This year, Highlights decided to branch out beyond its publishing roots into licensed products. Andy Shafran, VP of business development, admits replicating the success Highlights has had with magazines and books won’t be easy, especially given its size and scale (Beyond the US, Highlights is distributed in seven countries in Asia and a handful more around the world), but changes in the retail market have made it possible for the company to bring the brand to other product categories without losing its core message.
“We believe children are the world’s most important people,” he said. “It’s part of our mission statement because we really are that focused on helping children be their best selves.”
Leap into licensing
Highlights was founded by Dr. Garry Cleveland Myers and his wife Caroline Clark Myers with the belief that children are far more capable than most people understand. Since day one, the company has focused on helping children reach their full potential while having a good time, hence the company’s tagline: “Fun with a Purpose.”
As new technologies and product innovations developed, the company saw an opportunity to evolve Highlights and, with the right group of partners, bring its brand message to other product categories.
From activities and crafts developed with Horizon Group USA and a line of stationary developed with CSS Industries to puzzles developed with Ravensburger US and board games developed with Discovery Bay Games, Highlights is dipping into numerous product categories, and all through licensing.
Although it might seem a fast transition considering the licensing division launched in 2009, Robin Sayetta, VP of licensing, said Highlights carefully measures each step it takes. “There’s an innate trust among parents and grandparents that the Highlights brand will provide a valuable experience to their family,” she said. “That’s one of the aspects of this licensing program that also appeals to retailers and manufacturers.”
Key to the success of these licensing ventures is making sure Highlights’ heritage translates into products that tune into what today’s kids like. Shafran said the company is at an advantage in this regard: one of the honors of being an editor for Highlights is directly answering the thousands of letters kids send to the publication every year.
“Our direct, authentic relationship with kids is not filtered through a marketing or survey agency,” he said. “We benefit from that direct relationship because we feel we have our fingers on the pulse on what it’s like to be a kid today. It enables us to evolve the contents of the magazine to new products to stay current.”
Such is the case with Highlights’ iPhone apps, which were developed with Mobad Games. The first app, Highlights Hidden Pictures, is based on the Hidden Pictures segment that has been in the magazine since 1946. Since its launch in October 2009, the app has been among the top 20 paid kids apps on the iTunes store and has won numerous awards, such as the Parents’ Choice Silver Award and the Children’s Technology Review Editor’s Award.
The Highlights Hidden Pictures app starts out black and white, and the player seeks color images to fill it out. Once the puzzle is finished, children hear applause, and the entire picture turns to color. The second app, My First Hidden Picture, starts out in color, and the found objects turn grey. In both cases, the apps stick to what Highlights does best: making learning fun for kids.
In addition to using archival content, the company is tapping inhouse talent to create specific content for licensed product. As Highlights dives deeper into licensing, it’s as particular about the content of its new products as it has been in the content of its magazines and books for the past six decades.
“We’re very involved with our licensing partners in taking the content we have in our archives and translating that into new products,” said Sayetta. “Our partners have to have the creativity and vision to understand what Highlights can be and how it can come to life in product.”
Take a risk
Despite launching a brand that’s relatively new to retail during an economically shaky time, Sayetta believes Highlights has a unique opportunity to succeed in licensing because of its close relationship with its customers.
“Highlights is one of the top direct marketers in the country,” she said. “We have a rich relationship with our customers, and when families become involved with the Highlights brand, they tend to buy more than one product from us because they are passionate about the Highlights experience.”
She believes this relationship will help drive traffic to the retailers carrying Highlights licensed products, but she said Highlights is also willing to take the risk due to the feedback it’s heard from its customers and readers.
Over the past few years, customers and readers increased their requests for more Highlights-branded products at retail, specifically for categories the licensing business model is perfect for. And retailers are just as excited.
In a recent meeting at Highlight’s licensing headquarters in New York, the company asked its licensees what kind of response they were getting from retailers. Initially, the meeting was a way for Highlights to find out where its licensees needed support. The outcome was much different.
“They told us that retailers are excited about the Highlights brand because they understand the need for it and why it’s unique. Highlights’ direct interactions with our consumers can help market it the products, which is key,” she said, “but retailers see the value we bring with our content as well. Now that we have licensees on board bringing the vision to life, the possibilities are endless.”