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With many of the biggest names from the comic pages in its portfolio, this licensing company is prospering. They are the faces we’ve seen on the comics page for the better part of a century: Popeye, Hagar the Horrible, Blondie, and Betty Boop. And for the past 40 years, Ita Golzman has overseen a licensing department that has seen those familiar faces, among others, prosper around the globe.

“King Features Syndicate is part of the Hearst Corporation and has been around for more than 80 years,” said Golzman, vice president of North American licensing. “When I started with the company 40 years ago, licensing meant very little, but now it means a lot.”

In addition to being a leading syndicator of comics, about a decade ago, the company took on the licensing of a number of brands from outside the funny pages. “In some cases, we were offered brands because of our reputation,” said Golzman. “People will tell me that they see Betty Boop everywhere they go, even though she is not on television or in the movies, and they want to know how we do it.”

One of the main keys to success, especially with the comic strip properties, is their uniqueness. “When you look at Popeye or Betty Boop, there is no competition; nothing looks like them,” Golzman said. “Betty Boop is cleanly sexy, and she’s not a children’s property. I can’t think of any other property that appeals equally to teens and their 75-year-old grandmothers.”

Golzman’s enthusiasm for the uniqueness and appeal of Betty Boop is borne out by the numbers. “Walmart reports that in the apparel world, Betty Boop is one of its top licensed brands,” she said. “What we’ve done is customize the image so there is something cool for the teen to wear and something more classic for the grandmother.”

Strength in familiarity

“If anything, the company has actually benefited from the recession,” said Golzman. “All the food licenses we have tend to be stronger than ever because none of them are expensive products. Our apparel has grown dramatically because I think during a recession the climate for classic characters and retro properties tends to grow.”

In addition to appealing to consumers, the classic properties also appeal to retailers. “I think they want to go with properties that are safer and more established,” Golzman said.

The success of those classic properties also leads to more opportunities for King Features. “In the case of Betty Boop, some retailers are so happy that they are now open to categories they were never carrying before,” she said. “There are retailers who are now putting our products in the hot spots in the fronts of the stores. That’s how important these lines are to them—they want to feature them so prominently.”

All of the classic King Features’ comic characters have seen an increase in popularity, but Golzman said Betty Boop and Popeye continue to be the two biggest brands it represents. Popeye was first introduced in the King Features Syndicate daily comic Thimble Theatre in 1929, and Betty Boop first came to fame in cartoons and comic strips in the 1930s.

“Some of our other top comic characters include Blondie, Beetle Bailey, and Dennis the Menace, and we do have the licenses for all of those,” Golzman said. “But Popeye and Betty Boop are the two biggest brands we represent.”

King Features’ success has resulted in the company getting offers from a wide range of different brands. “I try to treat everyone with respect, consideration, and fairness, and I don’t try to gouge anyone,” Golzman said. “We are trying to be selective about who we bring in because it will be a challenge with our comic properties growing dramatically and lots of new properties trying to get in the door.”

Enthusiasm for the business

King Features prides itself on being able to do more with a smaller staff than some of the other licensing companies. “I’ve seen other companies that do less business than us with more employees, but we get it done,” Golzman said.

The company is looking to bring in the right people, whether it is employees or business partners. “We want people who are devoted, diligent, and self-starters, and if they are involved in sales, they need to have a lot of experience,” said Golzman. 

When it comes to business partners, she said the company is not necessarily looking to take a lot of money up front. “Very few people have to give us a million dollars on signing to get a license,” she said. “We want to get the right partners who create great products and have great commitment. We often end up making the most from the companies that give us the least upfront.”

Some of the companies and products King Features has licensing agreements with include Bazooka, Romero Britto, Carvel, Speed Racer, and The Trail of the Painted Ponies. Golzman said some of the brands and products play well across many categories, whereas others, such as The Trail of the Painted Ponies, play well in more specific categories such as gifts or collectibles.

“We also have to know how to say no,” she said. “If you come out with products that aren’t appropriate or don’t sell, it will have a spillover effect into everything else that you do.”

As the company looks to balance its portfolio of classic comic characters and new brands, Golzman said she is looking forward to seeing what the future holds. “Thereason why I have stayed here so long is because it is a great place to work with great people,” she said. “I look forward to coming to work because they really appreciate what we do.”

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