So much has happened since I saw today’s guest at Toy Fair 2020. I’m excited to have Rachel Griffin, founder of PlayWise Partners join us to share her industry insights and what it’s like to start a business amidst a pandemic.
When did you launch PlayWise Partners?
Rachel Griffin: We officially launched in January, we’re taking our first client to New York Toy Fair in February. It’s been an exciting journey. And knowing that I’m launching in a pandemic was a little bit of a challenge, but that being said, I have nothing to compare it to. So I guess there’s no place to go but up. So far so good.
Sherri Langburt: So I know, because I’ve been doing this a long road for more than 10 years, it’s not easy to run your own business. There’s so many people shifting amidst what’s going on and I apologize for my dog barking, but these are the things that happen these days.
What advice would you give to people who are now looking to branch out on their own?
Rachel Griffin: The main thing to do is have a focus of what your goal is and what you want to do. So for myself and my partner, Sheena Stevens, we’ve both been in the toy industry now, combined, which I hate to say this because it dates us, 40 years, about 20 years each. She was on the outdoor products and then she switched to agency side earlier on than I did. And then I’ve been in-house the whole time. So knowing your niche world of where you excel at and what you can bring to the table is probably priority number one.
Then use your clients or use your database and your friends and your network to just build out that goal that you have. So with ourselves being in the industry, we’ve had friends in the trade space. Writing for the Toy Book and royalties and Kidscreen and Toy News, and all of these great publications. So we tapped into them for advice on how to continue doing things on our own. And then being in the industry, we’ve had friends that are marketing experts, CMOs, heads of sales, heads of HR, all of these different levels within a company.
We utilize them as well for advice on, “Okay, how do we set up QuickBooks?” Or just little, tiny things that you would not expect. Or if I was an agency pitching you on our expertise, what is the best plan that you’re looking for as the marketing person or the sales person or something as an actual company? Tapping into those friends that you have, your network, to utilize their insights as well, to maximize your skills.
Sherri Langburt: It’s so hard. I find that part of the business very hard and I find the QuickBooks the most grueling part of the whole thing. But definitely, another thing that we’ve done is chipping in with people. Oh, there’s this database that’s too expensive, let’s chip in three different people and we can then afford it. So definitely not easy doing the accounting though.
Rachel Griffin: No, it’s definitely not. And thankfully it’s just Sheena and I, so there’s not too much accounting yet. But yeah, no, like you said. Yeah, tapping into your friends and your network to get the most bang for your buck on a service or a program or a database or something, is a great thing.
How did you get into this niche category of toys?
Rachel Griffin: To be honest, it was all a fluke. I moved out to California, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed outside of graduating from a university and moved to California to work in the gleam and glitz of the entertainment business. The job I had was originally offered when I came out here, the producer had said that she had given the job to somebody else, and I could be an office PA if I wanted to. Which, to me, was just changing fax cartridges and coffee filters, which sounds great if you’re kicking off. But when you had the hindsight and the mentality that you were going to be a little bit bigger than that off the gate, I turned it down and I got in my car and cried. My parents said, “You can come back. The next flight we can put you on.” I said, “No, everything happens for a reason. I know I’m supposed to be out here.” And I did a couple of temp jobs, and my main temp job that I had was being executive assistant to Haim Saban, and he is the guy that created the Power Rangers.
I was with him for two years when his COO, Millwoods, went to consult for MGA Entertainment when they were launching a little brand called the Bratz dolls. So I went over with him to be his assistant, and within a few months I switched over into the PR department, and my career in toys has not stopped.
Sherri Langburt: It’s funny because I did the same thing. I just came to New York and my parents are like, “Come back.” I’m like, “I’m not.” I remember walking into a bagel shop and just crying to the guy behind the counter and he’s like, “Listen, give me your resume. Maybe I can find you a job.”
Rachel Griffin: Yep. And that’s how the networking begins, all from a deli guy. You never know who he knows and so forth. Right?
We understand you just got back from a virtual Sweet Suite. What is it? How did it work?
Rachel Griffin: Sweet Suite is one of my most favorite events that’s put on. It’s been going on now, I want to say for 12 years?
The Toy Insider group puts it on. And then for those that don’t know, that’s Laurie Schacht’s team and they are phenomenal. So what it is, it started off as a partnership with BlogHer, so for bloggers and influencers and so forth to come see products firsthand, feel it, touch it, play with it, video it, and use it for their channels and so forth. And then it has since grown to being a huge undertaking of its own as the Sweet Suite brand. And people come from all over … I’m sorry, influencers and press come from all over the country to come see products firsthand because they time it into middle to late July where most toy company’s products are just starting to hit shelves at retail.
