Sunday, February 04, 2007

28 Days of 2000 AD #4: Battling Egmont

Eight years ago, 2000 AD was owned by European media giant Egmont. The company based much of its publishing business around the world on characters and concepts licensed from Disney, such as Donald Duck and Disney Princesses. Having learned my trade as a comics editor on original, own-brand characters like Judge Dredd, I felt Egmont should embrace its own characters and develop them further. So I sat down and wrote a creativity mission statement, using language I thought might convince the suits of this wisdom. I can't remember if I ever presented this to the company but, if I did, nothing came of it.

Looking back, this reads like the work of a frustrated man, banging his fists against the doors of a media monolith, trying to get some attention. I was increasingly conscious of the fact 2000 AD was an anomaly within Egmont and if something didn't change, the title was heading toward extinction. Within a year I had quit to go freelance, frustrated by Egmont's intransigence and its dismissive attitude to in-house creativity. By coincidence, Egmont sold 2000 AD and its characters to a video game development company in Oxford called Rebellion. Egmotn ceased to be an issue and 2000 AD survived. Anyway, here's the mission statement.

Embracing Creativity - A Challenge for the Future
"It's not that you can't see the forest for the trees.
It's that you've never been out in the woods alone."
My Philosophy, Ben Folds

Imagine there's no Disney.

If that sentence were true, many Egmont companies around the world would founder, some would cease to exist. This is no criticism of Disney or Egmont itself, just market reality.

Characters like Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Barbie and Thomas the Tank Engine are known and loved around the world, evergreen icons that will be cherished far into the future by generations as yet unborn.

Every year Egmont's licensed products provide enjoyment for our customers and employment for our staff. Those staff pour their creative energies into their work, nurturing these beloved characters while generating millions in profits for ourselves and the licensors.

This initiative does not seek to usurp Egmont's licensed products. Instead, it proposes an alternate strategy for the future, to be run parallel with Egmont's current businesses.

Imagine if some of Egmont's energies were put into creating and nurturing our own characters, which could evolve to become evergreen icons known and loved around the world, to be cherished far into the future.

Egmont has the creative talents to do this, just look at what we publish, broadcast and distribute across the globe. Egmont has the skills and expertise to do this, with companies operating in every aspect of the media.

Does Egmont have the will to embrace own-brand creativity?

Egmont already has examples of own-brand creativity, characters which are wholly owned and published by Egmont companies on an individual basis.

But these are little known outside their own territories, partly because Egmont is run as a decentralised family of companies. Creative synergy across the Egmont family remains rare, except in the area of licensed product.

Here Egmont uses Creative Centres to commission material for publication by client companies around the world. There is an excellent level of co-ordination for these activities through Egmont Comic Creation (ECN) and the International Project Centre (IPC).

These two organisations provide a working model for how Stages Three and Four of this initiative could work. But for Egmont to fully embrace own-brand creativity, first we need to know more about our current status in this area.

Stage One: Form a project team to investigate and assess this initiative. A major task for this team would be taking a "creative audit" of all the own-brand characters and concepts Egmont already owns through its companies around the world. The audit would also highlight the exisiting hotspots of own-brand creativity.

Stage Two: Form part-time teams drawn from these creativity hotspots, to begin developing new characters and concepts. Test some of Egmont's exisiting own-brand characters and concepts in new territories. This will begin building a co-ordinated network.

Stage Three: Begin testing the newly created characters and concepts in key territories. Use Egmont's range of media.
"A company has to have some kind of allegiance...
People need to believe in something, so they can say:
'I admire this and I am proud to be a part of this."
George Lucas, quoted in The Observer, 25/4/99

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