Licensing Career Stories: Holly Stein, Mattel

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
It was never my plan to make a career in Licensing, but thankfully I was always open to opportunities that presented themselves to me. After graduating college with a degree in Marketing, I worked in PR and Promotions for an independent agency, and then went on to Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising where I really sharpened my skills in Account Management. I worked with some of the agency’s highest profile clients on some exciting cross-promotional initiatives — most notably a campaign for Pioneer Electronics with Disney that involved licensing some of the studio’s intellectual property assets for one of Pioneer’s new product launches. That’s when I caught the “Licensing bug” and became intrigued by the opportunities in Entertainment Licensing – the business behind the entertainment business, and the art of the deal. I soon left Saatchi & Saatchi to start as a dedicated Licensing executive at Warner Bros. Consumer Products, and never looked back. After eight years of working for WBCP, I moved on to focus my efforts in, and around, the kids’ business at HiT Entertainment. In 1999, my team at HiT and I introduced the world to “Bob the Builder,” and during my tenure there we also managed global licensing programs for several other gold-standard kids’ brands such as “Barney”,  “Angelina Ballerina” and “Thomas & Friends.” I joined Mattel in 2003, turning my focus to “inbound” licensing, currently overseeing a team of licensing professionals that manage licensing acquisitions and business development for both Mattel and Fisher-Price.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
One thing is certain – a typical day at Mattel is never boring! With a focus on in-bound Licensing, my team and I field and evaluate a myriad of 3rd party intellectual properties for potential rights acquisitions. No day is ever “typical”, and can run the gamut of interfacing with major entertainment film studios; global television broadcast networks; independent production companies; automotive manufacturers; licensing agents; fashion houses; and talent representation. My “clients” are now the Mattel and Fisher-Price Global Brand Marketing Teams, and my responsibility to them is to ensure that my team and I are always on the forefront of current industry trends and opportunities for potential rights acquisitions. Identifying the best and most suitable intellectual property to add to our portfolio is just the beginning. Negotiating a “win-win” deal for both parties; managing relationships; and seeing the magic of product execution and distribution of the best toys in the world, affords me the opportunity to consistently partner with best, and be the best partner.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
I manage relationships between Mattel as the Licensee, and our Licensor partners. In my specific role, there is a delicate balance to strike between thinking like a Licensee, and thinking like a Licensor – both necessary in order to successfully advocate on behalf of the relevant day-to-day business teams representing either faction should a “speed bump” be met along the way of a partnership journey. I’ve had the unique benefit in my career of sitting on both sides of the table, so I have the ability of being able to understand both points of view in any given situation. I believe that adds value toward meaningful discussions, and therefore swift resolution of any challenges that may arise in a partnership.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
It’s hard to single out any one favorite part of my job. I honestly love everything my role at Mattel gives me the opportunity to be a part of. Although it’s work – hard work, the toy business is also so much fun. I get to be part of something that kids love; something that gives them the opportunity to play, smile, laugh, and imagine. Plus, I get the chance to work every single day with incredibly talented, passionate, and dedicated people. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t learn something new – that’s probably the best part!

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
Here is where I suppose I could go on about the ongoing trend of minimum guarantee and royalty rate increases, the mutual Licensor/Licensee detriment of over-licensing a property, or continued struggle of securing retail shelf space. But…I won’t. I prefer to point out what I think is a positive evolution in our business over the last few years…Licensors and Licensees are collaborating more and more, and it is being recognized by both not just as a preferred way of working together, but as an absolute necessity to long term success. Retailers are ever-more focused on properties, programs and categories that drive consumer traffic, so the planning and executing of a true merchandising program by all involved is critical. Gone are the days of just selling a license for the sake of “the sale”; or picking up a myriad of properties and sitting back to see what sells in and sells through. The discipline of true collaboration in every single aspect of a Licensor/Licensee partnership is critical to success. Those who are thinking and acting with this in mind are the ones who are going to better maximize their business, no matter what side of the table they are on.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
Do it! Licensing is an interesting business model, whether you’re a Licensor or Licensee. It’s hard work, but it’s also fun and rewarding – and you’ll never be bored. You’ll meet wonderful people, and you’ll learn a lot about a variety of businesses and manufacturing trades. Approach your career with dedication, integrity, and passion – you’ll get as much out as you put into it.

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
Always be one step ahead, and stay fresh and relevant to the changes around you. Don’t get caught in the seemingly comfortable trap of “…but, this is how I’ve always done it – so it must be the right way.” Read everything you can that’s written about our industry, your competitors, your customers and consumers in general. Insight and information is very powerful. Be flexible, and stay open to new ideas. You never know where you might learn something new that can add value to your own personal status quo, and thus where you can add value to others.