This is a chance for people to literally get their hands on it for the very first time. Since, it was a prototype at New York Toy Fair. And it’s a lot of fun and it’s usually a nighttime event from 3 to 10, give or take. So there’s passed hors d’oeuvres and there’s a bar. And so there’s a place for kids to play with all the toys, but then an also the parents have the outlet of hanging with their quote unquote, “Influencer friends, IRL, in real life.” Because they come from behind the screens of Instagram or YouTube and get to hang out in person and then we get to see everybody and hang out as well.
It’s just a lot of fun. It’s very relaxed and it gives a chance for all influencers to play with the toys hands-on. Whereas this year, obviously we’ve had a little bit of a hiccup with a lot of planning events this year due to COVID, which has been very unfortunate, but I got to give props to the Toy Insider team because they took some lemons and made it into lemonade like I’ve never seen. So they made Sweet Suite a virtual event. Whereas they created this massive platform where those same influencers would log onto a link and still walk the floor as if they’re walking the floor in person with a beautiful booth setups and skinned with everybody’s branding and logos and call outs and activations.
Some people had, somebody singing or a music video or things that popping in and influencers can walk the floor. And then when they get to the booth that they want, they stand on a little blue circle and then it opens up to the booth. So for us, for example, when they came in from another YULU booth, Lana who works on our team, she was at the chat saying, “Hi, Sally Smith, how are you? Welcome to the YULU booth? Can I answer any questions for you?” And like, “Yeah, we’re really here to see about games. Great.” And here’s how you get into the Zoom and you just click basically on my face because there’s a tower to the left and the tower to the right where myself and Sheena’s photos were. So you can click on our face and it would link you into our each [inaudible 00:08:33]. And so I handled the game’s side and Sheena handled the activities and the collectibles.
Once you clicked in there, then you it opened up into a Zoom room where we then had our own mini activations going on. So I demoed all the games. Sheena did exclusive reveals of the Glitter Burst and of Pop Pop Bling. So it was just a lot of fun. No, it is unfortunate that these influencers couldn’t touch it themselves in person. But we were also able to send out samples ahead of time to a handful of influencers. So they did have some of the products on hand to play with us in [crosstalk 00:09:11]. Questions on how to play it. Or with Break the Board. We had our own little battles with some of the influencers and who can get to the higher level. So it was extremely fun. A long day, but, but worth it nonetheless. And I think the influencer side of it was extremely engaging and they got the bop around and still we got to see all of her friends, just differently.
Do you know what software they use? Because everyone’s trying to figure out what’s the greatest tool to use for virtual events.
Rachel Griffin: It was based off of Zoom, but I don’t know what the platform itself was that they used to create the skins and things. But the meeting rooms were all Zoom based and they partnered with Zoom to make sure it could hold thousands of people because they had influencers from Australia and the UK and Mexico and Russia. And I mean, they had people from all over the world tuning in because whereas before it’s in person and in the States. A lot of these influencers don’t have the budget or the bandwidth to fly from Australia for a five hour event in New York City, for one day. So the fact that it was now online, they all had the benefit of joining. So it was great for everybody.
Sherri Langburt: Certain things are really not so great right now, but then all of a sudden you see this whole new world open up. You’re like, “Wait a minute, but that’s the lemonade.”
Rachel Griffin: Exactly. And I think a lot of companies, if they’re smart anyway, will embrace this because there are a lot of stay at home moms and dads that work and have kids and have been dying to get back into the workforce, but just can’t afford to take to childcare. And so knowing now that you can, I mean, stress fully. But handle both at home at the same time. I think more companies now will be open to hiring work from home parents and get that ball rolling a little bit sooner than expected.
Sherri Langburt: Our team and I, we were just discussing today that the challenge of work from home and the challenge particularly for some of the women out there, they’re giving up their jobs because there’s no one to take care of their children. So it’s just really unfortunate. So given that what we’re talking about, I know that so much has changed since Toy Fair, when I last saw you.
What are some of the ways in which, you’re helping your clients adapt?
