Anna Knight, brand director at UBM, on the science of trade shows, the evolution of Brand Licensing Europe and the show’s upcoming venue move.
If you’re familiar with Brand Licensing Europe, there might be one particular image that comes to mind. A brightly coloured troupe of characters parading down the aisles at Olympia London, including such iconic stars as the Smurfs, Angry Bird, Paddington Bear and all four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Brand Licensing Europe is 20 years old in 2018, and throughout its history has taken place in a range of venues including the BDC and Earl’s Court.
The show is the annual meeting place for the brand licensing industry, thought to be worth around £260bn in retail sales. Though you may not know it, you most likely come into contact with the brand licensing industry on a daily basis.
Anna Knight, brand director at UBM, explains: “The exhibitors are licensors or agents, and they own the intellectual property (IP), and the visitor is what we call a licensee, which in layman’s terms is a manufacturer or retailer.
“The buying supply chain goes, ‘you pay me for the rights to ‘x’, I then allow you to make a product, and that product sells into stores’. The reason that it exists at all is that it’s an extra revenue stream for brands and offers them a really strong multi-channel effect, some people do it to drive sales, and some people do it to capitalise on the brand itself and break into new categories or territories.”
Simply put, if you’ve ever slipped into a comfortable pair of Pokémon socks (just EN?), the sock manufacturer has bought the rights from the licensor, and a retail chain has then sold the product in store.
“It’s very straightforward if you look at it that way,” adds Knight. “The complexity comes with territory. One brand could have multiple people who own the rights to it, but someone might have Germany, someone might have Russia, someone might have publishing and someone might have toys. It can be sliced and diced in many different ways.”
The industry, continues Knight, is therefore heavily centred around meetings. The show features some content, covering thought leadership topics such as sustainability, how children are consuming content and the psychology behind buying, divided into three theatres: The Brands & Lifestyle Theatre, The Licensing Academy and the all-new BLE Kitchen and Demo Area.
The theme for the 2018 edition of the show is food & beverage licensing, and one of the big-name speakers is author, presenter and Great British Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.
But, despite the diverse content on offer in the theatres, the show’s main focus is on a combination of pre-arranged meetings and curated matchmaking, ensuring that those all-important individual connections are made.
“The show is used in two different ways,” Knight tells EN.“Some people use it as a way of showcasing their upcoming slate – movies or new product launches etc – to their existing partners. Some people use it purely as a new business driver, and the matchmaking we do is for the new business side.”
Over 3,000 meetings were organised through the matchmaking service over the course of the show – with 40 per cent engagement from visitors and exhibitors – using a company called Sector Global.
“It allows a visitor to search for an exhibitor or vice versa and they can request a meeting and if the other person accepts then it diarises,” continues Knight. “The team also do a concierge service with it, so they call them up, see what they want and try and match manually.”
Look and feel
With huge multinational brands including Sony, Hasbro and FIFA – to name but a few – exhibiting at the show, the pressure is on for the organisers to step up and make the event look and feel in line with their exhibitors’ ambitious stands.
“We’ve worked really hard on it over the last three years to improve how it looks and make sure that everything we do is in-keeping with the brands,” agrees Knight. “It’s really hard because you’re running a show with the best brand people in the world, and they’ve got creative teams working on their stands. As organisers we wouldn’t necessarily look at it that way; we’d be looking at how to get buyer and seller together.
“We have to step it up and make sure that what we do looks as good as what they do, otherwise it looks out of kilter.”
And step it up they do, with brightly coloured carpets and networking areas complementing the strong efforts from the show’s exhibitors.
A new home
For 2019 the show is moving to ExCeL London, and EN asks Knight what visitors and exhibitors can expect from the move.
“Olympia is a great venue, it’s nothing to do with Olympia. It’s more the fact we’re bursting at the seams,” she explains. “Upstairs doesn’t work for this show, and more importantly we need the flexibility of space. ExCeL is a more flexible venue; there are more meeting rooms, things you can activate, space to do sponsorship etc.
“It’s about transforming the experience as well as growth. All of us want to grow, but we don’t want to grow out of line with the industry itself. We wouldn’t want to grow exponentially and end up too big. The venue is the vessel, not the proposition. If you have a strong proposition, and you continue to have a market, then you can move.
“You have to figure out how you change the floorplan, and how you get a community to move from West London to the East. What do you do to help them? What concierge services do you put on? What do you do in the evenings? How do you make it even more exciting? And how do you make sure the logistics work? We know every single thing going on at this show at every single point and we plan meticulously.”
There is no doubt that the show will change significantly for its 2019 outing in a new venue, but what’s most important– the visitor, the exhibitors and the chances for them to meet and do business – will no doubt remain front and centre.