Lining Up the Licensing Deals

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Holly Stein sits at the kids table, but she doesn't feel at all like an outcast.

Holly Stein, vice president for entertainment licensing, Mattel.

In fact, she's right where she wants to be, soaking up all the chatter about what youngsters are playing with, thinking about, watching and coveting.

"It helps keep me relevant," says Ms. Stein. "It's my anti-aging program."

Staying hip and happening
Ms. Stein, who has been vice president of entertainment licensing at Mattel for nearly a year and a half, uses her own informal research and a raft of traditional means to keep up with what's hip and happening in children's lives. That information is vital when she is considering whether Mattel should create a fashion doll based on an upcoming TV show or give a Hot Wheels car a particular brand of bling-bling.

She and her team sort through scores of possibilities to come up with the few they think will work -- a deal with Los Angeles customizing shop 310 Motoring, for instance, that's producing an ongoing a line of tricked-out Hot Wheels.

That licensing deal made the difference between a real "tuner," something that children aspire to own, and a wannabe.

Faux reality
"Faux reality doesn't work with kids," Ms. Stein says. "You have to appeal to how savvy they are.

Those who've worked with Ms. Stein over the years say she is the savvy one, with an entertainment resume that includes a stint at Warner Bros. Consumer Products, where she worked on Space Jam, Looney Tunes, Batman and other classics.

She came to Mattel from U.K.-based Hit Entertainment, where Ms. Stein spearheaded the entry of the British property Bob the Builder into the U.S. market. By controlling Bob's rollout, Ms. Stein was instrumental in making the show and its merchandise a hit, industry mavens say. She forged deals with Hasbro, Lego Co., THQ and Brown Shoe Co.

"She had people standing in line making offers before the show was even on the air," says Gary Caplan, president of Gary Caplan & Associates and a 25-year licensing veteran.

Spot-on perspective
So spot-on is Ms. Stein's perspective that Warren Kornblum, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Toys "R" Us, often asks her opinion of both emerging and mature properties.

"She has a keen sense of the kids market, of what a brand is and what you have to do to nurture and develop a brand," he says. "When she's excited about something, it's magnetic."

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