Can We Preserve our Close-Knit Industry?
By Nancy Zwiers
Few major industries are as close-knit as the toy industry. Many people say they love their jobs, or their companies, but how many people say they love their industry. I know I do, and it begs the question: How did we become such a strong community full of business competitors? And amidst the changes wrought by the pandemic, how can we preserve this sense of shared community?
Let’s look at the ways we have forged connections beyond our own companies:
- The heart and soul of our common ground is the slate of regular annual industry shows, most importantly Hong Kong, Nuremberg, New York Toy Fair (the granddaddy of them all), Licensing Show, ASTRA, Dallas Toy Preview, and a host of regional shows around the world. All these community-building events have depended on coming together physically to formally and informally network during the process of working hard to advance our respective businesses.
- We are lucky to have multiple organizations in our industry that focus on spotlighting the best and the brightest among us and on building connections:
- The Toy Association not only hosts the two big annual marketplaces, it delivers the spectacular TOTYs, Play Con, and myriad networking and educational events.
- Women in Toys, Licensing, and Entertainment, dedicated to the advancement of women in our industry for 30 years, hosts perhaps the most glamourous and heartfelt event of the year during NYTF—The Wonder Woman Awards Gala. Further, regional chapters bring local talent together, and WiT has continually stepped up its programming to offer monthly opportunities to learn and grow together.
- Chitag/People of Play (POP), the brainchild of Mary Couzin, hosts an annual week of activities for the toy and game world every November, with emphasis on the inventor community. The annual TAGIEs put the spotlight on inventors, designers, and marketers that are making breakthroughs. Forced to go virtual, POP held another POP week in the spring and continues to innovate.
- Licensing International creates a whole different vibe by hosting Licensing Show in Las Vegas, complete with Licensing Awards.
- The industry media landscape is robust. Multiple trade magazines, newsletters, podcasts, share news and do their part to knit us into one community...#The Toy Book, #Bloom Report, #Global Toy News, #License Global, #TD Monthly, #TFE/TFE Licensing, #Toy World, #Mojo Nation, and others!
- “Toys get in your blood.” The dynamics of the toy industry are like a siren song to those of us who crave a constant stream of newness and endless opportunities for creativity and innovation. I joined the industry 30+ years ago after 10 years in classical packaged goods brand management, and have never looked back. I have friendships in the industry that span decades. The industry not only attracts us initially, but its unique demands and the specialized skill set required for success tend to create a magnetic pull on us—we may leave our current company but chances are, we are looking for our new job in a different company within the same industry. After years of this cross-pollination, we begin to know people at many different companies and joyous reunions among past colleagues are a hallmark of our many industry gatherings. (For example, the pIcture above shows one such reunion in 2016 among friends from my Mattel era in the '90s--Melody Young, Kathleen Barton, Deborah Terrell, and Jamie Cygielman.)
- “Co-opetition” (a combo of cooperation and competition) is how playful spirits play together while competing fiercely in a challenging business. Whether you are in a corporation, a small or medium size business, or a solo entrepreneur/free-lancer/inventor, chances are many of your friends in the industry are directly competing with you for revenue and/or resources. That we do so with such widely seen good grace is testament to an industry that feels special.
In the face of the pandemic, we’ve had to sacrifice much of the physical togetherness we’ve come to appreciate so much. Our virtual gatherings are a decent stop gap but surely not a replacement for physical togetherness IRL. While I suspect some events/shows may never regain their former glory of “perceived essentialness,” we can each do our part to help preserve a core slate of annual events that keep us coming together throughout the year. I know I’m not the only one who loves how close knit our industry is…let’s keep it that way!