Culture Club

A number of cultural institutions—the bulk of which have traditionally handled their licensing and product development activities (if any) internally—have signed licensing agents in the past year, with most of the announcements coming since the beginning of the COVID era:

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art launched a global licensing program, announced in July, with Beanstalk as its new agent in the U.S. and Japan and Wildbrain CPLG covering the EMEA region. It has been working with Alfilo Brands as its agent in China since 2018. The Met has long had a significant merchandising empire, managed and distributed mostly through in-house channels; its expansion into licensing is relatively new. Planned categories include home décor, gifts, trade textiles and furnishings, paper goods, apparel and accessories, publishing, and beauty and personal care.
  • The Smithsonian, which has handled its own licensing activities for years, appointed Lisa Marks Associates in June to oversee its brand extensions in the food and beverage and health and beauty categories. The food and beverage sector, which includes dining concepts, will encompass products and services featuring sustainable and ethical sourcing, environmentally friendly production and packaging, and social responsibility, while the health and beauty products will be inspired by the collections of the Smithsonian’s 19 museums, taking cues from the colors of gems, for example.
  • The Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation retained Jewel Branding and Licensing as its global agency. The deal, announced last month, will see Jewel support the organization’s 50 existing licensees, as well as bringing in new opportunities to make the architect’s work and mission more accessible to consumers of all ages. Jewel also represents the New York Botanic Garden.
  • Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater signed Cookbook Media as its licensing agency in October to develop new digital and broadcast programming and establish a global consumer products effort. The former will include initiatives such as behind-the-scenes series, productions of classic stage performances, and kids’ content, while the latter will focus on categories including apparel, home décor, art, publishing, body cosmetics, and jewelry.
  • Back in February (pre-COVID), Oxford University’s Ashmolean Museum announced that Start Licensing would represent it for licensing in the U.K. and Ireland. The U.K.-based agency will work with the institution and its existing licensees, which include Woodmansterne Publications, PJ Studio Accessories, Flametree Publishing, and Fox & Chave, to raise awareness for the consumer products program, as well as seeking out new opportunities such as capsule collections with retailers and brand owners.

Each of these institutions varies in terms of its objectives and plans for licensing and its history in consumer products. But the fact that all are expanding their merchandise arrays this year, in collaboration with their new agents, illustrates the value that cultural institutions see in licensing, especially now. At a time when their public-facing activities have been shut down for long periods, licensed merchandise can help them keep their brands in front of consumers and bring in much-needed revenue. Merchandise can even, in some ways, serve as a substitution for the much-missed experience of visiting a museum or attending a performance, as it allows consumers to engage with the art or artifacts, at least to a degree.

Cultural institutions are also attractive to many licensees in the current environment. Their credibility, longevity, and name recognition appeal to risk-averse marketers, while their vast collections provide opportunities to develop unique products for a wide range of audiences.

The last edition of Raugust Communications’ monthly e-newsletter for the year goes out next Tuesday, December 15, 2020. The Licensing Topic of the Month examines the importance of the shop-local trend this year and what it means for licensing; the Datapoint research spotlight looks at how the balance of traditional licensing deals versus alternative methods of creating IP-based merchandise has changed over the past three years, including data on the impact of the pandemic. If you are not already a subscriber, you can sign up here.

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