Licensing Lookout: Ian Downes of Start Licensing’s Takeaways From PG Live 2021

“This week I attended my first trade show since February 2020 – I think Spring Fair 2020 was my last show. To be honest my memory has faded a bit over recent times so I might be wrong, but it was lovely to walk through the doors of the Business Design Centre on Tuesday to visit Progressive Greetings Live 2021.

This has always been one of my favourite trade shows as it is a very focused event, it is well managed and very friendly… you even get a free lunch!  As I walked in, I met a number of industry friends and that was a quick reminder of how much of a network industry licensing is. Zoom and Teams have served us well, but it is no replacement for meeting and seeing people. Those trade show chats can make all the difference to business and friendship. The show was packed with exhibitors and the show organisers should be warmly congratulated for getting the show on the road.

PG Live always has a lot of licensing running through it and this year was no exception.

Above: PG Live marked the launch of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates range from Woodmansterne Publications.
Above: PG Live marked the launch of The Brilliant World of Tom Gates range from Woodmansterne Publications.

Indeed, a number of exhibitors are denoted as ‘Licensing Friendly’ in the show guide either because they buy into licensing or they licence designs out. This sets a good tone for a licensing visitor and is welcome guidance. Because there is a lot of licensing on show it would be difficult for me to cover it all, so I have decided to highlight my PG Live Five – five licensing highlights that stood out for me:

  1. Long-term licensee Danilo had a stand packed full of licensed ranges underpinning its commitment to licensing and its experience in the sector. Given its track record and network it would be easy for a company like Danilo to rest on its laurels, but it hasn’t. It has put a lot of effort into design development and some of the new cards on show demonstrated this.

A good example of this was in the Only Fools and Horses range. It has set out to capture some of the show’s iconic moments on the cards, but have gone beyond just featuring stills from the series. For example, it has a card showing the crashing chandelier and has created this as a moving card with paper engineering making a feature of the chandelier. The chandelier moves up and down the card. This sort of attention to detail and effort to add value is good to see from a licensee and shows Danilo is not standing still design wise.

Above: One of the paper engineered designs in Danilo’s Only Fools and Horses range.
Above: One of the paper engineered designs in Danilo’s Only Fools and Horses range.

It has also broadened its portfolio – for example it has a range of cards licensed from the Van Gogh Museum and has also added a new range of sentiment art cards under The Bright Side, resurrecting it with a fresh look after Really Good has retired from the market. It had its own area on the stand which looked great.

Above: The Bright Side display on Danilo’s stand.
Above: The Bright Side display on Danilo’s stand.

These new additions should help Danilo connect with new retailers and retail sectors to build on its long-established core. The Bright Side in particular seems a very well-timed move as the cards are so positive and optimistic. A great range for current times.

  1. A visit to Deva Designs’ stand reminded me that while the bulk of the product on show at PG Live is naturally cards, there is scope for other products to be sold in greeting cards outlets. Deva Designs focuses on gift wrap, gift bags and stationery. It is a design-led company and creates ranges that sit well alongside greeting cards and also reflect wider design trends. A lot of its product is manufactured in the UK.

It is good to see a specialist company flourishing and see it taking part in the show. We are working with Deva Designs with our client Julie Dodsworth. It was lovely to see her range on Deva Designs’ stand and also to have a meeting with Julie at the show. Two further signs that we are moving back to something close to ‘normal’ (I did say close).

Above: A Julie Dodsworth display on the Deva Designs’ stand.
Above: A Julie Dodsworth display on the Deva Designs’ stand.
  1. Heritage licensing seems to be an area that is showing strong growth. As noted Danilo has dipped into the sector with the Van Gogh Museum licence. There are, of course, many long-term partnerships already established in the greeting card sector with ranges such as V&A, The National Gallery and The Ashmolean Museum featuring.

One particular heritage highlight at PG Live was Clanna Cards’ Brooklands Museum range. Given a prominent display on Clanna Cards’ stand the range features art from the Museum’s archive including posters and programmes. With art from decades like the 1930s, Clanna has created a stylish range that shines a light on some fabulous classic artwork and shows how museum archives can be used.

Above: A selection of designs from Clanna’s Brooklands Museum tie up.
Above: A selection of designs from Clanna’s Brooklands Museum tie up.

Clanna is a good example of a card company which uses licensing in a focused way to create ranges that offer retailers a point of difference. It also has licensed ranges featuring archive art from P&O Cruises and British Airways Heritage. I would imagine Clanna’s ranges appeal to regular retailers, but also hold appeal to specialist outlets including other museums and galleries. Not all museums have the means to create their own collections so look to source specialist product like these ranges that fit their profile.

  1. Talking of specialists it was good to see Hype Associates at PG Live. Hype has been in licensing for nearly 30 years. Its approach to licensing is to focus on iconic and classic characters, coupled with a contemporary design style. It definitely has a signature style and the cards are recognisable as Hype cards. I always enjoy visiting the stand to see its ranges that includes mini cards, badged cards and giftwrap. Retail wise, it tends to focus on independents, museums, galleries and non-traditional card retailers. You often see Hype Cards in bookshops. It has built up a solid distribution network using carefully selected and curated licensed ranges. The breadth of the offer helps I think as it is a ‘go to’ publisher for certain retailers.

Design wise while it has a strong style and identity, it is not adverse to moving design on and using new styles. The Peanuts cards are a good example of this – it has used Peanuts comic strips on cards. The comic strips work well in the card format, not least as they tell self-contained stories with a great sense of humour.

Above: Hype’s Peanuts cards.
Above: Hype’s Peanuts cards.

Hype is a good example of a licensee that plays to its strengths and also one that offers rights owners coverage in hard to reach parts of the market. Sometimes in licensing you need a multi partner strategy to achieve broad coverage particularly when trying to engage with fan communities.

  1. My final highlight at PG Live was UK Greetings’ launch of the Kendra Dandy card range. Kendra is one of our clients so I naturally gravitated to the UK Greetings stand. It is still exciting to see product you have been involved in launching – even more so at the moment. We have been a bit starved of newness.
Above: UKG made a statement with its Kendra Dandy range at PG Live.
Above: UKG made a statement with its Kendra Dandy range at PG Live.

It is great to see how UK Greetings has embraced the opportunity to work with Kendra and her unique designs. Its sister company, American Greetings has a Kendra licence as well.

We have worked with Kendra for a number of years now and there is real momentum building behind her art now. A reminder that sometimes patience is important as a licensing agent. It is easy to get disheartened, but there is often a reward in sticking with things and keeping in touch with licensees even though they may have said ‘no’ to you originally. Of course, trade shows are a good way of doing this so for that reason alone it is good to back on the trade show circuit.

I had a mini break last week, but also had a few meetings including a couple at our client The Ashmolean Museum (of which Woodmansterne is a licensee for greeting cards) in Oxford. It was another welcome landmark in getting back to some kind of normal working. One thing that caught my eye at the Ashmolean was how it has used elements of its collection to design the ‘public information’ signage around issues like mask wearing and direction of travel. I think the mask signs in particular put a smile on people’s faces, albeit we couldn’t see each other smiling!

Above: Humour wins though adversity!
Above: Humour wins though adversity!

It was a small example of how we will have to adapt to a new way of doing things, but rather like PG Live it was a real boost to be able to be out and about doing business.

Top: Ian Downes, founder of Start Licensing.






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