The Next Level in Gaming Licensing | Lauren Fields Conlon, Loaded
The Brand Licensing Podcast
December 16, 2020
From Ninja to Shroud, the gaming industry’s top content creators are reaching new levels through licensing. On The Brand Licensing Podcast, we’re taking a closer look at this skyrocketing sector with Loaded’s VP of Licensing and Merchandising, Lauren Fields Conlon.
Lauren Fields Conlon is a consumer products executive who’s spent the majority of her career in the creator space. She was the second hire at DBP, the products division of Digital Brand Architects, and launched dozens of influencer businesses at Nordstrom, Williams Sonoma, Target, Bed Bath and Beyond, and more. In 2019, she made the pivot from traditional influencer business to the streaming space when she joined Loaded, LLC as the head of licensing and merchandising. Today, Lauren helps some of the biggest names in the gaming space launch their merch and licensing business.
Emily Randles: Hello! Welcome to The Brand Licensing Podcast. I’m so excited to talk to you today and to have you on as our guest. So yeah, thanks for joining us.
Lauren Conlon: Likewise!
ER: Today, we’re speaking with Lauren Conlon. She’s the VP of Licensing and Merchandising at Loaded. And I’m so excited to talk with her about gaming and licensing. And to be perfectly honest, I’ve built my career in licensing. But I, and I’ve heard so much about gaming and how much it’s growing, but I really don’t know much about how deals work. And so I’m very excited to learn from you today, the ins and outs of gaming licensing, and just get your experience on deals. But before we do that, can you give us just a little bit rundown of your background and your resume and kind of a little bit about yourself?
LC: Yeah, for sure. Actually, before I dive into that, I want to take a step back because sometimes people say gaming licensing and stuff and I want to clearly define what I do. So loaded is a gaming management company. We focus on the creators that are in the gaming space. And when it comes to gaming creators, there are really two different types, right? You have the professional, like “athlete”, like the pro gamers. And then you have the content creators. So we really focus solely on the content creators in the gaming space. And so just that little caveat. Because I think gaming is such a huge industry, right? And a lot of people don’t really realize that there are little details like that that really divide us up.
But to tell you more about my background, I actually started off in more of the traditional licensing space. My first job was at Brand Central — shout out to Ross Misher; he was a great boss and a great teacher — and I was really working on mostly corporate brands, some pop culture brands, but way more traditional licensed stuff.
During my time there, I started getting really into bloggers. And this was before Instagram. Like bloggers, you know, you’d go and you’d check out. For me, I was into fashion bloggers. I would go and check out outfit inspo that people I liked posted every day. And I was like, gosh, there has to be some sort of market for this, right? At that point, influencers, bloggers are really starting to become more and more popular. And I mean, I was looking to these women as inspiration for my outfits. I was buying products based on what they were wearing. To me, It just seems like a no brainer to go into a licensing with them. So while I was at Brand Central, I signed Cupcakes and Cashmere, which was a huge win. She, to this day, has a very successful apparel licensed line. We did some home products. I think we did some paper products and stuff. But it was, it was a blast. And it was really a testament, I’d say, to the power of the influencer. And then after Brand Central, I ended up going to NBC Universal. I got a great offer there and I had never really worked on the license or side, so I really wanted to gain some of that experience. And I worked with some really incredibly talented people. A lot of people from Disney. It really set me up for success, I guess you could say, in terms of how to forecast and how to be a true category manager.
And then from there, I actually got an opportunity to work for Digital Brand Architects and their product division, Digital Brand Products. And that actually came again through my work with Cupcakes and Cashmere. And Emily Schuman, who is Cupcakes, her relationship with Rayna who’s the CEO of DBA. And I really just wanted to get back into the creator space. So I was there for two and a half years. And we really put, created our brands on the map, like Something Navy and all of her fashion line. More, again, Cupcakes and Cashmere, and expanding her into footwear and paper products. And we had really interesting conversations with QVC, with Target, with Williams-Sonoma. Launching programs with all of those people. It was a really exciting time.
And I think there’s something to be said that’s really cool about the creator space in general. Social media gives people a platform and a voice that traditionally they didn’t have. So there was something really exciting about going into a space and working with these creators who, maybe traditionally, prior to the advent of social media, just didn’t have a voice, didn’t have an audience. So it was really cool to be like part of that and to be working with people who now I’d say were probably more so on the level of a traditional celebrity, but at the time they were still very much so up-and-coming and really, really moving the industry.
