Robert Hollander Shepherds Clients to Product Licensing Deals

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Who: Robert Hollander, president of Los Angeles-based Brand-Sense Partners.

Why you need to know him? Mr. Hollander’s company specializes in brand development, licensing, strategic alliances, promotions and sponsorship programs for brands, such as Dodge, Thermos and American Express Publishing, and celebrities, including Britney Spears.
Robert Hollander navigates the world of celebrity and brand licensing.

Credentials: Mr. Hollander has had a 25-year career in marketing, licensing and merchandising, starting at IBM. Before co-founding Brand-Sense Partners in 2001, he owned a company that sold branded sportswear, and was vice president of marketing for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Committee, with the specific responsibility of creating a consumer licensing organization. He has been in the licensed consumer product business since then.

Who are your clients? “Clients in our signature brand-extension business include entertainment figures such as Britney Spears and Kim Basinger, as well as companies such as Dodge and its Hemi Motors division, the Clorox Corp., Thermos, American Express Publishing, Professional Bullriding and Elizabeth Arden. We also have a number of clients for whom we do brand consulting.”

What types of deals have you put together? “We take established or emerging corporate or personal brands into new businesses that produce substantial incremental revenue yet require little more from clients than 'renting' their name. That's what we did with Dodge Hemi, Britney and the Kingsford charcoal unit of Clorox. With Britney Spears, we broadened her appeal beyond the fickle world of pop music into the potentially long-lasting opportunities of selling beauty products. With Hemi, we considered what made that particular brand so recognizable and zeroed in on its connotations of power. From there we found a power tool company anxious to associate with the Hemi brand, and now this venerable car company's products are available in home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe's."

What new trends did you see at the Licensing Show? Are companies exploring any areas that they may not have in the past? “Frankly, I didn't see any startling trends. Among ongoing trends, it's clearer than ever that the Hollywood studios have recognized the power of marketing. It's also clear major retailers are not prepared to devote huge amounts of shelf space to films or TV shows. That's too iffy –- there are too many studios with too many films and TV shows chasing a dwindling amount of shelf space. FAO Schwartz has gone away; the Disney stores have closed, and so have the Warner Bros. stores. If Wal-Mart or the other four big retailers won't carry items, it's hard for a licensed product to get any traction. That means that from the branded-entertainment side, they're looking for products with a longer life span, if possible. I'm talking about the core Disney brands, like Mickey Mouse, which continue to sell year-in, year-out, or Looney Tunes. Retailers are now being very, very careful to be sure something is trend-like, rather than fad-like.”

What will we see in the next year from entertainment company brands when it comes to licensing? “There's a tremendous pressure on the consumer product divisions, because of the high profitability those divisions have given the studios for a long time, and because the business is different now: The pressure is much greater. They don't have their own stores, not every film is a blockbuster. And because retailers are not taking risks, you can be sure manufacturers of products are not taking risks, either. Look at the life cycle of films. It used to be they went to video in 12 months, now it's often 12 weeks or less. That puts a lot of pressure on entertainment companies to find new and exciting films or shows that can extend into other areas. Unfortunately, that is also putting a lot of pressure on studios to make any deal. They have a tendency to do whatever deal they can, not necessarily the ones that are smartest or most strategic. They're out to find dollars, fast. They can convince themselves it makes sense to do toilet seats, because there's quick money in it, never mind what long-term impact it has on the core brand.”

Some brands have explored entertainment opportunities with their corporate mascots or characters and created branded entertainment. What could that do for a company? “It needs to be natural. If it's unnatural or forced, that's a waste of time. Mr. Clean seems to be doing some good brand extensions for that company, and the M&M guys are doing characters that make sense, using them like old California Raisins. That I can see, but there aren’t a lot of those. Kids are pretty savvy and are likely to turn off when the mascots and characters don't flow naturally out of the core product.”

Is it a good idea to take advantage of that? “It is if you've got the right combination of identifiable brand, strong character, and a product or campaign that extends naturally out of that.”

What obstacles do companies face when putting together a good licensing program? “First, a lot of companies underestimate the complexity of doing a significant licensing program. Many think you simply find a manufacturer, cut a deal and tell them where to send the check. Companies don't want to apply lot of internal resources to licensing programs; they want to reserve those resources for their core business. We may have 30 people who work on a very specific project for a particular brand. Most big corporations –- or even celebrities –- won't be willing to make that kind of manpower commitment. Also, a lot of times, they don't act strategically. Companies come up with great ideas in new categories, but don't do the research in an industry that's not theirs. They're unaware of the whole negotiating process, the complexity of deal structures, of the help needed for product development, of the quality control required to approve new products, the steps involved in collecting royalties, auditing manufacturers or finding ways to cross-promote. The truth is it's very complicated. Face it, the guys at DaimlerChrysler [parent of Dodge] are not going to be experts in the power tool business, they're not going to be experts in the toy or video game businesses. You really have to understand each one of these in order to maximize your return and protect the integrity of the brand.”

What about for celebrities? “Celebrities are even less strategic. Since we are now such a celebrity-driven society, in many cases celebrities and their management are simply reactive to incoming deal offers. We were one of first, with Britney, to understand exactly what it meant for her to be in the beauty business, and not just jumping at the first person to wave a big check. It's more typical in the celebrity business for managers and agents to take a short view. Some look at their clients' careers with a long view, but more often they see them as shooting stars.”

What was the last licensed item you purchased, and what was it? More important, did you like it? “I bought a Greek Olympic T-shirt, because I was in Athens, but that had more to do with memories.”

What do you do for fun? “What else besides this? I'm into working out, photography, I collect some contemporary art, play guitar and just do a bunch of stuff.”
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