Interview: Anna Knight, BLE Event Director, talks trends, testing and Team GB

Published on: 4th November 2021

Hi Anna, thanks for giving up your time in the run-up to the show. We’re guessing everyone is delighted to be able to meet in person again. Is there a real sense of excitement?

100 per cent. Me and the whole BLE team can’t wait to get to ExCeL and see everyone in person again. The support we’ve had from exhibitors (199 companies confirmed to date), the numbers of visitor registrations we’ve had and the fact over 1,500 meeting requests have already been sent show how excited the industry is, too. It’s a brilliant opportunity to reconnect and reunite the European licensing industry and we’re only too happy to play our part.

Are there any new initiatives this year?

Yes, there’s loads of news stuff this year, starting with a new theme – What’s Next – which is aptly forward-looking after the two years we’ve all endured and highlights the progress that’s being made when it comes to D&I and sustainability, among other things. Check out the Agents of Change gallery in the main entrances that highlights Who’s Next in licensing.

Don’t miss the Sustainability Activation in partnership with Products of Change: a must-stop for brands, retailers and manufacturers and packed with innovation when it comes to sustainable technology, processes, materials, retail, product, and fashion design. We’ll have product showcases from the likes of Lego, Keel Toys, George at Asda, Natural History Museum, The Eden Project, Tesco, Teemill and many more.

There are five brilliant insight sessions in the Retail Trends Lounge from the likes of George @ Asda and Hasbro, Kids Industries and The Insights People.

Please wear bright clothes on Thursday for Colour for Kelvyn day and pop to The Light Fund stand to make a donation. You can also bring a piece of preloved branded clothing, you can swap it in our Newlife Charity Branded Clothes Swap in the Sustainability Activation in return for a donation to the Light Fund, too.

We have partnered with Battersea Dogs & Cats Home to bring dogs to the show for visitors to pet and cuddle as part of our commitment to health and wellness. And I hope everyone joins us for our Welcome Back drinks between 5pm and 7pm on the show floor across our Crunchyroll Bar, BLE Bar and Motul Cafe

The keynote speakers this year sound really interesting. Do you think diversity and inclusion is going to become second nature to companies, moving forward?

Yeah, they are both pretty epic keynotes, aren’t they? On Wednesday 17 at 4pm we’ll have a Team GB panel session featuring two British Olympic gold medallists, Tom Daley and Charlotte Worthington, who’ll be appearing alongside Tim Ellerton (Team GB) and Will Stewart (The Point.1888).

The second is at 1pm on Thursday 18 November and is a super insightful session from ViacomCBS Consumer Products discussing insights from its Diversity & Inclusion efforts with a specific focus on its recent toy research. This keynote will follow a presentation from Black Lives Matter Licensing UK. ViacomCBS has also curated three exclusive online sessions for us that go live on 22 November with very senior executives looking at D&I in the workplace, in content and in products.

Diversity, equity and inclusion cannot be ignored any longer. The uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement in the States last year was a real tipping point and brands are now taking action to ensure that their marketing, products and people are truly – and authentically – reflective of the society that they operate in. It’s important to note, too, that inclusivity is not – and should not – be limited to race, but must also take into account gender, age, physical and neuro disability and social mobility.

Can you tell us a bit more about the Covid measures and testing processes you’ve put in place?

We take our role as a safe event organiser very seriously. This is why we’re going above and beyond UK Government guidelines and asking people to wear masks while they’re on the show floor unless they are medically exempt, are eating and drinking, or they are in a business meeting where everyone is comfortable being mask-free.

We have also partnered with ExpressTest by CignPost to facilitate all testing requirements for international attendees. Anyone needing to take a day two test to enter England will be able to purchase a ‘click and collect’ testing kit to be picked up at ExCeL. The tests can be self-administered in any location with results uploaded online. Those requiring a ‘fit to fly’ test for re-entry into their country of origin will also be able to benefit from an onsite service with tests carried out by CignPost staff in secure private meeting rooms at the venue.

These are just two of many measures in place. The full BLE health and safety plan can be found here and ExCeL London’s safety plan can be found here.

What’s been the interest so far in the Kelvyn Gardner License This! Competition?

 So, this is our 11th year of License This! but our first named in tribute to Kelvyn. Once again, we’ve had some truly creative and professional entries for all three award categories and we have nine finalists who will battle it out for the much-coveted Brand & Design, Character & Animation and Product Design trophies in the Retail Trend Lounge on Friday 19 November.

How do you think the licensing industry has weathered the storms of the pandemic, and where do you see it heading in 2022 and beyond?

When you look at industries like travel or hospitality, the licensing sector has had a much milder storm to navigate and, in fact, some categories within licensing – toys, games, puzzles, outdoor play – have had a fantastically successful 18 months.

In 2022 and beyond, I’m personally interested to see what happens in the world of location based entertainment now everything is opening up post-pandemic, and this is the theme for Licensing Expo in May. The licensing partnerships between entertainment brands and fashion have really pushed the envelope in recent years and I think we’ll see a lot more from these collabs especially as more high end and edgy brands enter the game.

Are there any collaborations that have impressed you this year, or that you’re looking forward to seeing?

In the toy space, LEGO and Barbie have always been particularly creative with collabs. I love that LEGO is at COP 26 advising governments on the next steps children want to see them carry out. I love that Smurfs are working so closely with the UN to promote the sustainability message among kids. And I love the quirky collabs you don’t expect but make perfect sense when you see them, like Kermit on a pair of Stan Smiths.


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