My Love Affair With Licensing

In my former life, I worked in licensing. I realize there are many people out there who have no idea what licensing is about and I know this because before I entered that world, I was one of those people.

In the simplest of terms, licensing is the act of granting permission to someone to do something. In my former life, I worked with authorizing, granting and allowing the use and release of animation – specifically Japanese animation.

I call to mind a phenomenon I take for granted everyone remembers: Pokemon.

Even as I incorporate use of this image, I know I don't have the right to do so.

Now, I wasn’t involved in any way with the evolution of Pokemon in our everyday lives and in fact, the first murmurs of the explosion-to-come were heard in the late 90’s (1996, I believe, though I could be wrong.) During that time, I was tucked away at college, figuring out my life and where I wanted to go with it. I had no idea what Pokemon was or even, what licensing was or how it would someday wrap me into its snug little world.

The point is, we all remember when Pokemon exploded onto the scene. We didn’t even have to have kids to know that every kid across America (and then some, I would later learn) was engrossed with collecting these devilish little Pocket Monsters. Based on a video game and then turned into animation, it suddenly seemed that the entire world was being taken over by 1) weird looking Japanese animation and 2) that yellow dinosaur/dog thing called Pikachu or what have you. Yeah, kids went nuts over this little animation property and you know what made said frenzy possible? Licensing!! Licensing the shit out of these images allowed said characters to appear on everything from notebooks, backpacks, toys, bedding, tshirts, etc. And I’m willing to bet that we can probably even find said Pikachu on vibrators and such (though of course, not legally licensed for such use.) And once there are things with an image on it, there is always somebody out there, a kid, teen or adult, who just CAN’T POSSIBLY LIVE WITHOUT THAT PIKACHU YELLOW PASHMINA!!!

Before Pokemon, we can remember licensing in all its glory with none other than our beloved Star Wars. Now there’s a licensing jackpot. Let’s think about this for a minute: though Lucas has, without argument, many wonderful creations (Indiana Jones, Willow, American Graffiti, to name a few) there is nothing that compares to the cinematic and licensing success of his mega empire called Star Wars. One of the biggest factors that lends to the success of a licensing brand, if it’s based on a movie or tv show, is its longevity. If it’s a tv show, everyone wants to know – how many episodes can we count on? Why? The longer the series or franchise, the longer someone has to make sure that notebook they develop has time to become a roaring success in retail as well. This is what makes Star Wars so f-ing amazing in the licensing world!! Back in the day there were only THREE movies – movies, not even episodes that air on a daily or weekly basis but a movie that lasts a mere weeks in theaters – and Lucas built an empire the size of China based on THREE MOVIES that came out THREE years apart. Think about it – would you buy merchandise based on Titanic? That was an explosive movie at its time yet it came and went, like movies do. Yet Star Wars remains. Brilliant.

In any case, the point of this post, along with offering you a little background into the world of licensing and how it pulsates around us, is to tell you that, once a year there is a convention dedicated solely and exclusively to the licensing world and it’s called – what else – Licensing Show. Actually its official title is “Licensing International Expo” but no one in licensing calls it anything else but simply and purely, Licensing Show.

The first time I attended Licensing Show, as an Exhibitor, was in 2004. Back in the day, this convention was held in the greatest city on Earth – New York – during the hot, summer month of June. It was nothing short of pure chaos, with people coming and going and my superiors presenting new brands that were on the horizon, compliments of my former company and its intended licensing efforts behind said brands. The following year (and for several years after), we exhibited yet again but this time with a booth twice the size of earlier years, with a reception area and five individual meeting rooms that accommodated six meeting members each. The chaos multiplied. Half hour back-to-back meetings from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm where one basically repeated brand information from one would-be client to the next. This was the typical DAY of the exhibitor and what followed once the convention doors closed (at 6:00 pm sharp!) was any number of cocktails hosted by well-known companies (Disney, Viacom, Cartoon Network, Hasbro, Mattel, etc), followed by dinner – perhaps with a VP of a television network or Creative Director of some sought after agency. One would trek through the trendiest of neighborhoods in Manhattan, from the convention, to the cocktail, to a the posh dinner, only to plop into bed at about midnight, buzzed off business and wine and hurrying into slumber to be in tip-top shape for the first 9:00 am meeting the following day. Past 6:00 pm the cocktails were hard to avoid. Meetings could continue past 6:00 pm but that meant that they were scheduled at a bar and usually, one reserved that prime-time for a favored company – one that allowed you to mix fun and work. It was an exhausting week, that one, but without a doubt, the one week I looked forward to each and every year.

