Creative Lives — Stephanie Griggs’ super-sweet life as a licensing director at The Roald Dahl Story Company

Posted 15 January 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun

Stephanie Griggs, like many, grew up enchanted by the stories of Roald Dahl. But while childhood dreams are often optimistically ambitious, not even she could have imagined working for the celebrated author’s company. As licensing and design director, Stephanie’s role balances both the commercial and creative worlds; from negotiating contracts and managing in-house style guides to developing new products, and even collaborating with Quentin Blake on experimentally-flavoured chocolate bars. Deciding what gets made and managing how it looks, she’s behind the merchandise you see on the shelves. She tells us more about life as a licensing director and the serendipitous journey that led her to landing her dream job.

Stephanie Griggs

Job Title

Licensing and Design Director, The Roald Dahl Story Company (2015–present) 

Based

London

Previous Employment

Freelance Graphic Designer, including six months at Topman and five months screen printing at Lovenskate (2011–2013)
Brand Coordinator for Mr. Men Little Miss, then Brand Manager for Mr. Men Little Miss (2013–2015) 

Education

Art Foundation Diploma, Leeds College of Art and Design, (2007–2008)
BA Design and Art Direction, Manchester Metropolitan University, (2008–2011)

Website
Social Media

Stephanie Griggs

Day-to-Day

How would you describe your job?  
I started my job at The Roald Dahl Story Company in November 2015 as licensing manager. Since then, my role has evolved to licensing and design director. My responsibilities are split in two; setting the strategy for and managing anything that could be classed as Roald Dahl merchandise, and in-house design and art direction. The merchandise side falls into the task of ‘brand licensing’.

Brand licensing is using a well-chosen specialist third party (a licensee) to make a product on a brand’s behalf, using brand guidelines and careful approvals. Brands can license anything from a film or TV series to, a T-shirt, advertising campaign, or publishing strand. 

I am responsible for both the creative and commercial sides of Roald Dahl merchandise. This means negotiating contractual terms with a licensee, developing and signing off product to ensure that it’s on-brand and something our consumers will respond positively to, and helping the product hit the shelves. This part includes anything from writing a trade press release, to presenting a new product or range to retailers. 

I studied and come from a design background, which is reflected in the second half of my job; managing our in-house design output made up of myself and our graphic designer. I manage anything from brand asset development such as style guides and bespoke graphics, to the art direction of external brand comms, and coming up with a visual language for new projects. 

“Brand licensing seems to be stumbled across as a career, rather than a chosen path.​”

Roald Dahl merchandise; © Creative Tops, Penguin Random House, RDSC, QB

What does a typical working day look like?
A typical day starts with me waking up our little parrotlet, Maria-José, giving her breakfast and putting on her favourite radio station (Gold). Then I’ll set off – grabbing a coffee on the way to getting the tube from Hackney Central to Marble Arch, where our office is based. I pass the journey time with a good storytelling podcast like Family Ghosts or Radiolab.

I’m generally in the office between 9.30am and 6pm, and the difference between a typical day or not is usually down to whether I have external meetings, or if I am away travelling for business. The licensing industry is very sociable and there are a handful of global trade shows that run throughout the year. I’ve been out to Vegas the last four years, and I’ve also been to Hong Kong, Japan, France and Bologna in the past. 

My time is split between lots of different projects. I’m usually juggling around ten to fifteen open briefs at any one time, and my inbox is always filling up with more. I manage this in quite an old-school way: a paper diary for daily to-do tasks, scoring each one off with a highlighter pen. Maybe one day I will move over to digital, but for now I find it mentally restorative to end my working day turning over a page of highlighted tasks.

Roald Dahl x Rococo chocolates, 2016, © RDSC, QB, Rococo Chocolates

Roald Dahl x Rococo chocolates, 2016, © RDSC, QB, Rococo Chocolates

Roald Dahl x Rococo chocolates, 2016, © RDSC, QB, Rococo Chocolates

Roald Dahl x Rococo chocolates, 2016, © RDSC, QB, Rococo Chocolates

Roald Dahl x Rococo chocolates, 2016, © RDSC, QB, Rococo Chocolates

arrow
arrow

What do you like about working in London? 
I grew up in Leeds and went to uni in Manchester. During that time I never really saw myself moving to London; I had a lot of friends living down here, but I’m a true Northerner and wasn’t convinced that the Southern life would suit me.

