At the 108th annual American International Toy Fair in New York a few weeks ago, two familiar industry faces roamed the floors: Marc Rosenberg, 46, a 22-year toy-marketing veteran, and his partner Scott Goldberg, 28.
These 'CMOs for Hire' Make Selling Toys Child's Play
Together, they operate the firm SkyBluePink Concepts, which Mr. Rosenberg founded in 2009, and function as a sort of CMO team for hire. For instance, with current client WowWee, creator of the 2010 hit music and tech toys called Paper Jamz, they are in charge of "anytime someone sees the product," from packaging and presentation on retail shelves to press releases and promotions.
Their results? More than 3 million Paper Jamz guitars, drums and amps were sold last holiday and appeared on many top toy lists for the year, including the Toy Insider, Time to Play magazine, Time magazine and the U.K.'s Toy Retailers Association. A year and a half into their relationship with WowWee, they are prepping another round of products.
Messrs. Goldberg and Rosenberg began their marketing team as intern and boss. Scott was a sophomore at the University of Illinois working toward his degree in advertising when he met Marc, already a veteran toy-industry marketer at Tiger Electronics, in 2001 during a summer internship.
Ten years later, they are still together, having crafted their own successful formula for marketing and communications for toys that they take from company to company. Most of the companies with which they work don't have a CMO; in some cases they may have only limited marketing people or departments. In the case of WowWee, they function as an internal team would -- sitting in on meetings, conferring with new-product development, gathering ideas and input from management teams.
What they can offer companies are valuable contacts with retailers, toy buyers and media buyers, as well as relationships with the press and potential marketing partners. Paid usually on month-to-month contracts, they prefer a minimum of a one-year agreement because it takes that long to get products up and running. They believe one-hit marketing blasts in the fourth quarter, typical of the industry, don't work as well as their methodology.
Together their resumes include the marketing, promotion and sales of hit toys including GigaPets, Furby, HitClips, the relaunch of Cabbage Patch Kids, the Iz iPod speaker and Happy Meal toy, Pirates of the Caribbean licensed toys, and most recently Paper Jamz. They've worked for Tiger, Hasbro, Zizzle and WowWee, and have struck a variety of licensing and partnership deals with brands such as McDonald's, Disney and Nickelodeon.
Mr. Rosenberg's career has been longer, of course, and a bit more storied. Along with the highly hyped launches of late 1990s hits such as Tiger Electronics' Furby, he also spent an earlier internship working at Edelman and client 9Lives Cat Food on the "Morris for President" campaign in the late 1980s.
Still mentor and disciple in many ways, Mr. Rosenberg is the founder of SkyBluePink and Mr. Goldberg works for him, although neither one is all that into titles. Mr. Rosenberg leans forward in conversations, holding sway, while Mr. Goldberg leans back and waits for gaps to fill. Mr. Rosenberg's enthusiasm and aplomb are palpable -- his license plate reads "Talkboy," a reference to a Tiger Electronics toy he once helped create, but also to his personality. Mr. Goldberg's quieter determination plays out in polite barrages of public-relations phone calls, pitches and emails.
It's a combination that works. And for all their differences, there are many similarities. They both grew up in the north Chicago suburbs just miles from each other in neighboring towns. Mr. Goldberg went to Glenbrook South High School; Mr. Rosenberg went to Glenbrook North High School.
Mr. Goldberg is the son and grandson of Chicago Merchandise Mart retailers, and he worked at the family's men's haberdashery store on weekends, while Mr. Rosenberg spent his youth leading student associations and clubs, always trying to figure out a new way to raise money for them.
Growing up in Chicago also left them with similar Midwestern sensibilities: a family-first motto, a hard-work-and-persistence business ethic, and a deep attachment to Chi-town. Both have been offered jobs elsewhere -- Mr. Rosenberg even tried commuting back and forth to New York for a couple of years for Hasbro -- but neither has a real desire to be far from home and extended family.
Their other common loves are marketing and communications and the toy industry. They have developed a marketing formula with three key tenets: Start with a superior product, deal with kids as real consumers, and create multilayered campaigns driven by public relations.
They call it their "seven-layered approach" to marketing. Starting with the product and public relations, they build on top of that consistent layers that include packaging, TV commercials, retail, online, promotions and events. The five layers besides the product and PR can vary with the brand, but both agree that while they use TV, it is too big a focus for most of the toy industry.
"Eighty-seven percent of kids' buying decisions are made at retail. Your TV ad might drive them there, but what happens when they're in the store?" Mr. Rosenberg said. "Our goal is to create an integrated marketing campaign ... with the introduction led by public relations," Mr. Goldberg added.
The $10 million Paper Jamz campaign is a good example. The pre-product marketing started with partner Walgreens and installing Paper Jamz interactive displays in 7,500 stores during the summer. To them there was no point to advertising the product on TV at that time because, as Marc said, "If you advertise to kids on TV in the summer, you're screaming into a vacuum. They're not there."
Meanwhile, a Paper Jamz team and display traveled with the "American Idol" summer tour, went on a separate mall tour across the country and hit up Lollapalooza in Chicago. The result? Thousands of kids played with the cardboard electronic guitars and drum kits long before they could buy them in stores. And even better, the social media began to grow organically -- by the end of July, there were about 300 YouTube videos of kids playing with Paper Jamz, Mr. Rosenberg said.
The TV campaign began only in late August when kids returned to school -- and their living rooms. And even those weren't traditional TV commercials. They were co-branded efforts, with the ads featuring popular WWE personality "The Miz"; Cartoon Network's TV show "Total Drama Action"; and Disney XD's "Next X" tour, which Paper Jamz sponsored, as well as storyline integration of the products in the Disney XD show "I'm in the Band."
Thanks to the early buzz, as well as the product itself being a solid value, priced below $30, Paper Jamz garnered several feet of shelf space at retailers like Walmart for the holiday season.
While Messrs. Rosenberg and Goldberg get requests to do marketing work for other companies, they work with just one company at a time -- currently WowWee -- and prefer smaller, entrepreneurial places "where our voices are heard," Mr. Rosenberg said.
In the end, they both agree their real secret is not so secret at all: "Treat [kids] as equals and respect the power they have as intelligent consumers," said Mr. Rosenberg, who credits his own children, a 14-year-old daughter and a 17-year-old son, and a constant house full of their young friends as a constant reminder. Mr. Goldberg, with a 4-month-old, is anxious for the same kind of schooling.
"Horseplay seems obsolete to kids today. So as soon as my son can understand what I'm saying, that's what I'll be enforcing," he said.
MORE INSIGHTBest Advice
Mr. Rosenberg: Make sure you love what you do with everything you've got. If you do, it's not work, it's fun.
Mr. Goldberg: The greatest single possession you can have as a professional adult is your reputation.
Mr. Rosenberg: My dad and mom showed me that nothing is more important than family. Other than them, I am a massive Steve Jobs fan. I don't think people get how much influence over the way we think and live he has had.
Mr. Goldberg: My dad. He always worries about everyone else before himself whether that is family, friends or business associate. My other major influence, or hero, is Marc. He's taught me persistence.
Mr. Rosenberg: I love autobiographies, but I'd be lying if I said I read a lot of books. I read tons of magazines, everything tech and business I can get my hands on.
Mr. Goldberg: Wired, Fast Company, and in my spare time, People. Books these days are all about finances, or business books about Steve Jobs and Apple.