The art of Licensing for Cards, Stationery and Gifts

I have worked in the card industry for over 10 years and in all of that time there have been leading card ranges which have been based around licensed content - be it imagery, text or both. As a buyer at the National Trust I had a lot of licensed cards in our range including several from Woodmansterne who had a broad portfolio of licenses that suited our customers very well including cartoonist Matt, Spike Milligan, and the Trust’s own imagery which we used to produce a very popular range of their iconic photographic cards.

Licensing content for products can be an excellent way of manufacturers tapping in to a vein of consumer demand as they aspire to the values of the brand, celebrity or lifestyle they believe it reflects. Having said that there is a real art to making the most of the license; you cannot slap an image on something and because it links to a brand expect it to sell. It will only work if the brand values of the brand being licensed reflect the brand values of the range it is being applied to, so the consumer understands the link. The product quality and price also need to be consistent with the products perceived value too.

It’s why those involved in managing licenses try very hard to find the right brands to work with. Obvious and clear brand links can drive strong sales and work well for both parties. However, get it wrong and it can be costly for the licensee as they are likely to be paying an upfront fee as well as royalties - and for the licensor it can be a missed opportunity because the exclusivity clause means that for a period the rights cannot be granted to anyone else in that sector. 

Live Gently on this Earth from Glebe Cottages best selling collection by Kate Andrew.jpg

I believe the success of licensing is completely dependent on brand fit and for me a fantastic example of this is Glebe Cottage, The Eco Friendly Card Company, who from their earliest days in the mid 90’s have made sure that their products are at the forefront in using environmentally friendly technologies and materials to ensure that they are always offering buyers environmentally sound product options. Glebe Cottage license images from The Wildlife Trust, which is a very comfortable fit with both brand’s values supporting one another perfectly and particularly relevant to consumers currently as the focus on the environment and waste increases. 

Swimming Seal from The Wildlife Trust's Collection published by Glebe Cottage.jpg
Evening Swallow by Mandy Beeching part of Glebe Cottages range printed on coffeee cup board.jpg

Speaking to Sue Morrish, co director of Glebe Cottage this week she confirmed that recently they have been approached by other organisations with an environmental agenda because of their green credentials including companies wanting to develop bespoke ranges too. 

For the licensor allowing others to use their images is a great way of extending the use of their designs and thereby recognition of their brand in other product areas. If the right licensing partner has been selected it is likely to be a good way of generating a steady income stream too through upfront payments and royalties without the risk of investing in stock themselves. This has encouraged many museums and charities, who are always looking for new ways of funding their work and who have the most wonderful treasures to allow images of them to be made available for licensing.  

Meg Hawkins, a recent licensing success story, says:

As an artist with a passion for creating gifts, fashion and homeware, there is only so far you can go yourself. Licensing has opened up so many doors and is the opportunity to take my brand, Meg Hawkins Art, to the next level. A licensing agreement is an overwhelming stamp of approval for your work and provides you with a network of skill, expertise and reach that it would be otherwise impossible to access’.

Jessica Hogarth specialises in illustration and surface pattern design and has been involved in licensing for a number of years. She explains:

‘One of my most exciting licensing collaborations to date has been with a textile company, we have put two of my designs on to bedding, cushions, storage sacks and Christmas stockings. The stock is available solely through shopping channel QVC and the products are all labelled with my logo and I have been on live TV 3 times …….the Cottages print featured on one of my first ever card designs and Snowy Town was originally created as a gift wrap which was licensed through Deva Designs but then I utilised the illustrations for a Christmas card range, which I had great sales from.’

Jess also has a long standing relationship with Trimcraft, a major supplier into the haberdashery and craft sectors so you can see how broad the appeal of her designs is, she comments:

‘I love licensing because it allows me to get my designs on to products I can’t afford to manufacture myself, working with established and respected companies within the design industry helps me to get my illustration work out to a wider audience’.

But in reading this please don’t think that this is an easy way to increase your income. Licensing can be a regular source of income for the licensor without having to invest in stock but Meg commented to me that:

 ‘The process is a long and often challenging one as you navigate your way through the contracts… I cannot stress more, the importance of belonging to an organisation such as the Giftware Association. The GA has provided me with invaluable guidance, support and reassurance since I joined two years ago and they have been pivotal in me securing some of my biggest licensing agreements. Securing these licensing agreements has been life changing. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been signed by Widdop & Co, My Gifts Trade, Instawrap, Evergreen Enterprises and Tilnar Art. Each has a slightly different approach and a different retail focus, so I am very excited to see what 2019 brings for me with the support of these fantastic licensing companies.  

A ’good’ license can be a positive experience for everyone involved and I think we are likely to see a lot more collaborations in all industry sectors in the future. At the time of publishing this blog, Meg’s Recycled Aluminium produced with Tilner Art had just won the Best Home and Gift category at GLEE.