Make the fans your friends
Interaction via the Internet and social media has fundamentally changed the relationship between brand owners and fans in the entertainment industry, argued last night’s keynote speaker, entertainment industry executive Diane Nelson.
“If you have fans that are that engaged, you better figure out a way to engage with that interest or you alienate them,” she told an audience of Annual Meeting registrants. Nelson is President of DC Entertainment (the company that publishes and owns the rights to many stories and characters), President of Warner Bros. Consumer Products (a global licensing business) and President and Chief Content Officer of Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment (one of the largest publishers of video games).
In her keynote, she discussed the two major franchises she has worked on over the past 20 years—HARRY POTTER and DC Entertainment—and the “very different approaches to these sets of brands.” Nelson said the guiding principle when working on the HARRY POTTER movies from 1998 was to respect the books and the children who enjoyed them: “If kids had lost ownership, we would have done a disservice to the brand.” That meant that they were encouraged to read the books first; movies, merchandise, games and theme parks came after.
But the movie series developed as the Internet was taking off, and that posed new problems such as user-generated content and fan fiction. Challenges such as fan-organised Quidditch matches and unauthorized T-shirts also had to be confronted. By contrast, the DC Entertainment franchise involves characters that have existed for 70 or 80 years. “It’s a very different approach than we took with HARRY POTTER. Ubiquity is our goal,” said Nelson. This means telling new stories, protecting and building the iconic characters/brands, while weaving in secondary and tertiary ones.
She added that fans feel an ownership in characters such as BATMAN and SUPERMAN, and that it is hard to strike a balance between giving them what they want and maintaining control of the brand: “Where do you draw the line if someone is creating a fan film? Is it the length? Or the budget?”
During a Q&A session with Annual Meeting co-chairs Peter Dernbach and Rick McMurtry, Nelson said one of her favorite brands is HBO, due to its “quality, respect for talent and latitude for creativity.” Asked for her favorite superhero, she named WONDER WOMAN: “She’s compassionate and badass.”
In addition to changes arising from digital technology, Nelson cited piracy and “the proliferation of content through different platforms” as the biggest challenges her industry faces. “Everything in this business is changing … How do you create great storytelling with so many different platforms?” In particular, she said, there is a big question about how streaming will affect the licensing of content.
All of this, she said, comes down to understanding the importance of intellectual property. “There are no better partners to me in business than my legal colleagues,” she said.
His grandfather (a silversmith in the Netherlands) and Taylor Swift provided the inspiration for INTA President Ronald van Tuijl’s welcoming speech last night. Swift shows that personal branding is part of everyday business, said van Tuijl, while his grandfather’s stamp was a critical marketing tool in his industry.
“Are we not all in the business of marketing all the time?” asked van Tuijl. “How do we stand out so that we’re selected? The answer is personal branding—how you interact with people, and every message you communicate.” His advice was: “Be relevant and be selective—be known by those people who need to know you. Your reputation is your most important asset.” Like the traditional guilds, he said, INTA is a community of brand owners and professionals, and personal branding is good for the Association and the IP community. Van Tuijl delivered his speech in a Tuxedo which, he said, was part of his own personal brand.
The co-chairs revealed in their speech last night that registration for this year’s Annual Meeting has passed 10,000 (10,100 as of Sunday), making it the biggest ever. In his presentation, INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo said that the Association has a growing membership, now comprising 31,727 individuals, with 604 new members in the past year. He outlined many of the achievements since last year’s Annual Meeting, and identified five challenges ahead: (1) harmonization and simplification of registration procedures; (2) the trade in counterfeits; (3) the Internet; (4) plain packaging; and (5) anti-IP sentiment.