By Julie Livingston, Director of Business Development & Accounts, Child’s Play Communications; former Senior Director of Public Relations, Toy Industry Association

We all know that the fourth quarter of the current year and first quarter of the new year are a marathon of events and deadlines for the toy industry. First, it is the chaos of closing out holiday orders and enjoying a brief holiday break. Then, for many, it’s on to the Hong Kong Toys & Games Fair, followed by Nuremberg and then the annual New York Toy Fair at the Jacob K. Javits Center from February 10 to 13. With such a compressed timetable, every minute in pre-Toy Fair planning counts.

The annual event draws approximately 1,000 global media representatives from top tier outlets including The Today Show, The View, CNN, the Associated Press, The New York Times, NY Daily News, Wall Street Journal, and many more. Media publicity affords toy companies with valuable promotion and exposure, which can help to hype “driver products”–those in-demand items expected to be hot sellers for the 2013 holiday season.  

Strategic Planning

Don’t wait until the last minute to prepare a Toy Fair publicity plan. Is your objective to introduce a new brand, line extension, licensing agreement, or celebrity alliance? The answers will drive the dynamics of your media list, exhibit booth or showroom presentation, press materials, and more.  Start now by outlining your strategic goals and objectives.

Update Your Media List

Having a current media list ready in advance of the show will give you the ability to jumpstart your outreach. Toy Fair exhibitors and TIA members may request last year’s Toy Fair media list, which is a good benchmark for the following year. However, as with any business, media personnel and their individual coverage areas shift from year to year. More media outlets are covering technology and tech toys, and there are new, online outlets that can be just right for toy coverage. Check your Toy Fair guest book from last year to see which reporters stopped by. These may include individuals who cover lifestyle trends, toys, youth entertainment, or electronics.

If your company is based outside of New York City, don’t forget to include hometown media outlets, as there may be interest in covering regional business. Finally, follow your top choice media outlets and reporters on Twitter to keep abreast of what they are reporting so you can customize your pitch.

Establish or Rekindle Relationships

Whether you have in-house public relations counsel or an outside agency, now is the time to revisit which outlets and reporters you wish to cover your products. Establish new relationships or reconnect with key media personnel who normally cover Toy Fair. Don’t forget to prioritize the toy industry experts who are often interviewed by the press onsite at the Javits Center. You may decide to provide embargoed information, which is not for publication until a specified date (Toy Fair opening day, for example), so the expert or reporter can start building notes for a story now. It is often helpful to seed a story idea by explaining how an item or line fits into a bigger youth trend, such as web-connected or educational toys.

As with any media outreach, keep the volume of outreach to a minimum and make sure to include your contact information, email address, work telephone, and mobile number, as well as exhibit booth or showroom address.

Prepare Company News

Toy Fair is a natural platform to schedule a new product introduction, update, or other announcement, and this can make your exhibit booth and company attractive to media. With so much hype surrounding the annual event, one must discern what is of primary news value and what is secondary or tertiary.

Products being introduced for the very first time, new celebrity alliances, licensing agreements (especially those connected with heritage brands), and technological innovation are generally what make headline news. Most line extensions are considered of secondary importance in terms of media appeal.

Prepare written materials and product photography (high resolution JPEG photos are preferable) now, especially if executive approvals are needed. TIA members have the option to post a specific number of press releases on the Virtual Press Office free of charge, which provides easy access to the media by using a keyword search.

Optimize Trade Coverage

The toy, licensing, and gift industry trade publications frequently print pre-show editions. These serve as a guide to the show, so make sure you’ve sent information and photos to the editors for consideration, and think about purchasing advertising to garner more brand visibility.

Start the Conversation

In addition to the above considerations, now is also a prime time to use your company’s social media platforms to announce your participation in Toy Fair. Create an editorial calendar with key messages and timing. Post often enough to engage your audience but not overly to turn them off. Teaser messages, which hint about to expect from Company ABC at Toy Fair, will start to build momentum leading up to the show, as do giveaways.  

Have you started your publicity planning for Toy Fair? What has worked for you in the past? Send me your comments and suggestions here.