But after graduating I felt ready for a new challenge. So I moved down to London with my best friend for the adventure. We didn’t have a clue what we were going to do, or how we were going to do it. We moved into a mouse-infested flat in Mile End with £1,000 – enough for the deposit and one month’s rent. I had one month to get a bar job to pay the next month’s rent and worked my way up from there. Seven years later I’m in my dream job – testament to the fact that that there’s no reason why you can't get to the place you want to be, even if your initial set of circumstances aren’t ideal. You just need the passion to achieve it.

I think living in London is the perfect springboard for so many careers. But there are so many creative opportunities outside of London, too. Being here isn’t for everyone, but it’s fun and everything is on your doorstep.

“When I moved down to London with my best friend, we didn't have a clue what we were going to do, or how we were going to do it. Seven years later I'm in my dream job.”

What attracted you to the company and how did you land your job? 
I got into the licensing industry completely by chance. I saw an advert for the job at Sanrio – and thought ‘Surely jobs like that don’t exist?’ I had no concept of brand management, but I realised it was perfect for me. 

I’ve had the opportunity to work for two of the brands I loved most as a child – first Mr. Men and now Roald Dahl. Working everyday with the stories of Roald Dahl is a dream come true – if I could tell the six-year-old me (who sat watching Matilda on VHS every Saturday at my Nan’s) that this would be my job, she would turn around in disbelief, and say “AS IF!”

I saw my current job advertised on an online licensing publication. I applied, trying not to get my hopes up, but inside I knew my skill set was a strong match. I’ve since discovered that I beat a dizzying number of applicants to get the job, which is nice to know!

Where does the majority of your work take place? 
I work day-to-day at my desk, but regular meetings help to mix that up a bit. They’re usually with colleagues, retailers, licensees, agents, publishers or brands that we are partnering with. I try and limit external meetings to only those that are completely necessary, and if possible arrange them to be at the start or end of the day to give time to catch up on other tasks. 

Inside the sweet jar-lined walls of The Roald Dahl Story Company offices in Marble Arch. © Stephanie Griggs

Inside the sweet jar-lined walls of The Roald Dahl Story Company offices in Marble Arch. © Stephanie Griggs

Inside the sweet jar-lined walls of The Roald Dahl Story Company offices in Marble Arch. © Stephanie Griggs

arrow
arrow

What is the studio environment like? 
Our office environment is really great, we’ve recently moved to a space that’s four times the size of our old one with lovely, Dahl-esque interiors. Although most of my day is spent in front of the computer, my desk space is roomy, with good lighting. I try to get out of the office for lunch to have a walk, but on busy days Deliveroo is my guilty (and lazy) pleasure.

How collaborative is your role?  
My role is really collaborative – I am part of a brilliant internal team that work across core areas of the Roald Dahl brand – film and TV, design, marketing, publishing, theatre and digital. Externally, I work closely and collaboratively with a variety of partners such as agencies, publishers, film studios and other brands.

What are the most and least enjoyable aspects of your job? 
The most enjoyable aspect of my job is getting to work on a brand that I truly love, and have a real passion for. Years of reading Roald Dahl’s stories as a child means that his words and a characters are really ingrained in me. This makes the creative side of my job so enjoyable – whether it’s thinking of partners we could collaborate with to bringing a new product to market, or working out how a product could be better.

I enjoy certain legal or administrative tasks less – but it all has to be done and I really don’t mind it. I try to make sure that I allow a good work-life balance through keeping work to office hours and not working on evenings and weekends. It’s hard, especially if you’re up against deadlines, but I think it’s so important. Stress isn’t conducive to creativity!

Mr. Men Little Miss x Twins for Peace 2013 © THOIP, Twins for Peace

Mr. Men Little Miss x Twins for Peace 2013 © THOIP, Twins for Peace

What has been the most exciting project of the last twelve months? 
It’s hard to pick just one. I am fortunate to work collaboratively with Quentin Blake – his illustrations are used to help develop hundreds of products a year. For example, a range of experimentally-flavoured chocolate bars with Rococo, a scented Charlie and the Chocolate Factory eyeshadow palette with Storybook Cosmetics, a dream-inspired BFG duvet set and a tactile kids’ clothing range with Boden.

We’re an ever-moving and totally proactive brand, so this means we’re always cooking up exciting plans for the future. At the moment I am working on a couple of really big projects that will launch in the next couple of years.

What skills are essential to your job? 
Practically, it’s essential to know how licensing works (including how a licensing deal is constructed), managing forecasts, commercials and royalty rates, what to expect from a licensee and how to be a good brand partner. 

