For decades, the figures of Smokey Bear and Woodsy Owl have embodied the preservation of wildlife environments. And in recent years, The Metis Group LLC has promoted the two, never letting their important messages fall out of the public eye.
“We’re the leader for socially conscious [properties],” owner and Managing Member Libby Kavoulakis explains. “We’re the conduit for transactions and finding opportunities behind government assets, where we can identify market opportunities for them. It’s right in our sweet spot.”
Kavoulakis founded the Washington, D.C.-based management consulting firm in 1999, after working in commercial real estate. “What I wanted was to create a firm that was very bright, very aggressive and very focused on providing high-quality service in a timely manner,” she recalls.
Initially, The Metis Group operated as a real-estate advisory company, but it expanded its range of services when it discovered its clients needed ways to communicate corporate news internally and to stakeholders. “I brought people on and started the outreach and licensing practice,” she recalls.
After The Metis Group found success promoting government programs, it won the Woodsy Owl licensing program contract in 2006 and the Smokey program in 2007. Before the company stepped in, both properties had longtime licensees that manufactured trinkets and small items, Kavoulakis says.
“Their distribution was mostly in gift stores and through catalogs,” she recalls. However, The Metis Group preferred to make a complete change. “We diversified the portfolio and now we have everything from apparel through consumable foods.
“We’ve entered into technology with apps and e-books,” she continues, noting that The Metis Group also keeps track of current retail trends. “We are very much focused on the hot products of the day.”
For instance, when bobblehead dolls became popular, The Metis Group immediately identified licensees for Smokey, Kavoulakis says. The company also has teamed with “some of the top-five apparel licensees” to create clothes that range from the traditional to the more unconventional, she adds.
Many of the non-traditional items appeal to younger consumers, including a neon green shirt from Fifth Sun that features Smokey’s head. “Around that in distressed lettering, it says, ‘Get your Smokey on,’” Kavoulakis describes. “Everything about it is over the top.”
The Metis Group is gearing up to capitalize on a new campaign for Smokey Bear, since the character is celebrating its 70th anniversary. To commemorate the occasion, a new public service announcement (PSA) will be released later this year. “We’ll have the artwork for that [soon],” Kavoulakis says.
Although the Woodsy Owl character has been around since 1971 and is not celebrating an anniversary, the company is working to get him new exposure. For example, the character recently appeared on the TV show, “Marie,” with host Marie Osmond and guest Ed Begley Jr., both of who wore Woodsy t-shirts.
Additionally, “He has appeared in different professional journals,” Kavoulakis says. “We’re trying to get him out there in any manner that we can.”
One area that The Metis Group believes would be an ideal fit for the character is professional sports and events. “Having Woodsy appear and [gain] visibility at these events would be amazing for the teams and for him,” she asserts.
Although the company has not signed any licensees yet, it has sought partnerships with major sports teams. “When you go to any [sports] venue and walk around the parking lot after the event, there are piles of garbage,” she says. “We thought we could get major league sports to underwrite Woodsy Owl trash cans, bags or [other products].
“It would be an easy way to tie in the two activities,” she says. “It’s the concentration of people in one place with organizations that are focused on active lifestyles, good citizenry and recycling.”
Kavoulakis is proud of her team at The Metis Group, which includes Clerical Assistant Rachel Coffman. During her time with the firm, Coffman has impressed Kavoulakis with her organizational skills and dedication to keeping its associates up to date on new documentation and approvals.
“[She is] making sure we get everything approved in a timely manner and [follow] the licensing requirements,” Kavoulakis says..
Since taking over the contracts, “We’ve put together licensee rosters and electronic storage,” Kavoulakis says. “It’s come a long way to be a professional licensing program. “
When the 2008 recession hit, the two programs lost 20 percent of their licensees. “Some of them had to shut down business,” Kavoulakis says.
Since then, both the Smokey and Woodsy programs have recovered, she asserts. “The programs are not as constant as they were,” she admits. “[But] we’ve attracted new licensees, so we’re back.”
Kavoulakis predicts more success ahead for the firm, which has started reaching out more into the private sector for clients. “We’ll see a 50/50 split next year,” she predicts. “I think that’s going to [give us] more opportunities across the board.”
Additionally, the company is moving to a new location in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., that will offer views of the city and Potomac River across to Virginia. “That’s always exciting,” she says. “It [will give our work environment] a more creative and light feeling. The space is airy and open to allow more collaboration. Just the change of scenery to Georgetown will provide energy with a 24-hour neighborhood and all its amenities. We’ll miss downtown and K Street. But despite the change, we are only moving a few blocks away.”
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