Licensing Career Stories: Shunsuke Tamura – Tact Communications Inc

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
I majored in information and communication at the faculty of social science in university, and I aimed to work at an advertising agency. One of my friends suggested I try applying for a job at Sanrio because it was an interesting company in a different industry. In going through the various stages of interview, I actually found this company more appealing than working at an advertising agency. So I joined Sanrio and started my career in their licensing department, and during my six years there I was responsible for gift, stationery, and various other licensing categories. Working at the licensing division provided me with a rich and rewarding experience, which actually helped me fulfill my ambition for a career related to creative content production. I am still grateful for the time I spent at Sanrio who valued my wishes and personality, and drove me to a career that I did not originally expect but had long dreamed for.

Then I was headhunted by Crown Creative Co., Ltd. to join their newly-established licensing division. With the exception of creative work, I pretty much took care of all aspects of licensing including marketing, legal, advertising and
management. At the same time, I also supervised and supported the younger staff working on my team. I worked at Crown Creative for thirteen years and was in charge of developing of a number of fashion brands including Kangol and Ben Davis. Besides working with third-party licensor brands, I also gained valuable experience in establishing and growing brands originally created by Crown Creative – this was a totally new challenge for me. All the experience I gained has been invaluable in helping me manage my current company.

I have been president of Tact Communications Inc. for the last six years. Actually, this year Tact Communications celebrates its thirtieth anniversary which makes us one of the oldest licensing companies in Japan. For international markets, Angel Cat Sugar created by Ms. Yuko Shimizu has been growing steadily worldwide. In the domestic Japanese market, besides utilizing my twenty-five years of licensing experience, I am proud of my team that forms a very unique licensing agency which is strong in both brand and character properties, and maintains excellent connections with distributors and retailers.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
Let me talk about my Monday schedule. My Monday starts with a weekly team meeting for business updates and communication. It is a casual meeting over coffee and light snacks, an atmosphere which inspires us with creative ideas.
The informality is important as a more formal meeting tone just wouldn’t work. For example, we needed ideas for Angel Cat Sugar’s tenth anniversary events and our informal interactions at the meetings came up with various ideas such as iPhone/iPad apps, new website, networking events at major licensing shows, and Facebook initiatives, etc. All of these ideas were brought to fruition.

Next, I check my emails, then have lunch. I find lunchtime to be a very useful time for communication with my staff or with clients. I basically use my afternoon to visit clients. Emailing people is easy but I try to see as many people as possible, because I value face-to-face communication. From a time management standpoint, I try to limit each meeting to a maximum of 30 minutes. That helps me determine my business priorities, and also communicates my respect to the importance of the client’s valuable time. If I want to spend a long time with a client to add a more personal touch and nurture a relationship, I will do that over a business dinner or a session of golf with them.

I have a lot of desk work, too, but I don’t need to mention what exactly I do because there’s no end to this kind of work. I try to clear desk work between visits to clients or use that time to study market trends or collect useful information which can help increase my productivity.

I spend time after work and weekend with my family. My four year old daughter is a big fan of Angel Cat Sugar. She has grown pretty fashion conscious these days and gives me her own opinions about the licensed product I give her. She might be little but she is a valuable advisor to me.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
Currently our properties are licensed in more than forty countries. Practices or strategies that work well in Japan do not necessarily work in other countries, so it is vital in our business to maintain cooperative relationships with our country agents, who have the local market knowledge and expertise. I always try to be flexible about individual market trend and customs whilst maintaining consistency on brand direction and protecting our artists and illustrators’ intentions.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
The best part of my job is that it gives me opportunities to meet people in various industries. Desk work is also important in our business, and I believe I am good at it, too but I really enjoy meeting people. This may be my natural tendency.

When I was younger, I found it very interesting and unique in this industry that there are many hands-on executives who actively take care of business and communication. In small-to-business size enterprises, the person you generally meet is the president, and even in larger corporations, your point-of-contact will be a senior executive. So, even if you are young, you often talk directly with presidents or people in important positions of your client companies. It is very interesting and you can learn so much just talking with experienced people. Now as I have grown older, I enjoy talking with presidents in my generation. It’s also fun and stimulating to meet younger people. Meeting a wide range of people gives me ideas for producing brands and characters. It is the ultimate joy to find people wearing or carrying products for properties that I took part in developing. Actually, it is always tough to stop myself from talking to these people on the street!

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?

Trends have been evolving more rapidly than ever, and I think this speed is the most significant change in this business. In the past, people used to like TV or movie-based properties. But today, they are moving away from these media platforms and are now enjoying games, social networking sites or YouTube. This has contributed to the growth of more diverse, original and independent properties. Happy Tree Friends, which we represent in Japan, is one of these examples. Apart from this rapid trend change, more “traditional” characters, such as our Angel Cat Sugar, are, I am happy to say, still loved and enjoyed by people as long-term, stable and popular properties. What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years? Due to the recent global economic recession, retailers are playing it safe and tend to stick to tried-and-tested famous characters or brands. Some retailers even decide to do away with licensed products, and carry generic or their originally created private-label brands only. This trend has been making it more and more difficult for new characters and brands to get into the market.

Also, we see that some government or corporations are now initiating policies whereby character properties are increasingly being restricted on foodstuffs marketed to kids or even banning character-related stationery used in schools.
Opportunities for licensing business will easily be lost if you stay still and do not actively search for new ideas. With that in mind, we are now working on a new licensing project that uses a technology to add fragrances of fabric softeners or other aromatic materials to non-scented products. Actually, rather than traditional licensing, it is more of a collaborative project with fragrances. This is quite a new and unique business in Japan, and I am glad to say attracted a lot of interest in the Licensing Japan show in July.

As seen in this example, although there are factors that make things tough for the licensing industry, opportunities and ideas are still around. Be creative, think out of the box, and discover new business fields. This is the key to survival in the licensing business.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
The licensing industry is very flexible. There are many new and budding forms of licensing, and it’s up to you to seize these new business opportunities. Take advantage of your own strengths and sensitivities, and simultaneously build relationships with partners who have expertise and skills that you don’t possess. Pay close attention to information, network with people, be aware of market trends, and develop your own new business ideas.

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
Efforts and ambition are crucial, of course. Be disciplined. Don’t be content with what you have now. It’s easy for anyone, including myself, to choose the easy way, but you can change your action or words by paying attention to what you do and what you say. Meet as many people as you can, stay curious about anything, and absorb many things. Keep improving yourself, so that people around you will enjoy talking with you and learning from you. This will naturally attract people to you and increase the potential for new business opportunities. Candidly speaking, this is my own goal and is what I am working to achieve myself, too.