Today I have my licensing agent Julie Turkel on the podcast with me! Julie is not only the one who does the negotiating, the pitching and all of that behind the scenes work for my product and licensing jobs, but she was also a co-instructor with me in Brand Plus Brand, our course on licensing and how it works! We’re bringing you all the insight on what licensing is, how Julie built her licensing agency, her time at Nickelodeon and branching off to work with more boutique designers like Nate Berkus and Jonathan Adler. So, if you’re interested in learning more about licensing, this is the perfect episode to get your feet wet!
What is licensing?
Julie: The simple answer is it’s an agreement between two parties that want to work together. I focus on intellectual property licensing and specifically I’m focused on working with creative brands and designer brands. Licensing is a vehicle for creative brand owners to develop products without having to invest in inventory and development of the sales of the product.
A licensing agreement is a legal agreement between an intellectual property owner or a brand owner or a creative entity. And in the case of our working together, it’s usually either with a manufacturer or retailer or some kind third party provider of a product or service whereby the brand owner is providing their brand name and whatever creative that is behind their brand. The third party that they’re working with, who is either a service provider or manufacturer is responsible for developing all the product. They’re creating all the products, selling it to the retailers, and then paying a royalty to the brand owner.
How did you get into licensing?
Julie: It all started for me when I went to work for Nickelodeon. I went to the Harvard education of licensing by going to work for Nickelodeon. Prior to my getting a position there, I was in PR and was pre-med in college and I was also big into psychology. My career goes 20 plus years back. I won’t tell you exactly how long, but, it was pre-internet, pre-Google, pre-cell phone even.
I started interviewing around at various departments at Nickelodeon and the executive of the company that I clicked with the most was the person who ran the consumer products division and that was the area of the company that was the fastest growing area of the company. It was relatively new, but the fastest growing segment of the company where they were basically taking all of the shows that were doing really well on the network and turning them into these massive multi, multimillion dollar revenue streams through product. I mean obviously you can’t walk into a Target or Walmart, or H&M or whatever and not see Mickey Mouse on a tee shirt, or doll, etc. That’s all licensed product! Character licensing and entertainment licensing in terms of the overall licensing business is the biggest segment and probably the one with the most cachet and buzz.
So going to work for Nickelodeon, especially during like this very intense growth period for the company is why I consider it to be the Harvard education of licensing. I somehow ended up in the toy division of Nickelodeon and I ended up working on a toy account with Mattel. It was a license agreement that Nickelodeon had with Mattel and it was the cash cow of the company and was the most important relationship that Nickelodeon had at a time. Mattel is a huge toy manufacturing company (they do Barbie).
On any given day I would be working with senior people at Nickelodeon, trying to figure out the ins and outs of how to get this deal negotiated. It would go from that level to getting back to my desk and opening up a box of doll heads. I would have to take them to the animation department and make sure that the PMS colors of the doll heads matched the colors of the characters on the show. Or even arranging for the creators of the voices behind the characters to create special sounds for toys and make sure that all gets approved.
I was really fascinated by the licensing model. I was just incredibly fascinated by how many disciplines it touches on from, you know, my, my main job as a licensing agent is to oversee the strategy and the business. But you can’t really do that without getting involved in the creative development of product and the marketing product and the retail sales and product.
About changing directions from corporate licensing to starting an agency
Julie: I had two people that I worked with. One was a career coach and the other was a psychic and they both encouraged me to do my own thing. I started to think about it. Once those two things were said to me, in succession, I came home and opened my mailbox and I got this catalog in the mail from Jonathan Adler and at the time I’d been reading about him in the press and I collected a lot of his work — pottery, textiles, and I had his pillows in my apartment. He had a modern kind of look and this was 20-something years ago. So, I received his catalog in the mail and I looked at it and I said, you know, why doesn’t he do sheets? Why doesn’t he do like actual furniture? Why can’t I buy a shower curtain printed with this print?
I went back to my boss at Discovery Channel who had left with me and I mentioned this idea to her and she was like, yeah, let’s just do this.
I walked into the Jonathan Adler store. I made up this business card and I walked into the store with this really cute business card and ended up speaking with him. I just scrawled out this vision that I had on a cocktail napkin essentially. And he was like, I want to have a meeting, I want to bring in one other person that I work with to hear your thoughts.
We hired a really good lawyer and got an agreement and we signed the agreement.
I worked on my agency out of my home – I would have the kind of ideas that I had was because I was connected to the television while I worked. At that time it was sort of like having Instagram. So I really needed to be in these environments where I could like Swiffer and think.
Okay, so you sign on Jonathan Adler. Then what do you do?
Julie: Right. Jonathan had a prolific line of products. He had so much pottery and a whole textiles line that had a lot of different looks to his brand. And I could see it! The pitch that I had for him was that you (Jonathan) are going to own modern design and the young consumer. You’re going to have a product line at pretty much every major retailer and all home categories and you’re going to have a special mug at Starbucks and Kleenex is going to have your prints on their boxes. You’re just going to be a household name for modern design!
We worked together for a little over six years, and it took a while to get some traction because of the learning curve that was happening at that time with different manufacturers and retailers. Ultimately we did so much. We did exclusives for Williams-Sonoma for Crate and Barrel. This was a huge thing, especially for a brand back then. Then we had a whole collection going with Bed Bath and Beyond, bedding and bath and tabletop. We also did a furniture line, and a lighting line…I mean it was just basically built a foundation for like a massive licensing program.
Who else have you worked with since Jonathan Adler?
I’ve always kept a very small, tight roster and have never had more than, four people/clients that I work with at a time. I’ve always been a very small operation. In addition to Jonathan, my second client was Nate Berkus. He was a decorator that was a regular on Oprah.
I was at home working one day, watching one of his episodes, the volume of my television was down, but his face popped up and I was like, I think I need to pay attention to this. Who is this?
So I turned up the volume and it was just the point where Oprah said, “Walmart needs you Nate!” And I was like, Oh my God, who’s this guy? And right then, my phone rang, and it was my mother and she said, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to tell you that you need to call this guy Nate Berkus.” So, I did my research and I found a phone number and I called, and the person that I spoke to was going to be in New York the next day and, would you want to meet for coffee? So I met with his manager the next day!
If you’re saying to yourself, how do you get started in licensing? All of it is covered in our course Brand Plus Brand. Julie and I taught this course together, and she brings her experience at Nickelodeon, her experience with Jonathan Adler and Nate Berkus and Dabney and all of these relationships and ins and outs to the course, and I bring the designer and artist’s side of things. From marketing products on social media, to creating mock-ups and pitch decks, etc. this course is an in-depth action plan on how to get into licensing!
Julie will be joining me on my podcast, The Jenna Rainey Show monthly! So make sure to subscribe and tune in if you want more information on all things licensing and working with brands!
Love listening to your episodes and journey as a designer / artist. It has been really inspiring and really looking forward to developing my small business and seeing where it will take me in the future.
Thanks for all the advice and encouragement.
You’re very welcome! I wish you all the best with your biz!