Back in the days when I ran Action-Figure, media plans were the bane of my life. This is where a publicity department or an external media agency will work out the press for any given product along a timeline so to manage their resource and supposedly “maximise consumer impact”.
Back in the day, the major event in the toy & collectible industry calendar was the US ToyFair. This trade event, held every February, was when all the major products for the year ahead got announced in order that retailers could place their orders. The fact that many major summer blockbusters get their trailers to début at this time is no coincidence.
In my time, I worked with a lot of great PR people but there were those that did not understand the industry. You see, it’s all fine debuting the merchandise from the forthcoming year’s big blockbuster at the US ToyFair, but there are three major ToyFairs worldwide before the US – Hong Kong, UK and Germany.
Action-Figure was global, and it was well connected. It got to a stage where I had a better idea of when product would hit shops than the toy companies did, simply because I had people at the docks in Hong Kong telling me when product was leaving the factory. The site covered the other ToyFairs and as a result we could be a bane to PR companies for reporting on products before the allotted time in the media plan.
The clever PR people worked with this in mind, and I had the pleasure in working with many of them to help maximise their product impact. The coverage the site did on the original Family Guy line saw the manufacturer get distribution in Asia, and was pretty much single-handedly responsible for relaunching Streetfighter, with the site exclusive on a new line of figures, resulting in an overnight doubling of their European sales turning it into the hottest line of the year. The smart PR people knew I’d seen sneaky development photos as much as a year back. They knew that sites such as Action-Figure rely on news exclusives to drive the traffic needed to attract the advertisers needed to pay the many thousands a month it cost just to host the site.
The others would tell us that I “couldn’t report” things that were already common knowledge or restrict sales materials so much, there was nothing to interest retailers in other countries. Trust me, a UK retailer is not going to buy a product if they have to travel all the way to New York “in a couple of weeks” just to see the damn thing. There was a famous incident where due to a dock strike causing massive delays, Marvel had shipped product based on the first Hulk Movie early, and then asked us not to show pictures of any of the figures people were buying at retail in December as the media plan stated Hulk’s look could not be shown until well after the Superbowl trailer in late January.
It’s no lie that it sometimes got quite fraught. If I had a pound where a PR person promised me a future news exclusive if I held off on some piece of news, only for it then to be forgotten about and given to USA Today “because they had bigger reach” even though the article had referred to it as “DC Comics’ Spider-Man”. To be fair, in many of those cases it wasn’t the PR person concerned but the wider company. But the reason I had such a big readership was because I would try and find news, not just regurgitate press releases (although that happened a lot).
The simple fact was that if sales information was given to a retailer, it would often find its way through internal processes to be listed for sale. And because I understood how these processes worked, if I saw new listings pop up on online retailers I knew they were legit. Well, that and the fact I’d more often than not have insider knowledge but needed some piece of evidence in the public domain to justify the story. I think if some toy companies knew how much info I sat on, they would have shit bricks.
So jump forward a few years to today, where Action-Figure is sadly no more and I’ve moved on to work on my own writing projects. I am now in a world where there is a media plan for things I am currently doing and things are due to be announced at a certain stage. So I was greatly amused when a member of my WoW Guild told me he’d found out the name of what I refer to on this blog as Project Octopus.
“How do you know that?” I ask.
He’d found it listed on an online retailer.
I can’t help but smile.