Wild Lifestyle: WildBrain CPLG’s Victoria Whellans on lifestyle licensing in the year 2020

One whole pandemic and nationwide lockdown ago, WildBrain CPLG came charging out of the blocks at the start of the year with news of the formation of its dedicated lifestyle division, headed up by its newly appointed group brands director, Victoria Whellans. A lot has happened since February 2020.

Not least, and to the backdrop of a shifting landscape of businesses, consumers, and brands each pulling themselves through the moving sands of what life looks like now, WildBrain CPLG’s Lifestyle division has continued to discover, develop, and deliver new innovations, partnerships, and product portfolios – just like it said it would – to firmly establish its foothold.

At the time of Whellans’ appointment to her role and the formation of the lifestyle division within this powerhouse of global licensing, Licensing.biz was, too, quick off the mark to get its own questions in front of the group brands director. Eight bizarre months later, and with a successful all virtual Brand Licensing Europe event behind it, WildBrain CPLG has provided us with the answers. Join Licensing.biz below for a time-capsule talk with WildBrain CPLG’s Whellans:

First up, congratulations Victoria on the new role! What will this division be bringing to the fold for both the licensing industry and for WildBrain CPLG?

Thank you, it’s a very exciting time and great to be given the opportunity to lead our new Lifestyle division.  

Alongside our entertainment properties, WildBrain CPLG has for many years represented a number of non-entertainment, lifestyle brands, including Parental Advisory and Chupa Chups. Creating a dedicated Lifestyle division gives us the opportunity to focus on maximising opportunities for our licensors across such corporate and lifestyle brands. It also allows us to more actively pitch for new rights representations in these sectors. 

Unlike entertainment properties, which may be driven by TV, movie or YouTube content, lifestyle brands often require a more high-level strategic roll-out and a different approach to entertainment licensing. Often licensing is a completely new area for corporate and lifestyle brands and licensors rely on us, as licensing experts, to guide them through the processes and requirements to build a successful licensing programme.

The new Lifestyle division brings well-known clients such as Absolut Vodka, BBC Earth and Karcher, with opportunities for licensees and retailers to develop long-term programmes built on recognised, respected and trusted brands. 

Why is now the right time for WildBrain CPLG to be launching the Lifestyle division? How is this reflective of the strength of – or the changes taking place – within the lifestyle licensing sector?

The entertainment landscape has changed dramatically over recent years. For entertainment properties, the competition for shelf space is fierce and retailers are looking for different types of brands and consumer products to broaden and diversify their offering. While entertainment properties will remain a major part of the WildBrain CPLG portfolio, it’s essential that we focus on all sectors of licensing to increase our reach and expand our remit.

We’ve been growing our corporate and lifestyle portfolio steadily over the last few years with the addition of luxury leather goods and gift brand Osprey London, Yale University and cleaning-technology brand Karcher. 

We realised these brands require a very different approach and, as our portfolio expanded, it was the right time to set up a new division dedicated to supporting these licensors.

Licensing within the corporate and lifestyle brand space has become much more prevalent at retail, with consumers wanting to own a piece of these established brands and incorporate them into their homes and everyday lives. Licensors in this space are also more aware than ever before about how licensing can benefit their brand and open up new revenue streams, with minimal risk and investment from their side.

Can you talk us through your role with the new division? How will you be shaping the division, what kind of partnerships will you be facilitating, and what brands will now be under your remit? Also, what does this mean to you and what excites you about the role?

My role is to oversee and strategically grow the revenue for the corporate and lifestyle portfolio. This will include looking at existing brands within the portfolio to ensure these are being maximised, working with new licensors on strategy development and executing against this strategy.  

I am directing the consumer products roll-out, which will be unique to each brand with a focus on securing pan-European licensees and working with our regional teams to build the programmes at local levels. For some brands, this means securing partnerships in key lifestyle categories such as fragrance, eyewear and homewares that have a broad territory reach. For other brands, the focus will be launching a programme in one market first, before expanding to other territories. 

The lifestyle portfolio includes all properties outside of entertainment and sports, such as Karcher and Parental Advisory; heritage brands Yale and Harvard University; confectionery brands Chupa Chups, Mentos, Smint; Absolut Vodka, and Malibu; lifestyle fashion brandOsprey London, 80s fitness expert and pop-culture icon Richard Simmons and BBC Earth.  Authentic Brands Group has also recently appointed us to represent its iconic celebrity brands Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali and Marilyn Monroe, which gives us opportunity to look not just at consumer products, but also to explore promotions and endorsement deals featuring these iconic figures.

We’re very excited to have recently announced our representation of The Metropolitan Museum of Art to exclusively represent the iconic New York institution in UK, EMEA & Russia. We’ll be looking to create a merchandise programme that differentiates The Met by combining the institution’s iconic collections and art works, with the diversity and energy of New York. 

There has been a big development in non-entertainment licensing over the last few years.  Lifestyle licensing originated in the luxury fashion space and has since expanded to encompass heritage, automotive, corporate brands and more. How companies can take brand DNA and work with like-minded partners to develop brand extension programmes, lends itself to some exciting collaborations and gives consumers the opportunities to incorporate these brands into their homes, wardrobes and lifestyle. It also gives us the opportunity to apply our expertise in licensing with non-traditional licensees, to build long-term programmes for highly reputable brands whilst establishing ourselves within the corporate and lifestyle space.

