Nickelodeon's Pam Kaufman: Kid Marketing Maven

Pam Kaufman, chief marketing officer and president of consumer products, Nickelodeon

When this savvy marketer was promoted to the additional post of president of consumer products at Nickelodeon in July 2013, Pam Kaufman was thrilled with the opportunity because she knew what was in the studio's pipeline.

Beyond the iconic properties like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, SpongeBob SquarePants and Dora, which are each being transformed in various ways, there is a raft of new properties that not only have the potential to keep Nickelodeon at the forefront of kids' television, but also at the top of its game in brand licensing.

And at a time when the kids' TV business faces serious challenges, Nickelodeon is not backing off or scaling back, but aggressively pursuing this lucrative–albeit volatile–segment.

"We are having a blast as our business and platform are very strong right now, and it's exciting that in consumer products, everything we have been planning for is coming to life," says Kaufman, who has been with the kids' network for 17 years. "As a company, we are really focused on the growing the portfolio."

In fact, as Nickelodeon's core properties have matured, growing the portfolio and revamping its existing brands has been critical to the company's future growth and expansion.

"We developed a strategy to go deep in preschool, acquire new IP that would make sense and partner with other IP owners," says Kaufman, who reports directly to Cyma Zargami, president, Nickelodeon Group. "We are very focused on the curriculum for the shows that we are developing that have a strong science and technology base along, with very strong characters. I believe we really haven't been challenged in this area."

There is no doubt that Kaufman and her team have been extremely busy as Nickelodeon plans to release six shows in 18 months along with simultaneous consumer product launches. According to Kaufman, the shows are targeted to the 3- to 5-year-old audience, which is a very important demographic for Nick and acts as a feeder to the 6- to 11-year-old group.

At this year's recent TV upfronts, Nickelodeon announced 100 episodes of new educational preschool series for the 2014-2015 season, which is part of what the company calls its "biggest pipeline of content ever."

Among the new and recently debuted shows are "Wallykazam!," "Dora and Friends: Into the City!," "Blaze and the Monster Machines," "Shimmer & Shine" and "Fresh Beat Band of Spies," plus additional episodes for existing series "Paw Patrol," "Bubble Guppies," "Peter Rabbit" and "Team Umizoomi."

In the most recent TV ratings (as of press time), Nickelodeon closed the week of May 11 as basic cable's No. 1 network for the 18th consecutive week in total day viewership among kids ages 2- to 11-years-old and overall total viewers. Nickelodeon also holds the top three spots among kids ages 3- to 5-years-old, with "Paw Patrol" ranking No. 1, "Team Umizoomi" ranking second and "Bubble Guppies" placing third.

In addition to television, Kaufman says Nickelodeon has two upcoming theatrical releases in connection with Paramount Pictures–Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, which will debut Aug. 8 in the U.S., and a SpongeBob SquarePants film, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water, which will hit theaters in February 2015.

"We are talking to Paramount about a variety of other options," she adds.

Kaufman points out that another important factor of Nickelodeon's initiatives is having consumer products coordinated for release at the same time as the debut of its TV shows. Here are some of the consumer product programs that are being developed by Kaufman and her team:

  • Peter Rabbit–Highlighted by a 20-foot statement in Walmart’s Easter seasonal area, Nickelodeon has big plans this fall for an expanded consumer product launch at mass, including a toy line from Cartwheel that includes plush, play sets, role play and an interactive toys.
  • Paw Patrol–This No. 1 rated preschool show is a partnership with Spin Master. The property boasts more than 25 new licensing partnerships, according to Kaufman, with products hitting shelves beginning this fall.
  • Dora and Friends–For the new version of this iconic property, Nickelodeon has teamed up with several licensees including Fisher-Price to expand the Dora franchise with interactive dolls, play sets and accessories that will release in August.
  • Blaze and the Monster Machines–This new series, which premieres this fall, is Nickelodeon’s first preschool show to feature a curriculum dedicated to all areas of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), according to Kaufman, who says products will hit retail in 2015. It follows the adventures of an 8-year-old boy and his monster truck Blaze.
  • Shimmer & Shine–This new show, which premieres in spring 2015, features an emotional intelligence curriculum that highlights making mistakes as a path to learning, according to Kaufman, who says products will hit retail in 2016.
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles–A multi-faceted licensing program will target its core market of 6- to 11-year-olds, a preschool audience with its Half-Shell Heroes line by Fisher-Price, a new girls’ line of products and a full movie-themed program. Nickelodeon will introduce more than a dozen new licensing partners for the CG-animated series including Build-A-Bear, Aqua Leisures and Jazwares, according to Kaufman. This fall, Nickelodeon will unveil customized merchandising and marketing programs with Playmates Toys, Rubie’s Costume Co., Activision, Insight Editions, Richard Leeds, Freeze and MZ Berger.
  • SpongeBob SquarePants–In honor of its 15th anniversary later this year, Nickelodeon has updated the licensing program to include master toy licensee Just Play, MEGA Bloks, NKOK and Power Wheels. For the movie, Kaufman says Nickelodeon will unveil an extensive retail and product collection in Q1 2015.

Kaufman is definitely building momentum for the future with a combination of strategic initiatives that include a major emphasis on content development, co-branding partnerships, new licensees, innovative products and global expansion.

"We are committed to keeping a strong pipeline, and we will not go back to the one or two properties where we once were," Kaufman emphasizes. "We also have a very big commitment to work with toy developers and inventors and not just come up with the next idea, but how we marry the next innovation with great storytelling."

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