All toy manufacturers were dealt a serious blow with the announcement, last year, that Toys R Us would be closing its doors. The retailer accounted for a significant portion of annual sales for many toy companies, big and small, including industry titan, Mattel.
But losing a major retail connection has not been the only cause for struggle for Mattel. In recent years, thanks to shifting consumer tastes and other changes in the market, the company’s top brands — including perennial winners such as Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Mega Bloks — have not been as sure a thing as they have been in the past.
The company has tried many different PR campaigns and advertising ideas in an attempt to reignite interest in their brands. From cartoon movies for Barbie to live action stunts with life-sized Hot Wheels cars and tracks, the company has generated interest and headlines, but failed to match previous years’ sales.
So, with a new year dawning and facing an apparently permanent shift in how consumers interact with their products, as well as where and how they purchase them, Mattel needed a new direction and some fresh ideas. Enter Dena Cook. The former Brew Media Relations CEO is the new EVP and global head of communications and PR for Mattel.
Cook will be responsible for “managing and executing Mattel’s corporate communications strategy for global audiences…” according to a company statement. Cook replaces Nancy Elder, who left Mattel this past October for another project, after one year on the job.
Cook’s background expertise as an advisor in technology and digital media telegraphs what Mattel sees as a glaring need in their comms work.
There is no doubt all toy companies, even those as large and established at Mattel, have to get better at their online marketing and PR if they are going to thrive in the new digital marketplace. They need to understand not only how to market on social media and on mass retail sites such as Amazon, but the companies also need to design and implement effective interactive social media campaigns in order to keep consumer interest in their brands.
That means understanding how today’s parents are making buying decisions for their kids. The era in which Saturday morning cartoons and mailed catalogs determined what kids wanted for birthdays and holidays are long since over. And, with stores like Toys R Us and many big department stores going out of business, the space on store shelves is drastically reduced.
Managing these shifting market realities successfully will fall largely on comms departments. Today’s consumers do not buy or make buying decisions the same way they did even 10 short years ago. Understanding how, when, and where to connect with these consumers should be a top priority, for Cook, and for communicators in every retail space.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO and Founder of 5W Public Relations.