"It's like déjà vu all over again.” That phrase, famously echoed by the late “Yogi” Berra, can certainly be applied to Toy Fair New York 2022. This was supposed to be the year Toy Fair, the largest toy, play, and youth entertainment marketplace in the Western Hemisphere, was set to come back bigger and better following its cancelation in 2021 due to COVID. Manufacturers were full steam ahead, planning and preparing for the annual event, then the unexpected happened. On January 11, 2022, less than 6 weeks from the first day of the 2022 rendition, the Toy Association announced that the in-person event had been canceled due to concerns about the pandemic.
This news sent the industry into a frenzy. Last year everyone knew months in advance there wouldn’t be an in-person event. Manufacturers and their marketing teams had time to prepare for a virtual trade show. This year, given the late notice, clients were concerned about the investments they had made and had to pivot to ensure media, influencers and stakeholders were made aware of their newest and greatest offerings.
Fortunately, conducting a virtual trade show was not new to our team, having executed many of these over the last 18 months. In that time, we’ve developed strategies to ensure our clients and their products get out in front of the media. Following are some tips, coupled with key learnings from the past year, for making your virtual Toy Fair 2022 a success!
Make it Engaging
Between this year and last year, we’ve had enough experience hosting virtual events to know how they work, and that they do in fact work. It is important to keep your audience in mind and tailor your presentation to them, as well as find ways to engage them. It is critical that the person presenting has a good flow and can keep their attention, providing a mix of product demos and videos. Also, consider adding a poll or quiz as a good way to engage and get valuable feedback that can be helpful to the sales and marketing teams. The poll also gives the presenter a break between product categories, especially if they need to reset the room.
It’s ideal to offer multiple sessions (dates/times), not only so there are options for everyone’s schedule, but to ensure you don’t have too many people trying to talk over each other. We also find it best to open it up to Q&A throughout the session, not just at the end. Try to be mindful of other events, even outside the toy industry, especially if the media you are inviting span multiple industries - toy and technology for example, where you may want to avoid scheduling your event the same day as an Apple announcement. And finally, think about recording a session for those who can’t attend.
It is wise to do a run-through in advance with both the client and someone from IT to anticipate any problems before they arise. Start the virtual presentation early to troubleshoot any tech issues that may creep up before media and attendees arrive. And have a backup plan in case the host has technical issues. Lastly, make sure everyone on your team, including the client, is “camera-ready” and that their background/setting is professional.
Leverage Industry Insiders
It’s business as usual for a lot of the key players in the toy industry. The Toy Book, for example, is still coming out with its February issue and planning lots of press around it. Make sure your new products are on their radar – meet with them as early as possible, even if it’s just showing them renderings instead of actual products. Fortunately for some, the show was canceled so last minute that prototypes may be available this year!
Take Advantage of What IS Available
Unlike last year when the show was canceled and all the opportunities for PR went along with it, this year a lot of media tours are still happening. Some are happening in February to coincide with the original Toy Fair timing, some in early March. Either way, these are great opportunities to get your product out there now and start an early buzz!
Lean on the Toy Industry
The Toy Association’s “Toy Trends Briefing” which comes out in February provides insight into what’s going to drive sales growth across the entire toy industry. It’s a good idea to look at the trend report as it pertains to your product lines and use what fits your outreach. Keep in mind that the Toy Association folks have seen products from manufacturers across the toy industry, so they have a real pulse on the latest trends. The Toy Association also has a few opportunities to consider as part of your marketing mix now and throughout the year.
Toy Fair Is Just the Beginning
As in years past, Toy Fair is just the beginning and sets the stage for the year ahead. Use this time to make an early impression on the media and hone in on your overall strategy for the year. Hopefully next year – or perhaps even this fall, we’ll be having a different conversation surrounding Toy Fair and how to adjust to being back in person. In the meantime, get out there early, make a statement, and have a great 2022!