Licensing Career Stories: Michael Seres, Beam Unlimited

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
Over twenty years ago when I first started I was drawn to licensing by the lure of working with the founders at CPLG. They wanted to develop a sports division and needed someone with sports knowledge and a retail background so the fit was ideal and I learned so much from them. Prior to that, I had been working for an apparel manufacturer in 1993, who in turn had secured the license for forthcoming UEFA European Football Championships known as Euro 96. At the time licensing wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today. Although we paid a fair guarantee, we were pretty inexperienced about the whole licensing process. It was a fantastic learning curve and, at the same time, I got to watch England play at Wembley and win for a change.

So when CPLG came calling it was an offer that I was incredibly lucky to be offered. I worked very closely with the board and in particular David Cardwell and Richard Culley. They were incredibly kind offering me the guidance and support and I remember vividly them sending me out in my second week in the job to try and secure the Cricket World Cup rights. I was incredibly nervous but they showed belief and faith, and sure enough the phone call to David to say that we had won the rights remains to this day one of my proudest moments in licensing. From there I went on to work with them across a plethora of sports and hopefully made some small impact in to the
development of the still flourishing sports division.Throughout my career I had to cope with an incurable bowel condition known as Crohn’s Disease. At the end of 2011, after over 20 operations, I became only the 11th person in the UK to undergo a rare bowel transplant. For years I had to use various medical accessories, intravenous feeds and an ostomy (stoma) and it was from that position that I decided to go back in to licensing. I wanted to develop a business that improved the dignity of long term patients. Why should patients have to use products that made them feel even more like a patient? That is where the idea of beam came from. I decided to create a range of products utilizing brands and characters so that patients could feel just like any consumer.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
As founder of the business I balance my ongoing medical journey with building the brand and developing products. One minute I am working with printers developing new techniques to apply designs to our products. Then I spend time working on our web development and e-commerce platform and often whilst taking meds or connecting to a feed I am looking at new product ideas.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
The hardest part is juggling hospital visits and ongoing treatment with daily working life. I am absolutely passionate about building products that will make a difference. The reason behind the name beam is that I wanted my products to make the patient who uses that truly “beam”. In order for me to do this I have to be practical in not getting carried away as the potential is enormous. Balancing that enthusiasm with sensible business decisions can be a challenge.
However convincing rights holders to step out of their comfort zone and let their brands go in to a sector of the market as yet undeveloped is a real task. I have been very lucky that Moshi Monsters just got it instantly. Their enthusiasm and energy matched my own that was an easy challenge. I know it won’t always be that way but I figured if I can survive life threatening 15-hour surgery then anything is possible.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
Challenging the norms – pushing the boundaries and developing products that will improve patients’ lives. I know that for a patient to trust me to develop products that they will have to use in their everyday life is a huge honor. I am a stoma patient myself and I know what it is like with the daily challenges. I love the fact that I really can have an impact.

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
Having been out of the industry for a while it is easy to step back and see how things have really changed. DTR used to be an add-on, and now it is at the forefront of so many brand strategies. Retailers that previously would not have stocked licensed merchandise are now leading the way. The explosion of e-commerce has also changed the landscape. Our own business will launch solely via an e-commerce platform and will be direct to consumer/patient.
I have also seen the use of social media explode over the last few years. My own blog charting my transplant journey has 60,000 followers and I build digital engagement strategies for hospitals and other organizations. This has allowed me to have instant access to focus groups, do market analysis and probably be better prepared for a launch than at any other time.

What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years?
Those who are stagnant and don’t react to change will be left behind. If a digital strategy isn’t already integral to your company then it should be as you are already late. Direct engagement with your consumers is vital. The ability to react to what they want, to listen, to talk and to develop ranges and product quickly will be vital. Online will grow even more and I believe that customer service will be even more vital than it is now. Social media means that people will not wait for a day or two; you need to respond and engage in real time. I also think that there has to be a recognition that royalty rates will have to reflect the different trading models and I think that the traditional licensor/licensee relationship needs to be more of a partnership.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
It is an incredible industry to go in to. It is fun, innovative and rewarding. However don’t get ahead of yourself. The best will start by listening and learning. Not trying to run before they have done the hard work. The rewards will come. I was incredibly lucky to have two mentors who effectively created the industry. I may well have taken a few wrong turns and done a few bad deals but I haven’t forgotten what they taught me.

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
Think digital. Three years ago I thought Facebook was something just for my kids. Now I blog, vlog, tweet, run tweetchats and Google hangouts and it is the tip of the iceberg. If you want to grow with the industry and you want to grow as a person I believe that you have to engage with your consumers and social media and digital technologies are vital tools.

Beam will be launching with its campaign to patients simply entitled “what makes you beam?”
We will be asking patients to send in photos, upload images and videos and tweet anything that makes them beam. It is the very essence of the company