OPINION – Asgard Media’s Kelvyn Gardner on the importance of looking outside of the industry

Next week the ‘virtual doors’ of the Festival of Licensing will open to the licensing world. So, before we’ve even begun to get used to London’s Excel as the new home of Europe’s biggest licensing event, Asgard Media will now be coming to terms with being a digital exhibitor.

We were founded in 1998, the year before the very first Brand License London 1999 – as it was then called. Although the way we go about our work, already different through emerging technologies, is even more radically changed by working through a digital platform, our mission remains the same – to bring new companies into licensing.

Most of you reading this will already be utilising licensing as an important part of your work. You may be an agent or licensor/brand owner, a manufacturer of consumer goods with a license portfolio, a service provider of design, e-commerce and sundry other diverse roles. Licensing is a big business in the UK, and a growing business. We’re all proud of our part in it. 

Here’s an uncomfortable fact, though. Only a tiny proportion of British manufacturing firms utilise licensing. Licensing International’s research shows that the UK, the second biggest licensing market in the world, generated retail sales of licensed products worth $15 billion in 2019. 

MakeUK  (www.makeuk.org) the trade association for manufacturers, calculates total output of our manufacturers at $250 billion. Now, not all of that output is consumer goods, but, even so, this means that only 6 per cent of all the manufacturing output of this country is using licensing

What a shame when we all know that licensing could help almost all manufacturers of consumer goods. Put simply, that’s what Asgard Media does. We help manufacturers use licensing to improve their business. 

We call ourselves ‘Licensing Consultants’, but what does that mean to a company not currently involved in consumer products licensing? What is it that we know that can add value to their business?

What we know is that licensing works. Take one of our own newest clients, The Harrogate Tipple. At the beginning of 2019, they were a regional small-batch distiller of craft gin under their own brand. A nice business but confronting huge competition in the craft gin market, many retail doors closed to them. 

Asgard Media took them on. We put them into their first license, Downton Abbey. In just eighteen months they have won major international quality awards for Downton Abbey Gin, opened export markets to USA, Europe and Australia, and even picked up Best Newcomer Award at the 2020 Licensing International Licensing Excellence Awards. Even the Yorkshire Post reported this. Sales, distribution, consumer profile, all boosted fantastically by this wonderful marketing tool, licensing.

And licensing is not just a tool for SMEs. Long-term Asgard Media clients like Finsbury Foods and Yoplait continue to add new licensed SKUs to their ranges every year and enjoy these same business benefits.

So, our mission, every day, and focused on the Festival of Licensing, is to take the lesson of the Harrogate Tipple to the 85 per cent of UK manufacturers who do not use licensing right now. We have no allegiance to any particular brand or property; we look for the right fit between our licensee clients and all the brand opportunities out there. 

We believe that we are a positive force for UK licensing as a whole. However, I really must end with a direct appeal to manufacturers: come and meet Asgard Media at the Festival of Licensing. It will cost you nothing to find out from us just how licensing can boost your sales, your profits and your profile. It just might change your life.

On the hunt: Kelvyn Gardner’s Asgard Media is on a mission to benefit the licensing industry

Kelvyn Gardner is an individual who really does know licensing. It’s by no accident of course, and only to be expected of a man who has spent over 40 years working in or around the industry, and certainly the trait of a one who has spent the last 13 as the managing director of Licensing International UK – both in its incarnation as LIMA UK and its rebranded moniker.

But if the global response to COVID-19 or the uprising of the Black Lives Matter campaign has taught us anything, it’s that 2020 is the year for change. And with it, Gardner too has found opportunities presented as the result of evolution and coming out of the other side of his role with the industry body.

Some 22 years on from the establishment of his own company, Asgard Media – a licensing agency-meets-consultancy business operating predominantly in the collectables, food, and beverage spaces – Gardner is preparing for a relaunch. Or perhaps more accurate, a reacquaintance, with the business that he had always had ticking over in the background, even throughout his LIMA UK/Licensing International years.

Whatever you want to call it, it is Gardner’s moment to put Asgard Media back on the radar for this multi-billion dollar industry, with one very clear message. And it’s one that he suggests works for the licensing industry in its entirety.

“It’s an appeal to the thousands of manufacturers out there who do not use brand licensing as part of their marketing mix,” Gardner tells Licensing.biz.

“Our message is ‘Connect with the world’s biggest brands’, because that is what all of us are about, surely?”

It’s become an industry-wide headline, that the opportunity now for the licensing industry, is that retailers and consumers will retreat to the brand names while it negotiates the ongoing pandemic situation within an uncertain retail environment. It’s a school of thought that Gardner subscribes to, and one that he is ready to take to the next level, all, he says, to the benefit of the industry he loves.

“I am a lifelong believer in the power of brand licensing, and although we are a private company and not a trade body, to a certain extent, what Asgard Media is trying to do is bring new companies into the licensing world, by focussing on the companies or the manufacturers with great product, but for whatever reason, not already in the licensing space, and that should be for the benefit of everybody in licensing,” Gardner continues.

“It’s clear from discussions in the licensing press, and some of the sessions from Virtual Licensing Week, that right now, co-operation and flexibility are required more than ever if we are to make licensing work for existing players.

“This is even more important if we are to attract new licensees, and to persuade reluctant brand owners to open up their IP to the many excellent licensees that we already have.”

