NEW YORK: With the holiday shopping season in full swing, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) has instituted a more aggressive communications program to combat the ongoing negative media coverage related to toy safety issues.
Julie Livingston, senior director of marketing communications at the TIA, said the association has definitely taken a stronger stance. "We decided to get a bit more aggressive because of the importance of the December shopping period," she said.
As part of those efforts the association, which represents 500-plus member companies, has hired Fleishman-Hillard to help set up its new consumer Web site, Toyinfo.org, and a consumer call center, both of which launched in late October. Livingston said executives at the association wanted additional agency help with the holiday season approaching.
"Our president, Carter Keithley, and [our] board of directors felt we needed some real muscle behind the campaign, and wanted to position the industry well during this series of crises," Livingston said. The TIA is also working with G.S. Schwartz and Strategy XXI on outreach efforts.
The consumer call center is open seven days a week, while the site provides a video feed with messages from TIA executives.
Livingston told PRWeek in September that the TIA was adding components to its media and consumer outreach efforts due to the Mattel recalls. Since that time, the recalls - which haven't all involved Mattel - have continued and the bad publicity has mounted, resulting in increased TIA communications.
The most recent bad development is a lawsuit brought by the state of California against 20 companies, including Mattel and Toys 'R' Us, accusing them of manufacturing or selling toys with illegal quantities of lead.
Livingston said G.S. Schwartz has amplified its media outreach efforts to place TIA experts in outlets like MSNBC, Fox News, the New York Post, the New York Daily News, and The Houston Chronicle. On December 4, the association will kick off a radio media tour featuring its VP of standards and regulatory affairs, Joan Lawrence.
The TIA has decided to partner with NewsMarket to distribute video. "We have a lot of b-roll footage we just took in Chinese factories, illustrating the toy-safety testing process," Livingston explained. "NewsMarket gives us an opportunity to post additional b-roll footage that focuses on toys and product trends," she added.
She noted that despite the large amount of negative coverage the industry is receiving, the TIA will not stop doing what it does every holiday season - provide parents with tips on what toys to buy. The NewsMarket subscription also allows them to provide b-roll of analyst Reyne Rice talking about the season's toy trends.
"We don't want to walk away from that, and that lets us put a light on some of the more positive things going on now," Livingston explained. Rice has recently done interviews with The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun, and The Wall Street Journal.
"There are many consumers concerned about buying toys this holiday season," Livingston said. "Our goal is to allay their fears, reassure them about the safety of toys on the shelves, and provide them with tips on what's hot."
Livingston said while the group focuses "a bit more" on top-tier media outlets, it's also reaching out to non-traditional outlets like bloggers covering the industry, mommy bloggers, and mommy sites.
Livingston says the TIA and its members are succeeding in addressing consumers' concerns, but thinks that more can be done.
"Going forward as an industry we need to focus more on toy safety at the retail level," she said. "A lot has been done. But since it's on everyone's mind, maybe we need to continue this campaign throughout the year instead of focusing on it now. The industry has always focused on toy safety year-round. But in a PR sense, we have not."