NEW YORK: FAO Schwartz didn't announce the re-opening of its flagship store until two days before its return, but the its new AOR, Middleton & Gendron (M&G), has been steadily building buzz around the event for months.
The re-launch, which came after a 10-month hiatus, was presented to the mainstream and business media via small teasers and intentionally unchecked rumors.
"Our strategy was to collectively and tactfully create a lot of buzz without given the whole story about the reopening," said Yvonne Middleton, chairman of M&G. "There was a great deal of speculation and rumors, and we allowed them [to flourish] while never confirming or denying. By the time [FAO] opened, there was a real feeding frenzy."
FAO Schwartz closed its operations in January, after investment firm D.E. Shaw bought the fledging company for $41 million. In a New York Times article hitting the newsstands on Tuesday, November 23rd, the company first revealed that it would open its Fifth Avenue store two days later on Thanksgiving.
M&G won the account in May 2004, which is run by Middleton, with support by Mary Gendron, president; Suzanne Dorn, SVP; and Burns Patterson, VP. Middleton declined to disclose the value of the account.
Although Middleton did not have complete media impression figures, she said that FAO already had 650 broadcast hits. NBC's Today show had the first broadcast exclusive on Black Friday, and the CBS Morning Show will broadcast from inside the store in the immediate future.
FAO Schwartz only began advertising in mid-November, months after its PR firm gave its first stories about the audition process for FAO Schwartz toy soldiers to the Wall Street Journal and the Las Vegas Sun, Middleton said.
"We've had success with it in the past where clients essentially skipped advertising because the PR was going so well," Middleton said. "We have seen many times over how impactful and cost-efficient PR can be."
While there wasn't a formal RFP, Middleton said the firm was invited in February to pitch ideas for launching a new ice cream parlor inside the store.
"They looked at a variety of agencies and were interested in an agency that had travel and luxury-goods experience, and experience launching brands," Middleton says. "They liked our background."
Middleton launched Four Seasons and Resorts, representing the company for 20 years, and also was the first US PR agency for Rolex. The agency also introduced the toy company to architect David Rockwell, who M&G had worked with at the Mohegan Sun. Rockwell ended up redesigning the inside of the Fifth Avenue store.
The reopening comes during news of financial difficulties at Toys 'R Us and KB Toys. But Middleton said that its FAO Schwartz's gain, because it stands in stark contrast to those two stores.
"The positioning is important," Middleton said. "The strategy is to go back to its roots with one-of-a-kind unique toys that you won't find anywhere else."
When asked about the potential conflicts in promoting a store that wants to tout things like $1,000 toy Ferrari, while talking about its $15 bears, Middleton said, "It's a challenge, but the beautiful thing here is that we're pursuing the stories that will talk about the store as a whole."
"This is going to be a good business story long-term," Middleton said, adding that the agency won't shy away from continuing to pitch the business angle.
At the same time, Middleton said that there are many stories within the story she hopes to pitch, such as revisiting the massive piano made famous in the movie Big, and the fact that, at its heyday, FAO Schwartz was one of the most visited tourist destinations in New York City.
"There are many stories that we can tackle one-by-one which makes it a story that lives on forever," Middleton said.