Latest toy recall spurs TIA outreach initiative

NEW YORK: In light of Mattel's third voluntary product recall in a little over a month, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) is adding new components to its media and consumer outreach efforts.

NEW YORK: In light of Mattel's third voluntary product recall in a little over a month, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) is adding new components to its media and consumer outreach efforts.

Julie Livingston, senior director of marketing communications at TIA, said the goal of the year-long campaign is to educate the media and consumers on a variety of topics, ranging from explaining the difference between a voluntary and mandatory recall to how to buy proper toys for children.

Mattel's most recent recall, which involved Barbie and Fisher-Price toys made in China that may contain excessive levels of lead, brings the total number of products recalled to nearly 20 million.

She noted that one of the main goals is to reassure people that toys are safe. To that end, the TIA announced last week that it is working with the American National Standards Institute to develop a new three-point program to reinforce the toy-safety system.

"There are obviously some serious problems with [the system] and they are going to be addressed immediately," Livingston said. "We're doing everything we can to make sure of that, including working with government officials, major retailers, and our members."

The TIA, which has 500-plus members, will be developing b-roll footage of the testing process as well.

To ensure that the media has its facts right, the TIA will continue to offer its view to any inquiring outlet. This includes providing interviews with its executives, such as president Carter Keithley and VP of safety and regulatory affairs Joan Lawrence.

"They have also been working with the industry, the government, and key legislators to make the [testing] process better and stronger," said Livingston. The TIA will "probably" take part in a US House subcommittee hearing later this month on lead in children's products, she added.

The TIA will also provide the media with a list of medical experts "who can speak to whether or not there are real dangers of actual lead poisoning or exposure."

Although Livingston accused some media outlets of needlessly scaring parents, there have been a number of balanced reports.

"[The TIA's] goal is to work with the media, make sure the reports stay balanced, and explain what this really means in terms of affecting the health of kids," she said.

On the consumer front, the TIA will continue to provide parents with advice and tips on how to shop for toys by a child's age and offer guidance in terms of safe play and toy safety.

The TIA is working with G.S. Schwartz and Strategy XXI on this campaign. It is also communicating with members, which account for roughly 85% of domes- tic toy sales, primarily via e-mail.

"We have been advising our members on a regular basis on what's been going on and how our association has been working on their behalf," Livingston explained. "We are also advising them on what they should be doing now in terms of their own safety testing."

Livingston wouldn't comment on its members' PR activities, but felt that Mattel has been open about the process and "somewhat" transparent in its communications with media and consumers.

Jules Andres, director of corporate communications at Mattel, believes the company's openness will stave off any reputation hits. But the company remains concerned.

"We definitely will take a look at our reputation management and hope that we can continue to build trust with parents and communicate openly when we have issues and when we don't," she said.

Allen Adamson, MD at corporate consulting firm Landor, believes it's only a matter of time before this happens to another toy manufacturer.

"They should be getting out and planning for something like this to happen," he said. "It's not a question of if. It's a question of when."

Additional reporting by Irene Chang and Hamilton Nolan.

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