The Real Meaning Of Christmas… In July

The Real Meaning Of Christmas… In July

Written in response to an opinion piece by Jim Hawker, published in the August 2019 issue of ToyWorld magazine

Often when I hear a point of view that’s completely different from my own, it’s of great interest as I usually feel there’s something to be learnt from new perspectives. Occasionally, however, I just feel bemused, as I did last month while reading Jim Hawker’s take-down article on all things Christmas in July. Our experiences are like chalk and cheese…

This year, the Playtime PR team ran four stands at one particular Christmas in July event: the Christmas in July Festival. The show gave us the opportunity to interact with over 900 different media contacts and influencers. We know that these contacts weren’t, as seemed to be implied, “work experience” or “just competitions and promotions people” for three reasons. First, whenever we do see the “competitions and promotions people”, we usually throw our arms round them! That’s because we know many of them, and they’re brilliant. We work with these people week in, week out, to secure valuable, child-facing coverage opportunities and to negotiate paid activations on behalf of many of our clients. They certainly did not represent a large percentage of the people at this show, however.

The second reason we know that the contacts are varied and of high quality is that the organisers vet all influencers, and only allow access to those who meet their requirements. Third, and rather conclusively, our team was equipped with show-issued ‘media scanners’ to capture visitor details. That means we know exactly who visited us: none of the interactions or conversations feels wasted because each visit leads to rock-solid follow-up opportunities. Arguably, this follow-up process is even more important than the initial conversations, and is ongoing throughout Q3 and Q4 until we see results land.

To be clear, the follow-up, which is a vital part of all our campaigns, runs for months after the show itself. But the dialogue we have at the event lets us connect face to face, and understand what each media contact needs and wants to find. It also lets us seamlessly introduce and ‘upsell’ products which aren’t even on the stands because we know all of our clients’ products inside out thanks to advance preparation.

Since experience tells us not every toy is ideal for the event, this preparation also helps us steer clients as to which products to showcase. We help handpick what will be the ‘hero’ for them, and use that to hook influencers and journalists. That in turn lets us find out more about what people are looking for, and then follow-up with other suitable items from the brand’s portfolio. It’s a question of knowing which tactic to deploy when. It’s this point which I think is most vital, though… When all’s said and done, attending the Christmas in July Festival is just one tactic. For many of our clients, it forms part of a year-long strategy: it’s not as though this event and other promotional opportunities are mutually exclusive.

While Jim may be right to state that the long-lead media, for whom the event was originally staged, “don’t have the influence they once did”, it’s also fair to say that the show’s premise has evolved along with the media landscape, and now targets a rich and wide list of media contacts, and does so in the way that they want to be targeted.

This year’s show provided some good examples of this… We spent quality time with notable TV producers, influencers and journalists from all the major national newspapers and supplements, as well as people from their social teams. Each was specifically looking for toys and games to use in gift guides and other content. What’s more, those attending are there mostly because they want information conveyed to them in a certain place and way.

Feedback from our top-tier media targets shows that, when it comes to most toys, they no longer have the time for long lunches, or the patience for desk-sides delivered in dribs and drabs throughout the year. They welcome, however, the opportunity to get hands-on with the toys that will be gracing wishlists this Christmas, followed up with media packages containing the hard facts and quality images they need to create their guides. In short, Christmas in July makes journalists’ jobs easier. How could catering to that ever be considered a waste of time?

I’ll add that – on the first day of this year’s show – we spent half an hour with our key contact from ITV’s This Morning. Having successfully pitched her a selection of travel-game products earlier in the week, our on-stand chat resulted in us adding Asmodee’s brand-new Harry Potter Dobble to the feature she’d planned for the next day. The outcome? Extended client coverage on This Morning for a product that only hit shelves that week. Asmodee also confirmed a definite sales uplift. In addition, further pitching during the show led to ZURU’s Boppi the Booty Shakin’ Llama featuring prominently in Friday-evening coverage of the show on ITV News. We also know – less than a month later – that we’ve secured numerous pieces of coverage for clients on the back of the show.

As well as enabling these quality interactions, the Christmas in July Festival let us show off fresh-from-the-factory, trend-inspired games like Rate My Plate while also acting as a launch platform for some client brands. In my opinion, the right approach at these events can easily create exciting “first chance to see” opportunities and memorable, experiential moments. I know that I’m not alone in experiencing strong results either… Comparing notes with other PRs in attendance, I was left in no doubt that others were feeling the benefit of such a contemporary, energised media-showcase.

Overall, I would say that the Playtime PR team had two solid days of meaningful conversations with highly-influential people. We spoke not only about their immediate and long-term needs, and which toys are going to work best for their guides in terms of readership or viewing audience, but also about wider trends.

In addition, we continued building valuable relationships with contacts who have come to trust our name, and created hundreds of follow-up opportunities – both in general, and for the dedicated Christmas gift-guide team that we have at Playtime who can continue pitching our clients’ toys and games to all media… So to answer the question raised in last month’s article: if it’s treated properly, managed well and forms part of a wider strategic approach to Christmas comms, then yes – I do still believe in Christmas in July.