When in March 2001, Raggedy Ann was turned down for entry into the National Toy Hall of Fame for the fourth time, the family of Johnny Gruelle, creator of the yarn-haired and shoe-button-eyed doll in 1915, was understandably upset.
Surely Raggedy deserved the same honor bestowed upon Barbie, Play-Doh, Tonka Trucks, and Mr. Potato Head. United Media, which licenses Raggedy Ann and Andy on behalf of Simon & Schuster, was determined to do something about the slight.
United Media looked to influence the next year's vote by rallying public support. It had a lot of popularity to work with: Doll Reader had named Raggedy Ann the third most favorite doll of all time, and about 45,000 people receive Rags, a quarterly Raggedy Ann newsletter.
Then, months later, the organizers would try to build on the public support by going for media coverage.
A signature drive kicked off on March 28, 2001, the day after that year's winners were announced. Melissa Menta, director of PR at United Media, worked with Joni Gruelle, the creator's granddaughter who cofounded the Johnny Gruelle Raggedy Ann and Andy Museum in Arcola, IL. They circulated petitions on raggedyann-museum.org), and at Raggedy Ann Festivals in Japan, Arcola, and elsewhere.
As for the press drive, "We felt the best strategy was to go to the top 20 newspaper markets and also the markets with large fan bases,
says Menta. That meant anywhere near Arcola and Norwalk, CT, where Gruelle lived when he created Raggedy.
Starting in January, they put out three press releases. The first announced the petition drive, the second that Raggedy Ann fans would be at the National Toy Hall of Fame in Salem, OR, to hear whether their heroine had won, and the third (on March 27) that Raggedy, along with the jigsaw puzzle, had indeed been inducted, and all was right with the world (at last).
"The family was genuinely shocked, surprised, and in tears that she got in,
Though the media campaign kicked off too late to affect the January vote, Kim Baldwin, spokesperson for the Hall of Fame, expressed astonishment at the 15,000 signatures the pro-Raggedy faction pulled in. "We have never seen anything like this,
she told CBS.
Stories about the petition drive appeared in USA Today, the New York Post, Baltimore's The Sun, and AP. The Connecticut Post also wrote an editorial about the snub.
Coverage of the successful vote was even wider. Time's April 8 "Milestones
page noted that Raggedy Ann was inducted, and the AP covered it as well.
From March 27-29, over 40 TV and radio stations mentioned the vote, including ABC's World News Now, CBS' The Early Show, The Late Late Show with Craig Kilborn, and CNN Headline News. "We thought about a VNR, but we didn't need one,
says Wayne Catan of Catan Communications, which was brought in to help with the press.
On The Tonight Show, Jay Leno spoofed the fact that Raggedy Ann got in by interviewing her dejected, 1920-born and not-yet-eligible brother, Raggedy Andy, who blamed affirmative action.
Partly as a result of the campaign, FAO Schwarz, which has a Raggedy Ann and Andy boutique, has asked United Media for more walk-around PR appearances in its New York and Los Angeles stores. And in April, United Media reached a deal with a major retailer (which Menta says she can't name yet) to launch an exclusive Raggedy Ann boutique this fall.