LICENSING EXPO: Q&A with Kerry Phelan, Chief Brand Officer, Genius Brands

It’s been a successful year for children’s media company Genius Brands, with the acquisition of Canada’s WOW! Unlimited Media and Ameba TV, major investment in Germany’s Your Family Entertainment, and the worldwide rollout of Kartoon Channel! and Kartoon Channel! Kidaverse. The next 12 months promise to be just as busy; in the works are a brand-new series, Shaq’s Garage, featuring basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal, and a Stan Lee Centennial consumer products programme to celebrate 100 years since the revered comic-book creator’s birth.

We caught up with Chief Brand Officer Kerry Phelan ahead of this month’s Licensing Expo to find out more about both new projects, as well as Genius Brands’ plans for the rest of 2022 and beyond.

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Hi Kerry, can you give us a brief overview of Genius Brands – who you are and what you do?

I am the Chief Brand Officer at Genius Brands International, which is a leading global kids’ media company developing, producing, marketing and licensing branded children’s entertainment properties and consumer products for media and retail distribution. I am responsible for consumer engagement with our IP slate and expanding them into bigger commercial franchises.

Our goal is to create a larger ecosystem around our brands, with multiple consumer touchpoints (merchandise, gaming, LBE experiences, and so on) to allow fans to engage with our stories and characters in a much more immersive way.

You’ve worked with some major international companies – what excites you about Genius Brands?

I feel enormously honoured and privileged to have worked on some the world’s most prestigious brands, including the LEGO brand, Star Wars, Pixar Cars, Shrek, Hunger Games, and more. These experiences have all been so unique and amazing in their own way but, for the most part, the connective tissue has always been working on brands that enrich the lives of families and children. So when Genius Brands’ CEO Andy approached me about joining the company and sharing its mission of creating high-quality “content with a purpose” to do good, it became impossible not to say yes.

What are some of the major tasks/opportunities facing you over the next couple of years in your role as Chief Brand Officer?

We are a relatively young company with some very exciting content development in the works. One of our short-term priorities is to leverage our original, new content and dramatically increase our consumer products business, starting with Shaq’s Garage.

You are debuting Shaq’s Garage at the Expo. Can you tell us how the partnership with Shaquille O’Neal came about? What do you think is special about the series? Who is it going to appeal to?

Shaq’s Garage is a fabulous new animated series targeted at kids aged 3-8. The show is a partnership between ABG Entertainment, Shaquille O’Neal and Genius Brands, and it was inspired by Shaq’s real life love of cars and his unwavering  commitment to help kids be the best they can be. The show centres around Shaq and his family of cars, called the Shaq Paq, who have been brought to life. In each episode, Shaq sends the Shaq Paq out on missions to help the community. They eventually accomplish the mission, but not without a lot of humour and hijinks along the way.

The episodes are centred around teaching kids to respect differences and be inclusive, kind, honest, loyal, and all the values we believe are so important in today’s world. Shaq loves this show and is “all in!” He is both a producing partner on the show, as well as starring as an animated Shaq and also voicing the main car character, Biggie D, in the series.

Can you name any licensing partners yet, or is it too early?

It’s just a bit too early. We are very close to signing several partners, starting with toys, and will be debuting the brand to other potential partners at the upcoming Licensing Expo.

Likewise, can you tell us more about the Stan Lee celebrity brand, what’s exciting about it, and in particular, how you’re planning to celebrate the centenary of Stan’s birth?

At Genius Brands, we are incredibly honoured to be the trusted owners of the Stan Lee brand. It’s a great privilege to carry on Stan’s legacy and a responsibility that we take very seriously.

Stan Lee was a legendary content creator and the godfather of pop culture. He would have turned 100 years old later this year [on December 28]. To commemorate “100 Years of Stan”, we are launching a Stan Lee Centennial consumer products programme, as well as some Stan Lee fan events that will allow people to celebrate and pay tribute their beloved icon. And that’s the just the beginning, we will have more big Stan Lee announcements coming soon!

What will visitors to your stand at the Licensing Expo be able to see/do/find out about?

