Conley Deftly Drags American Greetings' Fare Into the Digital Age

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Holly hobbie, Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears: re-energized, digital-age playtime brands to many kids but serious business to Paul J. Conley.

Each of these brands was a multimillion-dollar property in its heyday during the 1960s, '70s and '80s, and is now poised for a comeback as yesterday's children make nostalgic buys for their own kids and a whole new audience falls in love with the toys.

But who among these consumers could peg the characters as properties of American Greetings Corp. the way they might instantly link Mickey Mouse to Walt Disney Co.? That is about to change with Mr. Conley's recent move to VP-digital media of the new American Greetings Properties division.

The creation of AGP marks a refocus on kids brands already owned by American Greetings. It also lays the foundation for developing new properties. And as with any modern product, new media will be a key part.

creative pipeline

"We want to start bringing all of AG's properties under one umbrella," said Mr. Conley, 36. "We want American Greetings to be the overhead name that provides content and lets the consumer decide how to consume it, download it, view it, interact-whether it be through a mobile device ... or whatever. [AGP's purpose] is to fill up our pipeline with properties. ... We want to be a huge creative studio ... then put structure behind it."

"Paul is an independent thinker and operator," said Sally Babcock, senior VP for sibling unit AG Interactive, where Mr. Conley previously was VP-online advertising. "You could give him a line on a sheet of paper, and he could make a detailed map out of it."

Digital media have created a whole new realm where children can interact with the characters they love, she said.

In American Greetings' case, these are brands with extensive histories predating the media revolution. "The greatest challenge is not necessarily adapting the characters to the digital age," Mr. Conley said, "but effectively positioning our digital marketing and content initiatives to reach this young audience on emerging digital platforms."

Mr. Conley hopes to have 10 active websites within six months. His goal is ultimately to streamline the process by which ideas are developed into new properties and then introduced in an interactive environment.

AGP now manages three websites (, and the new HollyHobbieandFriends. com) and a number of holding pages for properties such as Maryoku Yummy, which originated as a card line and is now being developed into characters for young children. For Twisted Whiskers, which also sprang from a successful card line, Mr. Conley is developing recognizable characters and introducing them in a series of computer-generated animated shorts.

His excitement stems from more than just the thrill of building a division from scratch-it's also about being a parent: "These are safe brands. Even if I didn't work for AG, these products and characters would still be around the house."

"Growth of the company is just one piece of the puzzle," Ms. Babcock said. "What's more important is [appealing] to both children and parents. We hope to see them interacting with this content together."

The digital revolution opens the door to this kind of interaction between parents and children, as well as to future success.

"As media consumption patterns of children continue to evolve, digital media platforms such as the internet and mobile devices have become fundamental to the success of our existing brands," Mr. Conley said, "and even more critical to the launch, distribution and promotion of new brands."

Just Asking

Paul J. Conley

American Greetings

Do you have any children? I have the perfect market at home-two girls, ages 5 and 2. The 2-year-old loves what she calls "Hobby Hobby" [AG's Holly Hobbie].

What AG properties did you play with as a kid? Let's put it this way: I had a lot of sisters, and if Straw- berry Shortcake's dog wandered too close, he had G.I. Joe to contend with.
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