President’s Letter: The Path to 2020 Primed by 2019 Accomplishments
January 14, 2020 | In the first installment of my annual letter I focused on The Toy Association’s work to push back on China tariffs and counterfeit toys, two crucial issues that will continue into this year. Elsewhere, your team at The Toy Association – our staff, board members, and countless volunteers across many committees – continually balanced the important and the urgent over the past year, placing the Association in a good position for 2020. The team behind this work is vitally important and beyond being effective, together they created a positive and productive environment that saw The Toy Association again named on the 2019 Top 50 list of the “Best Nonprofits to Work for in America.”
A select few highlights from the past year follow:
Continuing as a Unifying Force
Membership in your Association remains robust, closing out 2019 with 1,108 members! Engagement was equally powerful given the dual issues of tariffs and counterfeits, while 26 webinars were held throughout the year with a 19 percent year-over-year increase in total participation. To measure satisfaction, net promoter surveys were sent out to each registrant post-webinar documenting excellent results.
Thought leadership for the toy community played a vital role as we debuted global market research on China and Brazil, including marketplace entry overviews and consumer research. We partnered with The NPD Group for global toy market research on behalf of the International Council of Toy Industries (ICTI) member nations and our U.S. members, as well as trend research into collectibles for our members. There were 12 monthly Trend Hunter reports exclusively for members and the fourth member Financial & Operating Benchmark Study (including eight years of financial trend data) as well as research on the role and impact of influencers and digital content creators on toys. Of course, there were also economic impact studies, including one on the negative impact of tariffs on the toy community.
Research started in late 2019 includes a report called “Goodbye Old Friend – Navigating Growth Without the Old Toys ‘R’ Us Model,” conducted by MBA candidates at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University. This was completed in December and will be issued very soon. On the safety front, an analysis was done of the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System of Toy-Related Injuries by Independent Safety Consultants, LLC. A preliminary report has been submitted and the second phase of research will be wrapped up soon.
Our sustaining support for the Canadian Toy Association (CTA) continues with ongoing involvement by the membership team and Michael Keaton, CEO of Toysmith, as The Toy Association’s board liaison to the CTA board. In addition to its Annual General Meeting held in Toronto in June, CTA produced an educational and networking event open to the industry, with complimentary registration for retailers. The event focused on the future of online sales and marketing in the toy industry and featured keynote speakers from Amazon Canada, The NPD Group, and Corus Entertainment.
The Toy Association Annual Business Conference (ABC), piloted in 2018 in partnership with Amazon, had its second iteration in Minneapolis in June in close collaboration with leadership and the toy team at Target. The conference brought Toy Association member executives together with Target executives offering need-to-know content and strategies to help grow their businesses. This success set the path forward to Bentonville and the 2020 ABC in July with cooperation from Walmart.
A revived Young Professionals Network (YPN) event with live music and panel discussion held during Toy Fair New York drew more than 150 attendees – the largest crowd for a YPN event to date. A similar event for YPN was held during Toy Fair Dallas.
Consistent with the goals of our strategic blueprint was the establishment of a Toy Association Diversity and Inclusion Committee. The Committee’s early work has included research into key issues where the Association can have a positive influence and sharing the perspectives of each committee member via the media in order to highlight diversity and the need for significantly more of it in the industry.
A World of Issues & Opportunities
Governmental and regulatory issues that we tackled went well beyond tariffs and IP as we coordinated and contributed to global advocacy efforts on important legislation and regulations in more than 40 countries. Importantly, we contributed to the alignment of ASTM F963 and ISO 8124 toy safety standards as well as the addition of microbiological requirements in ISO. In the federal arena, we effectively addressed Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation of toy uses of several chemicals: NMP, DCM, and several to come this year.
Over the past five years, state concerns have burst forth across the nation and in 2019, The Toy Association defeated or amended more than 300 priority legislative proposals across more than 15 states that would have created new requirements for children’s products that did not add to safety or expand on existing federal requirements. Our team also actively monitored issues of concern in two dozen additional states. In one particularly active state, The Toy Association secured reporting exemptions in Oregon for four materials widely used in the toy community.
Attention to connected toys and the Internet of things (IoT) grows in importance with each passing year. Our staff and committees worked closely with members of The Toy Association’s Children Online Safety Committee (COSC) to draft and submit public comments on: 1) the proposed regulations for implementing the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), and 2) the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) review of the effectiveness of the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Rule (COPPA). We also testified at the FTC’s workshop discussing the future of COPPA and provided important insight as an industry which has made compliance with COPPA a priority since its inception 20 years ago.
Among a range of other notable accomplishments, new services warrant mentioning: the Safety Education Program designed to serve new and existing employees across all of our member companies regardless of size, the Smart Packaging Initiative which helps manufacturers produce more eco-friendly package designs, and the International Database of Standards and Regulations that can make understanding new markets and related requirements vastly easier, again for members of all sizes.
Protecting the toy and play community and especially ensuring the continued ability of our members to do business in the U.S. and global markets remains a key pillar of The Toy Association’s reason for being.
