The idea of product licensing is not the first thing that comes to people’s minds when they think of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). But, as Director of Marketing and Communications Mark Heavey says, it is playing an increasingly strong role in the MTA’s business.
Based in New York City, the authority manages the city’s bus and subway transit and the Long Island and Metro-North railroads, transporting over 8 million daily customers. “The MTA was formed 1968 to oversee all of those public transportation entities,” Heavey explains.
As the director of marketing and communications, Heavey manages the marketing, promotions and product licensing for the MTA. By doing so, he ensures that the MTA speaks for all of its divisions through one distinct, consistent voice.
“Left to their own devices, each of these operating agencies might prefer to create their own brand, separate from the MTA,” he admits. “We need to have one voice in all of our communications. That’s what this department strives for – to create a more human face for the MTA, instead of being seen as some monolithic, uncaring organization.”
A marketing veteran, Heavey joined the MTA seven years ago, at a time in which it did not have a licensing staff. This made it easier for some apparel and jewelry manufacturers to steal the MTA’s logo and use it on their merchandise.
Heavey notes that the MTA and its transit system have become well-known around the world, which makes the sale of these items particularly profitable. For instance, “The subway really is part and parcel of New York City,” he says. “It is as recognizable as the Statue of Liberty.”
To crack down on those making counterfeit items with the MTA’s logos, the authority uses interns and other staff members to search the Internet for these sellers. “We send them a gentle letter,” Heavey says. “Most times, they don’t recognize that it is protected intellectual property.”
But, in some cases, the MTA forms partnerships with the sellers. “There are some good products being crafted out there that we’ve turned into full-fledged licensed items,” Heavey says.
Recently, the MTA discovered a person making metal replicas of MTA subway signs and selling them for several hundred dollars. “We found him and got in touch with him,” Heavey recalls. “He admitted he was doing something wrong.”
However, the demand was so strong for the signs that the MTA formed a partnership. “We came to terms with him and turned him into an authorized licensee,” he says. “He’s doing very well.”
The MTA is enjoying success selling licensed items that include t-shirts, sweaters, boxer shorts, watches, handbags jewelry, toys, gifts and many other products. All profits, Heavey notes, support the New York Transit Museum in Brooklyn, N.Y., the largest urban public transportation museum of its kind in the United States. Housed in a historic, decommissioned 1936 subway station, the museum encompasses 60,000 square feet.
Additionally, over the last four years, the MTA has expanded globally through partnerships in Japan and the United Kingdom, and envisions new partnerships in Israel and South America. “We have almost 25 percent of our royalty revenue coming in from overseas,” he says, adding that a key partner in its expansion overseas is Moxie & Co., a Westport, Conn.-based marketing firm led by co-founders Arlene Scanlan and Laura Becker.
Scanlan has enjoyed working with Heavey’s team at the MTA. “They are some of the smartest people to be in business with,” she says. “They take their jobs seriously.
“When we need responses, they’re very proactive in supporting our efforts,” she continues. “They made us feel like we’re part of their family, so it’s a very positive and collaborative relationship.”
The authority also strives to promote sustainability through its products. “We have licensees that we have recruited to create unique items [such as] recycled subway token jewelry and handbags fashioned from recycled subway maps,” Heavey says. “That’s all about relieving the pressure on the New York landfill.”
In February 2013, New York City’s historic Grand Central Terminal will turn 100 years old. To commemorate the occasion, the MTA is working with many of its licensees to create products that utilize the terminal’s iconic imagery. “We are cultivating new licensees using the Grand Central centennial to get [them] involved with our program,” Heavey says, noting that he sees a strong future for the MTA.
However, the extent of continued growth for its licensing program is not certain. “It’s hard to know how high is up,” he admits. “We didn’t think we would be this successful breaking out of the regional brand mold. In the last five years, we have quadrupled our royalty revenues. I’m hoping to do that again in the next four years.”
Scanlan notes that Moxie and the MTA have several products in development, including food products and a unique fragrance line. “The journey continues and it’s going to be fun,” she predicts.