Rachel Griffin: So I think the key number one factor that I think everybody has to remember, especially with this year is flexibility because between people getting furloughed or stress of people being at home that have never worked from home before and that are not used to it. Some of our clients, we’re on Zoom calls and they have one child sitting there on their lap, on their Zoom call with us and trying to get us to communicate with them and then the kids chiming in or kissing the screen. And it’s funny and it’s fine. And I think as long as everybody remembers that we’re all in this together, then I think it’ll be fine. But flexibility is key. So if you’re banking on prime example, Yahoo Entertainment or a CNN exclusive for whatever your products may be or whatever your brand may be, and you really want that, you may have to think, “Okay, well, the guy that I used to always work with, maybe he got furloughed and you don’t know it.” So he can only answer emails two days a week versus answering them every day.
If you don’t hear from him, it’s probably not because he’s ignoring you on purpose. One of two things has happened. One he’s either been furloughed and he only has three days and the other two days he literally is not allowed legally to answer emails. So he can’t get back to you. And then two, you’re not the only one probably pitching him. So he’s probably slammed with emails and he doesn’t necessarily have time to get back everybody. So just give everybody a little bit of flexibility and breathing room and be mindful of the fact that we’re not in this by ourselves, that we’re all going through this. And if you’re stressed out about him not getting back to you, I’m sure he’s stressed out that he hasn’t gotten back to you or anybody else as well.
I think just common courtesy and flexibility is main number one and then two, I think with a lot of influencers and with journalists too, if you almost … I don’t want to say, write the story for them, but if you really kind of help them along with the pitch angle and what you’re looking for and how to get to there. It makes their life a lot easier than just saying, “Hey, I have this great can of soda. Do you want to write about it?” And it’s like, “Well, why? What would it bring to the table? Why is this can soda any better or different than the other can of soda?” So it’s just something along those lines just kind of help them along with the process. And I think that’ll make your life easier too. Because then also, you’ll get your key messaging points out that you want as opposed to them crafting something. And then you turning around and being like, “Ooh, it’s not exactly what I was hoping for.” But if you help craft the message fully from the get go, it’ll help.
Sherri Langburt: Thank you. I’m going to go on that word, flexible. So the flip side of it. Do you see influencers being more flexible, particularly in their budgets, their rates? They’re willing to take on more for an assignment. Because we want to support our brand partners.
We want to be able to do more or extend better rates, but do you see that the influencers that you’re trying to work with are way more flexible?
Rachel Griffin: To be honest, it’s about 50/50. I think the ones that demand 30, 40, 50, a 100 grand a post, they’re not being flexible because they can usually get what they’re demanding.
It’s the ones, the micros and the-
Rachel Griffin: Yeah, the nanos that are a little bit more flexible. And even actually the mid tiers, because the mid tiers that say, would demand say, five grand for a post or a YouTube video or something along the lines. They’re being a little bit more flexible and maybe they’ll say, “Okay well, if you can give me the five grand, I’ll give you two videos.” Or maybe you can turn them into an ambassador. So you turn that five grand into stretched over the next six months. So a lot of them are being flexible. And I think the best thing too, is also find the ones that are the micros, because their engagement rate is probably way higher than those that have the millions of followers because they can’t engage with every single person that likes their comments on their video or a post. Whereas those that have 20,000, 30,000 followers on Instagram or something, they are constantly talking to those people in their comments all the time. And then you can turn them into an ambassador to be with you for longterm. And then as their channel grows, they’re going to be like, “You know what? Rachel was with me when I only had 200 followers. So I’m going to help her out when she needs something last minute.” Or something that.
Sherri Langburt: Yeah, I did a presentation this morning and that was exactly … But it’s the rate, and the loyalty, but also if you work with one mega or macro influencer, you get that one person’s audience. And that one person’s piece of content. But if you all of a sudden want to reach different targets or different locations, if you work with macros or nanos, you could get all different types of content, all different audiences.
Rachel Griffin: Absolutely. And a lot of the macros, they are very friendly with each other and they’re constantly commenting in each other’s posts and tagging each other and saying, “Hey Sally Smith, you might like this, check it out.” It’s a big loop that are helping. So the conversation is constantly happening from channel to channel.
Sherri Langburt: Yep. Very interesting. Thank you. So I know that unfortunately, I mean, it looks a lot of things are going to be canceled through the end of the year. The holiday is coming up.
How do you stay top of mind with influencers, the media apart from what Sweet Suite that you just had, what are some of the other things you’re doing?
