Dan was approached by LicensingSource to write an article on the impact of the war in Ukraine on both the Ukrainian and Russian licensing business. Dan has regularly travelled to both territories over the last 17yrs, and managed the licensing business for both markets for a number of large media brand owners incl. Viacom (Paramount).
By Dan Frugtniet, MD @ Big Picture Licensing;
From Russia with love, this always used to be my sign off when I was on my business trips to Moscow and St Pete. Since 2006 onwards I frequently travelled to both Russia and Ukraine (Kyiv and Odessa) during my corporate career at Jetix/Disney, LazyTown and most recently Viacom where for 8yrs I headed up the emerging markets for their consumer products business. Russia was always, in the infamous words of Winston Churchill, “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma”. To me the Russians and Ukrainians were always very close, with shared history and family ties. This is why the current geopolitical crisis there is a catastrophe for Ukraine and a nightmare scenario for ordinary citizens on both sides. The current situation is clearly very dangerous and a geopolitical and historical throwback, of that there is no doubt, and this madness needs to urgently end with a withdrawal treaty so peace can return to Ukraine.
Having worked closely with many Russians and Ukrainians over the last 16yrs, I consider many of them old friends. We have shared many successes and challenges over the years, we have shouted and laughed together and we have drunk far too much vodka together (beer is considered a childs drink in Russia!). There are so many stories and anecdotes to share, from having partied all night in Moscow and then flown home on the 6am flight (not recommended btw!) to being beaten up by Russian police whilst innocently walking back to my hotel late one night, to being kidnapped in a Moscow taxi with my old boss at the time, to eating mid-mouthful a strange Black Sea fish in Odessa, when the licensee suddenly shouted at me not to swallow the lumpy bits as they are poisonous (true fact), I can still say with hand on heart that both Russia and Ukraine are interesting and great places to do business and the Ukrainians and Russians I have met are lovely people to know.
Both territories have their own unique ways of doing business in the licensing industry. The licensees and partners I met and worked with were always forthright and direct, but in general fantastic people to work with as long as you have a thick skin and lots of patience for the idiosyncrasies of doing business there. Back in 2006 the territories were both still rife with counterfeit that was actually sold in retail, but I witnessed both markets evolve over time to be professional and productive revenue streams. There are so many examples of what makes them unique, including; a debate in the Russian Duma by politicians to try and ban a global kids brand that they believed was ‘a threat to Russian kids’, to a genius graffiti artist climbing high on top of an old building to turn a Soviet Star into Patrick Star from SpongeBob, now that shows both guts and a sense of humour when you consider the draconian legal system in Russia.
So as I watch from afar as Ukraine is attacked by their neighbour under Putins orders. What does this mean for the licensing industry, well first off we have already witnessed global media owners and brands pulling out of Russia, we have also seen a Russian court approve the counterfeit use of a global preschool property, so we are fast going backwards in regards IP protection and I fear that it will take a long time to recover. The longer this situation continues, my guess is more and more global brands will pull-out of Russia in solidarity with Ukraine that it will snowball until none are left as active licensors there. In reaction, I suspect Russian courts will approve more counterfeit use of protected IP until it’s the ‘Wild-East’ territory (again). Obviously, we can only hope a rapid peace treaty is agreed before the situation deteriorates further for the licensing industry in Russia and peace returns to Ukraine.
The current situation is very close to home, as for the last 3yrs I have worked closely as a master-agent for the only global Ukrainian kids brand, BRAVE BUNNIES so I have seen in real-time how the situation has impacted on the Glowberry team as the women from the team are now refugees of war and diaspora across Europe and the men from Glowberry are still in Ukraine to fight or support refugees as volunteers. This is especially poignant when you know how hard they have all worked on this beautiful property and how proud they are to roll it out across the world. The brand DNA is of friendship, inclusion, diversity and being brave in the face of adversity has this has never been more relevant than it is today in Ukraine. Glowberry remain committed to the property and we are busy trying to relocate as many members of the team as possible to our co-production partner Anima’s studio in Spain. Glowberry are supporting the UNICEF Ukrainian Childrens Charity as their nominated charity. The support of our partners during this time has been immeasurable, and we can only thank you very much. Its not business as usual for Glowberry and the business we have built, so please don’t forget our BRAVE BUNNIES. Duzhe dyakuyu!
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