Kelvyn Gardner is an individual who really does know licensing. It’s by no accident of course, and only to be expected of a man who has spent over 40 years working in or around the industry, and certainly the trait of a one who has spent the last 13 as the managing director of Licensing International UK – both in its incarnation as LIMA UK and its rebranded moniker.
But if the global response to COVID-19 or the uprising of the Black Lives Matter campaign has taught us anything, it’s that 2020 is the year for change. And with it, Gardner too has found opportunities presented as the result of evolution and coming out of the other side of his role with the industry body.
Some 22 years on from the establishment of his own company, Asgard Media – a licensing agency-meets-consultancy business operating predominantly in the collectables, food, and beverage spaces – Gardner is preparing for a relaunch. Or perhaps more accurate, a reacquaintance, with the business that he had always had ticking over in the background, even throughout his LIMA UK/Licensing International years.
Whatever you want to call it, it is Gardner’s moment to put Asgard Media back on the radar for this multi-billion dollar industry, with one very clear message. And it’s one that he suggests works for the licensing industry in its entirety.
“It’s an appeal to the thousands of manufacturers out there who do not use brand licensing as part of their marketing mix,” Gardner tells ToyNews.
“Our message is ‘Connect with the world’s biggest brands’, because that is what all of us are about, surely?”
It’s become an industry-wide headline, that the opportunity now for the licensing industry, is that retailers and consumers will retreat to the brand names while it negotiates the ongoing pandemic situation within an uncertain retail environment. It’s a school of thought that Gardner subscribes to, and one that he is ready to take to the next level, all, he says, to the benefit of the industry he loves.
“I am a lifelong believer in the power of brand licensing, and although we are a private company and not a trade body, to a certain extent, what Asgard Media is trying to do is bring new companies into the licensing world, by focussing on the companies or the manufacturers with great product, but for whatever reason, not already in the licensing space, and that should be for the benefit of everybody in licensing,” Gardner continues.
“It’s clear from discussions in the licensing press, and some of the sessions from Virtual Licensing Week, that right now, co-operation and flexibility are required more than ever if we are to make licensing work for existing players.
“This is even more important if we are to attract new licensees, and to persuade reluctant brand owners to open up their IP to the many excellent licensees that we already have.”
The advantage from which Gardner implements his mission plan is that he comes back to the scene without affiliations. He is now what he calls, an honest broker.
“If I find somebody in a category, I am able to approach any brand or any licensor as an agent, rather than someone who has a portfolio to promote,” he explains. “To some degree, I hope not to be bringing in licensees just for me, but licensees and businesses for the wider licensing community.”
It’s the role of guide, then that Kelvyn is looking to adopt through his Asgard Media outfit, braced with the knowledge accumulated over a 40 year career (to date) in the licensing business and the laser-like knowledge of its intricacies (Gardner asked me if I’d spent much time reading licensing contracts – it turns out he has read through a few). In his former role with Licensing International, Gardner was a man passionate about educating the next generation of licensing executives, and opening up the boundaries for new product sectors. It’s a mission statement he has carried on with him.
“I have come across it so many times over the years,” he says. “It’s easy for those inside of licensing to know how it works, but I think it is so misunderstood, or not understood at all, outside of the industry; and we don’t go out of our way to make it easier.
But there are ways to explain it to people in simple terms if we take the time to do it, and if, as part of my world, that brings in business for the whole of the licensing industry, that has got to be a positive thing.”
To that end, he suggests, simplicity is key. Look at the work he has done for the Asgard Media client Harrogate Tipple, helping to broker Universal Studios’ first licensing partnership down the spirits aisle, or the longstanding relationship he has with Topps, the ever-expanding Finsbury Foods licensing roster, or Yoplait – the company who famously stood vehemently against licensing until it recognised the perks it was offering its competitors in the food sector.
“The other strand to it all is that – having been a licensee for ten to 15 years myself – there is a tendency to think ‘we don’t need anymore licensees.’,” Gardner says. “Now, I’ve never believed in the Barbie dollar – the idea that there is a dollar to be spent on Barbie merchandise, which subsequently has to be split between all of its licensees. I still think the market can expand, providing that everybody is sensible, without having to go down the route of ‘splicensing’ as it is known.
“It is also true to say that there not that many manufacturers and marketing companies who regularly buy licenses. The last time I did an analysis of this, there were only about 700 UK companies listed as working with a license. How many manufacturers are there in the UK? There’s got to be tens of thousands. Licensing is a big business, but most companies aren’t in it. The holy grail for us all in licensing is to find somebody in sectors that aren’t currently doing licensing; and by all accounts there are those people out there.”
Gardner’s approach from here on can be likened to the old ‘the man who built it’ brainteaser. The clients he is looking for don’t know they want Asgard Media as a service provider; in fact, they probably don’t even know they want to be in licensing. Asgard Media has to fill in all of the gaps for them.
It’s a point Agard Media certainly looks to address in its new marketing material, kicking off with the newly launched company video that highlights the message ‘Licensing is our world, let us bring you into it.’ It’s the metaphorical hand that Gardner is extending to all of those businesses currently not in licensing, to help them along the way.
How does marketing today compare to that of 1998, the last time Gardner actively promoted the Asgard Media name? It’s fewer marketing mailshots, and more video content for a start, suggests Gardner. So we can expect a lot more of that in the coming months.