I met my husband at this convention, actually. I don’t recall our first meeting but he tells me that I wore glasses and a white skirt (that’s all he seems to recall so I wonder if I bothered putting on a top that day.) We actually met years before we decided to like each other, but the year we DID fall in love (in November) we attended Licensing Show like always (the June before) and partied at a rooftop bar in NYC. Another splendid tradition: the last night of the convention, all the Latins (Mexicans, Chileans, Argentinians, what have you) got together for a celebratory, let’s-toast-to-another-Licensing-Show-gone-by-and-hey-it’s-awesome-to-see-you-again drink.

Me and future hubby partying circa 2008 at the rooftop bar. I look super sober.

And so, what’s my point with this? Tonight G is flying home from Licensing Show 2011 as I type. This is the first year he attends in which I am no longer involved in the world of licensing. I envy him. I remember what it was like to prepare for that trip, to wake up knowing you face a full agenda of the day’s meetings. I remember being a licensing rockstar if only in my own reality. I remember looking at all my fellow licensing colleagues from Latin America – sh*t, even from Chile – and thinking “Wow, how cool is your gig? In licensing and in Lat Am, what more do you need?” I remember the meetings, the cocktails, the dinners, the parties, the negotiations, the encounters and I Though I’m happy G is still a part of that world (I can live vicariously through him!) I can’t help but feel that I’ve fallen from grace.

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The recession’s a b*tch

Today it officially “went public” that my current employer laid off 40% of its workforce yesterday in an attempt to respond to the financial crisis surrounding most businesses in these times. In a sweeping motion, about 55 people lost their jobs … and I gotta say, it’s a sad, sad day for us all, even if these cuts don’t necessarily affect me.

I currently work for this company as an independent, so I’m not technically on their roster of employees and of course, I’m not included in the overhead of additional costs such as insurance, medical, etc. I began working for this company in January 2004 so I’ve seen it through it’s highs and lows and even barely survived previous lows when lay offs were necessary. All in all, I’ve been nothing but grateful for my chance to continue to work with them even from afar. I’ve commented on this a few times on my blog, actually.

It’s sad to watch this company go through another set of lows, this one by far the lowest valley it’s walked across since I’ve been involved with them. I know it’s not a matter of the company itself but more so, the company’s reaction to its environment. In fact, article after business article seem to echo the sentiment that things are going to get worse before they get better. There’s even an entire website dedicated to listing which companies have laid people off and how many were laid off. Check it out for some depressing statistics.

I remember my company’s highest high (that I’ve witnessed anyway) and it was in 2005 or 2006, I believe. We had just merged with another company and to commemorate that, a huge party was thrown for all of our partners during one of the biggest conventions our industry holds. To this day partners still talk about that party – the location (NYC), the food, the drinks – it was really memorable. Following that, we acquired one of the most popular brands to come out of Japan – EVER – and with that came a roller coaster ride of success. Those were good times. Because we had this NEW BRAND in our portfolio, we rubbed elbows with big wig companies in our field and were wined and dined by many just so that they could be a part of the NEW BRAND team. I look back with nostalgia because at that moment in time, it seemed we could accomplish anything (dare say, could we be the Disney of Japanese animation?) Our reality was big enough to hold our dreams.

2009 and 2010 have brought on a completely different reality that folds both the economic environment and the declining sales of our products into a burrito called LAY OFFs.

My company had a cool working environment because the people were from different walks and so many of them were these brilliant, creative minds. The people made the company brew with life. And I imagine that those who didn’t return to the office today are going to miss that the most. I know because I went through that too. Nostalgia kicks in, you feel medicated with it and for a second, you just remember all the good times, all the everyday crap you used to take for granted and even all the annoying walls you’d hit working with the bureaucracy that surrounded us. And even those who do return to the office today (aside from lucky them for having jobs) it’s a b*tch to return and see your colleagues gone. It kind of makes your heart sink, actually. Again, I know because I’ve been at both ends. I’ve had to walk away from the company, the comfort of the everyday gig, the joy of the weirdo people and I’ve also had to go into the office and look around me only to find empty seats of the former team members who once occupied them. There’s such a weird, emotional, sad and depressing feeling about layoffs and I think that it’s not about the money lost or the hassle of paperwork. If you’ve been there long enough, being removed for whatever reason, feels like being kicked out of your home. Or like someone broke up with you.

But I guess I’m looking at it through my experience and trying to understand the whole landscape of what just went down. I truly believe the people who run the company are good people and I am willing to bet that the decision to make such a drastic move didn’t come easy. For those who today are at home, searching employment websites, I offer this: the upgrade is inevitable. I hope that all those who are no longer with the company do find that moment when they look back and think “I’m glad that happened, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.” [wherever ‘here’ happens to be.]

