Behind the Curtain of Toy Manufacturer Concept Selection
Guest Post by: Adam B. Hocherman, VP, New Business Development at PlayMonster
While toy manufacturing companies are comparatively fun places to work, in fact, there are still processes in place. Decisions about what, when and how to license an external product concept are not made haphazardly! So, wouldn’t it be helpful to know a little bit about how this happens in order to be better-prepared to make your pitch?
As you may or may not know, a culture of incorporating outside ideas into the product development pipeline at major toy companies has been a part of the fabric of the toy industry for literally decades. Why? Because the seeds of great product concepts come from many places – near and far, old and young, seasoned and novice. And while one great company may take grain and yeast to make bread, another may take those same core ingredients to make beer. The toy manufacturer specializes in the crafting of a good concept into a great product. Some of those concepts certainly come from inside, but many do not. And that’s where you come in.
Having the opportunity to present your pitch in person or over a video conference is a luxury – and not necessarily to your advantage! The vast majority of product concepts are first presented and consumed asynchronously. That is to say that you are going to … attach some stuff to an email, press send and hold your breath. The key to doing this successfully is to understand the layers of constituents that are on the receiving end.
Step 1: The Log Line
In the movie business the “logline” is the carefully crafted one or two sentence paragraph that describes your entire feature-length script. Take this example, which I chose not entirely by accident:
After wishing to be made big, a teenage boy wakes the next morning to find himself mysteriously in the body of an adult.
Consider the body of your email (or web-based submission) to be this. Short, sweet, to the point. In a couple of sentences try to get across what the game or toy is, what category it falls into and who the intended audience is.
Step 2: Impress the Gate-Keeper
Having grabbed the attention of your gate-keeper, your purpose is to intrigue them to open your attachment which is … a one-page PDF (perhaps it’s two-sided) which pictures the item, concept or prototype and describes the key feature-benefits or really high-level rule-set in a visually pleasing and well-organized way. Remember, you’re now a product designer. There’s a basic expectation that you have a creative way about you and a halfway decent design sense.
Step 3: Provide Tools for the Gate-Keeper to Impress His or Her Constituents
Ah, so here’s the part that is often forgotten or misunderstood. The gate-keeper may heavily influence the concept selection process but she still has to communicate it to her broader internal team. And she has to do it for a lot of concepts in a short period of time. And while she may take the time to read your email, open your attachment and pour through your rule set – a roomful of people will not. So what’s the solution? A hero image and a video.
The hero image is the easy part. Take a well-lit photograph of your toy, game or other concept and provide an ~1000 pixel square JPG image that’s less than 250kb. I’ll use this as a visual to project to my audience, in front of which I will wish to recite the crux of your product concept in a sentence or two. Oh, hey, that’s easy … because you’ve already provided that! It’s your logline (which was from the 1988 movie Big, by the way).
Next, the video. Don’t be intimidated by the video. Even a lousy video (as long as it’s short!) is better than no video at all. Buy a table-top tripod and (maybe) an external microphone and shoot a concise video that highlights your product and provides a full understanding of it in under a minute. Shoot in natural sunlight by a window and, please, landscape orientation only! That much is table stakes. Now, if you can make it look fun or, at the very least, sound excited about it, you’re in the 50th percentile already!
So that’s the secret. Help your gate-keeper to do his or her job. And one last piece of parting advice – know who you are pitching to! Don’t pitch a hard-core strategy game to a company that specializes in novelty items. Do try to assess your target company’s assortment and make an educated guess regarding why or how your item may fit into that company’s broader strategy. I speak for myself, only, when I say that while these guesses are often wrong (companies are not in the habit of overtly publicizing their corporate strategy), I still appreciate an attempt, on the part of the inventor, to try to take a more holistic view.
If you are attending WIT Empowerment Day in Dallas, I hope to see you there. Apply these same ideas to your in-person pitch. If not, I hope you’ve found these tips useful for the next time you pitch a product concept to the toy industry or to any industry, for that matter. Good luck!