Breaking Through with What’s New & Hot in Play: Toy Fair Edition

by Stacey Clement

On the heels of a banner year for the industry – the TIA recently reported a 13% increase over 2020 – February marks a key time, when play trends are forecasted, buyers decide what to fill store shelves with and editors get a sneak peek for upcoming gift guides. Most years, the halls at the Javits Center come alive in February with the unmistakable sounds of play – baby dolls cooing, scooters scooting, bubbles popping…until recently. But with the annual Toy Fair New York cancelled this year (with some events like the TOTY Awards still being held virtually), many brands will find other ways to meet with buyers. They’ll need to pivot their press strategy too.

Here are 3 ways to ensure your brand breaks through to media and third-party experts who media rely on to spot what’s new and hot in play:

Virtual Previews
While not the same as in-person, virtual events have become the norm over the past two years and, if done correctly, can be a very effective way to introduce, educate or drum up excitement for a product or new line announcement. Offering a more interactive opportunity to engage with the audience than a press release or email, online experiences can be both intimate and appealing for participants to attend from the comfort of their home.

That said, it’s easy to make some missteps as well; a few things to keep in mind when planning:

  • Amp-Up Visual Appeal – no one wants to look at a talking head for an entire hour – especially when discussing toys! Make sure your presentation includes images, video or, better yet, a demo given by the spokesperson/host.
  • Build-in Interactivity - Don’t make it one-sided - offer a chance for attendees to ask questions and further engage with the topic as well as the spokesperson. Consider enlisting a host to help keep things on track and adding a more personable and engaging dialogue with the spokesperson.
  • Make it Easy to Attend –Instead of long (and multiple) emails filled with details and logistics, send a calendar invite ensuring they have everything they need in one place, and check in a few days prior to reinforce why this will be time well spent.

Hands-On Trial
One of the best things about Toy Fair is getting to see – and try! – all of the new products on display. Most aren’t available to purchase yet and getting that behind-the-scenes look (from bubbly actors hired to demo them!) is so memorable. Even with media still working remotely, most are open to receiving packages at home if you confirm their interest ahead of time. Don’t make it difficult for them to write about something that is best played with!

For our client Rollplay, maker of ride-on vehicles, we hand-picked editors that had kids in our target age range to review the new Nighthawk Storm scooter, knowing the product had a size and weight limit. The resulting coverage offered a hands-on experience by the intended target audience that wouldn’t have been possible without a sample. Some had so much fun with it, they posted videos to their personal social media accounts, extending the reach and awareness of the product.

Get Outside (Soon!)
With warmer temperatures for most of the country still six weeks out (thanks Punxsutawney Phil!), now is the time to start planning for Q2-Q3. If your product/brand allows for it, an outdoor experiential event might be the safest way to “get back to normal.” That doesn’t mean that virtual events have to go away – there is room for both. The inexpensive and expansive way to reach media virtually is undeniable but so is a sense of community. Where (and when) it makes sense, experiential events create the best of both worlds – a hands-on experience, product trial, and relationship/ community building through a common ground or experience.

As kids at heart, and toy industry veterans, we can’t help but get excited about all of the forthcoming play innovations and new editions of some of our favorites. Families are prioritizing play more than ever and that’s a good thing for kids who need a break from pandemic life. The toy industry never disappoints!