5 minutes with... in association withAdobe Firefly

5 Minutes with… Emma Hardie

Bristol, UK
Recently appointed as Aardman’s executive commercial and brand director, Emma Hardie talks legacy branding within the studio, expanding into uncharted territories, online safety, and her favourite Aardman character
Animation studio Aardman has recently announced a series of new hires and promotions to its executive board, starting with the appointment of Emma Hardie in the newly created role of executive commercial and brand director.

Previously commercial director, global entertainment for BBC Studios, this new role will see Emma lead the commercial exploitation and strategy for Aardman’s brand portfolio, overseeing the strategy for financing, distribution, licensing, marketing and long-term planning of the studio’s animated intellectual property.

Emma’s career to date has seen her drive creative and commercial growth across TV, film and digital. She first joined the BBC in 2016 as brand director for BBC Earth and ‘Factual’, rising to take responsibility for BBC Studios’ global entertainment strategy for unscripted and scripted worldwide. 

She also has a track record of identifying and growing IPs with international commercial potential, delivering significant new talent,content partnerships, and brand extensions on a global scale. These include BBC Studios’ investments in Mothership TV and Mettlemouse Entertainment, a co-development partnership with Japan’s Nippon TV, a hit app for Magnum Media’s format ‘The 1% Club’ for ITV, and executive producing BBC Studios’ first Snapchat commission for ‘Planet Earth II’ and the ‘Blue Planet II’ mini-series. 

Prior to BBC Studios, Hardie worked at Deloitte as a strategy consultant, and in film production on titles including Working Title Films’ ‘Anna Karenina’ and Heyday Films’ ‘Paddington Bear’.

Emma sat down with LBB’s Zoe Antonov to discuss what this new era will mean both for her and for Aardman.

LBB> Emma, congratulations on your new role! The executive commercial and brand director is a newly created position - what does it entail and why did Aardman need the position? Why did you want to rise to its challenges?

Emma> Thank you! It is an honour and privilege to have joined such an incredibly creative, talented, and innovative team at Aardman. My role is focused on driving the strategy and commercial growth of our brands, as well as finding innovative ways to support new emerging IP across series, films and games. 

In the current content market, brands have become more important for broadcasters, platforms, and content studios than ever before. Audience recognition is key in cutting through the noise, and Aardman is fortunate to have a fantastic history of launching and growing genre-defining brands such as ‘Shaun the Sheep’, ‘Wallace & Gromit’, ‘Morph’ and ‘Timmy Time’, to name a few. And really, it was those brands, combined with Aardman’s exceptional creativity, consistent desire to innovate, and wonderful culture that made the opportunity to join them irresistible to me!

LBB> What are the first projects/tasks that you'll be getting stuck in at your new role?

Emma> We’ve got some fantastic new films and series in development which I am working on getting our funding and broadcast partners together on – so that is really my number one priority. More to come on those hopefully later in the year. 

Another area that is particularly exciting is seeing how our brands are resonating around the world; ‘Shaun the Sheep’ is proving a growing success in Asia – both the TV series and films – but also across consumer products and live events, so we are exploring further opportunities there with our brilliant agencies such as TFC in Japan, Acommz in South Korea and Uyoung in China, to grow the brand across multiple touchpoints. 

LBB> What does IP growth mean for Aardman at this moment of the company's development?

Emma> Aardman is almost 50 years old and yet, there is certainly no resting on any laurels here! As a creative studio we are always thinking about ways to grow our brands and deepen fan engagement across multiple touchpoints. 

For example, we keep ahead of tech innovation and new social platforms to ensure we continue to engage with audiences where they are spending time – ‘Shaun the Sheep’ is having fun engaging with audiences on TikTok as well as in real(ish) life through our AR experience ‘Hide and Sheep’! We also take opportunities to expand our brand extensions and ancillary offering in territories where we see our content really resonating. Aardman is fortunate to be able to partner external brands with our much-loved characters to amplify our collective ambitions and reach new audiences; our ‘Shaun the Sheep’ x Barbour Christmas collaboration was a great example of that.

And of course, we are still developing new IPs ourselves, and with partners that have potential to become a world and brand that can have similar longevity to our legacy IP. It’s all very exciting! 

LBB> Your previous role at the BBC was commercial director, global entertainment - what was the role like and how did it prepare you for your transition to Aardman?

Emma> BBC Studios is the commercial production and distribution arm of the BBC, and I am fortunate to have led the commercial strategy across many of its leading brands – from ‘Dancing with the Stars’ (‘Strictly Come Dancing’ in the UK) which has 60 local versions around the world, to ‘The Great British Bake Off’, ‘Top Gear’, ‘The 1% Club’, as well as BBC Earth and natural history landmarks ‘Planet Earth II’ and ‘Blue Planet II’, and on the scripted side dramas such as ‘Luther’ and ‘Death in Paradise’, and celebrated comedies including ‘The Office’ and ‘Ghosts’. It taught me how to identify that something special in a new idea. We’re talking about one that has the potential to really speak to multiple audiences around the world; how to set up international commercial funding models to get shows off the ground, and ultimately how to nurture and grow a brand across everything from TV to Snapchat, apps to brand partnerships – the list goes on!

LBB> Looking at your career before the BBC, you were part of Deloitte as a strategy consultant, and you worked in film. Did you always know you'd end up in creativity and how did these experiences shape your trajectory in the industry?

Emma> I have a commercial and strategic brain, but creative bones! Storytelling and entertainment have always been exciting to me – to connect people around different ideas. In fact, one of my first jobs was at Working Title Films (‘Love Actually’, ‘Notting Hill’) where I worked in script development for a year. 

Ultimately, I love partnering with brilliant creatives to turn projects into reality – and that is often about finding the right commercial model that can support the birth and growth of new stories. At Deloitte, a big focus was supporting businesses to be set up in a commercial and sustainable way – and that is particularly important right now for TV production companies, so that they can continue making great films and series year after year. 

LBB> What are some things in your specialism that you love and why?

Emma> I love bringing partners together to make things happen. It is fantastic to work together to find those shared goals, new ideas, and collective endeavour. Now more than ever before, launching and growing an IP is all about working with partners across every point in the value chain; from financiers to distributors, channels and platforms, brands and agencies, to manufacturers and events companies. Everyone is crucial to that journey, and it is wonderful to also share with them in that success. 

LBB> And where do you think there is space for change? How can you/do you as a leader in your specialism use your position to drive this change?

Emma> Two areas strike me as ripe for change – which have started already but are where I am absolutely lending my voice. One is launching new IPs in other mediums – such as social media and YouTube - before transitioning to a more traditional film or TV series. This can be a cheaper, more commercially viable route to launching a new IP, and can help producers demonstrate an audience exists for the brand before going to TV or film partners. 

Second is online safety around content consumption on social media for younger audiences. We as producers must be responsible in this space and question ourselves and the platforms as to whether the type of content and the way it is served to users is ethical and right. 

LBB> What are your favourite Aardman characters and why?

Emma> Gromit is a huge favourite – he is kind, loyal and always saves the day - the kind of friend everyone wants to have! Nick Park, the creator of ‘Wallace and Gromit’, has an amazing ability to make Gromit convey so much emotion in just one look – you know exactly what he is thinking despite the fact he never utters a word (or a bark!). So I am REALLY looking forward to Gromit returning to our screens with Wallace in our new feature film coming to BBC and Netflix later this year. 

LBB> What are your biggest goals for 2024?

Emma> Have fun, keep learning, and bring people together!