Peppercom gets into the licensing game

Peppercom has expanded its offerings to include a licensing division that helps to grow the agency's business and attract new clients.

The Harlem Globetrotters might excel at basketball tricks and wowing a crowd, but they still needed help with licensing partnerships for things such as apparel and sporting goods. A few years ago, it likely would not have turned to an agency like Peppercom, which traditionally offers PR and strategic communications services. Yet, as a grim economy loomed, the firm decided to explore other service options as a way to expand its business. In 2008, it launched a new division, Brand2 Squared Licensing, and now helps the Globetrotters and eight other clients achieve licensing and marketing objectives.

Now, more than ever, agencies are working to show they have what it takes to move to the next level of business. By forging partnerships with licensing manufacturers and companies, Brand2 Squared provides a way for clients to add additional revenue and generate “fresh brand awareness,” says Michael Dresner, CEO of the licensing division.

“Licensing really is the art of helping brand clients extend into new product categories of which they are not currently involved,” he says. “Brand2 Squared is responsible for not only managing such [licensing] relationships, but [also] ensuring all of our marketing services are activated such that the Harlem Globetrotters T-shirts actually sell when they go to retail.”

Building a foundation
Peter LaPointe, SVP of partnership marketing and sales for the Harlem Globetrotters, describes basic licensing as having experience working with intellectual property, doing approvals of products, and working on distribution. To start off its work with the Globetrotters, Brand2 Squared created style guides with information about the brand, visited trade shows to get conversations started, and forged partnerships with licensing manufacturers in areas including toys and apparel. But, LaPointe says, Brand2 Squared's communications support is also a key part.

“Somebody who really helps to sell the vision and the passion of the property was just more appealing to us,” he says.

“Half the battle is reminding everyone what the love affair was all about with the property,” he adds. Brand2 Squared uses its strategic communications background to convey the whole story of the Globetrotters, as the team sells apparel, toys, sporting goods, and digital properties.

The Globetrotters work with Coyne PR as AOR and the two agencies “absolutely” work together, LaPointe says. “Every bit of information that is coming out of Coyne, and also our own internal PR guys, [Brand2 Squared is] grabbing and utilizing as an asset to sell.”

“We have a variety of services to make sure the client is achieving their overall business objectives, and that the client is achieving their overall marketing objectives as it relates to licensed products,” Dresner says. The licensing agency can work with its pro-environmental practice, GreenPepper, or its measurement service, Business Outcomes.

The firm researched licensing for about 10 months before launching Brand2 Squared, says Ed Moed, managing partner for Peppercom.

“We're always looking at where is the market going and how we [can] create new offerings and products that can help our clients,” Moed says. “What we've tried to do over the past six or eight years is develop new offerings... that are digging deeper into how we can help out clients, understand their business, and use communications.”

Additionally, licensing is a money-maker, Moed says, “But I'll caution, not for the faint of heart. The reality is that you need to build it and the money comes after the fact.”

Dresner notes another benefit for Peppercom: Licensing clients will keep Peppercom in mind when they have PR and communications needs down the road.

Being able to provide a direct impact to sales and revenue is one way PR can demonstrate its value during tough economic times.

“From the standpoint of this industry wanting to be seen as more strategic and to have a seat at the C-level table because we understand business, this is one of the best things,” Moed says. “It is a huge area for us because it allows us to talk distribution, sales, and so many things.”

Accomodating clients
Another major Brand2 Squared client is the Jane Goodall Institute, which previously had licensing partnerships for organic and fair trade foods like chocolate and coffee. While CEO Bill Johnston says it is too early to tell where exactly the Jane Goodall brand will go, with Brand2 Squared's help, he hopes it can reach into products like toys, games, and children's publishing.

“Brand2 Squared brought the breadth of knowledge in understanding us, in terms of the values and the brand,” he says. “The strategic part of it is really understanding the fit between our goals – which are obviously financial – but also awareness of our activities and our brand.”

The team at Brand2 Squared grew to accommodate the larger scope of work from Jane Goodall, but Dresner says, “There is an incredible amount of flexibility in our culture to expand.”

In fact, Moed says several Peppercom employees asked to be moved into the Brand2 Squared division within a few weeks of the launch to expand their experience within business and communications.

“Our positioning is to understand the business of our clients' business,” he adds. “In my mind, there is almost nothing more strategic than being able to tell clients, especially now, ‘Here is how we can have a direct impact on your sales.'”

Additional services PR firms can offer

Video
An agency that is able to offer such services in-house, or through a close partnership with a production company, can add value for its clients

Sales leads
Whether through other clients or active outreach, an agency can focus on generating sales leads as a way to add direct value and worth for a client

Digital expansion
With digital and social media becoming commonplace, agencies are introducing special divisions focusing on digital, creative capabilities from developers, designers, content creators, and more

Search engine strategies
More than just Google rankings, search strategies are changing every day and there are plenty of agencies out there learning how to harness this. PR agencies should also be on board

The title of this story appears in print as "A whole new game."

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