Licensing Career Stories: Sara Nemerov, Warner Music Group

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
While getting my graduate degree from NYU, I worked at Jones Apparel Group on the Ralph Lauren brand. I found it incredibly fascinating that products I bought every day were licensed and not made by the manufacturer necessarily. It was profitable and could be a much more favorable business model for brands. I had always imagined that the Ralph Lauren team made optical eyewear and were mixing fragrance liquid, just as they would be creating the designer collections for apparel. I learned that wasn’t the case and wanted to be a part of this expanding business. I spent valuable time at The Beanstalk Group and The Joester-Loria Group working with some fabulous clients and learning from some real experts in the field. I then joined The Trump Organization to help grow Mr. Trump’s already powerful brand. I then had the opportunity to come head up the consumer products and brand licensing group for Warner Music Group where I have been happily ever since.

What is a typical day in your current position?
I’m happy that there is no real “typical” day! I have the pleasure of working with an incredibly diverse set of artists in the incredibly dynamic environment of the music industry. One minute I might be pitching a newly designed licensing program to one of our country stars signed to our Warner Music Nashville label. The next minute I could be working with one of our urban artists to plan a photo-shoot for a new product we’re launching at retail next week. Then I’m likely to be on the phone with a retail partner to discuss plan-o-grams or strategizing internally with our marketing and pr teams internally. The one thing that is typical is that I do forget to eat lunch. A lot!

What is the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
Staying on top of retail trends is probably my biggest challenge. Thankfully, we work hand-in-hand with our retail partners to get the right products out at the right time. Our retail partners are honest, inclusive and always ready to discuss strategy. We have demanding and sophisticated fans, so it is critical that we stay ahead of the curve.

What’s your favorite part of our job?
By far, the people I get to work with. Our artists are interesting people and stay engaged through the whole process of designing, building and executing their programs. Their management teams contribute invaluably along the way. My team at Warner Music Group is top notch and we have great support throughout the company from our executive team to the heads of the labels, to the marketing and pr teams. I’m able to partner with creative and high-performing licensees, and we place are products with supportive and innovative retailers. I can’t thank everyone by name because there just wouldn’t be enough room.

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
There are so many brands being created every day and competition is fierce; the biggest change in the business is that there just isn’t enough space for everyone. Every brand taken to retail has to have a unique feature, function, added value or following to be successful.

What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years?
The biggest challenge I foresee is stepping out of the box; avoiding the pitfall of simply following the last trend because it worked. Change happens every day and what worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. Consumers are smart and they want to be spoken to and heard. Sameness won’t always work.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
There are plenty of publications and books on licensing, which certainly weren’t around when I started, to give someone a sense of the industry. Familiarize yourself with LIMA (licensing.org) and use this organization as a tool. It’s a business made up of 1000’s of friends- better than Facebook or Twitter, as they will always friend you and never poke you! Just get out there and talk to people. Learn from the experts and take that info and draw upon your own creativity.

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
Get out of the office. Walk as many trade shows as possible. Interact with others in the industry. Visit as many retailers as possible. Try to learn the trends, what works and what doesn’t. It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve without a lot of research. Take lots of notes and save them- you will learn from them in the future!