And if I knew you, my personal sentiment to you is this: whatever comes next, will be amazing.
(Now, if you happen to be stoked on all that went down, then my message to you is: carry on. Drink a beer and be on your merry way!)

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Yesterday’s "lasts" got nothin’ for me…

Yesterday’s “lasts” and good-byes:

Taking the train to San Francisco
40 minutes in time when I was completely alone with my thoughts, not really having to do anything I didn’t want to do. Usually spent listening to my iPod or text messaging. Sometimes updating the Facebook status. Mostly just enjoying the minutes being enclosed in my own little corner of the world.

Approaching the building where I work
A former movie theater and thus has an unorthodox look for a place of business. The marquee’s purpose now is to promote our brands and manga. Except there are too many brands and titles for me to ever know so I usually ignored that marquee. But yesterday I took notice. Something about a “word” …

Sitting down at my desk and working in an office full of people
Full of people so long as you arrived after 10:30 a.m. It’s the only office I know of where if you show up at 9 you can see tumbleweed floating from one cubicle to the next. Forget about going in even earlier. Is the building even accessible before 9???
An office full of people…that’s something I’ll miss. I’ll work from home now, which of course will have its perks. But I kind of liked the whole ceremonial morning process of waking up, showering, blah, blah blah until I finally sat down at my desk. And from there hearing all KINDS of buzz around me, half in Japanese, half in English and then some in $%&@# (though that usually came from me…)

Farewell to my computer and the death of andrea dot gonzalez at viz dot com
Some noteworthy sub-points on that computer:
  • It was the 4th computer I had with the company. Not because they were super on top of making sure I had the latest and greatest in technology. In fact it was quite the opposite. For whatever reason, electronics and I don’t mix and either my previous computers SOMEHOW got in water’s way – or they fell down a flight of steps – or they were kidnapped by the Mexican mafia in the airport in Mexico City. It’s not like any of this was MY fault, but nevertheless, it earned me the reputation of calamity Sam with electronics. Hence, the reason I had four computers throughout my VIZ career and hence, why I never got anything super new… when everyone else who had a company sponsored phone received an iPhone… I did not. I don’t blame them. Who knows what kind of mishap would have happened with that thing!
  • That computer also turned me away from the dark side. Meaning, I used to be a dedicated and devoted PC user. Mac’s were all kinds of weird in my eyes and only certain people used them – the creative types. I am not that person and therefore thought that Macs weren’t for me. Well I was proven wrong and now I am a hungry and avid Mac aficionado. Weirder things have happened.

As for andrea dot gonzalez at viz dot com – well, that was just plain sad. I feel like a slice of my identity was deleted, Matrix-style. That was MY email for 5.5 years (albeit “rented” to me by VIZ) and now it’s not. I console myself by reminders that I still have gonzandrea at you know where dot com and I can still call that my own. Right now, I guess all I can say is R.I.P. andrea dot gonzalez at viz dot com. Hope you’re remembered for the force that you were!

After work happy hour with my friends

AWHH with friends usually consists of Sauvignon Blanc and in the usual style, contains high levels of talking
smack, complaining and making fun of each other. Yesterday’s AWHH was with Jordan and Shannon, high ranking in my social network of friends and acquaintances. Topics covered in the hour or so I was with them: bachelorette parties, boobs, online dating, my moving crisis (now resolved) and Shannon’s career – past, present and future. Quite a lot packed into a one hour special but always fun and now, most of all, astronomically cherished. I wonder what Chilean style AWHH will look like? How long will I be ordering Pisco Sours before I finally get sick of them? Right now I can’t imagine that day will ever come, but I am always quite surprised by how often Chileans DON’T drink Pisco Sour…

But then again, these said “lasts” aren’t really, truly “lasts.” They were the last time I would be doing them as an employee of VIZ who worked in the city and lived in the Peninsula. I find solace in knowing that THESE “lasts” will be replaced by new firsts. The first time I meet my future husband out for happy hour after work; the first time I meet my friends in Chile out to go shopping; or the first time I can take a meeting with a Chilean partner without having to fly through various airports and time zones to do so.

And just as an end note, I have to say I was touched by my coworkers’ send off yesterday…I mentioned before that I only knew about 5% of the 30% of the employees who work there and they were all present to see me off with some sparkling wine and cake. A good “last” memory of my time with them. Just as Coke used to provoke people with the slogan “I’d like to buy the world a coke,” I too wish I could buy the 5% of 30% a refreshing beverage of choice… just to say Thanks!
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