It's when Kenn Viselman stops the interview to baby talk a puppy out of post-surgery whimpering that I realize he's really 60 percent child, 40 percent adult. With his childlike eyes, the bearer of nearly two decades of licensing and marketing experience embraced British producer and creator Anne Wood's kid-approved idea for Teletubbies, producing a preschool phenomenon spanning 30 countries. Now, adding to popular TV shows like PBS' Noddy, Viselman's 4-year-old Manhattan licensing and marketing firm, The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company will produce family feature films and primetime TV series, starting with the sought-after Eloise. Here, a peek inside the mind of a marketing master.
What makes Teletubbies great? Do they have staying power?
When you see a young child interact with the series, you know they know it was designed for them. The neat thing about Teletubbies is that it's a first. We've tried to brand it for the long term. But at the end of the day, you just never know. We have commitments for the next five years and our broadcast term extends beyond that with PBS, so we expect it to have quite a life cycle.
What's the difference between a fad and a product line that will enjoy a long existence?
There are a lot of really great projects that have ended too quickly, mostly because they weren't merchandised properly. The property owners didn't have enough confidence in their brand to do it slow and steady. Instead they rushed the project out or did too many promotions too early in the brand's life cycle before it was able to take root.
Does it help if the property is unknown?
There are pros and cons. When a project has no awareness, you're not dealing with negativity attached to it, and it's neat for a marketing guy to go, "Okay, how am I going to create this?" But it's also a much more tedious process to build awareness. I tend to work on a lot of projects no one knows. I guess I'm just more comfortable with that kind of thing.
What's your advice to entrepreneurs out to spot a potentially amazing property?
Your product has to be unique and have a very clear and specific point of view. But getting your audience involved with the end product before it becomes the end product is quintessential. If you have the skills of a marketer, you can market anything. But in today's business universe, you have to either have a ton of money or a very strong focus. It's much easier to capitalize in a small market and start to expand once you've developed awareness and exposure.
My company has [enjoyed such] success because we have a very specific target audience, and we understand our marketplace. Securing the rights [to Eloise] was an extraordinary statement to us about the success we're having in staying focused on our goal. The reason they gave us this project [over heavyweights like Steven Spielberg] was because no one else could say, "We know kids better than anyone."
The itsy bitsy Entertainment Company, (212) 989-3660, http://www.itsybitsye.com
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