you tell us how the Consumer Products division at Penguin Ventures is structured?
I started the Consumer Products division in Penguin Random House in 2013. We have grown from 3 people to 11 in the current team. Our remit is to represent those brands that are published by the children’s division within Penguin Random House UK. Although we are based in London we manage the licensing directly in a number of global markets or we work through agencies in other territories where relevant.
In Penguin’s rich portfolio, which properties are more relevant for your licensing development?
We look after properties which already have a strong and established publishing presence. For example, I am referring to Peter Rabbit, a world famous property with an international presence. We also work across The Snowman, winner of Best Classic Licensed Property Award at the recent Licensing Awards, and we also manage Eric Hill’s Spot, (we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the original picture book Where’s Spot? next year) just to name a few titles from our rich and international portfolio.
According to you, what is the power of book based properties?
Mainly, book based properties are different from any other kind of IP. We can say that they form part of a family’s DNA. In fact, books are read first by grand-parents and then followed by the parents who will then pass their favorite stories down to their own children, who receive the cultural heritage from their family. They don’t necessarily need to be first a movie or a TV series to engage children. They will love the shared experience of a story from books again and again.
Which strategy do you apply to develop book based IPs beyond books?
We developed the Peter Rabbit IP into three separate iterations, the Classic Peter Rabbit; a TV series and the newest movie franchise, each offering different opportunities for licensing development. We created a brand new licensing programme for Movie Peter Rabbit which gave a completely new dimension to the brand. Our existing programmes remained focused on Classic Peter Rabbit for the nursery sector with the TV Series has a preschool audience. There was no conflict because the brand iterations have distinct audiences and style guides so the licensing programmes reflect this.
Beyond the UK territory, which other territories are more relevant for you?
Outside the UK we are very established in the Asian market. Again with Peter Rabbit we have a very strong presence in Australia, Japan and a growing presence in China.
Which are the most important categories?
Toy, gift and apparel categories are strongest for our brands. Because the characters and stories we represent are beloved by multiple generations we have been able to establish our brands in a variety of categories and we are now looking to extend into the millennial market. We are interested to see how our brands can perform and appeal to that audience.
Which are your main objectives for the future?
To grow our brands. Very often with a heritage property people have strong preconceived ideas about it. So, the challenge for us is to allow the brand to evolve in a way that will appeal to contemporary audiences but still retain the original charm of the IP. An example of this was our partnership with Le Meridien Hotels who launched a licensed Classic Peter Rabbit Afternoon Tea earlier this year. We worked with them to host an influencer event showcasing the best of our licensed product and bringing the brand to life with celebrity storytelling, facepainting, dressing up and of course, a delicious themed and beautifully styled afternoon tea.
Lately we’ve been focusing on a new property from our editorial colleagues at Penguin Random House Children’s books in the UK. It’s a brand new and original IP called Ten Minutes to Bed that originated from a series of Ladybird Books, the best-selling and most surprising. It focuses on current trends and parents’ needs and we were thrilled to present it at BLE.
How do you see the development of kids habits in reading and watching TV and how, according to you, will they impact on the kids publishing attitudes?
Now we have to compete with brands coming from not only TV but also games and apps. We have to focus on content and we have to understand our audiences. We have the task of looking for the right story and the right format. Publishing is evolving to think of different ways to bring content to children. It’s about cultural acknowledgment. Stories can be told through a variety of mediums from TV and film or live events, through to apps and games. The business of publishing is to identify brilliant stories and characters and to think carefully about how we are reaching audiences and telling those stories.