Mastering the Art of Strategic Content Licensing

By Tim Gillett

Interview with Yulia Boyle, YPB Global, Founder and Principal

Licensing for publishers is far more than an added revenue stream – it’s a strategic alliance to authentically extend your brand’s narrative and values.

This is the considered view of Yulia Boyle, who has a vast array of experience and a stellar track-record in establishing enduring multi-million-dollar partnerships with some of the largest global media, entertainment, and educational entities.

Working with organizations including Disney, National Geographic, 21st Century Fox, Nikkei Inc., IDG, Hearst, Televisa, Bertelsmann, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Cengage/Gale, Yulia led on international media, live events, locational based entertainment, and image collection – but the one constant through these appointments was licensing as the dominant business model.

The Geography of Licensing

Amazingly, when she started at National Geographic (Nat Geo), Yulia admits that she knew nothing about licensing. But, hired for her educational publishing expertise from her time at Macmillan Education, she soon found herself heading Nat Geo’s partnership with Cengage on branded textbooks.

She says: ‘The challenge grew to global expansion of NG Traveler magazine, which I took on eagerly and it was a great time of rapid expansion! I realized that the core principles of content – its intrinsic value, understanding its audience, and how to tailor it for various markets – were directly translatable to licensing. My role expanded, and I started to lead the charge for the International Licensing and Alliances group, growing Nat Geo’s reach through strategic partnerships.’

The success of Nat Geo in the world of content licensing is a direct result of a very strategic approach championed by Yulia’s predecessor and mentor, Head of International and Chief Legal Officer of Nat Geo, Terry Adamson, she recalls.

“The philosophy was to make the content adaptable and locally relevant. It wasn’t just about the brand – it was about the story being told, and local voices being heard. It was our deliberate effort to ensure that Nat Geo’s intellectual property, rich in visual storytelling and authenticity, could be integrated and resonate across various cultures and audiences. 

“This nuanced approach led to success in magazines, books, digital media licensing, which in turn reinforced the brand for other opportunities (like consumer products, etc). We made sure that Nat Geo’s intellectual property was not just recognized globally but felt personal, whether it was being experienced in Buenos Aires or Beijing. 

“It’s not about merely slapping a well-known brand onto a product for recognition; it’s about curating and molding the content to ensure that it is resonant in new environments.”

Global Expansion in Italy and Spain

Looking back over her career, Yulia says one of her most creative licensing deals was the partnership with Touring Club Italiano, the esteemed Italian travel authority with over 135 years of history: “We licensed them the National Geographic Traveler magazine and, by integrating it with their original content for their members, made a new publication – Nat Geo Touring – into the official journal of their renowned organization. 

“This collaboration was particularly innovative because it intertwined two authoritative travel voices, creating a publication with unmatched depth and reach in the travel sector. It’s a testament to how strategic licensing can expand a brand’s legacy and connect with new audiences in meaningful ways.”

The successful reverse-licensing of NG History magazine from the Spanish publisher RBA to the US market stands out as another great landmark example of Yulia’s work. 

In 2003, RBA conceived NG History for Spain, securing Nat Geo’s approval to launch a publication birthed outside its central operations. Upon encountering the title in 2007, Yulia was struck by its immense potential to fill the gap in the US market. 

“It became my mission to persuade our headquarters to embrace a magazine created by our Spanish licensee and launch it in the US,” she recalls. “In 2013, we celebrated this milestone, by launching NG History US – a tribute to the collaboration between NG and RBA, our dedication to the superb content – and the relentless spirit of our team. This unique strategy launched a new and profitable product line and solidified the principle that exceptional content knows no borders – setting a precedent within Nat Geo.”

Elevating the licensee’s unique voice

For publishers, Yulia says, licensing “represents brand building and marketing in itself”.  

“My advice? Make sure that even if your business model is licensing you really treat each deal as a partnership,” she asserts. “For me the success always depends on creating a true partnership that not only respects the licensor’s brand integrity but also celebrates and elevates the unique voice of the licensee. 

“This is what continues to guide me today as I work with several global companies building partnerships for them. It’s not only about the business success but about the authentic connections and shared growth that these collaborations foster.

“Authentic content draws people in, and this engagement across various platforms drives revenue in both brand and content licensing. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the two; a trusted brand pulls in audiences, and compelling content cements that trust – creating a virtuous cycle.”

Of course, the likes of Nat Geo have the benefit of a long history and a huge recognition to help their licensing efforts. But, for publishers without a famous brand, there are still many opportunities to carve out a niche by leveraging unique content. 

Yulia says: “I know publishers with niche, high-production value, premium, quality content – around science, space, children’s literature, and so on – that don’t necessarily need widespread brand recognition to thrive. 

“Strong content naturally creates licensing opportunities in today’s diverse media ecosystem; think about content for video games or educational platforms. For these publishers, the focus should be on leveraging their unique content to build their brand – piece by piece; platform by platform. The brand will grow as the content speaks for itself and reaches the right people.”

She concludes: “It’s never easy but it’s an intriguing, interesting, and lucrative industry. Licensing continues to offer a path to diversification and growth, allowing media companies to extend their brand presence and find new revenue in any given landscape.”

The timing of this publication aligns with honoring #World IP Day on April 26, 2024, when the world acknowledges the creators and researches of content – the intellectual property that helps shape our world.