By Gary Symons
TLL Editor in Chief
When the global licensing agency Beanstalk was founded in 1992, not many major corporations were all that interested in the idea of comprehensive brand licensing.
Today, however, corporate brands are everywhere, and that’s largely due to the work Beanstalk and a few other companies have done over the past 30 years.
Allison Ames has been the CEO at Beanstalk for much of that time, promoted in 2015 to fill the big shoes of company co-founder Michael Stone, who became the company’s executive chairman.
But Ames was among the first people to work at Beanstalk, so she came to the job with deep understanding of the company and her role in it, and with the benefit of working alongside Stone for two decades.
Ames began her career at Beanstalk in 1997 and led licensing initiatives for diverse brands such as HGTV, Stanley, Black & Decker, Purina, Airheads, the U.S. Army, Mary-Kate and Ashley, Salma Hayek and Danskin, among other key clients.
She also re-introduced the Manufacturer Representation division of the agency, leading projects for key clients such as ConAgra, among others.
Prior to her role as President, Ames was President, North America, in which she was responsible for all clients operating in the North American region, and oversaw Beanstalk’s Business Development and Marketing departments.
“I am proud to call Michael a mentor and a colleague,” Ames says. “I have not only learned from Michael’s successful experience and accomplishments in the licensing world but we have worked together to shape the agency into the culture it is today.
“Beanstalk is synonymous with strategic brand extension through licensing—a testament to the vision and expertise that Michael brought to bear on behalf of the agency and the impact he has had on the entire industry.”
That impact was felt most in the area of corporate brand licensing, which has seen a major transformation from those early days.
“Beanstalk was founded in 1992, and at that time, and in the earlier years of the licensing industry, corporate brand licensing was not a priority for global companies,” Ames recalls. “It was more an afterthought and much more transactional than strategic.
“There were a few exceptions—like The Coca-Cola Company and Harley-Davidson, who are two of Beanstalk’s first clients—but Beanstalk was founded on the principle of filling that gap by strategically and seamlessly extending corporate brands into new categories and retail channels.”
The earlier days of brand licensing were primarily focused, as one might expect, on entertainment, fashion and toy brands, so when Beanstalk was created as a company focused on corporate branding, it truly set the company apart.
“Beanstalk strategically focuses on corporate and lifestyle brands,” Ames explains. “We look for brands with unique equities that can seamlessly be extended into new categories that fuel brand engagement, offer additional consumer touch points, and ultimately drive consumers back to the core product.”
As we all know now, that approach was highly successful for brands that at the time weren’t necessarily seeing licensing as part of their core business, other than perhaps putting a logo on a shirt or a hat.
Today, Beanstalk is one of the largest licensing agencies on the planet, ranked third in the world with $9.9 billion in licensed revenues. The company’s stable of clients helps explain that impressive number, as it includes global corporate heavyweights like Procter & Gamble, Stanley, Black+Decker, Diageo, Kellogg’s, Dole, Godiva, TGI Fridays, US Army, The Ohio State University, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Audi, Bentley, Volvo, Shell, Pennzoil, Quaker State, Jacuzzi, and the company’s digital ‘Tinderbox’ division, clients like Microsoft, Activision, Ubisoft and Atari, all of them among the top video gaming companies in the world.
That all started from the company’s first office in New York City when Coca-Cola and Harley-Davidson signed up as early clients. Those companies and other subsequent clients quickly saw results, and realized that licensing was far more than an ‘afterthought’ to the core business.
But the fact Beanstalk has become the top licensing agency for large corporations does not mean it doesn’t work with smaller companies as well. In fact, Ames says size is not even the primary criteria for accepting new clients, as its more about whether there’s a good fit.
“Our criteria for partner selection always comes down to whether we believe there are strategic extension opportunities, regardless of the size of the brand,” Ames says. “If a ‘smaller brand’ can fill a void in the marketplace, cater to an underserved audience, or provide innovation at retail, we will partner with them to explore opportunities.
“A great recent example is our work with Chef Eric Adjepong,” Ames adds. “Chef Eric appeared on Top Chef and was the first contestant to prominently feature West African-influenced meals on the show.
“As part of our efforts to help Black entrepreneurs grow their business, we proactively approached Chef Eric to develop a line of products that represented his heritage. We are launching a retail collaboration for him next spring in the cookware/entertaining category, and are now exploring food and beverage extensions.”
Another factor that comes into play is whether the clients fit in with Beanstalk’s core expertise, as the company’s goal is to provide the best possible service to its partners. Due to its size and scope, Beanstalk has expertise in virtually every aspect of licensing, but there are certain areas in which the company has deeper knowledge.
