Jeff Lotman, the Founder and CEO of Global Icons, was recently interviewed by NRF’s STORES Media. The NRF Foundation tacked on a few questions in this interview to explore the career side of of branding and licensing, and to learn more about Lotman’s background and how he came to launch his own licensing agency.
Tell us a bit about your career. Your first paying job, and what lead you to launch your own branding company?
I started in the food business via the manufacturing sector. I worked for more than 17 years at Keystone Foods, a large processor for some of the world’s leading food brands, including McDonald’s. I fell into licensing, as most people in this field do, by happenstance. I was trying to get the rights to use the name of James Cagney for a special project and ended up representing the rights to his estate. From there I built a licensing agency that specialized in representing classic celebrities. About ten years ago we shifted our focus to corporate brands and haven’t looked back.
How has branding as an area of expertise evolved during the past few years? How do you think this strategy will change during the next few years?
The field of licensing formally started in the 30s and 40s, with the biggest success of that era being Disney. An interesting historical anecdote about the power of the Disney brand is Lionel, the model train company. Lionel was close to going under until they took on the license for a Mickey Mouse branded train. The model sold so well it saved the company.
Back then, licensing was mostly just a matter of putting a character or logo on a product and it would sell. Today it has evolved from ” label slapping” to a much more sophisticated process. We look at the essence of the original brand and determine what demo or audiences it appeals to. We then find products that best reflect the promise and the integrity of the brand. Brand extensions through licensing must stay relevant to the essence of the brand. Coming up with a winning match-up is both a science and an art.
A recent example is the Ford Garage system, where we have addressed the interest of consumers who like to work in their garage and given them a totally branded system with Ford’s name or Mustangs’ name on all key features.
How can aspiring retailers prepare themselves to pursue careers that embrace branding? What attributes do they need in order to become successful in such a discipline?
Retailers are always looking for a way to drive new consumers to their store. Brand licensing, when done correctly, helps differentiate the retailer by providing a unique incentive for attracting customer traffic. Licensed products can effectively enhance retailers’ revenue streams when those products are designed to be sold exclusively to only certain retailers that share the demographic or the essential appeal of the original brand. Retailers who become savvy about the strategy of brand licensing can really elevate the success of their stores and their personal careers as well.
Are professional training/educational programs that address branding as a viable retail concept (such as those offered by colleges and universities) widely available?
There are some. UCLA has a course. So does LIMA (Licensing Industry Merchandising Association). But our industry is really the least known of the marketing disciplines. As a matter of fact, when I tell someone what we do, I always have to give an example since most people don’t really understand it at first. I surely didn’t when I first started.
Read more about Jeff Lotman, and his thoughts on brand licensing, in the full NRF STORES interview.