Rachel Griffin: So Sweet Suite was a blessing, that just happened this week. So it was very busy, lots of follow up. And again, patience that I had mentioned earlier with the flexibility, because everybody is going to be doing the same thing. And also just trying to think differently, think outside of the box. Whereas, we have a lot of different items that are coming up from a wide variety of clients. And one of the ones that we have is called BriteBrush. And it is a toothbrush which not many people think of toys and games. And you think of, “Oh my God, I have to go brush my teeth.” But this BriteBrush, game brush, I kid you not myself and my 18 year old we jam out in the bathroom because it’s got seven different games to it. Including a pop jam and a dance party. And so the tunes are in there. And so you’re brushing your teeth and it’s teaching you how to brush your teeth in the right way. Brush up and down, brush in small circles. Get extra points to swap sides. So you’re doing it in the right way.
So if, you can look at whatever product you have. So for us, for example, where we’re all about the BriteBrush, yeah you’re brushing your teeth, but the silver lining is you’re having fun. And so with that, with top of mind with pressing those, we’re letting them know. BriteBrush is great. It teaches kids how to brush their teeth properly, while having fun. And it gets into that routine of brushing their teeth, ideally three times a day, but we’ll be lucky if we get it once with some kids. If they’re going to go in there and do it, let’s make sure they have fun with it. So it’s just trying to be creative with your pitch angle and not scream shouter. Sorry, not scream louder than the others. Just to shout more clearer.
Sherri Langburt: That sounds a cool product.
Rachel Griffin: It truly is fantastic. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve seen and it is a lot of fun. It has seven different games in there and it’s got race car jams and ninja moves. It’s really fun and it’s only $20, so you really can’t go wrong with it.
So, given your long track record in this space, do you remember your the first time you ever worked with influencers?
Rachel Griffin: The very first time I worked with influencers, I want to say it was twofold. So my first outreach that I did was to a wonderful woman named Melissa Hunter. And she now runs the Video Family Network. But back in the day, back in 2009, I believe. She was doing, she had a channel known as the Mommy and Gracie Show on YouTube. And it was her and her daughter doing doll reviews. And it was just a way for her and her kid to hang out together and have fun. And we had a couple of little collectable and I just reached out. And we’ve been friends now ever since. She no longer has that channel. And she just has, she has her own little doll channel and she consults on other YouTubers. And actually she consults for Toy Insider and helps book all of their influencers to come to Sweet Suite and she’s just a great, great person. And I met her all because she had a YouTube channel back in 2009, I believe.
And then the other one was I started early too, was with Evan [inaudible 00:20:17]. And we reached out and partnered him for an overall partnership with doing … He’s in commercials. And we had him host an event for us back when I work at Spin Master. And that was really fun too. So it’s been a long time, but you had good … Ten plus years dealing with influencers, right when YouTube just kind of got going.
Sherri Langburt: It’s funny, it started for me with bloggers, more than 13 years ago. People are like, “Oh my God, influencer marketing so big now.” But it’s existed for a long time. But a lot of people don’t realize, they just think it was since Instagram hit the scene.
Rachel Griffin: Right. No, there’s been some amazing bloggers. Actually to guy bloggers who have also become dear friends of mine. So it’s DaDa Rocks and Gay New York City Dad. It’s Adam Cohen is DaDa Rocks and Mitch is the Gay New York City Dad.
Sherri Langburt: I love Mitch. Yeah, we work with Mitch all the time.
Rachel Griffin: Mitch, yeah. So he’s great. So those two guys I’ve known blogging since 2005 or 6. So they’ve been around for a very long time and they keep plugging away and they do great content. They’re good guys. I mean, Mitch’s kid now, and I think is 16 or 17 years old.
Sherri Langburt: No, I think he might be in college, no?
Rachel Griffin: Yeah. I think he’s definitely an older child but that’s how long Mitch has been doing this since his kid was tiny.
And they just create fantastic content and they’re just good people and they’re fun and they get it. And they’re still doing it. So it’s fun to have them and know how valuable they are and what an asset they are and that they create good content. And they’re good at it. So it’s fun.
Sherri Langburt: Well, it’s funny. I miss the long format content. I get it, I get Tik Tok, I get Instagram, but I love writing. And so I still love reading blog posts. And I think that is coming back now because so many people are searching for … Especially what’s going on, tips, tricks. How do I deal with my kids? So we’re seeing a lot of log traffic resurging, but I don’t think people realize the benefits of it from an SEO perspective, from a storytelling perspective.
