For the past 40 years, the world’s largest provider of free education has made reaching this youthful and important population its primary focus. And whether through television, licensing, or outreach, you would be hard-pressed to find an individual that hasn’t heard of Sesame Street.
Maura Regan, senior vice president and general manager of global consumer products for Sesame Workshop, said the focus of the licensing and consumer products portion of the not-for-profit organization is to support and enhance its on-air promise.
“All products coming out of this division have to, in some way, reinforce what we’ve delivered from a content point of view,” she said. “Whether it’s educational, fun, or a lot of both, ultimately, it’s a product that’s good for you.”
There are a number of promises Sesame Workshop keeps as it works through its day-to-day operations. Perhaps the most important is that Sesame Street will be fun and engaging.
In 2009, Sesame Street celebrated its 40th anniversary. It was a time to reflect on what came before and prepare for what was ahead. “We’re now focused on capturing how children are engaging with content, what those platforms are, and how we can reach them effectively,” said Regan.
“Whether it’s through mobile or online content, accessories for DVD players, or finding new ways to reach them all year long, we’re looking ahead at new possibilities,” she continued. To start, Sesame Workshop launched a partnership with Hasbro, which will enable the company to look ahead to the next 10 years when creating a line of everyday products.
“We felt Hasbro’s vision for the future of Sesame Street made the most sense,” said Regan. “Being with a partner that is thinking about the brand 12 months of the year as opposed to classic holidays or fourth quarter opened new doors and is a perfect way to factor Sesame Street into those everyday occurrences.”
Which covers Sesame Street’s next promise: to be a part of the celebration of everyday moments. Whether it’s comforting a child having problems sleeping through the night, a toddler wearing “big girl pants” rather than a diaper, or a birthday celebration, Regan said Sesame Street wants to be there.
“These are milestones we consider important in the lives of our consumers,” she said. “Hasbro understood that and will be working with us to create great products around everyday moments.”
Pieces of the puzzle
To keep these promises, Sesame Street must fit all the pieces of its puzzle together, not only in character branding but also in messaging. Regan said the organization is in a privileged position when it comes to licensing because its reputation enables it to deal only with best-in-class licensees—those that understand the vision, goals, and reason for Sesame Street’s existence.
The organization recently partnered with Hain Celestial, the number one company in organic and natural foods, to develop a Sesame Street line of products for Hain Celestial’s Earth’s Best products. The partnership builds on Sesame Street’s Healthy Habits for Life program, which helps children develop healthy habits through fun and play, as well as pushing the organization’s goal of being involved in those day-to-day moments.
“Children can have breakfast with some Hain Celestial products while sitting in fuzzy Sesame Street slippers and pajamas,” said Regan. “They come home, have snacks, read some stories, and watch Sesame Street on TV or on video on demand. We look at a day in the life of a child and tell that story to our retail partnerships with our licensees.”
With fewer than 20 people in this licensing division (Sesame Street is in more than 120 countries), making sure each member of the staff understands the purpose of the organization isn’t just important; it’s imperative. By organizing with category managers on both the domestic and international portions of the business who have expertise in their fields and understand what Sesame Workshop’s goals are, year after year, the pieces do fit together.
“We work with local partners and licensing agencies in each market to represent us and be our eyes and ears on the ground,” said Regan. “In some cases, we work with a consultant. We always have someone on the ground representing Sesame Street.”
A helping hand
Licensing is an important piece of bringing the characters of Sesame Street into households, but it’s not the most important piece. At its core, Sesame Workshop strives to meet the needs of children, and in today’s world, those needs are changing.
A few years ago, Sesame Workshop realized that from a non-political point of view, the war was affecting families. In particular, it was affecting children and very young children, and no one was figuring out how to help them.
Sesame Street has a voice through its characters that reaches young and old in a way humans can’t, so it seized the opportunity to make its Muppets communicate some difficult subjects. The outreach program, which includes multiple phases, is called When Families Grieve.
The first phase is helping children talk about what’s going on and dealing with when their mom, dad, primary caregiver, grandparent, uncle, or aunt is deployed, and often deployed more than once. The second phase deals with what happens when those loved ones come back and they’re different, both physically and emotionally.
“It’s about how to give voice and words to both sides of the family: the adult going through the trauma as well as the child who is angry, frustrated, and scared,” said Regan.
The third phase, grief, which recently launched, deals with the difficult subject of what happens when that loved one doesn’t come home. Regan said the material is useful on many fronts, both military and non-military, and it’s certainly helpful for those families dealing with so many emotions all at once.
“Through our research, we determined that one in 20 American children under the age of 15 experience the death of a parent in some form or another,” said Regan. “We don’t back away from tough subjects, but we always understand our consumer and constituent is the toddler and young child needing a champion advocate, someone who can get through these tough times. We do it in a way that no one else can.”