Everything was moving and shaking things for great. I saw a huge white space in the gaming industry and I had been, you know, looking at it for a while. Fun fact: my husband was actually a professional video game player way back in the day. He was like in a World Series of video games. So I had always been on the periphery a little bit of the gaming space. And then an opportunity came with Loaded. And I was so excited that they were really the first management company in the space representing a lot of gaming creators. So I took the job as the Head of Licensing and have been here a little over, or I guess it’s about a year and a half. But yeah, it’s been super exciting working on really cool projects like Ninja and Shroud. We have a lot of really cool and highly talented clients.
ER: So, say more. I know nothing other than that there is gaming and licensing and video games. So when you say a creator, are the people that are creating the games or are they playing the games? Describe that a little bit more for me.
LC: There are multiple streaming platforms for gaming creators. Twitch is probably the most well-known platform for it. And then you have YouTube gaming. You have Facebook gaming. You used to have a platform called Mixer; RIP. But these platforms are all ways for creators to broadcast their content. Sometimes it’s just them talking to their audience. Sometimes it’s them playing games. It just really depends on the creator and their audience and really what their niche is.
ER: How does Loaded as an agency work with those creators? Who are your clients and how is deal structure?
LC: Right. So we’re actually, and I think this is probably a difference between the licensing world and the management world, but I’m always cautious. We’re not an agency. We are a management company, like traditional management. So we work with our creators in a bunch of different ways. I’d say our most core competencies are promotional work. We recently did a really cool partnership with Amazon studios for Borat. And one of our clients, Dr. Lupo, and he interviewed Borat on stream. So that’s one area that we work in. And then we also, you know, licensing what I do, putting together partnerships and collaborations for a lot of our talents. Like Shroud and Logitech was a deal that we came out with a couple of months ago. That was really exciting. And then publisher relationships, this is really our bread and butter working with various game publishers and making sure our talents have the opportunity to play those games first as part of like a promotional strategy. So Cyber Punk’s about to come out on December 10th. I think the publisher comes to us and works with us to put together the right mix of talent to support that game.
Lastly, we also have a content creation team. So we work on both original content. And then also in an advisory capacity for our talent, as far as creating content, especially on the platforms I mentioned that. Then how to monetize that content on other platforms. That’s a space that we provide a lot of value for the people on our roster.
ER: So the creators are your clients. Are you paid by just fees or do they, or do you get commissions? So typically, licensing is very much commission-driven, as you know. I’m just curious on how that works for the deals.
LC: Yeah. I mean, super traditional, like any other management company. We bring our talent deals. They say, yes, they say out, and then we go ahead and proceed with them. So not anything out of the ordinary, I guess you’d say,
ER: What are some of the types of companies that are coming to you and types of partnerships that you’re doing for your clients?
LC: You know, it varies, I will say. It’s really interesting comparing and contrasting this with my experience at DBA and DBP five years ago. Working with fashion beauty influencers, five, six years ago. You were just starting to get CPG companies interested. You were just starting to get a lot of big players understanding the value. People were shifting ad spend into creators, or really influencers, I guess at that point they were called in a more interesting way. I’d say over the past couple of years, especially with the advent of COVID, you have a lot of people looking at the gaming space in a more serious way and shifting ad spend proportionately. So it’s really cool. I’d say this year, a lot more like CPG-type brands have been getting into the streaming space. You have a lot of these big companies who’ve been supporting, you know, traditional esports for a long time. And that’s frankly, outside my wheelhouse. I don’t really know that space too well. But in the creator space, things are definitely picking up and it’s been really cool to see the amount of growth that we’ve had this year alone.
ER: I really resonate with you at the work that you did with DBA and the influencers. And so that makes a lot of sense for me. And I feel like that’s very female driven, for the most part, demographic and market. Who are your clients speaking to in terms of markets? I guess it would vary probably drastically, but can you give us some examples?
LC: Yeah, it’s really cool.One of the things that really drew me to Loaded and that I still really appreciate gaming. Like you said, I came from a super email-driven space and then went into a space that my preconceived notion was, like, it was just going to be all dudes. And what was cool about Loaded was we have a very diverse roster of super talented people. So every audience is very different. They’re all playing different games. They’re all speaking to different people. So like Shroud, who’s one of our top creators. He’s the biggest FPS, so like, first person shooter creator that we have. And someone like him has a super different audience than Sheika, who’s a newer streamer on our roster. She’s bilingual. She has a more female audience. She’s really interested in the fashion space. You have someone like Jordan Fisher, who’s a Netflix star, right? He’s a traditional actor. He was on Broadway earlier this year. So someone like him is just using his platform in a very different way. So it’s really cool that we get to work with so many different types of people, speaking to different types of audiences. And I also feel like more diverse backgrounds are getting into gaming, especially now that we’re all at home all the time. You have more women, you have more people of color. And as an agency, it’s very important to us that our talent and the way that we work with talent is reflective of how we see the gaming space looking overall.