The advantage from which Gardner implements his mission plan is that he comes back to the scene without affiliations. He is now what he calls, an honest broker.

“If I find somebody in a category, I am able to approach any brand or any licensor as an agent, rather than someone who has a portfolio to promote,” he explains. “To some degree, I hope not to be bringing in licensees just for me, but licensees and businesses for the wider licensing community.”

It’s the role of guide, then that Kelvyn is looking to adopt through his Asgard Media outfit, braced with the knowledge accumulated over a 40 year career (to date) in the licensing business and the laser-like knowledge of its intricacies (Gardner asked me if I’d spent much time reading licensing contracts – it turns out he has read through a few). In his former role with Licensing International, Gardner was a man passionate about educating the next generation of licensing executives, and opening up the boundaries for new product sectors. It’s a mission statement he has carried on with him.

“I have come across it so many times over the years,” he says. “It’s easy for those inside of licensing to know how it works, but I think it is so misunderstood, or not understood at all, outside of the industry; and we don’t go out of our way to make it easier. But there are ways to explain it to people in simple terms if we take the time to do it, and if, as as part of my world, that brings in business for the whole of the licensing industry, that has got to be a positive thing.”

To that end, he suggests, simplicity is key. Look at the work he has done for the Asgard Media client Harrogate Tipple, helping to broker Universal Studios’ first licensing partnership down the spirits aisle, or the longstanding relationship he has with Topps, the ever-expanding Finsbury Foods licensing roster, or Yoplait – the company who famously stood vehemently against licensing until it recognised the perks it was offering its competitors in the food sector.

“The other strand to it all is that – having been a licensee for ten to 15 years myself – there is a tendency to think ‘we don’t need anymore licensees.’,” Gardner says. “Now, I’ve never believed in the Barbie dollar – the idea that there is a dollar to be spent on Barbie merchandise, which subsequently has to be split between all of its licensees. I still think the market can expand, providing that everybody is sensible, withou having to go down the route of ‘splicensing’ as it is known.

“It is also true to say that there not that many manufacturers and marketing companies who regularly buy licenses. The last time I did an analysis of this, there were only about 700 UK companies listed as working with a license. How many manufacturers are there in the UK? There’s got to be tens of thousands. Licensing is a big business, but most companies aren’t in it. The holy grail for us all in licensing is to find somebody in sectors that aren’t currently doing licensing; and by all accounts there are those people out there.”

Gardner’s approach from here on can be likened to the old ‘the man who built it’ brainteaser. The clients he is looking for don’t know they want Asgard Media as a service provider; in fact, they probably don’t even know they want to be in licensing. Asgard Media has to fill in all of the gaps for them.

It’s a point Agard Media certainly looks to address in its new marketing material, kicking off with the newly launched company video that highlights the message ‘Licensing is our world, let us bring you into it.’ It’s the metaphorical hand that Gardner is extending to all of those businesses currently not in licensing, to help them along the way.

How does marketing today compare to that of 1998, the last time Gardner actively promoted the Asgard Media name? It’s fewer marketing mailshots, and more video content for a start, suggests Gardner. So we can expect a lot more of that in the coming months.





Downton Abbey gin and whiskey to go nationwide as Harrogate Tipple signs with Boutique Bar Brands

It’s good news for gin and whiskey drinkers and Downton Abbey fans alike this week as Harrogate Tipple signs off an agreement with Boutique Bar Brands to act as its exclusive distributor for the UK.

Under the new deal, the North Yorkshire company’s range of spirits – including its licensed Downton Abbey gin and whiskey collection – will be able to extend its reach in on-trade, off-trade, and online as well as in premium outlets, as a part of Boutique Bar Brands’ portfolio of drinks.

Until now, the range had been available within Booths, Fenwicks, and in a number of independent outlets. BBB works with over 45 wholesalers across the UK, and currently represents three distilleries – The London Distillery Company, Greensand Ridge, and Gleann Morr.

Established four years ago by Steven and Sally Green, supported by internationally renowned distiller Tom Nichol, Harrogate Tipple has already established a loyal following. Housed in a converted barn close to the Ripley Castle Estate near Harrogate, it has an ethos of local provenance with many of its botanicals grown in the estate’s kitchen gardens and Victorian hothouse as well as using the spa town’s famous spring water.

Co-founder of Harrogate Tipple, Steven Green, said: “This partnership is our first distribution deal and marks another important step in our development. BBB has a fantastic reputation in the industry; it only represents the very best brands that have a story to tell.

“We will be able to benefit from this leading drinks agency’s extensive knowledge and contacts, particularly in on-trade premium outlets, enabling us to extend our reach.”

Philip Harding, co-founder of BBB, added: “BBB has more recently been moving into providing a distribution service to drinks brands which have already built a certain level of business within the UK, as opposed to our traditional agency retainer model. When Harrogate Tipple approached us, they impressed the team with their growth over the past few years and their ambition to push onto the next level.

“We believe that the match of Harrogate Tipple’s unique offering, supported by BBB’s network, sales team and reach, will be a great combination, enabling it to become a nationally recognised brand. The Downton Abbey range of spirits is also a very interesting addition to our portfolio, and we are excited to see how far we can take this.”

Harrogate Tipple’s current range includes Premium Harrogate Gin, Gooseberry Harrogate Gin and Blueberry Harrogate Gin; Premium Harrogate Rum; Downton Abbey Premium Gin and Downton Abbey Finest Blended Whisky.