Marketplace Events and Collaborations
2019 began with another sold out Toy Fair New York with every nook and cranny occupied – some 447,000 square feet of the Javits Center – while business success for our exhibitors and buyer guests was met with a range of show innovations. Foremost perhaps was the inaugural CF@TF (Creative Factor at Toy Fair) Inventor Day program allowing inventors and designers to pitch directly to interested manufacturing partners who can bring their ideas to life. Such a success, CF@TF Inventor Day will again occur on Friday, February 21 on the day before Toy Fair 2020 opens.
Now in its 17th year, the Creative Factor programming at Toy Fair is just one part of an ever-expanding support for inventors and designers including support for the ChiTAG TAGIES, Mojo Nation’s Play Creators Festival, and the toy design departments at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) and Otis College of Art & Design. We have also gained invaluable insight through the initiation of a Creative Factor Advisory Board to address widening interest from membership to facilitate access to creative thinking from concept to consumer. This extends to broadening the conversation about the intersection of tech and the toy industry and planning for the future of play.
Toy Fair Dallas again delivered on its potential for both the 296 lines at the show and the strong support from the buying community in attendance, while the show remains an important business opportunity for this segment of our industry. We enhanced the Dallas experience by listening and responding to the retailer inspired FutureCast Gallery predicting what the next wave of trends may be.
Embracing sustainability and offering enhanced communication tools, our popular trade show apps are now offered in both New York and Dallas. The popular Toy Fair Tools (originally launched 20 years ago) exhibitor newsletter relaunched electronically and is now offered in both New York and Dallas. It streamlines our much-needed information pipeline to exhibitors.
Works in progress for Toy Fair New York 2020 include the toy industry Oral History Project in partnership with StoryCorps as we’re stepping up in our role to preserve the legacy of the toy community, and the inaugural Student Congress, stepping up in our role to present the industry to the next generation of workers. A toyetic art installation with the Mitchel Wu Gallery will celebrate the emotional connection of toys through art and a robot fashion show will take to the runway in the Creative Factor Theatre. These are just a few of many twists, turns, and surprises that await.
Impactful Digital, Strategic, and Marketing Communications
Every aspect of the Association’s work has a communications component whether it be advocacy, regulatory affairs, our trade shows, membership engagement, disseminating new research and insights, or a host of other functions and initiatives. Effectively and persuasively reaching a range of audiences from members to officials to influencers and toy-buying consumers is essential.
The fourth quarter again saw us aggressively promote the industry’s positive track record for producing safe toys and sharing important new and evergreen safety tips for families. We commissioned a national survey of 1,000 toy-purchasing parents, the results of which were used to create a new safety infographic and tips to help shoppers identify and avoid counterfeit toys on major online marketplaces, and shot a consumer-friendly safety video as part of a multimedia release about the toy industry’s commitment to product safety. The video was filmed at a toy testing lab and was picked up by 128 outlets reaching an audience of 71 million.
Through the year we promoted 341 products from member companies in TV segments and global trade and consumer articles. 138 companies were featured in print; 77 companies were included in broadcast segments. Related, The Genius of Play launched Play All May – the first-ever month-long celebration of play – which garnered more than 540 million media impressions with #PlayAllMay. We promoted products from 193 Toy Association member companies through Play All May giveaways, Summer Boredom Busters, and Genius Play Pix.
The Genius of Play PSA campaigns aired over 60,000 times in 163 markets, delivering over $20 million in media value (18 percent increase). On social media, the “Prescription for Play” PSA video generated over 6.5 million views and over 190,000 likes/shares/comments and website link clicks. Social media engagement increased by 45 percent and more than doubled the number of Instagram followers. Visits to TheGeniusofPlay.org grew 113 percent and hit the record 100,000 monthly visits during Play All May.
The team released a “STEM/STEAM Formula for Success” report, featuring 14 unifying characteristics of STEM/STEAM toys, which received over 75 pieces of high-profile media coverage. This extended to presentations and panel discussions at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), Toy Fair, on Capitol Hill, and at the Shanghai International STEAM Education Expo.
Finally, the Toy of The Year (TOTY) Awards continue to have an impact as nominations increased 14 percent and the new STEM/STEAM category was introduced to reflect industry trends. We revealed the finalists through exclusive unboxing videos by high-profile YouTubers, such as Family Fun Pack (8.3 million subscribers), HZHtube Kids Fun (6.4 million subscribers), and That YouTube Family (3.1 million subscribers). Our team then hit the road featuring the finalists in TV segments across the country including Dallas, Chicago, Detroit, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.
Onward to 2020 – And Proving Our Value Each Day
There are so many more accomplishments that could be shared from all our staff, functional departments, committees comprised of member volunteers, and actions taken by our board members and Executive Committee. In sum, they bring to life our belief in being a unifying force for the toy and play community’s creativity, responsibility, and global success, advocating for their needs and championing the benefits of play.
I’ll share more in the coming weeks about forward priorities, opportunities, and challenges on the horizon as we continually sense and respond with strategic agility.
Here’s to a healthy and prosperous 2020 for you, your people, and your families!
President & CEO
Follow me on Twitter @StevePasierb