ER: That’s so interesting. And one question, as you kind of talk through that, that popped up for me is, are these international deals or international audiences? Or is it more regional in terms of US and different, based on where you live?
LC: I’d say it’s a mix of both when it comes to, from like a global perspective. When we look at other markets, Latin America or Europe, especially you have a growing market, right? A lot of the top, when you look at the biggest, like top five people on Twitch, they have audiences all over the world. From my experience, we’re doing deals pretty globally. But yeah, it totally depends on the creator.
ER: What are some things that people should be looking out for, or considering doing when doing a deal with a creator, a gaming group?
LC: I have to say, like, there are two things that really pop up. If I were on the licensee or retailer side and giving someone advice, if they were interested in getting into gaming creators, I would say the biggest, biggest thing is to make sure that you are aligned with the talent or the agency that you’re working with to make sure you’re aligned on content creation. The amount of times that there has been miscommunication, misunderstandings around what the creators actually are able to do has been way too frequent. Unfortunately, I think a lot of a people come into gaming and they assume that a lot of our creators are similar to a YouTuber. And they just aren’t. They’re very different types of content creators. Someone on our roster is being recorded 12 hours a day. They’re not editing. They’re not creating content in the same way. They’re just very different. So making sure that your goals are aligned around content creation is very key.
And I’d say the second piece to that is understanding what platforms are going to be key for any sort of program promotion. Some gaming creators are only on Twitch and that’s it. And maybe they have a Twitter account. But making sure you understand how you’re going to promote the product line is really, really important because sometimes they don’t have Instagram, right. In the case that that comes around, what’s the second best platform? And making sure you have the data and analytics to back it up with engagement rates, conversion. Really understanding what’s going to work from a promotional standpoint.
ER: General best practices in any deal. But I can see where specifically with this that that’s really important. People assuming that they can do things that aren’t, technology-wise, capable of or just not understanding how things work. So that sounds like it would be really important.
What is one of the best partnerships you’ve worked on or put together – something that you’re just like, wow, that was amazing or perfect?
LC: It’s like picking a favorite child? No, I would say working with Ninja this last year and a half and bringing him to retail was incredibly exciting. He was really like first gaming creator to crossover into the more traditional licensing space. You know, Strat and Logitech Steel, that came out about two months ago. That was super exciting for me, too. We were able to partner basically two Best in Class brands, like Shroud being the number one FPS creator. And then Logitech GE being a premier peripheral brand. And that stuff gets me really excited, bringing together partners with aligning principles. Shroud is the best. And every partnership we bring to the table for him needs to align with that story. So being able to partner the right brands with the right creators is the real secret sauce and the fun stuff for me.
ER: And that kind of leads me into a question about relationships. So we have found with our CPG and more traditional licensing deals that it’s really relationship-driven. Even if you have a great idea, if the companies don’t have an internal alignment and are communicating well, then the product probably isn’t going to be as successful as it could be. So we really, really stress the importance of connecting with your partner and treating them as a partner. And not just as a licensee, that’s writing you a check. And I’m assuming just based on those two examples that you just gave that relationships are probably a pretty important piece of this puzzle as well. Can you speak to that at all?
LC: Yeah. I’d say relationships, at least for, from my experience, they’ve been kind of everything. Leaving the traditional licensing space and going into influencers at a time when people didn’t really know what that business would look like and how successful it would be there. Definitely some licensees and retailers who took a chance on me and frankly, we built really great businesses together. So luckily through, I’d say, those strong relationships that I had, people were more willing to take risks and to trust me more than someone who just maybe contacted them out of the blue and gave them a cold pitch. But you know, if you’re working with trusted colleagues who’d found success with you in the past, it just makes the process so much easier.
ER: And I imagine your relationships with the content creators as well is really important. So understanding them and understanding where their brand is and where their lines are so that you’re pulling the right partnerships or bringing them the right partnerships. And the right deals is probably also key.
LC: Yeah. Honestly, from working with our creators, they are the bread and butter of our business. I would have nothing if it wasn’t for the awesome platforms and audiences that they’ve cultivated. And my job, I tell them this all the time: I work for them. I am here to to help them grow their businesses. And to really accentuate the hard work they’ve put in and creating another revenue stream. So that way, they’re not dependent solely on their 12 hours of streaming revenue. How can we turn a profit for them while they sleep? And it’s really cool to work with people, ‘cause you watch their lives change. You watch them grow up. It’s just a really cool relationship to build with them.
ER: Before we go on and tackle the next question, I’m going to pause so we can hear a quick word from our sponsor.
