Spielwarenmesse: Successful PR in the retail toy trade

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Successful PR in the retail toy trade

from Ulrica Griffiths

Do you have a new range that you would love to tell the whole world about? Maybe you have put a great deal of time and effort into your store’s stylish interior design, but nobody is writing about it? There are ways and means of achieving successful retail PR. Success is just three steps away.

The first step towards success is approaching the right journalists in the right way and at the right time. If you want the press to report on you and your business in the future, you need to get an overview of the local media landscape first. This is particularly important as your customers also come from this region. Make sure you do not overlook local bloggers in this. Their influence is often underestimated, but bloggers are key opinion leaders and, most importantly, are seen as authentic. This often makes them all the more credible. Online event directories are another important element in successful retail PR. You should not underestimate free ad newspapers or community newsletters either.

1. Find contacts

Once you have an overview, you should always check - how are my competitors showcasing themselves, how are other retailers getting featured? An initial contact can be found in the legal notice. It is important to contact this medium in good time to get some useful initial information; we recommend at least a month in advance of when your press release will be issued. Call and inquire about who is actually responsible and how exactly this person likes to be contacted – preferably by email or still conventionally by telephone? It is also always helpful to know when the person can best be reached as journalists have lots of appointments away from the office and some just work part time or freelance from their home office. It makes sense to also ask straight away about the editorial deadline. This is the latest deadline for receipt of images and text by the editorial team. Bloggers should always be contacted by email.

No story, no press

You have noted all of the questions and would like to ring the editorial team straight away? Stop! Before you get going, make sure you internalise the basic concept that drives PR - no story, no press! You, as the retailer, may think your new range is amazing, but the journalist is bound to have already seen it a thousand times or at least something similar. And even if he has not, why should he write about it? That would just constitute an advertorial and the journalist would not have the right tag. A journalist sees a new product, range or service as business-as-usual for a company, as a given, so to speak. This has no news value for a journalist and therefore is not worth mentioning. Journalists do not just write an advertisement for a particular business or product as that would be something for the advertising department and they would want money.

Of course, there are exceptions. If you have a revolutionary product, such as the Apple iPhone at the time, journalists see the value in reporting this. When there is major interest on the consumer side, journalists will also write about particular products. Apple is again a good example of this, as the Californian company has created hype around its products. Products or services considered a cultural asset for our society are another exception. These include books, music and even stage plays.

Get across the added value

But if you are not quite Apple and you do not have an absolutely revolutionary product up your sleeve, you will not get too far with commercial stories. The media does not see the added value of the message for its readers. An unusual message that goes beyond the product, range or service is needed. This where our second step comes into play. Your message must give the reader something or entertain him. Journalists want to impart knowledge to their readers and tell them something they do not already know. It should be useful or of real consequence to the reader.

Before you throw your hands up in the air and wonder how you are meant to come up with an interesting PR story, let me reassure you: the news is seldom already there in retailing so it has to be created. For the press to also successfully report on your event, it’s important to understand that a PR story must always go beyond what is actually on offer. This may sound a little abstract at first, but there is a fantastic example of this in New York. For more than 40 years, Macy’s, America’s largest department store chain, has been inviting visitors to come to its “Flower Show” at its largest branches held in the two weeks leading up to Easter. Its flagship store in New York was full of flowers in 2015, with everything turned into a true art event in keeping with the theme of “Art in Bloom” through the involvement of various artists. The press recommended the Flower Show as a place to go and Macy’s in New York enjoyed unbelievably good visitor numbers accordingly in the run up to Easter.

2. Stories that go beyond just what you are offering

Sponsors such as the Royal Caribbean International cruise operator funded individual displays, or “gardens”, allowing them to showcase themselves to consumers in blooming surroundings. Bonus events such as fashion shows and cookery demos were also held during the Flower Show and the display windows were adorned with real flowers. So why is the Flower Show a good example of a successful PR story? The story goes beyond what Macy’s is actually offering, as the department store does not even sell flowers. The press is not producing an advertisement for Macy’s and its fantastic range, but reporting on the event. This leads to the department store being commented on positively in connection with the Flower Show. Once people are there, marvelling at the beautiful flowers, they are also sure to buy something or other from the product range.

Small events at a small price

Of course, Macy’s has a completely different budget at its disposal, but there are numerous, less costly approaches. Let’s take a look at our treasure chest of ideas. An event might also be a regular games meet-up or tournament, an invitation to bake biscuits or fill a Christmas stocking with giveaways during Advent, a Halloween party or a painting competition. You have to experiment a bit with this and try out different things to see what the local press will pick up on as a story. Ideally, the message should have a seasonal link, e.g. to a particular holiday, date in the school year or the annual Children’s Day. A famous individual from the region is always interesting to readers as well. People like to read about people. If you do not have anything new to report, then a regular highlight, event or tradition, such as the annual town fair, is also an important occasion for the press.

Checklist for a successful message:

  • The message is unambiguous and easily understood
  • It contains excitement, drama, a conflict or record
  • The message is specific and contains e.g. figures, current events or is relevant to the time of year
  • In terms of content, it deals with human fortunes or talks about animals
  • The message talks about famous people or elites
  • The message has a link to the lives of readers or has local relevance
  • The message exceeds what is actually on offer in the store, offering readers added value

Do not forget social media

There is lots more to PR than just getting articles in the press. To support your campaign, you should not only think about flyers but also cooperations, posters and social media. Traditional advertising is also a helpful tool that can aid the success of a campaign. Exciting prize draws are popular media cooperations. Besides products, you could also raffle off a particular service such as a children’s room cleanup. Or how about putting on a joint event? It’s important to be patient about this and repeat campaigns as lots of things need time to get established.

Entering into cooperations

Another successful approach to retail PR is engaging in local cooperations, e.g. as a member of a local initiative. One example of this is the “Stuttgart Traditional Shops” initiative, of which “Spielwaren Kurtz” is a member. This initiative is conceived as a community of values, committed to quality products and valuing staff through training and other measures. Besides local or media cooperations, retailers can also plan a joint campaign with a manufacturer or distinguish themselves as experts at an event.

3. The basics of PR

So there are many different ways that you as a retailer can create interesting stories for the press. Once you have the story, you now just have to let the press know about it. Internalise this concept when you do - a picture is worth more than a thousand words, so never produce a message without a photo!

Furthermore, you need a powerful headline that attracts the reader’s interest. In addition to this, the most important information must be found in the first paragraph of your press release, i.e. the answers to the who, what, where, when and how questions. The language should not be too advertorial and superlatives should be avoided. It is also very useful to include a short profile with the key information on your company at the end of the press release for anyone who is not yet familiar with your business.

Now you have to send your press release about your interesting PR story together with powerful images to the contacts you already researched. Once you have done all that, you just have to wait until the next publication date. After all, if all three steps have been followed in the right order, there will be nothing to stand in the way of your retail PR success.

The three steps to successful retail PR:

  1. Get to know the press
  2. Find a story to tell
  3. Inform the press about the story and provide images


You are also interested in tips for toy trade marketing and trends? Take a look at the Toy Business Forum webcasts. Top-class speakers provide possible toy business solutions to equip you for the challenges of the future.

Ulrica Griffiths has been the owner of communication agency Griffiths Consulting, based in Munich, since 2004, with a focus on PR and social media. In terms of content, the agency specialises in the family, young people and education across all sectors. She has many years of experience as a PR manager in the publishing, computer games and toy industries.


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