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BizTalk by David Robinson: Banding together to protect brands

Kimberly A. Kociencki is bringing licensing experts from nearly 60 Fortune 500 companies to Buffalo in late September.

Kociencki is the chief executive officer of the Society of Product Licensors Committed to Excellence, a Buffalo-based trade group she founded 11 years ago that has grown to 57 members, all major corporations, from Coca-Cola Co. and Nike to Mattel Inc. and Walt Disney Co., that are looking for ways to protect, promote and enhance their brands.

Local development officials see the workshop as a venue to showcase the region to executives from some of the nation’s biggest companies.

Kociencki sees it as an event as a homecoming of sorts for a group that grew out of a conversation Kociencki had with a former Fisher-Price engineer more than a dozen years ago.

Q: Who can belong to SPLiCE?

A: We have a criteria for members that they either have $1 billion in brand value or $10 million in retail royalties.

Q: What’s SPLiCE all about?

A: We’re really tied to brand protection. It’s about enhancing, promoting and protecting the brand. It’s about building an environment where we can share those best practices so we can learn from each other and enhance the industry.

When you think of movies like “Jurassic World,” you know there is going to be all kinds of swag and merchandise coming out ... but it only has a shelf life of six to eights weeks. Licensing was usually more about promotional products, not really building on brand integrity or brand equity, but more at supporting whatever that character in entertainment was at that time.

Q: What do SPLiCE’s members want to get out of their membership?

A: Among the companies that we were speaking with, almost 70 percent of SPLiCE members have a brand that is more than 100 years old. Almost 80 percent have licensing programs that are 15-plus years old.

These programs are to support core products and those initiatives. How might a brand support the consumer loyalty that’s out there and also give the consumer a different or heightened experience within the brand through licensing.

Coca-Cola, for instance, might go and partner with a designer to make a beautiful T-shirt for $100 to $200 and we buy it because of the affinity we have for the brand.

Stanley Black & Decker doesn’t make generators, but they have a partner or a licensee that they work very closely with that has that expertise. And now they have a generator and the consumers are happy, especially if it has a name like DeWalt on it, and a brand that they have an affinity for, they feel more comfortable buying.

Q: What type of issues do you deal with?

A: Within SPLiCE, we have three function groups that support brands, which are quality, legal and marketing. On the periphery, we speak to social accountability, environmental sustainability, counterfeiting and finance.

Q: Can you give me an example?

A: It could be about the termination of licensees if a licensee goes bankrupt. What do we do with all the product if there’s a recall?

What we’re trying to do is find out if there are other members who have a way of protecting their brand and satisfying a potential risk or by making something up front in the vetting of a new licensee. Maybe it’s a scorecard they use to check in on a licensee. We talk about sustainability.

Q: What are you going to be doing in Buffalo?

A: It’s our annual member meeting. Commissioner Joe Mohorovic from the Consumer Product Safety Commission is coming in to be our keynote speaker.

Q: How many people do you think will come?

A: I’m planning on 100 to 125.

Q: How did SPLiCE get started?

A: I was working at Bureau Veritas and one of my clients was Fisher-Price. There was a need to validate why testing was so important for licensed products and licensees. We would go to Toy Fair and LIMS and talk to other brand owners who were having some of the same challenges. But there was no organization that just brought brand owners together. This was back in 2000, 2001 and 2002.

Rachel Shagott, who used to work at Fisher-Price, and I were coming back from Toy Fair. I said Rachel, you know the questions you want to ask other licensors. I said, I’ll put the meeting together. That was the founding of the first meeting, which was in September 2003 at the Mansion on Delaware.

Q: How many people were there?

A: 46 people. After the first initial meeting, the energy was so high because brand owners had not had this chance to look at risk analysis, to talk about brand protection, in a closed sort of group. By December 2003, we had our first website, which was Everybody wanted to meet again, but we had to have some sort of umbrella entity.

I had three different people go to three different associations ... to see if we could fit under their umbrella, and all three came back and said, ‘Kimberly, we’re going to have to stand on our own because people are too interested in who these individual players are at these companies instead of what we’re trying to do.’ So we filed our charter, and on April 6, 2004, we were incorporated in New York State.

Our second meeting was at McDonald’s, right at Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Ill., and we wrapped 2004 with 17 member companies.