Understanding retail is also crucial – retailers are a vital part of the industry as without them, the product wouldn’t get sold. Knowing the retail buying calendar, having relationships with buyers and decision makers, and evolving the brand offering to fit with consumer demands is also a big part of my job. Working on behalf of a brand owner, it’s vital to protect key values and make the right decisions to elevate, but not exploit a brand. 

“Reading Roald Dahl’s stories as a child means that his characters are ingrained in me. This makes the creative side of my job so enjoyable.”

Do you run any self–initiated projects alongside your job?
I used to run a small apparel company called Shark Infested, designing graphics for T–shirts and sweatshirts, which I started in my last year of uni and continued for a number of years after. But with a full-time job and a busy social life, I gave up actively designing for it. 

Lots of my close friends are creatives, and so naturally, we’re often discussing side projects that we could do together. Short courses are a good way to expand creative skills too – I’ve done concrete and plaster, ceramics, silversmithing and riso printing day courses, and over the last few months have been doing an online course on advanced Adobe Illustrator to stay brushed up on tools I don’t regularly use. Otherwise, I read or watch documentaries that inspire my work. 

What tools do you use most for your work? 
Hardware wise, I use a Macbook Pro, large screen, and graphics tablet. I use Outlook for emails, with hundreds of folders organised by subject or project. I use basics like Word or Google docs for briefing and drafting press releases. 

For designing: Photoshop, Illustrator and In Design. I also often combine Keynote and Illustrator; Keynote is full of design cheats for when I’m in a hurry and I love it for so many reasons. I use my diary for my to-do lists, and notebooks for meetings and idea generation. 

Working in a Roald Dahl environment, we have a wall of jars with sweets and chocolate – so I’m usually stuffing my face, Augustus Gloop style, with something from one of them, or having a nice cuppa to fuel me.

Roald Dahl x Ashley Wilde fabrics 2016 © RDSC, QB, Ashley Wilde

How I Got Here

What did you want to be growing up?
Throughout school I pondered loads of options – a vet, a teacher, and for a while, a backing dancer on Top of the Pops. As I got to my late teens I started to lean naturally towards the creative industry. I did my year 11 work experience in a graphic design studio and then killed some decision time by doing an art foundation diploma when I was 18 – which turned out to be a really formative year, both socially and as a creative stepping stone.

What influence has your upbringing had on your work?
Neither of my parents are in creative industries: my Mum is a nursery nurse for the NHS and my Dad is an engineer, but they both supported everything I wanted to do. They made it clear that if I went to uni, I wouldn’t be helped financially and I’ve never expected help from them in that respect. This probably helped mould some of my work ethic and made me hungrier to get to where I want to be on my own, without relying on anyone. 

How (if at all) is the subject you studied useful to your current role?
For the design aspect of my job, my course was super-helpful – the Design and Art Direction course covered a number of areas from advertising, to graphic design, copywriting, typography and illustration. In the end, I found that I prefer a hand-finished aesthetic to digital – and this led me into graphics for apparel, for myself, and as part of the Topman graphics team.

For the commercial and licensing aspect of my role, my course wasn’t very useful, but it gave me a good grounding of the creative rules that I use all the time when developing product – from composition to direction and colour. It also helped me to decide that I didn’t want to be a freelance designer – for me, working as part of a team was preferable, and this evolved into wanting to do more of the commercial and management side of a role.

“I made the decision to go down a slightly different path to being a designer, and it’s led me here.”

What were your first jobs? 
I’ve had a job since the age of 14, and over the years I’ve worked in dog kennels, cafés, bars and restaurants, a hairdressers, a clothes shop and selling financial advertising space. I did some unpaid design jobs when I first moved to London; it was a struggle to make ends meet, but a great way to make contacts and keep an up-to-date portfolio. In the end, I freelanced and did odd jobs on the side whilst looking for the right job. 

What in particular helped you the most at the start of your career?
A combination of people: anyone who replied to my random emails asking for advice, or work. My break came after I freelanced and built up a ‘real world’ portfolio. This led to two job offerings: one from Mr. Men Little Miss for the role of brand coordinator, and another from an apparel licensee, for the role of graphic designer. They were like buses, two came at once. It was a real crossroads in terms of my career, as I made the decision to go down a slightly different path to being a designer, and it’s led me here. 

