Brand building is all about credibility and protection – mainly gaining credibility and then protecting it. So more than 20 years ago, when Greek fraternity and sorority organizations nationwide began seeing an increasing number of manufacturers using their names in unwanted and unauthorized fashion, the Greek community responded with a resounding “no more.”
And why shouldn’t they? Coca-Cola doesn’t let anyone make and sell spinoffs of its name without approval, so why wouldn’t these organizations – founded with specific missions and some more than a century old – do the same? Their credibility was built over decades and today they are using their resources to protect it – no official shirt, sweater, coffee mug or jewelry hits the retail stands that falls short of the quality benchmarks or criteria specified by the licensor. Only credible merchandise is allowed, which makes sense since credibility is one of Greek life’s main draws.
“We make sure our clients’ trademarks are protected and administered fairly across the board,” says Dan Shaver, president of Affinity Consultants. “We work diligently to ensure that only appropriate uses of the trademarks are allowed and that unlicensed uses of the trademarks are addressed to create a fair playing field for our licensees.”
Affinity Consultants represents national and international Greek fraternity and sorority organizations in the areas of licensing, public relations, marketing and design. Founded in 1997, the firm played a large role in the Greek trademarking revolution, assisting clients in groundbreaking lawsuits and equipping them with material to disseminate to their chapters on the importance of protecting their brands. Potential licensees, seeing the benefit of entering formal agreements, have been increasingly willing to participate. These factors, along with investments in its staff and technology, have enabled Affinity to grow 20 percent year over year for the past seven years.
At the same time, participation in Greek life has increased, as well. Shaver notes that the turn in the economy has made the Greek message of community, leadership and networking more appealing to students who know that they could be entering a tight job market upon graduation. With the combined growth of Greek licensing and Greek membership, Affinity Consultants has tailored its resources to make the licensing process more efficient for all stakeholders.
In early 2013, Affinity Consultants will release an updated version of its website, greeklicensing.com, unveiling a brand-new vendor gateway with access to licensing agreements and resources to facilitate submission and approval of product designs. It also will allow licensees to submit royalty reports and payments online. The tool will enable Affinity Consultants to administer, document and streamline the entire licensing process online.
“We listen to our licensees and the key feedback we were hearing is that the time to market is critical – getting the license agreements approved quicker, having access to trademarks instantly and receiving product approvals faster – those are all meaningful improvements for them,” Shaver says. “This is our attempt to leverage technology to streamline our process and make it as simple as possible. The ability, for instance, to upload royalties, make payments online and track previous payments, creates a more streamlined process. By simplifying it, our licensees can concentrate on investing in their products and selling greater quantities – ultimately everyone will benefit.”
The licensees will have profile pages, allowing customers to gain more insight into products and services. The new features complement Affinity’s greekquote.com website, which allows chapters to submit RFPs for custom products to a national list of pre-approved vendors.
Using technology to streamline the process will only become more crucial in the coming years. Affinity Consultants has established itself as the premier licensing representative for all things Greek and has a client base of 86 organizations with a combined 8 million members. This momentum has led manufacturers and retail stores alike to seek out this market. Affinity Consultants works with 883 licensees and manages a growing list of more than 13,000 license agreements. For instance, Williams-Sonoma’s PBTeen, Lilly Pulitzer and Shutterfly have all begun carrying Greek-licensed products.
As more product makers get involved in Greek Life, Shaver says the new possibilities could be endless. Sweatshirts and t-shirts tagged with Greek letters showing loyalty will no doubt continue to be No. 1 sellers, but as the world evolves, so too do the products.
“The future of the company is strong as we are continuing to see new products come out as the market evolves,” Shaver says. “We are excited to see how technology will influence not only the types and availability of products our clients license today, but also the limitless possibilities of licensed products that will exist in the future.”