THE BIG INTERVIEW: Gary Pope on 20 years of KI

Published on: 25th May 2022

Family marketing agency KI (Kids Industries) celebrated its 20th birthday last week, commemorating the occasion with the launch of a new website, brand update and an October conference to look forward to. 

Licensing Biz sat down with industry stalwart Gary Pope, KI’s CEO and co-founder, to take stock of key moments in the family and licensing space, and discover what he still loves about this industry…

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First off, Gary, congratulations on marking 20 years with KI – that’s no small feat!

Thank you, that’s very kind. It’s not always been easy but then if it was, it wouldn’t be quite so much fun.

When Jen and I started KI, we weren’t quite sure of the direction we wanted to go in – but we were absolutely certain that we wanted to make good things for families. Between us, we had backgrounds in education, developing experiences, marketing and change management, and we knew we needed to create something bigger than a business with a single focus. We wanted to apply our skills and do it in the commercial realms of the family market.

We actually worked with headteachers and behavioural psychologists in our very early days to develop our core approach to our work – 4ft Thinking™. It’s our way of seeing the world through the eyes of a child using science – biology, psychology and sociology – to define a bedrock of fact from which we can then build a solution to solve a client’s problem.

Given the successes you’ve had, you must have had a number of approaches to sell the business?

Funny how this is what people think you want to do! Build it and sell it. That’s not us. Not yet anyway. We love what we do and wouldn’t want to be part of something else and be told what was what. I’d struggle with that as our culture is so important to us. We’ve been approached a lot. We make a good story. Typically, interested parties want us to focus on a particular aspect of the business, but we aren’t one thing – we have a unique set of services which are all underpinned by insight and a deep understanding of the consumer. We don’t know anyone else that provides that full 360-degree offering. And whilst that might not be the way traditional businesses are structured, it is how we do things. And the clients that really understand that about us, really benefit. There is a lot of value in KI – our client list, the order book, proprietary approaches and most importantly, our knowledge. And that is about our people. You can’t sell that.

What are you most proud of achieving?

Goodness, that’s actually quite hard… We’ve done some great things. We have helped to build hotels, redeveloped the future of the McDonalds Happy Meal, created SVOD Platforms, the family experience for Royal Caribbean Cruises… There’s loads of things we’ve done that I would never have had the chance to if Jen and I hadn’t started on this journey 20 years ago. And all of them make me very proud and grateful for the opportunities we’ve had.

In terms of campaigns, our work for Amazon Kids+ stands out. We launched their first national multiple IP marketing campaign ‘Feed their hungry minds’. Our objective was to drive awareness of the all-you-can-eat secure content service, providing unlimited access to thousands of child-friendly books, movies, TV shows, apps and games. The bit I am especially proud of is how we managed to get 16 brands involved in the campaign, from Horrid Henry, Harry Potter and Peppa Pig, to Bing, Hot Wheels, the Gruffalo and more – I don’t know of any other campaign that’s managed to do that. But to be honest that’s all about the collegiate nature of the licensing industry. Or maybe it was the work we did to develop and market the proposition for Aquafresh toothpastes, too – we took the brand from eight to 63 per cent share in just three years.

Above all, though, I’m most proud of building our team with Raj, Jelena and Jen. The four of us have worked hard on our business and our business is about how good our team is. We’re experts. And if a new member of the team is not an expert in Kids and Family when they arrive, we’ve got a pretty robust learning programme that makes sure they’re right up to speed.

Are there any campaigns out there that you wish you’d come up with?

I’m a huge admirer of what Magic Light has done with The Gruffalo – a truly brilliant multi-faceted masterclass in brand management that will ensure the brand is rightly future-proofed. How they have worked with licensees to authentically translate the characters into product – especially plush and toys – has been impressive. We actually own the full set of plush in our house.

There have been some major changes in the industry over the past 20 years. What stands out to you?

Firstly, the realisation that insight is a necessity. When we began it really was only the big players that understood the insight (or had the budgets for it). The days of wild west ‘going with your gut’ product development and marketing is over. There is now a very healthy attitude towards the value insight brings and how it enables us to immerse ourselves in another person’s world. It means we can use the informed knowledge to create life-fulfilling experiences for others – invaluable!

Secondly, I’d say the quality of the products the industry is selling has changed, for the better. The consumer has got more savvy, producers too, and our industry’s ability to rethink and regenerate is truly impressive. The days of label-slapping are in their sunset.

Finally, I’d have to say the environment that the consumer lives in has changed considerably. Twenty years ago TV was everything, and with 28 channels, the UK had the largest number in the world. We thought that was tough then. Today, access is unlimited and linear television is no longer a thing. The licensing sector has had to work hard to better understand the changing landscape and some have embraced the fact that eyeballs are what’s needed and it doesn’t matter where you get them.

What do you still love about the licensing industry?

We have the nicest, tightest and most supportive sector – truly. It’s a hugely collegiate industry and super embracing. I think it’s because it’s so bright, colourful, glamorous and filled with great creatives all wanting to please their audiences. This is especially true in the toy/family market.

Finally Gary, what’s going to be big in the next 20 years?

With my Children’s Commissioner for Products of Change hat on, it has to be said that we must get better at producing sustainable products – especially in the toy sector. Our own research shows that nearly half (48 per cent) of UK parents want to see products that are easier to recycle, and 45 per cent want cheaper sustainable product options. Having products that are easier to refurbish or fix appeals too, to 37 per cent of UK parents.

That said, times are really tough. The rising cost of living is having a huge impact on families and parents need to cut costs where they can. The trend of buying second-hand items will continue and manufacturers need to consider that in their plans. We need to put people before profit and find new ways of design and engineering products, at a price point that works for everyone.



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