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How Cosmopolitan and National Geographic unlock revenue by licensing their brands


By John McCarthy, Opinion Editor

December 17, 2019 | 4 min read

With the digital shift squeezing publisher revenue, and retailers seeing increasing competition in online shopping, brand licensing could help fund the media and help producers stand out once again, claims IMG’s Bruno Maglione.

Twisted and BuzzFeed are creating cooking products, for example. Esquire and National Geographic are creating apparel while Cosmopolitan is undergoing a vast homeware push.

Maglione, the president of licensing at IMG, is tasked with helping brands like these create additional value across numerous sectors including sports, entertainment, corporate, and media. His team connects IP owners with licensees to arrange mutually beneficial deals in retail, advertising or promotions. To date, it has developed products for publishers like Cosmopolitan, National Geographic, Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Refinery29, National Enquirer and Billboard in Asia.

"When done well, it is income-generating and brand reinforcing," said Maglione.

Licensing is helping publishers offset diminishing returns from their core businesses. Established titles where the print circulations is diminishing stand to benefit, but at the other end of the spectrum digital media titles like BuzzFeed, Vice Media and Refinery29 are diversifying to drive revenue closing in line with their once-sky-high valuations.

Maglione said: "They have very powerful, meaningful brands and are tremendous promotional platforms. They can, in addition to advertising from the licensees, promote products with their vast franchises in online and print media.”

This can be achieved using ad inventory or editorial content, or a combination of both. In some instances, experts in editorial can help inform product design.

But there are serious considerations to be made when branching out. Maglione said a mix of art and science helps the team intuits where a brand can provide extra value in any given product area. IMG then explores the opportunity with licencees who can deliver on it.

Editorial content serves as the north star and "determines the profile of where the brand might be relevant".

To date, one of IMG’s most fruitful media clients is Cosmopolitan. Hearst’s leading female title provides a solid product platform due to its broad coverage and widely-recognised name. “It is a truly global brand it speaks to a well-defined category of female, editorial coverage wide, not just on fashion, workplace and career, relationships, health and beauty. It is a credible brand in a lot of areas," Maglione said.

On top of a fragrance line, beauty products, a Seat car for women, hair and electrical goods, and fashion collaborations it has moved into home décor with a range called CosmoLiving. IMG identified a “nice sweet spot” in the market with a home starter pack for young women. “It is fashionable and contemporary but not massively expensive”.

Ten partners, to date, are producing items for the range which was stocked exclusively by Wayfair. It is expected to generate £20m in sales in its first year and will go broader to the UK, China and more. He believes it could grow three or four times larger in the coming year.


Next, he pointed to IMG's National Geographic partnership which most recently seen a new menswear launch.

It has built on the brand’s travel, adventure, exploration and photography ethos. How these deals are activated vary massively by market, in South Korea for example, there are some 125 high street stores committed exclusively to National Geographic products. In contrast, Esquire is holding special retail events to sell co-branded clothing lines.

Fuelling the trend is the need for retail brands to stand out in an increasingly competitive e-commerce landscape with exclusive products.

“Brands are more important than ever in the online space," said Maglione. "The infinite retail shelf is great in terms of consumer choice but also makes it more difficult for brands to emerge.”

Strong media partnerships will help brands differentiate in the landscape and stand out as the consumer becomes increasingly overwhelmed by choice.

“There is more choice than ever before and as a result, there’s an erosion of brand loyalty. You need more opportunities that bat which is why more powerful brands are looking at this.”

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