Traditionally, media coverage of the toy industry has focused on two time frames - Toy Fair in New York in February, when new products are introduced, and during the holiday season, when the industry does 60% of its annual business.
But concerns over the safety of some imported products have turned toys into a front page story that's lasted for several months. "It's had a huge impact," notes Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of the consumer magazine Toy Wishes. "It began back in July, and since then I'd say 90% of the stories about toys have included at least a paragraph about it."
"The whole industry got turned on its ear for the fourth quarter," adds Kristin Greene, principal with San Francisco-based Flashpoint PR, which represents the LEGO Group.
"A lot of the long-lead glossy publications stopped in their tracks and reevaluated their gift guides, and either made a switch to more of a green/natural gift guide, or only included products where they were sure of the country of origin of the production."
One benefit of the scare is that PR professionals now have new angles to pitch this holiday. "Up until these recalls, parents have been largely motivated by costs," says KidStuff PR president Lisa Orman, whose clients include the American Specialty Toy Retailers Association. "But now safety is an issue, so we're having success by that.
Concerned parents can develop a trust relationship with a local specialty toy store owner who can answer all their questions."
One of the interesting things about toys is that while most of the advertising is aimed directly at the kids, the vast majority of editorial targets parents, and is done primarily by reporters who do not cover the industry with any regularity.
"It tends to be features/lifestyle editors as well as the business section." explains Orman. "But a lot of reporters do have kids, and some do take a personal interest, bringing the toys home [for their children] to try them out."
Whether it's Tickle Me Elmo from years past or FurReal Friends Butterscotch Pony, the 2006 must-have, the media tends to run in a pack when deciding the hot holiday toy, and getting on those lists should be the ultimate goal of most PR in the industry.
"The best way to get those opportunities is to make yourself known to the toy industry," explains Greene, adding that developing relationships with experts such as Silver from Toy Wishes or Elizabeth Werner from iVillage can have huge payoffs, because they are often brought on national morning shows to talk about hot toys.
There are many opportunities to reach kids directly through outlets like Boy's Life, SI for Kids, and Discovery Girls, but most of your PR should aim for editorial targeting of the parents
n Look for angles like licensed toys from major summer movies to generate media interest outside of the holiday selling season
n Partner up with parenting organizations on an awards program for toys, and then leverage that to get on regional and national morning lifestyle programming