Fire and Police Try to Market Goods
by Patricia Winters Lauro, New York Times
LICENSING 2002 International, which opens tomorrow at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York, is an annual circus-like trade show that draws thousands of marketers searching for the next big thing, whether it is a superhero like Spider-Man or an offbeat phenomenon like Teletubbies.
But this year, Powerpuff Girls watches and pajamas will be sharing space with licensed merchandise based on some real-life heroes: New York City police officers and firefighters.
For the first time, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Fire Department will be exhibitors at the show, as they accelerate their moves into the commercial licensing business to benefit their charitable ventures. Their presence is prompted in part by the tragedy of Sept. 11, which spurred demand for police and fire merchandise that the departments simply did not have to sell, mostly leaving the market to unauthorized dealers.
At the show, the New York Fire Department Fire Safety Education fund is featuring a 95-foot ladder truck revealing an array of merchandise from its 17 licensees, including Billy Blazes Firefighter dolls by Fisher-Price, bottled water and fire department computer software games by Activision Value Publishing. The New York City Police Foundation — whose booth will be visited by the police department’s K-9 unit, which will serve as models for a stuffed animal line by Applause — will be showing merchandise from its 20 licensees, including toys, caps and T-shirts and upscale collectibles like Code 3 miniature helicopters.
The Fire Safety Education Fund program is so far guaranteed $1 million annually in royalties from sales of licensed products, and has a goal of accruing about $4 to $5 million each year, said Stephen Ruzow, a director of the Fire Safety Education Fund. The fund receives a royalty of about 15 percent of retail sales. The New York Police Foundation — which is receiving 5 percent to 15 percent in royalties depending on the product line — said it was too early to estimate how much it would raise. But licensing-industry analysts said the unauthorized merchandise alone circulating with New York Police Department logos has been worth millions. (The New York-based International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association, estimates the licensing industry represents some $93 billion in retail sales in the United States.)
“There is such a demand,” Mr. Ruzow said. “These are the new heroes now and they are real-life heroes.”
But to some at least, the timing is also the problem — it is too soon after Sept. 11.
“I think they run the risk of cheapening the essence of what they stand for, and their heroic message by doing novelty merchandise,” said Seth M. Siegel, co-founder of the Beanstalk Group, a licensing and consulting company in New York.
Mr. Siegel said he was especially concerned about the use of the police department trademark, which could be misconstrued as giving regular citizens an air of authority. But not having a program presented a litany of other problems.
“To a certain extent they had to do it to protect their marks,” said Marty Brochstein, executive editor of the Licensing Letter, a New York-based trade publication. “One of the things that drives many corporate licenses is they have to show they are protecting their marks, otherwise they will lose rights.”
Another issue is control. Pamela Delaney, president of the New York City Police Foundation, said the police department has found distasteful some unauthorized merchandise that has traded on Sept. 11. By retaining The Joester Loria Group, a New York-based licensing agent, the department said it believes that it can create merchandise with the style and quality befitting its image.
“This isn’t a matter of greed, it’s a matter of integrity to make sure the department controls what belongs to it,” Ms. Delaney said. “I guess we could do that without a royalty, but the department has needs, and in the American spirit of capitalism, it seems to be a very appropriate way to do it.”
Both departments have special labels indicating official merchandise and lawyers have been notifying retailers about unauthorized merchandise. Still, experts say stopping the flow of knockoffs is a huge problem.
“Big-time licensees like the N.F.L. have armies of lawyers,” said Jack Trout, a marketing consultant and author based in Greenwich, Conn. “I wish them well, but I don’t know that they are up to it — this bootlegging is a very difficult thing to stop.”
Both departments had been discussing licensing programs before Sept. 11. Fisher-Price, in fact, already was in production on the New York Fire Department version of the Billy Blazes doll for Toys “R” Us. (Fisher-Price and Toys “R” Us have since chosen to donate all proceeds of the doll to the fire department, which is expected to amount to $1 million.)
Now, the departments are considering assigning international licensing rights, and the Fire Safety Education Fund wants to branch into home furnishings and children’s wear.
“There’s a lot I won’t do because it’s not the image I want to project,” said Marjorie Morris, licensing director for the Fire Safety Education Fund. “Whatever I do, it has to protect the image of the fire department. They deserve our honor.”
Toys are a big and growing area of licensed merchandise and one that fits into a broader trend toward more realistic heroes. Fisher-Price’s Rescue Heroes line, launched in 1998, now encompasses everything from Rescue Heroes toothbrushes to a Rescue Heroes cartoon series on Kids WB network, said Laurie Oravec, a Fisher-Price spokeswoman. Sales spiked after Sept. 11, and Fisher-Price said Rescue Heroes was the top-selling preschool item through May based on unit volume. Rescue Heroes is adding four more fire department characters to its line, including Smokey the Dalmatian. A New York Police Department Rescue Hero is also coming to market next year, Ms. Oravec said.
As Joanne Loria, a partner of the Joester Loria Group, said: “Children have really recognized that there is an option out there besides superheroes to look to for hero worship. It doesn’t have to be someone who flies.”