Use earned media to leverage end-of-year sales.

by KIMBERLY MOSLEYpresident, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association

Your fourth quarter is right around the corner. You have a long to-do list this time of year; yet many American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) members will agree that getting free “advertising” deserves a place on your priority list.

Earned media — valuable coverage from bloggers, newspapers, magazines, TV and radio shows, and on social media — is all about trust. Like paid advertising, media stories can build awareness about your store and products. In contrast to paid advertising, earned media implies an objective view or a soft endorsement from a third party that does not have a stake in promoting you. Paid advertising gives you control, while earned media gets you impact and perceived authenticity.

CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE

Few of us can call ourselves experts at media interviews, but appearing on air or in print or digital stories isn’t as daunting as you think. My personal rule is to never turn down a legitimate opportunity to make toy buyers aware of independent toy stores and why they are worth checking out. It’s safe to say that for most independent stores, the core objective of media coverage is to reposition the competition.

You know toys inside out — in fact, you know more about toys than pretty much anyone in your market. You have higher-quality products with more play value. You offer unique items and top-notch services that cannot be found at discount stores. You live, work, and invest in this community. Typical big box stores and online retailers cannot make those claims, but you can.

Be clear about the one big idea you want to communicate about why your store is different. I call that my “money line,” and I deliver it no matter what the interviewer asks me.

GETTING HOLIDAY COVERAGE

To get coverage, you do need to reach out to local reporters and offer them ideas to make their jobs easier. They are on deadlines and want to share stories that have an impact. Here are some tips for getting holiday media coverage.

Leverage your good looks. Your locally owned, specialty toy store is wonderfully photogenic. You’ve got colorful toys, young children playing happily, and holiday-themed merchandising. Visually, that covers the warm and fuzzy magic of the season. Plus, you are bureaucracy-free, which means no time-consuming hoops for a reporter to jump through to get permission for a photo shoot. That makes you uniquely well-positioned to break through the pack of fourth-quarter retailers vying for coverage.

Spotlight your expertise. Another valuable asset you can bring to an editor, journalist, or blogger is your expertise about toys. Identify four to six local bloggers and journalists who cover toys, topics related to children and families, and small business issues. If you don’t already know them, call or email them — in advance of the holiday season — to let them know you are a go-to source for story ideas and an expert opinion on toys, child development, or seasonal retail trends. Mention that you have earned the Certified Master Retailer or Certified Play Expert credentials to add extra gravitas.

Make local matter. You are an expert on locally owned business. You live it every day. Bone up on the facts — “about half of every dollar spent in my store stays in our local economy, while almost none of the spending at huge online retailers stays in our community” — and ask a reporter to consider a “shop local” story featuring your store. Check out resources at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance to get your facts right.

Highlight the best toys for kids. Reporters love lists. The so-called hottest toys, the top 10, the wish list, the holiday gift guide, and other toy lists are designed to be sure bets that get readers’ attention.

Get coverage of your Neighborhood Toy Store Day event. Use press release templates from the ASTRA website to let reporters know about your event. There are multiple angles reporters can cover, such as the event itself, its charitable tie in, or the importance of play.

Whatever your plans are for getting media attention this holiday season with the limited amount of time and dollars you have available, check out other resources available at astratoy.org. I’ll look for you in the news!

Kimberly Mosley, president of the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association, is an experienced, award-winning, results-oriented association executive with a long track record of success in managing association operations, developing innovative programs, and growing revenue.


This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of the Toy Book.