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20 Questions with Rachael Bickerton

Rachael Bickerton
Aug. 2, 2016

Name: Rachael Bickerton
Position/Institution: Director of Trademark Licensing and Enforcement, Boise State University
Number of years in your position: 8 years
Alma Mater(s): Southampton University, England and College of Law, Guildford, England Hometown: Woodbridge, Suffolk, England

1. Why did you become involved in ICLA?
When I was hired at Boise State, I knew nothing about college licensing and even less about collegiate sports (being from England, our football is different!) So the ICLA list serve quickly became my best friend and my virtual office colleague. As the first trademark licensing director at a school, with minimal policies and processes, combined with not knowing anything about our main sport or how even the U.S. education system worked, I probably would not still be employed were it not for all the welcoming people at the other end of an email who responded to my many questions on the list serve. And Brian Hommel who was one of the first people to respond and I picked up the phone and an hour later, he had become my unofficial mentor. I was then persuaded to join the board by Past President Maggie Harris. Probably because I spoke up a lot at our Symposium and Convention and asked lots of questions. I was, and still am, so grateful for the learning opportunities, the networking and the support that ICLA provides, I felt that I should give back and also share the learnings that I have made. I love our Association. We are kind, friendly and super smart.

2. What is your favorite part about being a member of ICLA?
That’s a tie between the invaluable Member Community and our Winter Symposium and Summer Convention. In my eight years in the industry, through ICLA, I have created some amazing friendships that support me both professionally and personally. We have been through marriages, divorces, babies, kids graduating, and sadly more recently deaths, but when we come together, it’s like we just saw each other the previous week. We are all still passionate about our respective universities, licensing programs and the industry as a whole and we all continue to learn from each other. I also really enjoy being a mentor and also meeting those newer people in our industry.

3. What is the biggest challenge to working in a university environment?
Communication. Isn’t this a universal challenge? We are slaves to our artwork approval process and having to respond in a timely manner, yet we have to balance that with all the other work demands, including ones that aren’t necessarily directly related to licensing. I seem to be called in to mediate or be involved in many diverse issues on campus. I often get sent an email that starts with “I know this isn’t a licensing question, but could you help...”

4. What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment to date?
I am honored and flattered to have been voted on to the ICLA Board by my peers and then to be voted in by the Board as an Officer. If I can make it through this next year as President of the ICLA Board with some degree of success, I will feel that this is a huge accomplishment. It takes more work than I realized! I also feel that my transition from my previous career into my current role in university licensing and branding is a great accomplishment. Nine years ago I thought that I would never be able to change careers. To be able to change careers into a career that I enjoy way more is fantastic. I would have never thought that this music lawyer from London would end up so happy as the trademark licensing director at Boise State.

5. What is the most important skill you have developed in your career?
Understanding how people tick. I am a great proponent of the Gallup Strengths Finder tests and I am fascinated with understanding each person’s strengths and how I can best work with them. Even if I don’t know someone’s “strengths” as prescribed by Gallup, or their Meyers Briggs or DiSC results, I try to prepare for a meeting by thinking through the audience and ensuring that I temper the meeting appropriately.

6. Who has been the most influential person in your career?
There are two. My former boss at Sony-BMG, who gave me my first opportunity to move out of a typical attorney role into a business development role. He taught me a lot about how to work for a large corporation and how to survive – he taught me that it’s not necessarily about what you know but it’s about interpersonal skills. And my current boss. He took a risk in hiring me and has supported me ever since. He is prepared to be honest with me – he will tell me when and where I need to improve – and he will support me whenever appropriate. I feel that I have the ability to run my own office without fear or compromise, so long as I can justify why I am doing it.

7. What is one item you cannot live without?
I would say my cell phone. However, as I discovered when I mislaid my phone at the Summer Convention, because I could still get texts and phone calls on my laptop and iPad, it wasn’t as earth shatteringly disastrous as I feared. I wish that I could live without my car, but I don’t think I can. I am not a fan of cycling my son and I into work in the snow or rain.

8. Who would you choose to switch places with for a day?
I would love to spend a day as the President of our university. I can only imagine the diversity of issues that cross his desk.

9. What is your favorite sporting that event you have ever attended?
Fiesta Bowl 2010. It was the first time I had ever seen football being played on green turf…

10. Why/when did you decide to pursue a career in collegiate licensing?
I fell in love with a guy who moved me from Los Angeles to Boise, Idaho… I thought that I would never find a job. Luckily, Boise State had just won its first Fiesta Bowl (the one against Oklahoma) and the university quickly learned that they needed a dedicated licensing director. At the time of my interview, I didn’t understand the importance of athletics (as we don’t have such a system in the UK). I couldn’t understand why there was “a guy from sports” in my interview. I think I was therefore a little rude to him. Somehow I still got the job.

