Spotlight Licensing isn’t only known for its portfolio of properties boasting major fan bases and audience numbers both sides of the Atlantic, with the likes of Call the Midwife, Downton Abbey, and Boo – The World’s Cutest Dog among them, but also for its crack team of professionals that, when it comes to licensing, knows its business inside out.
But when you’re led by the nine-time LIMA Licensing Excellence Award winner, Carole Postal – a name now synonymous with not only the US but global licensing business – little else could be expected. Sitting among the upper echelons of Spotlight Licensing is Jodi Gottlieb as senior vice president, and Ken Wong, director of marketing, all of whom have been working together for the last 20 years. With such as history in the space, it makes sense that this is a team that has seen licensing evolve through its many – and ever changing – forms.
Licensing.biz catches up with Carole Postal, president of Spotlight Licensing to talk about her history with licensing, the quick reflexes of the industry as a whole in the face of the pandemic, and how it is the struggles and hardships of uncertain times that forges better and lasting relationships in business.
It’s a formidable trio, and a great team you’ve built around you Carole. How many years in the making has Spotlight Licensing been? Where did it all begin for you?
Formidable – I like that! We really do have a great team. Jodi, Ken and I have been working together for over 20 years. We’ve built on each other’s strengths and areas of expertise and work very efficiently together. And, importantly, have fun!
I started out in the business working in entertainment licensing and then my husband and I built up our agency starting with retail consulting for the big entertainment companies and their blockbuster films. Licensing quickly became part of our core responsibilities eventually overtaking the retail consulting aspects and we developed from there.
My husband, Robert Postal, was, of course, a big part of the agency right up until his passing and we’ve had other employees who’ve gone on to great careers in the industry as well of which we are most proud. The agency business is all about being able to deliver results and I’m incredibly proud that our team has been able to build successful licensing programs for our clients for so many years.
How has business been for you guys over the last few months? We’ve seen a tremendous amount of resilience, adapting and evolving in a short space of time in the face of the pandemic, what has been Spotlight’s approach throughout this period?
We’re just now starting to see actual reports with numbers on how Q2 royalties were affected by the pandemic but it’s obviously been a challenge for retailers, licensees, and everyone up and down the chain.
Fortunately for us, products are still being made and sold and we are still getting deals done even if it takes a little more patience, perseverance, and willingness from everyone to make mutual accommodations during this unprecedented time. We are all in this together as a world and all adapting and making changes as we go along. It is a great opportunity for all components of the licensing equation – Licensor, Agent, Manufacturer, Retailer, and Consumer – to all work together for the common good.
How have you seen the licensing space evolve not only over the last year, but over the past four months? What do you think will be a lasting impact on licensing, retail, and the relationship between the two?
Licensing is always changing and evolving and introducing newness – that’s one of the aspects we all love about this industry isn’t it? Consumers and retailers are constantly looking for ‘what’s next’ – and licensors and manufacturers will continue to find creative ways to provide that through new licensing opportunities, new products or new twists on old favourites.
Even in the middle of a pandemic, Spotlight has been able to work with licensees on new BOO The World’s Cutest Dog plush from Gund and gorgeous hand-made Italian eyewear inspired by Downton Abbey from Bonavista Optics just to name a few. But we’ve definitely seen a lot of changes over these last few months as well: greater online shopping; delayed release of upcoming film properties; and, of course, the sudden but logical emergence of face masks as a licensed product category here.
Our industry is strong and resilient and I’ve been heartened by the way licensors, licensees, manufacturers and retailers have all been working together to weather the storm so, ultimately, I think we’ll see the relationships between all four as strong as ever after this is all over.
You’ve got an enviable portfolio with quite the UK connection going on. How is your portfolio reflective of the US market right now? What do you look for in a license? What do you look for in a licensing partnership?
As a boutique agency, we pick and choose our clients carefully because each one is so important to us. Our portfolio is built on properties we personally like and understand and believe in because that gives us the edge when strategizing and talking to manufacturers and retailers about the opportunity.
As you can see from our portfolio, we definitely have an empathy for British entertainment and have built a reputation for understanding how to translate niche properties into licensed products that American audiences will like. But it doesn’t matter to us whether the property is British or French or Korean or as American as apple pie, as long as it is well done and the brand brings something special.
When you’re not busy winning LIMA Licensing Excellence Awards Carole, you’re either co-founding a business, sitting on the LIMA Board of Directors, or taking your place at the Board for the Delivering Good organisation and its Women of Inspiration initiative.
Can you talk us through the work you do with Delivering Good? Why is this so important to you?
I believe each and every one of us is responsible for each other and can find a way to help so I decided nearly 12 years ago that I would find a way to help people through my contacts in the licensing business on a global basis. I always say that licensing is about stuff. Since Delivering Good is dedicated to getting stuff to the people who need it – whether their need arises because of poverty or disease or disaster or some other circumstances – I knew that I and the rest of the licensing industry could really help with Delivering Goods mission.
My involvement started out with product donations and just kept growing. In addition to being a Board Member, I co-chair the annual Women of Inspiration luncheon honouring women executives for their achievements and philanthropic efforts.
I’ve always felt no one is more supportive of others than the licensing industry and that faith has truly been borne out in how manufacturers and retailers and others in the industry have responded over the years and in response to COVID-19 in particular.
Our industry trade organization, Licensing International, has been incredibly supportive overall not to mention all the wonderful manufacturers and retailers and individuals who donated products or provided financial support for shipping those products to where they need to be. You all know who you are reading this article so allow me to say thank you and to remind everyone that the need is never greater than it is now.
You’ve mentioned new areas of manufacturing and masks etc. Can you talk us through Spotlight’s efforts in this capacity? What lasting effect do you think this will have on the licensing space?
The pandemic made masks a ‘must have’ accessory so it was inevitable that licensing would be there to bring a little fun and fashion to mask-wearing. In Asia, masks have been accepted as part of regular flu precautions for years so I think there’s a good chance masks will stick around as a licensed product category in the US and Europe as well.
To me, this is just another example of how quickly a new consumer product category can emerge and a reminder of why people in licensing have to stay informed about developing trends as well as trends from other regions and be prepared to act quickly when unexpected opportunities arise in your own market.
A few quick-fire questions to round us up, then. What would you say has been the proudest moment of your career in licensing to date?
In truth, one of my proudest moments was being one of the very first women in licensing to start her own company which transitioned from retail consulting, which no one was doing at the time, into a full service licensing agency.
Remember, 25 years ago women were not founding their own agencies and certainly not without the backing of a major studio or property. The licensing industry has always embraced and recognized the strength of women and I’m proud that this industry has been supportive and thus afforded young women a place where they can grow and be successful.
What is the best part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is working with my team and our licensing partners to turn an idea or concept into a great product that performs well on retail shelves and/or online sales.
The typical fan who buys licensed products will probably never realize how many different things – the multitude of people and decision and challenges – involved in getting that product to market but we do, and my team and I still get a real thrill out of seeing it all pay off in the end.
What advice would you give to someone looking to break into the licensing industry?
My advice to anyone looking to break into the licensing industry is to be an observant consumer…staying on top of trends, keeping your finger on the pulse of pop culture, identifying overlooked or underappreciated audiences, and applying your talents – whether as a creator, lawyer, designer, marketer, accountant, licensing agent or whatever – to the opportunities outside your immediate universe. Carpe diem!