Licensing Career Stories: Graham Saltmarsh, Cartoon Network

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
My route into licensing was quite convoluted. I started life as a Stage Manager before moving into he music industry as a sound engineer working on tracks like the inimitable “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” by Glenn Medeiros. From there I moved to Goldcrest Films and then to the BBC, where I stayed for ten years (yes I’m that old!). I bounced around various departments in the BBC (Children’s, Education & Training, Drama and co-production funding for factual programs) and finally found myself in the position of Rights Acquisition Manager, where I was responsible for licensing contracts.The licensing department always rushed around with a great sense of purpose and it seemed far more interesting than contracts, so I spoke with John Howson and Richard Hollis about moving into their team, and they welcomed me into the licensing world. This was around the time they launched Teletubbies, which was a very exciting time for the BBC but also a pivotal moment in the licensing industry.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
I am a very early riser and my day always starts with me taking my dog Biggles for a walk – he tries very hard to catch foxes and I create a to-do list for the day ahead. I arrive in the office at around 8.00am and sort through the overnight emails or read through contracts while it’s quiet. We have an open plan office and it gets very noisy once the creative team arrives (around 10.00!). As a primarily external facing role, I have regular meetings with retailers and licensees to update them about our properties and keep them informed of current and future plans on our channels (Cartoon Network, Boomerang, Cartoonito and CNToo). I also have internal meetings, with our scheduling, marketing and ad sales teams to ensure that we’re joined up with the rest of company and can maximize all opportunities on our networks.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
Ben 10 is our leading boys’ property and we work very hard to avoid brand fatigue, which can happen to successful brands. We constantly create new style guide supplements, new series and feature films to sustain and enhance the Ben 10 franchise, keeping it fresh and drawing in new audiences. Feature films seem to come and go very quickly. However we have established Ben as an evergreen property and will use our broadcast platforms to make Ben 10 accessible for future generations.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
I enjoy meeting licensees and hearing what products they have planned but nothing quite beats seeing products in the hands of those they are created for…. the kids. Licensing is such big business now, and it’s important to keep in touch with your target audience. Anyone who has spent time in research groups will know the excitement (and noise) levels that new products create.

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
Online shopping keeps growing exponentially, with more online stores being launched every year, which in turn generates more business. Properties are being created from non traditional routes computer games (Mario & Sonic), apps (Angry Birds) and on line (Club Penguin & Moshi). We recently launched a brand new virtual world called Toonix and licensing will definitely play a key part in its evolution.

What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years?
The sheer number of properties coming into the market means it’s more difficult to get cut through. We are fortunate enough to own five children’s channels in the UK so can always guarantee prime-time broadcast exposure for our properties. The cost of raw materials will also have an impact on our business. For example, if the price of oil continues to rise then this has a knock on effect for our toy products. I think retailers are reluctant to pass on price increases when money is tight so this puts pressure on margins.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
Attend one of the excellent LIMA courses (I have sent all my new starters on them) and equally importantly attend the drinks afterwards as this is a great place to find out who is doing what and who is recruiting. Offer to do some work experience for one of the licensing trade magazines as they always know what’s going on usually long before anyone else does. Sign up to the licensing email updates available from most of the key players as this will keep you informed.

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
This is more difficult, as there are no courses or master classes. The best thing to do is keep your eyes and ears open and learn all you can from where you are. Try and learn the systems and processes from other areas of the industry – always keep your CV updated in readiness for the next challenge. I am a huge fan of the Retail Mentoring scheme and look forward to welcoming this year’s volunteers.