We are thrilled to be back LIVE at Licensing Expo! We welcome all our industry friends and partners to come visit us and learn more about the Stan Lee Centennial programme and see some early animation of Shaq’s Garage and possibly even hear about what’s next.

The licensing industry hasn’t managed to meet up in person for a while. What are you looking forward to most at Licensing Expo 2022?

I am most looking forward to the people! I’ve been very fortunate to have a long career in the entertainment licensing business. When you distil it all down, the licensing industry is all about relationships. If you form true, mutually respectful and collaborative partnerships with smart, good and talented people, then everything else will follow for a mutually successful business.

What do you think are some of the biggest challenges facing the licensing industry as a whole? And what do you think are the greatest opportunities?

The growth of the streamers, combined with the pandemic, has accelerated, and changed the way consumers consume content. This resulted in a proliferation of content being available, so it’s become harder for original IP to break through in a limitless ocean of consumer choices. But, of course, this also presents more opportunity, so it’s an exciting time to be a content creator like we are at Genius Brands.

The retail landscape has also dramatically changed. Online shopping continues to experience double-digit growth and is still the fastest growing retail channel. This presents both challenges and opportunities. The challenge is that, instead of launching big licensed product programmes in thousands of bricks-and-mortar stores, many retailers now want to “test” new, unproven properties in their online stores before committing to the bigger programme. The upside of this approach for licensors is that your new, original property can be given a chance to prove itself instead of the “all or nothing” approach of the past, where buyers would just pass on an unproven property.

Genius Brands International will be at stand C178, Licensing Expo, Mandalay Bay Convention Center, Las Vegas, from 24–26 May 2022.


Genius Brands appoints Kerry Phelan to role of EVP and GM of global franchise management

Genius Brand International has appointed the 30 year consumer branding executive, Kerry Phelan to the newly created role of executive vice president and general manager of global franchise management.

In her new role, the former DreamWorks and Pixar executive will report to both Andy Heyward, chairman and CEO, and Harold Chizick, president of global content sales, marketing, and consumer products.

Phelan boasts an illustrious career in the entertainment space. After she successfully launched the Star Wars brand at LEGO Systems Inc, Phelan was recruited directly to Lucasfilm Ltd where she led the global consumer products and promotional licensing business for the multi-billion dollar Star Wars franchise in over 60 countries worldwide.

From there, she joined Pixar Animation Studios, reporting to Steve Jobs where she launched, in concert with Disney Consumer Products, the original Cars consumer products programme. Following Pixar, Phelan spent seven years at DreamWorks Animation as head of consumer products and licensing, driving the development of franchise management plans for the studio’s film and television properties, including Shrek, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon, and more.

At DreamWorks, she managed the retail consumer products business and doubled the consumer products revenue in just three years. Most recently, she served as President of Global Franchise Management at Lionsgate Entertainment, where under her leadership, the studio created brand extensions spanning location-based and live entertainment venues, consumer products, licensed merchandise, brand partnerships and an array of promotional ventures for such blockbuster franchises as The Hunger Games and Twilight.

In her new role at Genius Brands, Phelan will be responsible for global management of the Company’s existing IP across licensing, merchandising, retail and promotions, including Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten, Shaq’s Garage, Stan Lee Universe, and Rainbow Rangers, as well as properties currently in development.

“Kerry’s pedigree and reputation in entertainment branding is unparalleled as she has driven the global revenue streams of some of the most lucrative franchises in history,” said Chizick.

“In the coming year, we have multiple properties launching into the global retail marketplace, including Stan Lee’s Superhero Kindergarten, which just premiered on Kartoon Channel!, as well as Shaq’s Garage and Stan Lee Universe plus more categories coming to market around Rainbow Rangers.

“Kerry’s leadership and strategic guidance will be instrumental in driving the growth of our brands around the world.  She is a dream executive to have on board to help us achieve our long-term goals.”

Phelan said: “The majority of my career has been spent building properties into global franchises, specifically in the children’s space. Having had a peek at the coming pipeline, I am excited about the future at Genius Brands and the opportunity to build bigger brand ecosystems around their properties.”