Don’t Miss the Opportunity to Meet With Brand Central at Licensing Expo
By Gary Symons
TLL Editor in Chief
When the licensing industry returned to in-person trade shows in 2022, I was interested to see which brands and which agencies attracted the largest crowds around their Licensing Expo booths. And, frankly, I was not that surprised to see the biggest lineup was at Brand Central. In fact, they were so booked, I had to change my own scheduled appointment three times, and only managed to squeeze in on the last day of Expo.
What I wanted to know was how did Brand Central grow from startup to one of the world’s top 10 licensing agencies in just two decades? According to the latest Licensing International rankings, Brand Central is the ninth largest licensing agency in the world, with their clients logging $3.4 billion in licensed revenue.
According to CEO and founder Ross Misher, it all started by focusing on brands within the cultural zeitgeist. At the time, Misher had worked for over six years in licensing at Marvel Comics and Disney Consumer Products, and saw an untapped opportunity with companies that most licensing agencies had ignored at the time. “It was always my dream to start my own business,” Misher recalls. “At that time, in 2000, the handful of licensing agencies were solely focused on corporate brands and the big studios were building programs around blockbuster films.
“I saw an opportunity to represent pop culture brands with passionate fan bases,” he explains. “I wanted to create a central place for those brands, thus the name: Brand Central. “In those early years, we signed clients such as: E! Entertainment Network, Comedy Central, Miramax Films and Napster. Today, digital brands, fandom films, streaming and cable shows are the norm in licensing.”
That ability to ‘see around the corner’ to what was coming next continues to inform the choices Brand Central makes about the clients it chooses to work with. Misher and his team have even formed their own trend research division, Brand Central Insights, which identifies the hottest trends that are about to crest, so their clients can quickly catch the wave. “Now, 22 years later we are still seeking out those ‘pop culture’ brands, from Bored of Directors, an NFT brand, to Black Paper Party, which celebrates diversity, or the beloved M&M’S characters,” Misher says. Notably, while NFTs have suffered over the past year, the Bored of Directors collective of Bored Apes stands as the most successful in the industry.
But success also has a way of bringing the big, established brands to your door. While Misher and team actively seek out emerging lifestyle and pop culture brands who have their fastest growth in front of them, Brand Central has also become the largest agency in the world in the food and beverage category. That all started when one of the world’s biggest food companies walked in the door. We signed Kellogg’s, our first food and beverage client, back in 2005,” Misher recalls. “Over the next nearly 20 years, we had the privilege of working with the biggest brands in CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods), including Dr Pepper Snapple Group, Kellogg’s, Kraft Heinz, Bimbo Bakeries, Mars Wrigley, Krispy Kreme, Tapatio Hot Sauce, Mondelez—just to name a few.”
But that onslaught of clients in a specialized industry required internal change, and Misher says hiring the right people for those types of accounts is key to their success.
“We hired experienced veterans from the food and beverage industry and built meaningful relationships with the leadership at major food and beverage companies, both big and small,” he says. “Concurrently, we represented food manufacturers to acquire licenses which has provided Brand Central invaluable insights into how food companies operate from the manufacturer perspective.”
The work with food and beverage companies also allowed Brand Central to acquire a great deal of expertise in the Consumer Packaged Goods sector, and particularly the processes companies use to decide which products are released to the public and how they are marketed to consumers. Food and beverage licensing is very strategic and specific and requires experience and expertise,” Misher explains. “Our team understands the inner workings of the stage gate process most CPG companies use—including consumer research, food innovation, food safety and quality assurance—and they have experience working collaboratively with brand teams, innovation and food scientists. “Our depth of knowledge, top-to-top relationships, trend and market intelligence, and passion for the category have been key differentiators for Brand Central, because we have developed methodologies and ways of working with food brands that have ensured success.”
Brand Central’s skill at identifying trends also led the company to make a savvy decision during the COVID-19 pandemic, as they saw manufacturers desperately trying to maintain their business during the years of lockdowns, restrictions and logistics logjams. “We strategically decided to accelerate our manufacturing representation business during Covid, as many manufacturers were seeking ways to grow their business during that challenging time,” Misher says. “We hired an incredible industry veteran, Liza Abrams, who spent the last 15 years acquiring the top licenses in the industry and we built a team around her. “As we got recognition for the disruptive collaborations we were executing, even more manufacturers came on board seeking consulting and opportunities to integrate their brands into cultural conversations.” The program has been a huge success for Brand Central for its clients, providing the agency with exponential growth in the sector. “Our manufacturer representation business has literally doubled in the past year,” Misher says. “We have been fortunate to have a roster of over 15 diverse manufacturers, from premium underwear to large appliances.”
But that’s only part of the overall plan for Brand Central, as it also looks for synergies between its various clients and contacts throughout industries. “We are in a rare position to have a 360-degree view of the entire licensing space, working with a variety of companies and across industries on both outbound and inbound licensing,” Misher explains. “
But if Misher had to point to one thing that is the most important for someone working in licensing, it’s to have passion for the brands you represent and the partnerships you can create, a deep and abiding interest in creating new products and programs through licensing.
Over the past year, for example, Misher says his best moments are when his team and his clients come together to create something new, exciting and special, that people will love. It’s when he talks about these deals that Misher really lights up.
“There are many collaborations we have launched this year, from M&M’S Brownie Brittle to Tapatio Ketchup, and one of the most exciting food launches in 2023 has been the Entenmann’s Ice Cream sandwiches sold at Walmart, which garnered over 1.6 billion media impressions and was featured on The Today Show and Fox and Friends,” he says. “Just last week, we announced a partnership with Free Range Games and the Rube Goldberg Institute for an innovative VR experience. Imagine creating a Rube Goldberg machine in your house using everyday objects you see through your Oculus glasses! “This has been such an exciting year for Brand Central!”
All that passion and hard work has certainly seen Brand Central grow over the past year, and it looks like their booth will once again be lined up out the door. For example, Brand Central has recently launched its new Lightning Reports, a trend service in partnership with The Licensing Letter, and Brand Central has been nominated for no fewer than five Licensing International Awards this year.
Already, his team is fully booked with appointments at The Licensing Expo. “At Expo, we have a full schedule of meetings with licensees for our brand extension clients and licensors and agents for our inbound clients,” Misher says. “We are also sitting down with retailers to explore opportunities to build programs with them across multiple licensees. Finally, we are catching up with global agents and international brands to explore collaborations. The show is a great opportunity to spend time with our clients and meet with new potential partners who come by our booth (D142).”
While the company’s dance card may be full, Misher and Brand Central are always looking for the next great partner. Asked what he’s looking for more than anything else, Misher reverted to the personality that helped build Brand Central from scratch. “We would love to meet any ‘passion’ brands that are relevant in culture and ready to launch innovative products,” he said. “We are also excited to explore opportunities with retailers, licensees, iconic IP owners and manufacturers looking for representation and great brands seeking collaborations. “We have expanded our creative services capabilities and are interested in meeting any company who needs first class creative work done, from style guides and presentations, to mockups and packaging design. “Finally, any retailer, IP owner or manufacturer who wants customized, curated trend intelligence—our trend service, Brand Central Insights, is available for new clients who want to stay one step ahead of the competition.”
To contact Brand Central for a meeting at or after Expo, use the Licensing Expo ‘matchmaking service’, or send an email to email@example.com. You can also visit Brand Central at its booth, #D142.