The part of the role that excites me the most is the varied portfolio – working with such a diverse range of brands and organisations certainly keeps things interesting and no week is ever the same. I studied marketing for several years, so being able to work with these amazing licensors on their brand extension programmes and understand what they want to achieve and make that a reality, is an honour.

So, what have you got up your sleeve? Can you tell us about the plans for the brands under the Lifestyle division? From Absolut Vodka, to Karcher, to Yale University – it’s an eclectic and exciting mix, will there be a common thread in your plans for the brands?

We have a fantastic portfolio of brands under the Lifestyle umbrella – we want to ensure our portfolio offering is from a diverse range of industries, whilst ensuring our brands don’t cannibalise one another.  

Each of our represented brands is very different, with distinctive wants and needs. It’s important to know the brands inside out and what their expectations and ambitions are with licensing. These brands are often very cautious in their approach and the work we do with licensing has to make sense. 

Understanding how to maintain and translate a brand’s unique DNA is important to any brand extension. The goal is to understand what each licensor wants to achieve from their consumer products programmes – whether it be reaching new audiences, new distribution channels or broadening their product offering.  

For example, we have recently been appointed licensing agent for Harvard University for Europe, Middle East and Russia and will develop a strategic licensing programme targeting adults, teens and kids across categories including apparel, accessories, bags and stationery.

With the trend for products inspired by colleges and universities continuing at retail and in pop culture, we’re very excited to be adding Harvard University’s brand to our growing lifestyle portfolio. 

In the FMCG space, we have secured worldwide rights (excluding France) to another of Pernod Ricard’s brands, Malibu, and will be developing an apparel-led programme targeted at legal drinking age adults, with an initial focus on the US and UK.  Malibu is very much geared towards summer lifestyle – spending time with your friends outdoors – something we will all appreciate a lot more from next year hopefully!

On behalf of master global agent, Tact Communications, we’re also now on board for leading soy sauce brand Kikkoman in Europe – we’ll be focusing on fashion collaborations, apparel, accessories, kitchenware, and food gifting categories. 

Last month we announced representation of British contemporary artist Charlotte Posner. We’ll be creating a design-led consumer products programme across beauty, stationery and greetings, homewares inspired by Charlotte’s unique artwork with an initial focus on the UK market.

What are the first-year goals for the Lifestyle division? 

We want to ensure we’re working hard to maximise all the brands within the portfolio.  

Corporate and lifestyle brands take time to build, so although there will certainly be some short-term opportunities, it’s about having a strong long-term plan in place and working with the right licensees to form partnerships that benefit both sides. 

I am working with key sales executives across our local teams to build these brands, and also engaging with external consultants who have different areas of expertise needed for lifestyle brands. The focus will then be supporting our licensee partners, building retail placement, and working closely with our sales teams to broaden the programmes through local opportunities that compliment wider initiatives.  

Some of our brands are at the very beginning on their licensing journey so the next year will see first products hit the market which will be very exciting, and then for more established brands, it will be looking at opportunities to expand categories and retail listings.  

How have we seen licensing in the lifestyle sector change and evolve over the years, and how is WildBrain CPLG now positioned to move with it?

Lifestyle licensing has grown a great deal over the last few years. It can now be seen in every industry from music, fashion brands, automotive, FMCG, celebrities, influencers and the arts.  

Through the growth of social media, consumers can interact directly with brands and in turn brands can build relationships and trust with their target audiences which, when done correctly, has a hugely positive impact to brand extension programmes. Consumers buy into brands they admire, believe in and want to incorporate into their lives.  By expanding into licensing, brands can build a deeper connection with their consumers and create some very innovative and exciting products that appeal to both retailers and the end user.

WildBrain CPLG is a very entrepreneurial place to work, we have the support of the wider WildBrain group and the ability to think globally and act locally through our teams on the ground. Our structure allows us to adapt and act quickly where we see opportunities giving us the flexibility to evolve. We have a high level of expertise amongst our teams and are proud of our strong retail relationships across all channels and territories.  We will be able to utilise these relationships and build on our contacts to benefit this new division and maximise the properties within the Lifestyle portfolio.

 What’s the next big step for you?

One of our immediate goals is to finalise partnerships and deals for the brands in our Lifestyle portfolio and we’re already getting a strong, positive response from potential licensees. Although it’s a challenging time at retail right now, we have a wide variety of iconic and evergreen brands and are therefore able to offer retailers a variety of options suited to their needs, and also bring consumers something new and exciting. 

And of course, we’re always keeping abreast of social and lifestyle trends which may present opportunities to take on new representation for brands that complement the current portfolio!

This is an exciting new chapter for WildBrain CPLG. It’s the first time we have had a team dedicated to corporate and lifestyle brands and shows the commitment to this sector from the wider group. There is a lot to do but I’m very much looking forward to working with our partners and teams to drive these brands forward and make the division a key part of the wider portfolio.