Licensing Career Stories: Steven Cohen, Brandgenuity

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
I started my career as an attorney practicing corporate law in a large law firm in New York City. After five years toiling in the legal field, I realized I was much more interested in the business aspect of law than the drafting of the documents that support these transactions. I wanted to be instrumental in the building of businesses and I left the practice of law to head the licensing group at Disguise, a costume company. I led the company’s efforts in expanding into licensing by screening, negotiating and acquiring key licenses including: Disney, Marvel, Nickelodeon and Power Rangers and ultimately helped sell the company. I then worked at CSS Industries for 12 years heading up their licensing business across multiple product formats. After 25 years of working in-house acquiring licenses for leading manufacturers, I decided to establish the consulting division of Brandgenuity where I could bring this expertise to a wide variety of clients who need help in acquiring strategic licenses that will incrementally grow their businesses.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position?
While every day is different, they all revolve around the theme of identifying and acquiring licenses for our clients. I am on the phone with clients discussing properties to pursue and updating them on the status of the discussions/negotiations. Or I might be speaking with property owners about licensing to my clients or updating them on the progress of product lines in the market. I am constantly engaged in dialogue with industry participants to
make sure to stay abreast of the latest developments which could have a positive impact on my clients. When looking for brands for our clients, we explore and research a wide range of corporate brands, entertainment properties, and celebrity and authority brands and more.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
We are working in a challenging licensing environment. The competition is fierce. There are lots of manufacturers looking for licenses and the competition to get the right license is tougher
than ever. It is my job to make sure that licensors understand the benefits of working with my clients. I champion the advantages of working with the companies we represent so I can create strategic partnerships that benefit both the licensor and licensee. When it comes to kids entertainment properties, we are living in a multi-platform world. Gone are the days of Saturday morning television ruling the universe. Kids are getting their entertainment from multiple formats fighting for their attention. Even adults are overloaded by the numerous entertainment outlets available to us. It is a full time job staying on top of all of these platforms and identifying those properties that have true value or staying power. Apps, social games, cable channels, streaming TV subscription services- are all possible sources for licenses. We need to understand these outlets to be able to make informed recommendations.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
There are two aspects of licensing that I enjoy the most. Implementing a licensing plan that results in significant growth to my client’s bottom line by expanding their sales, expanding their distribution or putting them into new business sectors is definitely my favorite part of the job. But I also get a thrill out of finding the hot license before it becomes hot. I have been fortunate to have identified Angry Birds, Power Rangers and many other properties in their infancy. There is nothing like the feeling of picking a winner and then working with a talented client to maximize the opportunity.What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years? Apps have certainly taken the licensing industry by storm but the $64,000 question is whether they have true staying power. The other significant trend is the number of licensed brands and properties that can now be found in the “value” channel. Increasingly, value retailers are looking for brands and manufacturers are in need of the right property to reach the expanding universe of consumers who shop this channel.

What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years?
The consolidation at retail continues to be a challenge. There are just not as many places to sell your products as there was even a few years ago. We need to make sure that our clients have the brands and properties retailers want so that they can get the product placed on shelf. There are also retailers beyond the top five players that buy licensed goods and we want to be sure that we bring the right opportunities to our clients to effectively support those retailers such as sporting goods retailers, grocery chains and other specialty retailers.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
Licensing is a fabulous career. Every day there are new challenges and new businesses to learn about. A career in licensing, especially at the entry level provides a good window to what is involved with being a licensee and what is involved in being a licensor. (Licensing also helps a young person develop their marketing, product development, analytical and program management skills.)

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
I really believe in attending LIMA seminars, webinars and networking events. We are in the information and relationship business and these events are some of the best ways to expand your network and broaden your knowledge base.