Room to wiggle: Australia
Leading the legal department for one of the most popular children’s bands in the world is not child’s play for Nina Stamell, general counsel of The Wiggles. Now a mother herself, Stamell catches up with GC’s Harveen Kaur to discuss what is top of her agenda, as she prepares to head back to work after a three-month maternity leave stint.
On tour for the majority of the year, The Wiggles have been entertaining children around the world for nearly three decades. When they first came onto the music scene, I was one of the many toddlers dancing along to classic hits such as Wake up Jeff, Hot potato, Yummy Yummy and Toot Toot! – among a plethora of other smash singles. The band not only became household names in Australia, but have also obtained international acclaim.
The band cemented their status as children’s music icons in 2011, when they were inducted into the ARIA’s (Australian Recording Industry Association) Hall of Fame, along with deals with Disney, and an array of licensing deals across the world. Over the years, the men and women wearing the yellow, red, blue and purple skivvies have changed, but the band’s brand has been preserved as the company continues to operate as a successful business.
In 2020, working hard behind the scenes to ensure this continued success are a team of business advisors and in-house counsel. Joining that team five years ago was Nina Stamell. Now general counsel, Stamell shares why entering a new decade means taking on new challenges – not only as a lawyer, but also as a recent mother.
The Wiggles perform hundreds of shows a year. Keeping up with such a fast-paced schedule has not always been fun and games for Stamell, but she and her legal team play an integral part in turning the band’s creative vision into a reality.
‘I am really in the thick of it all. As general counsel I get involved in legal, commercial and all that falls in between. I am a trusted adviser of the business, which means I get involved pretty early on for the most part,’ says Stamell.
‘So, the main areas that I work across are touring, merchandise, intellectual property, production (which is music and video), then there are obviously general commercial and HR areas that come up day-to-day. So, it is a busy operation and The Wiggles tour most of the year all around the world in places such as: Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.’
With various international agreements for the band already in place, legal work can be varied with competing priorities to manage.
‘I will go into work with a list of to-dos, and that can often get thrown out the window in a matter of minutes. This is because things change at the last minute. The team do like to move quickly – they are very creative,’ explains Stamell.
‘It is exciting. My role is to basically help them do what they love doing, which is making music, and collaborating with people. They have been doing this for almost thirty years now, and they just love what they do, which has been really wonderful to witness from the inside.’
Being up-to-date with upcoming engagements, whilst having a good understanding of what projects are further on the horizon is crucial, highlights Stamell: ‘My role involves a lot of contractual work, so that might be looking at a YouTube partnership, looking into a production we might have coming up, an artist engagement, or a licence agreement. There are also a lot of meetings – pretty much everyday – because everything moves very quickly. So that will usually involve chatting with the creative side of the business: the graphic design team, the production team, the managing director and even The Wiggles.’
Gone on tour
The Wiggles are always finding new and creative ways to entertain, and therefore one of the major responsibilities that fall within the purview of the general counsel is touring.
‘That is something that features every day, and I oversee a lot of venue agreements. The Wiggles tour most of the year. They do about three to four hundred shows, and therefore that is something that is always on the cards.’
Working with creative departments on tours and live shows means that legal teams have to be agile and think outside of the box, explains Stamell.
‘The challenge is when you are a trained lawyer in this role – like all GC roles – is that you have got to think more broadly than a traditional lawyer would think. That is because you do not want to be seen as a roadblock. I have found that it is really important to work closely with the business on what is important to them.
‘What might be important for me from a legal perspective when looking at a deal might really not matter at all to the business. So, really taking the time to understand the business, the people in the business, and what they want to achieve is important. I then make what is important to them my priority as well,’ outlines Stamell.
‘If you act too much like a ‘lawyer’ or if you are too closed-minded, the risk is that you alienate the business. The business loves creating and making things happen, and if you get too much in the way of that, it can have the opposite outcome.’
Instead, it is important to work with the business to help them achieve their goals, explains Stamell.
‘Although it is important to be risk averse and know the law. It is also really important to relax and take a more open minded or creative approach to negotiating.’
‘I think we have all worked with lawyers who really take that black letter approach and stick too much to the legal position or to the law itself. They do not really see the bigger picture. It is not helpful and does not actually assist the business in where it needs to go.’
As general counsel, looking at the bigger picture also means laying down a strong foundation to focus not only on your professional life, but also your personal responsibilities. Recently, for Stamell, that has meant finding a balance between motherhood and full time work.
‘There are so many demands on us, and work blends into personal life, personal life blends into work, and there is obviously a lot of focus on the importance of mental health and wellbeing. This has been an important focus for me, especially after having a baby and thinking about returning to fulltime work.’
Planning is essential to ensuring the transition back to work will be as smooth as possible.
‘I have always placed a lot of importance on health, so I have been planning a lot around when I can exercise, when I can meal prep. I think it is really important to keep strong and healthy so we can keep doing all the things we want to do. Many women now want to go back to work full time, but we also want to be hands-on mothers. So, health is something I have been focusing a lot on, because for me, if that falls away, I obviously can’t be present and give my best in those areas: work and home.’
‘I am lucky enough that a lot of my work can be done remotely. So, I have been speaking with work about flexible arrangements so that I can be home earlier some days. This enables me to be there for my baby, whilst also being there for the business.’
The show must go on
With no signs of slowing down, The Wiggles empire is only set to expand in the coming years. Therefore, shifting focus towards a more business-oriented mindset is vital.
‘The business is growing, so I hope to continue to get more and more involved in the commercial and strategic side.’ Stamell explains.
‘I think this is really exciting, but moving into a broader commercial role will require a different set of skills, than just straight forward legal work. So, I hope to get more actively involved in that side of the business. But we will see – I will continue to grow in whatever direction the business needs, really.’