Today’s episode is sponsored by Brainbase. Brainbase is a technology platform that helps brands manage and monetize their intellectual property. The current platform, Assist, helps brands track their legal contracts, sales, royalties, creative, and product approvals, files, analytics, and so much more. Additionally, they’re working on launching a new service marketplace. Marketplace will allow you to showcase your brand and discover new opportunities from a global network of prospective partners. We useBrainbase Assist program to manage and track licensing programs for our clients. We love the analytics and reporting tools and are excited about the new rule to reporting features. They’re rolling out, check it out. If you’re looking for an online management tool for your program, we’ve linked to their site in our show notes. Now back to our show.
ER: What’s an area ripe for picking that you, that people aren’t considering for your content creators? And it sounds like you have a great vision for what could be. So I’m really interested to hear what you’re thinking of as the next big thing.
LC: I think that the gaming licensing space, really gaming creator space; I think we’re a little, maybe a year behind on technology, frankly. I think the future of what gaming creator licensing will be is figuring out how to gave a five product, if that makes sense. So our creators are on a live stream, right? Being able to take that live stream format and making it shoppable in a re-imagined way. Tao Bao does the live stream shopping, but how can we translate that to gaming and make it fun, right? How can we take a chat bot or take a chat and drop a secret product in there? You’re starting to see, like, I know Shopify has been working on some plugins. You’re seeing stuff come out technology-wise but we’re not quite there yet. But I believe once we’re there, it’s going to be a complete game-changer for gaming creators.
ER: I’m an Instagram user, so that’s kind of my main channel for social. When they added that little “shop now” feature where you just swipe up and shop, it was very easy for me to get sucked in and easily make that purchase. As a marketer, that is brilliant. I can imagine that being game-changing in terms of being able to turn ROI for those programs and those influencers.
LC: Yeah, one hundred percent. I mean, I definitely bought products off of Instagram ads. They’re really good at targeting, and I see that being the future for streaming gaming creators. That’s where the audience is. That’s where they’re already subscribing and spending money by following their favorite creators. Having some sort of point of purchase directly on the stream is the logical next step.
ER: You’ve touched on this a little bit, but how has COVID impacted your deals and deal flow?
LC: You know, it’s been interesting. I would say that it’s increased traditional deal flow, for sure. If someone would have told me back in January that I’d be launching over 10 merch stores for creators, I probably would have been like “no way, really?” The pivot has been great, frankly. Our talent has really enjoyed the process. We’re able to sit down and figure out what sort of drop they want and what kind of products they want in the mix. We’re doing a lot more hands-on stuff. Especially before they move into more traditional licensed, it’s good to really understand how a product comes to be has been really valuable.
ER: Do CPG companies come to you and say “I want to do a partnership with one of your creators?”
LC: Yes. I would say that, and this is probably more of a sponsorship conversation. And I don’t handle our sponsorships, but I can speak from a licensing perspective. We have companies reach out to us directly all the time
ER: And vice versa. Then do you also go and come up with an idea and then go solicit a company on behalf of one of your creators?
LC: Yes, we solicit retailers and brands. I always like to tell up-and-coming creators and people we work with — frankly, this is probably good advice for any brand that wants to collab with another brand — that you have an organic connection with them. You’re engaging with them on whatever social platform you want to use, and that’s usually the best vehicle for sparking a conversation around some light type of partnership. We see that happen a lot, too, where it’s just super organic. They have a good working relationship with the brand, and we just take it to the next level.
ER: I know we just talked about technology being a little bit behind and that playing a role in the near future, but where do you see this industry going in the next five to 10 years?
LC: I’ve been a pretty big believer in the long-tail theory. Just in case anyone doesn’t know, it’s this idea that long-term, everything’s going to become smaller and more specialized from a brand perspective. You’re seeing this already with Old Navy’s success over Gap and Aerie doing so well under American Eagle. I think these sub-brands or smaller brands are really where the dollars are going. I think creators are going to continue to grow their businesses and become savvier and own the retail experience for themselves. Especially looking at a year of COVID and a merchant explosion, right? Everyone wants to own their shopping experience. I think COVID has accelerated it to occur before the next five years. But I do think that how we define a small business, especially in the retail space, is going to be driven mostly by creators in the not so distant future.
ER: If people want to find you online or connect with you, what’s the best way to do that?
ER: Great! Well, I think that’s all my questions, and I really better understand what you guys are doing and what these content creators are building. I can’t wait to go check out some of this stuff, and I just really appreciate you doing this today for the podcast.
LC: Thanks, it was really fun! The gaming creator space is new, but I think in the next couple of years, we’ll see a pretty large shift and people following it a little closer. So, I appreciate the time.