With 45 years of expertise in its pocket, this 15-year-old licensing agency is taking its industry by storm. Karen Spitz, founder and president of New York-based licensing agency Licensing Link Ltd, states two concepts about licensing as though they are fact. One: it is never boring because everyday is different. Two: it isn’t rocket science to figure out.
“Once people start working in licensing, they develop a tremendous amount of unexplainable loyalty to the industry,” said Spitz. She founded Licensing Link in 1995 after working in the industry for 30 years. She began at Licensing Corporation of America (LCA).
Once Warner Bros. acquired LCA, Spitz furthered her licensing acumen beyond James Bond movies and Major League Professional sports properties by focusing on licensing and marketing programs for big studio movies like “Batman,” “Superman,” and “Gremlins,” as well as for TV shows such as “Dynasty” and “Dukes of Hazzard”.
In those days, Spitz was responsible for tens of millions of dollars of royalty income. And today, Licensing Link represents a smaller portion of the royalty pot, but Spitz carries the same passion for the companies she works with now as she did in years past.
“There are times in licensing when you’re on a tremendous high based on retailer and consumer reactions to what’s happening in the licensing world,” she said. “And then you go back to basics, starting your own company with properties that are safe and recognizable.”
In the years since she founded the company, Spitz has taken a number of approaches to growing Licensing Link. Her ability to change her strategy, in part, comes from her years of experience. “I am amazed at how I keep connecting with people in companies that I have worked with 20 to 25 years ago,” she said.
The company launched in 1994 with its first property, the Louisville Slugger. Spitz had worked with Major League Baseball in the past, and the all-American, classic property was a natural fit for her expertise. Then after a licensee meeting in New York’s Times Square where the seats were shaped like gloves, Licensing Link obtained the World Gym brand.
“Both Louisville Slugger and World Gym lead to a plethora of other branded properties. From there, we pretty much stayed with brand licensing rather than going after unknown properties,” said Spitz.
In 2000, Licensing Link was approached to represent the first bubble gum brand, Dubble Bubble, which to this day is one of the agency’s strongest brands. This move entered Licensing Link it into the classic-brand domain. One of the most exciting projects in connection with Dubble Bubble was the Walmart bubble gum blowing contest that ran for five years with the finals on “The Today Show.”
Another success is the eight-year license with Blue Bunny, as the Tear Jerkers Bomb Pop was ranked second best selling frozen treat in their line of products. “We focus more on brands that already have a following—classic brands,” said Spitz. “We look at what makes them different and what we could do differently.”
A few elements differentiate Licensing Link from other licensing agencies. One, the company is smaller than most. When it started out, it was two to three times larger. Today, rather than managing large artwork, legal, and design departments, the agency works with other licensing consultants who bring their clients to Licensing Link.
“The industry has changed, and working with licensing consultants has been very beneficial,” said Spitz.
Two, Licensing Link is more hands on than most agencies. If a client has an idea, rather than saying it has to stay within the property’s style guide, the agency is open to hearing new ideas and thinking outside the box. And because Spitz’s forte was retail when she worked with the Looney Tunes product, she doesn’t mind finding other alternatives to create new interesting concepts.
“Most retailers want to hear from the major studio manufacturers, but we still get out there, and we still have old friends who remember and know us,” she said.
That experience led Licensing Link to Ferrara Pan, home to such candy favorites as Lemonheads and Red Hots. Although many other licensing agencies and companies tried to land the account, Licensing Link obtained the rights to the 100-plus-year-old company by marketing its brands with many companies.
“We search for properties that make sense for our company by analyzing each property and determining its particular age group or segment,” said Spitz. “We then decide if it is a good match for our company. Most of our brands are classic or the first of its kind, which makes a statement with consumers and gives them a reason to buy licensed product.”
New on Licensing Link’s plate is a focus on properties that are more art driven than product driven. One client is called Made U Look, which has a strong art concept and is connected with upscale retailers.
One of the biggest challenges for Spitz today is developing more of a presence at retail. “We are very pleased with Garan’s adventure into brand licensing and its placement at Walmart and other major retailers with our candy/food brands,” said Spitz. “Junk food is leading the way as it is a trendsetter and opens doors at The Gap and Old Navy with some of our licensed properties as well.”
Many direct-to-retail programs have already been developed, making it a difficult arena to break into. There are also fewer retailers out there compared to when Spitz was marketing for Warner Bros.
“Moving into art-driven properties enables us to take products direct to retailers because it makes more sense for everyone involved,” said Spitz. “For With It, we plan to take this creative, character-licensed fashion brand directly to a retailer on an exclusive basis. With It is broadly licensed throughout Europe, and we hope to continue its success here in the states.”
With so many competitors out there, brands and properties have a great deal of choice when it comes to picking the perfect licensing agency. Spitz said Licensing Link has been fortunate to keep most of its properties, and it keeps the door open to brands it approached in the past.
“Some brands we chase for several years, and they all of a sudden come around with an idea,” she said. “We encourage them to come to us with anything that might seem ridiculous, but, usually, we can make it happen for the property owner.”
One of the more recent exciting business ventures for Licensing Link is the success of its frozen Dippin Dots maker. “Big Time Toys has done a fabulous job selling this product into Toys R Us, BJ’s, and other retailers,” said Spitz. “It was a hit ranking as the fifth best selling toy this past holiday season.”
The agency is also excited to be a part of “Speed Racer The Next Generation’s” second season on NickToons, and its candy bar properties are taking off at the retail level. “We hope to continue the Sugar Rush,” Spitz concluded.
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