Licensing Career Stories: Stu Seltzer, Seltzer Licensing Group

What were the career moves that brought you to the licensing business?
I started my career as a CPA at Arthur Andersen. When the Berlin Wall fell, I started a side business selling pieces of the Berlin Wall to retailers around the country. After receiving significant press (interviewed by Charlie Rose…) I was convinced to leave accounting and pursue a marketing related career. I then attended business school at Columbia University and was recruited to work at Yves Saint Laurent managing their US office. That is where I was first introduced to the licensing business as we worked to grow the licensing program from 7 to 12 global licensees. I was then recruited to work at DC Comics division of Warner Bros where there were 450 licensees for a Batman brand. I then started my own licensing consulting firm in 1998.

What’s a “typical” day in your current position? 
There is no “typical day” which keeps everything interesting. Our days may consist of a brainstorm meeting around future Popsicle brands, meetings at a trade show for our Scotts client, conference calls with Unilever in Asia, analyzing an agreement for Del Monte or teaching a class at NYU. We always have a few standing “can’t miss” events each week such as an internal staff meeting, weekly client status calls, etc., but no two days are ever the exact same.

What’s the most challenging aspect of your job? How do you address that challenge?
Negotiating with the various parties (licensees, licensors, retailers, vendors) remains the most challenging part of job. As you know, the first rule in negotiating… “everything is negotiable”. Over time, our skills and judgment in this area have improved significantly, and we’ve develop a smart approach towards our negotiations but it still remains a challenge.

What’s your favorite part of your job?
My favorite part of the job is interacting with our clients and licensing partners. I also really enjoy seeing the actual product concepts on the store shelves.

What are the most significant trends or changes that you’ve seen in the business in recent years?
Overall, the licensing business has become more sophisticated, more analytical and somewhat more complex. Thankfully, we’re in a good position to help companies navigate through the complex business issues today. The digital marketing has also added speed to the process, which has been fun to watch. (Feel free to visit our Twitter feed… @SeltzLicensing)

What are the biggest challenges facing the licensing business in the next three years?
The biggest challenges facing the licensing industry are related to the retailers, pricing and the economy. Because of retail consolidation, today’s retailers wield considerable power. Furthermore, they seem to be risk-averse and prefer to license the top brands only. We’re also seeing a lot of pricing pressure on products, royalty rates, as commodity prices increase and retailers want to keep the prices steady. We know through innovation the licensing industry will overcome these challenges and continue to thrive.

What advice would you give to students or young professionals wanting to pursue a career in licensing?
I teach a 3-credit undergrad class at New York University that focuses just on licensing. This Spring will mark my 10th year teaching this class (please visit my website for more info and for some sample mid-term questions ).
My advice for students or your professionals is:

  • Take any job you can to break into the industry. If you want a sales position but there’s only an approvals management position available, take it and network within the organization and work hard to prove yourself.
  • Read everything: Read all the trade magazines and newsletters and licensing blogs (such as LIMA’s blog), so you become comfortable with the licensing language
  • Spend time with the Contract: Licensing agreements are a large part of the industry, so it is worth your time to spend time reading and understanding the licensing terms and clauses in the contract itself.
  • Network and have fun: Take advantage of the networking opportunities (such as LIMA’sFLIP) to meet others in the industry and have fun!

Any advice for mid-career professionals looking to expand their competencies?
Become an true expert in a product category (by taking a class, reading their trades, watching the major players). Also, I would recommend you get more involved in LIMA. I’ve had the honor and pleasure of serving on the LIMA board for six years including two years on the executive board. I’ve also chaired the International Licensing Award Show for 11 years in a row. These have been very rewarding experiences and although it does require time and dedication I highly recommend to licensing professional of all ages.