Walker Books talks Tilly and Friends

With eight licensees on board already for picture book turned animation, Tilly and Friends, the next stop is to find the right toy partner.
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One the cutest looking new brands to hit TV screens at the moment, Tilly and Friends is based on the hit picture books by author and illustrator Polly Dunbar. Since making its debut on Cbeebies in the UK in September 2012, the series has become one of the top performers and has been sold to 25 international broadcasters to date.

Next stop, of course, is building the licensing programme, and Walker Books is already off to a strong start with eight partners on board in categories such as apparel, greetings, DVD, magazines and apps. Product will begin to roll out from the autumn, with the focus now being on securing a toy partner for Tilly and Friends – indeed, discussions are ongoing in the UK and international markets.

“It’s a tough time to be launching new properties and we want to make sure we give Tilly and Friends every chance to succeed,” Anna Hewitt, head of licensing at Walker Books UK, tells ToyNews. “By taking it slowly and building the programme gradually, we’re aiming to give Tilly and Friends an opportunity to secure success with both retailers and consumers. We will be looking to add girl’s accessories and partyware to our list of licensees in the near future, and of course, we will be looking for the right toy partner.”

Right from the beginning, Hewitt and her team were thinking about Tilly and Friends as a project for different platforms, and they have worked closely with Dunbar to manage the transition from book to TV to licensing.

“I believe that publishing actually provides a perfect foundation platform for introducing characters to market. The characters already exist in the marketplace, retailers are familiar with them and there’s an opportunity to test and gauge reactions from retail and consumers as well.”

Hewitt credits Dunbar as the biggest key to Tilly’s success: she is an associate producer for the TV series and was involved in both the creation of artwork and storylines, as well as working closely with the licensing team on the style guide. “Having the creator involved in the development for different platforms means that Tilly and Friends has genuine heart and has retained its very essence at every stage of the process, resulting in a truly beautiful brand,” says Hewitt. “Tilly and Friends has stunning visual appeal, strong storytelling and characters that children can relate to, all of which are vital to building a brand through books, TV and licensed products.”

Hewitt’s aim for this year is simple: seeing Tilly and Friends successfully launched and well received in the UK marketplace. The TV series is consistently in the channel’s top five programmes for the four to six age group, and this will help to continue to build the foundations for the longer-term opportunities for the brand.

“While it’s always hard to predict the future for new brands, we’re confident that Tilly and Friends will remain an important part of our portfolio,” Hewitt concludes. “We have so many great international broadcast platforms in place and we will be looking to build on the licensing programmes internationally, as well as in the UK, in the coming years.”

POLLY DUNBAR ON TILLY AND FRIENDS

Were you nervous about the translation of your books onto the small screen?

It has been a thrilling experience to see the Tilly and Friends books become an animated TV series. I spent so much time working on the books and the characters, it was as though they became my actual friends; for me they were real. It took a little bit of adjusting sharing these friends with a huge team of people; it was like inviting them into my imaginary world. I was lucky to work with some very talented people – the script writers, musicians, animators and actors all seemed to get the characters, so I knew there were in good hands. The show captures the essence of the books very well.

How did you feel when the idea of consumer products was talked about?

The possibility that there may become toys based on the series is another exciting step on Tilly’s journey. The idea of children playing with the characters and making up their own stories is lovely. I met a little boy recently who had a handmade and well-loved Tiptoe the rabbit; apparently they go everywhere together. The child in me would like my very own Tiptoe, too!

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