International Licensing Agent Representation in a COVID-19 World
George Williams, Managing Director, LMCA Asia, discusses the challenges facing us all during this time
As the whole world locks down in a battle against COVID-19, global and regional travel restrictions are making the world a much bigger place than it was just a few months ago. With some medical experts projecting a long, potentially seasonal battle against COVID-19, multinational companies and brands may need to seriously reexamine how they manage and support their operations and business partnerships in different markets around the world.
From our offices in Shanghai, we at LMCA Asia are already seeing an increasing reliance on our presence on the ground in China to assist clients with managing corporate trademark licensing programs and identifying qualified partners to be part of their global brand extension strategies. Clients who actively manage their programs around the globe via frequent visits to align on product design and development, MARCOM and quality management are not just stuck in their home countries. They’re stuck in their homes. Some until June 2020, and possibly longer. This is inhibiting their ability to adequately monitor and support their licensees, and it could very well become the new normal.
Just as we’re seeing a significant turn towards online learning to limit the spread of the virus in schools and universities, as well as video conferencing in the business world, communications technology will become an even more important component of licensee management and support. But in many cultures around the world, including China’s, there is no substitute for face-to-face communications and evaluation of potential partners. Knowledgeable third parties with regional expertise will continue to play a vital role in partnership with both licensors and licensees. Time and again, we are called upon by our brand clients to advise on the cultural nuances and local business practices in China so that they can effectively navigate this important market and maximize their opportunities here. And the cultural divide cuts both ways with licensees reaching out to us to assist in communicating their challenges to Western licensors, as they, too, want to maintain a stable partnership for the long term.
Having experienced, local resources on the ground in markets like China has always been an essential element to developing and managing successful brand extension licensing programs, but what portends to be a severe financial downturn for the global community, impacting budgets across everything from travel to staffing, will make it increasingly difficult for most brand licensors to support programs in the fashion that they have grown accustomed to, or are aspiring to. Then there are the potential health and safety issues associated with things like long distance air travel in what may become a revolving door of surges in infections related to the coronavirus. With resources stretched thin, and the safety of staff paramount, many will turn to knowledgeable local resources that can offer a cost-effective solution to licensing program management, while supporting the health and safety of their staff during what may prove to be very uncertain times in the months and potentially years ahead.