Rachel Griffin: I was just going to say, we still utilize blogs a lot. And for that same purpose that when you’re looking for something, when you Google something, if it’s in a blog or even with press releases, we encourage our clients to put the press feeds out over the wire. Yeah, it costs anywhere from a couple 100 bucks to a couple 1,000 bucks, depending on how long it is or images and video and stuff. But again, the search is out there. So it just helps if somebody is Googling a specific toy or a game or an item. That press release could come up in the Google and then that helps trickle into other searches.
Do you remember a campaign, a specific campaign that you did with influencers that yielded unexpected results that you were blown away?
Rachel Griffin: Anything I did within Spin, when we launched the game’s division over there was pretty good. They had a couple of fun games, Boom Boom Balloon was a really fun one and HedBanz. That we did with some influencers that the pictures were just hysterical with people their headbands on their foreheads? Acting things out. And then even just now, right now with YULU with our games and our Swirl & Style, which we launched in this past March, it hit Target in a March. National Tie-Dye Day was at the end of April. And we tasked influencers to participate in National Tie-Dye Day. And it went through the roof. Swirl & Style sold out at Target, and they were able to resell it back end because mainly people think of Tie-dye as a summer activity, but because it’s sold out within the month, Target bought back in. And so now it’s back on shelf for … It just restocked, I want to say about two weeks ago from now through the holiday, because it was such a great thing. And I know that was all because of our loyal influencers that did it because the team did not put any TV sign behind it. So it was all word of mouth on social media and the fact that it’s a great product. I mean, mess free tie-dye. You can’t go wrong with that.
Sherri Langburt: Let me tell you something. I’m so sorry, I didn’t pick it up because I saw it. And you showed it to me at Toy Fair. I’m like, “Oh, okay.” I’ve been doing tie-dye by hand for the past six weeks. I’m blue and purple everywhere. So I’m glad that it’s restocked because we’re going to go get it.
Rachel Griffin: It’s great. And again, that’s another $20 items. So all of these items are $20 or less, so you can’t go wrong and mess free. And we did it with myself, Reisen and her boyfriend, we each did two T-shirts each and bandanas used for face masks all within one … They come with little color packets that you make your dye.
Rachel Griffin: And we each made two T-shirts and two bandanas each and have left over dye to spare. So it lasts a while and it is fun.
Sherri Langburt: Yeah. We’ve been making a lot of face masks here. I’m moving on to sheets next.
Rachel Griffin: Well the orb is, is a little small, but your pillowcase will fit in there.
If you could give brands who are new to the influencer marketing space, because I believe that some brands still are, what would it be?
Rachel Griffin: There’s a great thing, go big or go home. I’m a big fan of that saying, but I think in this case, if you’re new to it, start small and work your way up from there. If you’re new to it too, grow with influencers, find a handful that can be your buddies and that you can grow together with them and they can grow with you as your brand is growing and so forth. I know a lot of people want to get the million dollar views because it has to produce sales. But the thing that’s great about social is yes, it will ultimately drive sales, but it’s all about the authenticity and making it unique and real. If you come out with a bang with a big spend and it’s a big ad, ad, ad all over the place. Yeah, you’re paid the million followers, but you may not necessarily get the people that you want that are actually going to convert to the sales that you want.
If you get the specific influencers that are in the world in the space that your product or your item is in, and it’s an authentic match up, that’s what you really need the most. And some of those are the micro ones and the nano ones. And because they’re really passionate about it and they are diehard flower fans or whatever it is that you want and they’re really going to post about it and be passionate about it because they truly love it. Versus the person who’s just going to post about it because they’re getting the money.
Name and influencer you love to follow, but hate to admit that you do?
Rachel Griffin: I don’t even know to be honest. I’m going to cheat and look at my phone. I follow a lot of travel people because I am obsessed with traveling and I ultimately want that to be my life. So I do follow a lot of travel people. So there’s one, it’s not necessarily a handle, but it’s van life, people that live in vans and convert buses and vans into mini houses. And so anything along that space, it’s a guilty pleasure of mine. I can go down that rabbit hole of converting a school bus into a house or a minibus or the tiniest even VW van and converting it into a house. I just, I’m fascinated by it.
Sherri Langburt: I am too. That’s one of mine too. So is Snoopy though. Look, I watch every Snoopy channel, which is crazy. It just makes me happy.
Rachel Griffin: That’s hysterical. I would not have pegged you for a Snoopy girl.
Sherri Langburt: Thank you so much for all this. This is super insightful and we wishing you the best of luck with your new business and with the holiday season coming up and wishing you only good things.