The Wilton, Conn.-based company was established in 1999 by Jonathan Flom, a veteran of entertainment management, production and licensing. Before starting Character Arts, Flom was a senior executive at CBS, HBO, Broadway Video and Good Times Entertainment involved in managing merchandising, publishing and television distribution for franchises, including Saturday Night Live, Lassie, The Lone Ranger and Felix the Cat. At HBO, Flom was a key member of the team that launched Comedy Central. He also served as the executive in charge of production for nearly two-dozen television and motion picture productions, including “The U.S. vs. John Lennon” and “Beautiful Dreamer: Brian Wilson and the Story of SMILE.”
Character Arts’ primary focus has always been dedicated management of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer property and all of the characters from the 1964 television special that tells the story of a misfit reindeer and his friends looking for a place that will accept them.
The animated musical is narrated by Burl Ives and the Johnny Marks score includes the title tunes, “Holly Jolly Christmas” and “We’re a Couple of Misfits.”
“My relationship with the rights holders dates back to the early 1990s, and in 2005 we became the licensor of record,” Flom says. “Rudolph is virtually our singular focus. Twenty years of experience working on entertainment and licensing for this property, coupled with the passions and talents of every member of the team, makes Character Arts uniquely qualified to manage this brand.”
Character Arts is a family business, and Flom prefers it that way. Flom’s wife and partner, Meridith, manages the creative side of the business and their daughter, Danielle Flom, focuses on creative approvals, style guide development and marketing for the company. Flom’s son-in-law, Aaron Burakoff, handles business development and operations. “We love what we do,” Jonathan Flom says. “We have the privilege of working on one of the most beloved licensing franchises. Seasonal properties have inherent limitations and need to be managed very efficiently. Our family lives, eats and breathes Rudolph, so we all know what’s going on across the company at all times.”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer products cover almost every category imaginable, including ornaments and figurines, home décor, yard art, plush and animatronics, apparel, candy, food, toys, books, crafts, games and even pet toys, to name a few. The products can be viewed at www.rudolphproduct.com, which Flom explains, “Is not a store, but a site where one can look and see what we have licensed often with links to where it is sold.” More than 75 licensees keep fans connected to the iconic character of the holiday season.
Character Acts utilizes technology for management and marketing tools, but not for content distribution. “When we authorize production of a new commercial, we require that it be produced with traditional stop-motion animation and not computer animation,” Flom explains. “We reject the assertion that the new technology can replicate the warmth of stop-motion.”
Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer does not pitch or directly endorse products or services, but Character Arts works closely with advertisers to function within this framework. The television special’s characters are not co-mingled with characters from Christmas-oriented properties, Flom says. The company believes Rudolph is more than an entertainment brand and that it is a property that needs a non-traditional approach. “Rudolph has transcended the perception of being an entertainment brand,” he adds. “The characters are a core component of our Christmas celebration and not positioned or perceived to be part of a studio franchise.”
To ensure its licensees understand the brand and the importance of keeping the integrity of Rudolph and the other characters from the television special, Character Arts focuses on building long-term relationships with its licensing partners. Flom notes that the community of manufacturers of seasonal licensed products is a small one.“We are all about the long-term and try not to make short-term decisions,” he adds. “And, as a small family business with no layers of decision-making, we think we offer our licensing partners quicker action than most other licensors on key creative and business matters.”
Building the Brand
In celebration of the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer television special’s 50th anniversary, Character Arts is launching live entertainment initiatives that they believe will become perennial family traditions just like the television special. “I can only give preliminary details because the producers and licensees are planning major announcements of the programs soon,” Flom says. “The launch of the 50th anniversary is the launch pad for new Rudolph experiences that will be holiday traditions for the next 50 years.”
The live entertainment plans include the stage show “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: the Musical,” which will be in more than 25 markets in 2014, attractions at Christmas-friendly theme parks like Dollywood, Silver Dollar City, Stone Mountain Park and Adventure Aquarium, walk-around character appearances and more.
Additional licensing initiatives include programs with the U.S. Postal Service and General Growth malls. “The program with General Growth is a good example of the kind of value we try to deliver to our retail partners,” Flom explains. “Building on the success of our digital program with them last year, over 100 malls will become Rudolph destinations this year and are working with our featured retailers on specific traffic building strategies like passport and coupon programs, sweepstakes and giveaways.”
The anniversary has also served as a catalyst for cross promotion and bundling of merchandise with the Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer DVD for the price clubs and mass retailers. “We are also releasing a new graphic novel with Macmillan Children’s called ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: The Island of Misfit Toys,’” Flom says. “In the future we see a lot of potential to expand merchandising lines by diving deeper into the character base and the underlying mythology. Stay tuned.”