11. In your mind, who in this industry can serve as a good role model?
All of us. The purpose of ICLA is to learn and to educate. If you have a successful marketing campaign or create a new policy, it doesn’t matter whether you are a “big” school or “little” school, it doesn’t matter if it’s on a shoestring budget or a mega budget, sharing the information with your peers is important. It may help someone else. It may spark an idea. It may create a discussion. Together, we are role models for each other.

12. How has your involvement with ICLA influenced your career?
Involvement in ICLA, and having the support of my peers, has increased my confidence in my ability to do my job. How often have we internally presented ideas taken and adapted from learnings from other schools? My involvement with ICLA has made me a better trademark licensing director and business development person.

13. What educational or business experiences best prepared you for a career in licensing?
I joined the music industry as a lawyer, as the industry was drastically changing. Once Napster happened, no one purchased CDs anymore. This meant that we had to look to other forms of revenue generation to make money. So we started licensing music for products, such as Elvis Presley chocolate boxes, Brittany Spears singing toothbrushes. We pushed licensing hit songs for movies. We started talking to merchandise companies. Suddenly, licensing went from being an ancillary revenue source, to being one of the most important revenue sources that also built artist awareness. Suddenly, the promotions department was being challenged with the question “why did you give that song away for free, when we could have made money from it?” The same questions get asked now at the university, but in this case it’s about branded merchandise instead of music.

14. What challenges do you face when working with students or vendors?
Students and vendors are the reason we are here, the reason why we have a job. I actually love working with students, and vendors! It can be challenging to find the time to explain why we have certain policies and processes. Often this conversation occurs when the other person is frustrated because they got a “no” answer and so don’t hear you when you try to explain the reason. Trying to educate people ahead of time, so that you don’t end up at that “no” position is hard because the student body is constantly renewing and fluctuating and as contacts at vendors change. That being said, there is nothing more gratifying than having finished a successful educational session with students, be it a one-on-one meeting or a group presentation, and seeing the engaged response from those students. I love teaching. It’s one of the highlights of my job.

15. Explain a professional success and how you implemented it. 
I am proud of how the whole campus of Boise State has embraced its graphic identity and the guidelines. Sure, there are still outliers and people who don’t want to “conform.” However, I can see the dramatic difference from when I joined Boise State to now. Then, many departments had their own secondary logos. No one wanted to use blue and orange in their marketing materials “because they needed to look different to other departments on campus.” After a rebranding process working with Nike, and working with our marketing and communications team, holding many presentations and meetings and discussions, eight years later, Boise State is most definitely blue and orange and proud of it. Internally, we drafted and implemented graphic standards, facility and interior design standards, promotional merchandise standards and now sign standards. We didn’t have the budget to hire third-party experts, so it was all done in-house. This was a true team effort, supported by my boss and the President. It involved marketing and communications, all marketing people on campus, architectural and engineering and facilities departments, athletics and student affairs. We involved faculty and student senates. We involved whoever wanted to listen and those who didn’t and talked to them about the benefits of a consistent brand for Boise State.

16. In your opinion, where is collegiate licensing headed in the future?
Gosh, I don’t feel qualified to say. I think that as trademark licensing directors, we are going to get more responsibilities as the need to generate revenue becomes increasingly important and as universities are continuing to focus on the need to have a strong brand in order to compete for recruitment. We are already seeing that a trademark licensing director, is now being asked to be involved in sponsorships and filming agreements. The role of trademark licensing director is morphing into a business development role. The retail market will be interesting to watch, as traditional brick and mortar stores fight for survival and as the online/mobile market continues to grow and change. I am hoping that our vendors can help steer us through the ever-changing environment. As always, it is important for us all – institutions, vendors/licensees, agencies and retailers – to work together to help keep the collegiate licensing industry viable, profitable and strong.

17. What is the best piece of advice you have ever received? What advice would you give to someone looking to enter the field of collegiate licensing?
Be humble but be confident. If you don’t know something, ask. A statement without facts or data is an opinion. Gather and use information to make it a statement. Use the Member Community. Use your colleagues. Pick up the phone.

18. What was your biggest professional failure/mistake and how did you learn from it?
When I was training to be a lawyer, I forgot a deadline to file a document that cost the client over £1million. I am now petrified of deadlines. I still leave it to the last minute, but I have about 20 reminders leading up to that time.

19. What percentage of your work week is spent in your office?
How do you maintain balance between your professional and personal life? The great thing about having a toddler is that I have to be out of the office by 5 p.m. to collect him from day care. This forces me to leave my office, whereas I used to be the last out of the office by hours. Now I break my day up – emails in the morning at home, get Charlie up and to school. During the work day I am rarely in my office as I am bouncing from meetings to meetings. Then leave at 5 p.m. to get to day care. I then spend an hour after he has gone to bed checking emails. I do love getting the opportunity to work from home on occasion. I feel that I am most productive then.

20. What are you most looking forward to at the next ICLA Convention or Winter Symposium?
I am looking forward to seeing old friends and making new friends. I am not looking forward to having to give the President’s speech.