Charlie Everitt is IP Director at Virgin Enterprises Limited (VEL), the company which owns and licenses the Virgin brand. Who better to give BrandWrites an insight into the issues which matter to major brands today? BrandWrites caught up with Charlie to get his thoughts on the questions below.
What have been the biggest changes affecting brand owners in the recent past?
The growth of the internet, and more recently social media, has probably been the single biggest thing. Social media brings great advantages, allowing brand owners to communicate with their customers in a new and authentic way. On the other hand, it brings challenges - both in terms of opening up a new territory for trade mark abuse, but also in terms of the need to control your own message. There are numerous examples of brand owners who have got it right (and wrong).
What challenges do you see for brand owners in the future?
Anti-IP sentiment seems to have grown in the last couple of years and will continue to be an issue that challenges trade mark owners. It’s vitally important that trade mark owners are not prevented from taking effective enforcement action to protect their brands - often, their biggest assets and the subject of massive and sustained investment. Collectively, brand owners need to get better at making sure that consumers understand the social and economic benefits of IP, including brands, so that they can see enforcement action within the right context.
There is a fair amount of interest in the brand owner community around the potential impact of 3D printing, for example its obvious potential to be used as a tool for counterfeiting. In large part the Virgin group consists of service-based rather than product-based companies, so we probably don’t feel this as keenly as other brand owners. But it’s one to watch.
I’ve already mentioned social media, and that will continue to raise challenges. Another thing that is relevant to us, as well as to other brand owners, is the opening up of the internet that is currently going on through the .gtld release programme. It’s too early to tell quite how significant an impact this will have on the way that people use the internet to interact with brands, but it has already brought challenges. We’ve spent a considerable amount of time devising and implementing the right (offensive and defensive) strategies to protect the brand in this new space.
What have been the highlights for VEL in the last 12 months?
Last year was an extraordinary year for VEL, and for the Virgin brand. Seeing both Virgin America (in the US) and Virgin Money (in the UK) proceed to an IPO in the space of a few days in November was a highlight. Last year was also the 30th anniversary of Virgin Atlantic (launched in 1984 with one second hand Jumbo jet), the year that Virgin Racing took part in the first FIA Formula E World Championship race and the year that Virgin Trains was awarded the East Coast Main Line rail franchise in the UK.
Which sectors do you most like working in and why?
One of the unique things about working for VEL is the extraordinary range of different businesses that operate within the Virgin group. The group employs more than 50,000 people around the world, operating in over 50 countries, and the Virgin brand resonates across sectors ranging from mobile telephony, travel, financial services, leisure, music, holidays and hotels to health & wellness. At VEL, we hold and license out the brand to all of the operating companies, so we are constantly in touch with them. It’s this diversity which makes VEL such an interesting place to work - I couldn’t choose one sector over the others.
What has been your career highlight to date?
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple of opportunities in my career to join companies at times of significant change (in terms of their business strategy, location, personnel), which has given me the chance to structure and build an IP team to help service the business in the best way possible. When I joined Samsonite in 2006 (my first in-house role), we had six months to manage the transfer of the IP function from Denver to London - including recruiting a new team to replace the departing one, and transferring all of the records, systems and knowhow accumulated over many years - while developing a new IP strategy, and handling the day to day workload. Looking back, I’m really proud of what we achieved.
What do you love most about working for VEL?
Two things stand out for me. The first is the incredibly talented and dedicated group of people that I work with at VEL - both in the IP team and more widely. The days can be long, and rarely without challenges - but they are never dull. And, because we are Virgin, we manage to have some fun along the way.
The second is the sense of pride you get from working for the Virgin brand. Virgin companies have always been great at entering markets where consumers are underserved, and shaking them up - by uniting great people and entrepreneurial ideas. The group has worked hard to develop a core purpose, "changing business for good". To see some of the good that we are able to achieve as a group of people, and specifically through Virgin Unite - the group’s charitable arm - is uplifting. It was Virgin Unite’s 10th anniversary last year and the list of their achievements is impressive - from incubating new approaches to leadership such as The Elders, Carbon War Room and The B Team, through supporting entrepreneurs around the world as they launch and grow businesses, to work that is happening across the Virgin group (and beyond) helping businesses to innovate and prioritise people and the planet alongside profits.
This article is part of BrandWrites by Bird & Bird - May 2015