Today, Punchbowl announced the 2016 ‘Characters Kids Love’ collection. You can read the full press release here. I thought I would take a few minutes to share some of what I’ve learned from working with Nickelodeon, one of the key partners mentioned in the news release.
First a bit of background: Nickelodeon is part of Viacom Media Networks, which includes well-known cable channels such as MTV, VH-1, and BET. According to Viacom, Nickelodeon is the #1 entertainment brand for kids, and its television network is seen in 100 million U.S. homes. The brand includes well-known characters such as SpongeBob, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Dora the Explorer, and many more. The Nickelodeon channel has been rated the number-one-rated basic cable network for twenty years in a row. The brand is known throughout the world, and they even have theme-based hotels in Florida and the Dominican Republic. As you can see, Nickelodeon is a very well-known brand and part of a huge media conglomerate.
We first formed a strategic partnership with Nickelodeon in early 2015, and they were a key part of our ‘Characters Kids Love’ collection. We’ve been close partners with them ever since, and our new 2016 collection includes the “PAW Patrol” brand, which is one of the fastest growing kids brands in the marketplace. Our partnership with Nick is important to both companies, and it’s been a mutually beneficially relationship.
Here are 7 lessons I’ve learned from our ongoing partnership with Nickelodeon:
Lesson 1: Find the right people
If you want a strategic partnership with a big company, you’re going to need to spend the time to figure out who to reach out to inside the company. With Nickelodeon, I was unsuccessful several times. As I look back at the emails which I sent that were not answered, it’s clear that I didn’t target the right people inside the company. One invaluable tool I use for research is LinkedIn. Here’s one mistake I’ve made: don’t search for people that might be a fit, try to find someone that is a perfect fit for what you want to discuss. To find the perfect person will take longer, but in my experience the extra time up-front saves you a lot of wasted effort.
Lesson 2: Understand their business
Spend time to research and learn more about your partner. For example, one of the things we learned about Nickelodeon is that their popular show “PAW Patrol” is created by a Canadian company called SpinMaster. As a result, we needed a completely separate agreement from the other licenses we had under our pre-existing agreement with Nickelodeon. This one piece of information made all of the conversations about PAW Patrol with Nickelodeon much easier. Remember: it’s not their job to educate you about their business. Spend the energy required to learn as much as you can about their business and any details that might help you with negotiations.
Lesson 3: Meet in person
While it’s easy to form partnerships and never meet face to face, I believe there is no substitute for personal interaction. Yes, this means that you have to actually spend the effort to travel and meet face to face. In some cases, you can schedule a lot of meetings all at once if you attend a conference or trade show. For example, we had the opportunity to meet with our main Nickelodeon contact this past June at the Licensing Expo in Las Vegas. We sat down, got to know each other, and shared a few laughs. After we met face-to-face for 25 minutes, the personal connection made the rest of the negotiations a piece of cake.
Lesson 4: Be patient (really patient)
If you’ve ever worked through contracts and legal documents with a large company, you know the process can be very tedious. Things that you might be able to accomplish in a single afternoon may take weeks (or months) to get done. For example, with our new PAW Patrol license we went through multiple versions of the contract — despite having gone through similar contract negotiations for the previous licenses — as well as many conversations with their legal team. It doesn’t help to get frustrated. Just trust that the process is necessary, and keep your eyes on the end result.
Lesson 5: Work in parallel
This advice can be applied to many situations, but it’s particularly useful when you are in the process of signing a new deal. For our Nickelodeon partnership, they gave us access to creative assets so that we could get started on designs as we finalized the agreement. This proved to be a very smart decision, as the contract took longer than expected (shocker!). By the time the agreement was signed by both parties, all of the designs were approved and we were able to go live right away (including these great new PAW Patrol designs)
Lesson 6: Conform to their systems
Once you have signed a deal with a big company, it’s important that you conform to their systems. In the case of Nickelodeon, they have an approval system that we are expected to use. It’s important to assign someone in your company as the primary person to learn and manage their systems. Choose someone that you trust and pays attention to details (hi Amie!). It’s important not to make mistakes or guess as you fill out these forms. We learned the hard way: one of our first approvals was re-routed incorrectly at Nickelodeon and it created an unnecessary delay (the system is a little confusing, but ultimately it was our fault and delays could have been avoided).
Lesson 7: Try to become their favorite partner
In addition to the data you are required to submit, spend time thinking about what other data you can provide to your partner which adds value to their business. You would be surprised at how hard it is for an individual Business Unit Manager to get data inside a big company, so ask what kind of data they would like to see. Our friends at Nickelodeon have been effusive about the kinds of data we’re able to provide them on a regular basis. Depending on the business, this data might include usage data, trends data, or other interesting tidbits (for example, we provide usage data by brand).
Surprise and delight them with unexpected information that will help them make more informed decisions (and look like a rock-star to their peers). Also, periodically check-in with your main contact to understand what is currently on their plate, and make the effort to support them in any way you can. For example, when we learned Nickelodeon was going to premiere a new season of SpongeBob in September 2015, we incorporated a series of posts about the new season into our Social Media calendar. These gestures may seem small, but these are examples that turn a good partner into a great partner.
KEY TAKEAWAY: Partnerships are the lifeblood to a great business. To be a great partner, spend time and invest resources in the relationship. Be thoughtful and thorough, and the rewards of your work will come back to you and then some. We love Nick!