Sure, it’s been 20 years since the Power Rangers entered the homes of kids around the world, entertaining them with their red, yellow, blue, green, and black uniforms. But the brand resonated with its fans in such a way that decades after its premier, it’s still an important part of their lives.
Brands like these are the focus for Saban Brands, which was formed by Saban Capital Group to acquire, license, and capitalize on intellectual properties globally. In an era when the partnership between content and media is stronger than ever but also more cluttered and competitive, companies in control of brands; underlying IP; and content, promotion, marketing, and licensing strategies focused on how to best serve consumer fans are in the best position possible to succeed.
“Our portfolio includes recognizable consumer brands that have stood the test of time—brands that have authenticity and instill a passion and a following in their customer base, fan base, and audience,” said Elie Dekel, president.
Control is key
For Saban Brands, control is key, which is why it acquired both of its properties (it acquired Paul Frank in August 2010) rather than representing them as an agency. “We don’t represent third-party properties,” said Dekel. “We only work on brands we have ownership and control over.”
The company’s inhouse capabilities include marketing, distribution, and licensing, and it has a plethora of industry partners ready and willing to pay attention to what Saban Brands has to offer. Any property it works with must have the potential to appeal to an international fan base and room to grow through content-based strategies and entertainment platforms of all kinds, from TV and film to live shows and digital campaigns.
With Power Rangers, Saban Brands started with a catalogue of 700 episodes, a bundle of rights, and an understanding that the rest of the program needed to be built. Marvista is handling Power Rangers distribution, and Saban Brands is financing the productions. The company is also handling the licensing on a first-party basis.
“Internationally, we work with some agents, as is somewhat customary in our business. And as we move forward into DVD distribution or feature films, we will have partnerships to enable those ventures,” said Dekel.
The acquisition of the Power Rangers brand from Disney in the first quarter of 2010 brought to a head the honing of Saban Brands’ strategy and vision. The company wasted no time and immediately went into production with new episodes.
It then announced a deal with Nickelodeon for TV distribution, reconnected with Bandai toys as its master toy partner, and brought in Namco as its video game partner. At the same time, it closed on its second acquisition, Paul Frank, a brand known in the world of fashion and entertainment.
“As I think back to the criteria of brands that have proven themselves over time and have a following from an audience or a fan base, Paul Frank hit another bulls eye for us,” said Dekel. Almost 15 years old, Paul Frank’s popularity began at a national level and is now known internationally as a family-friendly fashion brand for boys and girls, toddlers, and adults.
Saban Brands took a different approach than the one it took with Power Rangers when bringing in Paul Frank. It kept the brand’s chief creative officer, maintained its creative studio in Costa Mesa, and moved its business management brand inhouse. Dekel said with any acquisition, the intention is to bring Saban Brands’ strengths to bear against the business while maintaining the core creative ethos of the brand and the talent that goes behind the brand.
“Paul Frank has more than 30 stores around the world and existing manufacturing practices,” he said. “Our focus is to optimize Paul Frank as a licensing business and lean heavily into how we support, promote, and bring the brand to consumers in a broader way while maintaining its authenticity.”
For each of the properties it handles, Saban Brands differs its direct-to-retail approach and, in turn, has received different responses from the market. Because of Power Rangers’ legacy at retail as one of the most reliable and consistent brands in the toy business, senior managers are excited about bringing it back.
“There’s a real interest in seeing it return as an evergreen brand,” Dekel said. “The combination of Power Rangers returning to Saban, our proactive support strategy, and the fact that it’s a rare and proven brand in any market has resulted in a strong show of support for the brand.”
Paul Frank, in contrast, is relatively new as a licensed product. For the first 12 years of its existence, it was a manufacturing company, providing, sourcing, and manufacturing apparel and accessories to retailers and distributors around the world. Over the past two years, it’s evolved into purely licensing, and retailers are anxiously awaiting the rights to distribute Paul Frank licensed apparel.
Said Dekel, “We’re working with the creative team on evolving its creative strategy to more appropriately fit a licensing model versus a manufacturing model. There are subtleties to that, but it’s an important shift.”
Saban Brands is working with retailers in a progressive way to protect its channels of distribution because Paul Frank is still a specialty and mid-tier brand. However, it’s seeing great success at Target and has a program for Paul Frank that is unique to Target. “That’s about as far into mass distribution as we would go with the brand in the foreseeable future,” Dekel said.
Saban Brands’ ability to skillfully handle its properties comes from its carefully crafted management team. By working with a recruiter, the company brought in a bevy of professionals with at least 20 years of experience and proven success with big brands and big companies.
Kirk Bloomgarden is the company’s head of international, having served as CEO and co-founder of CPLG, one of the largest European licensing companies. Nina Leong, a former merchant buyer heavily involved in growing the retail presence of Disney Stores, Chrokee, and Ocean Pacific for years, is SVP of licensing.
David Shuman, former head of integration, mergers, and acquisitions on the financial side of Live Nation, is VP of finance; Mary Rafferty, who has 20 years of experience with companies such as Mattel, Spin Master, and Disney, is VP of toys and hard lines; and Rob Hughes became marketing director after serving with Disney and Disney Channel as a marketing and branding executive.
“Much like our brand criteria is very selective, so is our staffing criteria,” said Dekel. “We have a team that brings tremendous experience to bear. It’s exciting for me as sort of the leader of this group, but it’s also exciting for each of us because we’re seeing a 1+1=8 kind of factor.”