01.17.2019

Rethinking Toy Fair Goals: Go Beyond the Headlines

by Marni Bahniuk

1.8 million square feet filled with toys?!  Sounds like a dream to some, but to others it’s an overwhelming thought knowing that New York Toy Fair is upon us.

With so many of the larger companies dominating the show floor, others in attendance may ask themselves – why play the game? As a PR professional heading into my 18th Toy Fair, my best piece of advice for a small, mid-sized, or new brand is to have a successful show is to NOT try to compete with these big guns toe-to-toe. Instead, consider your goals and the audiences you want to reach, and design a Toy Fair strategy more tailored to your company’s needs. Press coverage is certainly one possible goal; but success at the show can be measured in ways beyond being heralded as the must-have toy of the next holiday season.

Media: Start the Dialogue

Media coverage is typically the top reason to attend Toy Fair, but this may be the most challenging goal to meet. There are brands and products that will always be covered – including evergreen ones like Play-Doh and Barbie, or those tied to blockbuster movies and brands, like Black Panther and Paw Patrol. For others, it may be a tougher sell. If you’re going to Toy Fair just for the press, you should first ask yourself the following questions:

– Are your products all new for 2019?

– Do any of your products fit into a hot trend – such as STEM, Girl Power, or Active Toys?

– Can you tie your products into anything happening in the news or pop culture this year?

If the answer to these questions is no and your brand is not yet a household name, consider that immediate media coverage may not be your primary reason for attending Toy Fair. That said, you don’t write off the media completely – the show still presents a great opportunity to interact with the press on-site, and build relationships and dialogue for future coverage throughout the year.

Influencers: Build the Relationship

YouTube influencers have become an extremely important category in the toy industry, as I recently discussed here. And Toy Fair is a great opportunity to get facetime with them, as many influencers are looking to expand their network and welcome the opportunity to meet with new brands. Invite them to your booth and use this opportunity for them to interact with your products and capture on site footage to be used on their site. This time can also be used to set the stage for future paid and earned partnerships throughout the year. Again, the outcome may not be immediate (unless you have dollars to spend on the spot) – but relationship building in this case can be a worthy and productive goal.

Social Media: Let Your Fans in on the Action

Toy Fair is one of the few private trade shows the public has an interest in seeing – so give them a sneak peek! Being prepared with a strategy of scheduled posts is a given, but it’s just as important to capture the spontaneous moments as well. And know your event hashtags! Many trade shows like Toy Fair will have a designated hashtag that everyone is using. Incorporating it into your posts helps ensure your brand is part of the trending conversations around the event.

Having a game plan will help you when you have two minutes to make a decision. Make sure everything is set up on your phone ahead of time, and bring an extra battery source. You don’t want to be rocking and rolling and then find out your phone battery is depleted and you have to stand by a wall for an hour while your phone charges. Lastly, the WiFi is likely going to be terrible especially with so many people on it, so make sure you set up your own WiFi service at the booth!

Buyers: Perfect In Person Opportunity

Many brands don’t attend shows for external awareness at all, but rather to solidify their relationships (or build new ones) with industry buyers. At the end of the day, connecting with buyers can make your presence at the show all worth it. It’s a great time to meet in person to showcase your new line, and to share your PR and social plans to support the products. Our top piece of advice is to set up appointments prior to the show. This will ensure you have ample time with your representatives, and will keep you on a schedule. It’s also a great time to meet new contacts. Many will just stop by your booth as they walk the floor  – do not hesitate to speak with them as you never know where your next sale can come from.

Still Unsure: Test the Waters

If none of the above feels like enough to justify the expense of setting up and staffing a booth at Toy Fair, that’s OK! If you’re not ready to commit to a booth but still need help deciding if a future Toy Fair presence is for you, there are ways to test the waters without the large financial commitment. Contact the showrunners, the Toy Industry Association (TIA) and express interest in securing a booth for next year. They’ll often grant you a pass to walk the floor this year, to check things out before you make a commitment.

Host an Intimate Media Event

Another way to leverage the show without doling out a substantial amount of money is to host an offsite event for buyers, media, influencers, or whomever your audience might be – taking advantage of the fact that they’re all in one place, which is often not the case. Case in point: last year, one of our clients hosted a blogger and influencer breakfast close to the Javits Center where Toy Fair takes place, giving them an opportunity to interact with some of their most important fans and cheerleaders without being on the show floor. In addition to location, timing was critical to the success of the event – by offering breakfast, show attendees were able to stop by for some sustenance before they hit the show floor. And because getting feedback directly from kids was a top priority for our client, we chose to throw the event on President’s Day, when most schools are closed – creating a higher likelihood that our guests would bring their children along for the fun. The event was such a success, it’s now an annual event!

Bottom line: Toy Fair can be a successful endeavor for all those who attend. The key is to create realistic goals that will benefit your business in the new year.

If you’re planning on attending Toy Fair and would be interested in meeting up to talk about your PR or influencer marketing requirements while you’re there, please reach out to julia@resoundmarketing.com