Was there a particular project you worked on that helped your development?
Honestly, I think it’s been a combination of many projects. It took a few years to know what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. Lots of development happened whilst brand managing Mr. Men Little Miss – I was responsible for brand collaborations and coordinated some I was really proud of, including TFL, Evian, Twins for Peace, colette, Cliche skateboards, Man Up Girl! and House of Vans.

Roald Dahl x Storybook Cosmetics 2017 © RDSC/ QB/ Storybook Cosmetics

Roald Dahl x Storybook Cosmetics 2017 © RDSC/ QB/ Storybook Cosmetics

What skills have you learnt along the way? 
The skills that I have learnt in the licensing industry since starting out have been an enjoyable learning curve. I absorbed so much from my first job – but I don’t think you ever stop learning. I’m forever thinking how we can use our USP [unique selling point], what we can do that’s different and how we can feed the imaginations of our consumers. I work around inspirational people, and having the chance to collaborate and spark off them is a part of this learning. 
 
What’s been your biggest challenge?  
My biggest challenge after uni was getting on the career ladder, working out exactly what I wanted that to be, and trying to find someone who wanted to pay me to do what I loved. Heading into a hugely competitive industry was daunting, and it took a while to be heard. Try and connect with potential employers whilst at uni and look for possible career avenues so that you’ve got more of a springboard.
 
Is your job what you thought it would be? 
Before I got this job, I had no idea that brand licensing existed. But it’s everywhere – and when you see it you can’t un-see it. And it seems to be stumbled across as a career, rather than a chosen path.

“Heading into a hugely competitive industry was daunting, and it took a while to be heard.”

Roald Dahl x Mini Boden 2016 © RDSC/ Boden

Roald Dahl x Mini Boden 2016 © RDSC/ Boden

Thinking Ahead

What would you like to do next? 
I see myself working for brands that I’m passionate about for a long time – it’s the brand management and preservation side that really interests me.

Could you do this job forever?
Yes, definitely, although it’s important to me that I keep evolving. As long as I’m doing that I can see myself in the job for many years.

What do you feel is the natural career progression for someone in your current position?
It would most probably be to move to another director position, and then to a higher senior position. Levels of seniority vary company by company, but as with many jobs, career progression means taking on more responsibility. On the design side, progression would be to grow a design team, and increase creative output.

Words of Wisdom

What advice would you give to a young creative wanting to do the same kind of work?  
There are lots of entry-level employment opportunities in licensing, so whether you’re coming from university, school or employment, get in touch with brands you admire. There are also licensing agents (who operate the licensing on behalf of a brand) and licensees (who make the product) as employment options, too. 

Attend industry events to get a feel for what is out there; Brand Licensing Europe (BLE) is an annual, free trade fair where a huge variety of brands exhibit, from global entertainment brands, to smaller independent brands and music and art led properties. Attending these sorts of fairs, and signing up to licensing trade publication e-newsletters (which will also advertise job positions) would be a good introduction and way to stay up-to-date. 
 
Work-wise, university isn’t the be all if it doesn’t appeal to you. Lots of companies now have HR policies in place that mean they’re hiring for entry level positions without university education as a requirement. Entering a job based on real-world employment experience and passion is a great way for a company to mould you into an ideal employee, without carrying the debt of uni loans.

Posted 15 January 2018 Interview by Marianne Hanoun
Photography: Stephanie Griggs
Collection: Creative Lives
Disciplines: Design, Journalism, Broadcasting
Mentions: The Roald Dahl Story Company, Quentin Blake
Learn More Sign In

Lecture in Progress relies on the support of patrons and professional members to provide the ongoing insight and advice to the next generation. To help support sign up now or find out more. 

scroll to top arrow-up
share

Become a Member

Lecture in Progress is now free to access. Become a member and receive a number of additional benefits.

Student Member

Free

Alongside a wealth of behind-the-scenes advice and insight into the creative industries, join now to get exclusive access to offers and promotions. You’ll benefit from:


  • Student offers and promotions
  • Two weekly newsletters
  • Bookmark content
  • Shape the future of Lecture in Progress

Professional Member

£35/per year

By becoming a professional member, you’ll be helping us in our aim to support the next generation of creatives. You’ll also get the chance to shape the future of Lecture in Progress, and benefit from:


  • Professional offers and promotions
  • The biannual Lecture in Progress newspaper, delivered to your door
  • Insight reports into creative education and industry
  • Two weekly newsletters
  • Bookmark content
  • Shape the future of Lecture in Progress

Lecture in Progress is made possible with the support of the following brand patrons