“We have particularly strong expertise in food and beverage, consumer packaged goods, home décor, home improvement, automotive, museum, video gaming and lifestyle licensing, but given our diverse client roster over the past 30 years, we have experience with virtually every industry,” Ames says.
One aspect of Beanstalk’s business that most people don’t think much about is that it is also a leader among manufacturers who work in licensing, and particularly those breaking into new retail agreements. Because they represent a broad range of both licensors and licensees, Beanstalk has the ability to help successful launches of new product lines right down to the retail shelves.
“The bar for differentiation at retail continues to raise higher,” Ames says. “Ensuring that products stand out on the shelf is critical, and licensing powerful brands can accomplish this. Through our Manufacturer Representation service, Beanstalk helps manufacturers bring innovative products to market by partnering them with the right brands from our unparalleled global network of contacts.”
On the other side of the counter, Beanstalk’s work in this area means the company has become an important partner for the retailers as well. That has become a major focus of the agency’s work, Ames says, thanks to the many collaborations Beanstalk has brought to retailer’s shelves over the years.
Now, Beanstalk offers specialty programs for retailers.
“Beanstalk partners with retailers to develop and launch exclusive programs that differentiate their offering from competitors and attract and retain consumers,” Ames explains. “These programs can take the form of Retailer Exclusives or Direct-To-Retail partnerships.
“Beanstalk also identifies and/or works with retailers’ preferred partners to develop product roadmaps and strategies specific to the brand; we oversee the development and execution of the program from product concepts to final production including merchandising, packaging and marketing collateral; and we ensure a seamless experience to the customer while also looking at trends and innovation for future development. “Beanstalk also handles the operations for the program including legal, financial reporting and collections, forecasting and auditing.”
That’s a lot of expertise to bring to the table, and one that has now spawned a consulting division. Building upon decades of brand extension and licensing experience, the company’s consulting division advises retailers on how to gain market share through innovative and commercially viable brand extension strategies.”
As a reporter and researcher who writes about trends in licensing, I was personally interested in another of Beanstalk’s services; a trend reporting group that provides intel for its licensing clients.
“Cultural Intelligence is an international trend reporting service that utilizes data, research and analytics to identify relevant consumer, marketing and retail trends that brands can leverage to innovate and grow their licensing programs,” Ames explains. “Beanstalk Cultural Intelligence evaluates trends across consumer behavior, category and channel growth, and emerging business sectors to pave a path to sustained evolution.
“In addition to our free monthly reports, we also offer brand owners, manufacturers and retailers bimonthly, quarterly or single bespoke trend reports that dive into a topic they’re interested in exploring deeper.”
It’s obviously been a rather busy three decades at Beanstalk, and the agency shows little sign of slowing down.
Some top collaborations include Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Froot Loops entering the protein powder space; Eggo partnering on a cleverly named ‘Eggo Nog’; and a line of macaroni and cheese products inspired by Guinness that has won several awards from the Specialty Food Association.
The agency has been pushing out a daunting number of new collaborations, including one involving The Metropolitan Museum of Art that is among Ames’ favorite programs of 2023.
Beanstalk began working as The Met’s licensing agency for the US and Japan in 2020, a program that was extended in 2021 to include Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
“The Met’s goal is to bring art to life and lives to art, essentially democratizing access to the world’s greatest collection of fine art and artifacts,” Ames says. “Products in The Met’s licensing program inspire people to lean in and explore the museum and discover humanity’s treasures. Another goal of The Met is to license products that will resonate with new demographics.
The Met x PacSun apparel and accessories partnership neatly achieved this goal and generated over 300K impressions for the brands,” Ames adds. “Another aspect of The Met’s program that is meaningful is that all royalties from sales of licensed products are utilized to support the museum’s activities and its mission.”
As well, Beanstalk worked on the recently-launched Met Home collection that boasts five licensees who all debuted at High Point Furniture Market.
“There are now plans to enhance that program by seeking partners in the paint and flooring categories,” Ames says. “In the apparel/accessories program, we have plans to expand into footwear, loungewear, luggage and bags.”
That work is continuing, and Ames says the program has been incredibly successful because each licensee is granted exclusive access to The Met’s repository of images or video in the museum’s digital archives; literally a rich treasure trove of seemingly endless content.
There are 17 different curatorial departments from which licensees can draw inspiration, and both Beanstalk and The Met’s team work closely with licensees to point them in artistic directions appropriate to their individual categories.
The program is just one example of just how broadly licensors can expand their IP, with a little help from the team at Beanstalk.