By Azhelle Wade
The past year has been a series of unpredictable changes to the “norm”, creating new obstacles to once enjoyable stages of toy development, and turning even the most seasoned travelers to homebodies. But with the way we do business turned on its head grew the opportunity for the digitally savvy of us to arise. And one of the biggest areas to evolve? Product pitching.
A process that traditionally would cost thousands of dollars and days of time, travelling to in-person meetings for just 60 minutes of a face-to-face pitch was suddenly replaced with blurry videos and Calendly links. Less travel time translated to open calendars and virtual pitch meetings evolved from being a burden on both sides to being an opportunity for growth. Without having to account for travel time and lost workdays, toy companies and retailers can actually see and consider more products than ever before! But with every new opportunity comes a dark side. And it’s safe to say that much like social media, retailers and toy companies could find themselves overloaded by too much content, barely seeing the items as they scroll across their screen. So now the question is, how will you adapt to this brave new world? If everyone is showing up virtually, and if more inventors and entrepreneurs than ever can reach the same retailers and toy companies as you, how will you stand out? I took a look at some of my most effective pitches over the past 11 months and gathered seven secrets to help you plan for a successful online toy pitch!
Secret #1: Understand the etiquette of choosing a meeting platform
Let’s say you’ve finally scheduled a meeting with a licensor that you’re really excited about working with. Now what? Well, the world had to adapt to virtual meetings pretty quickly. Because of this tons of video meeting options have become available. (Zoom, Google Meet, Slack, Skype, Facetime, etc.) But remember just because your entire office lives and dies for Slack, it doesn’t mean the licensor you landed a meeting with likes it at all. Choosing the right meeting platform is today’s equivalent of traveling to your client’s office to meet as opposed to insisting they come to yours. The last thing you want to do is choose a platform that you love but requires your meeting guest to download a new program or create an account somewhere.
Zoom seems to be the most popular choice that most people already have or have used enough to be comfortable with the interface. But even then, make sure the video platform you choose allows you to meet long enough to properly pitch your idea in an adequate amount of time. If that means investing in a premium version of a program, do it! It will be worth it. The last thing you want is to be discussing your great toy idea via Zoom and then your meeting gets disconnected because you went over the 40-minute time limit that comes included in your free account.
But if you aren’t sure what meeting platform your guest prefers, or even more, how long they intend to meet with you, it’s always best to ask. Their team may have a preferred platform and time frame for meetings like yours.
Secret # 2: The sizzle is no longer a nice-to-have. It’s a need.
Sizzles (30 to 60 second videos that demonstrate the toy or game you are pitching) are nothing new. They have always been a useful tool for demonstrating your concept, but until now they weren’t a necessity. If you are a natural at sales and love a good in person pitch meeting, you might explain and demonstrate your product on the spot, only having a sizzle as an option when you can’t get that meeting. When pitching in person you had the luxury of getting the prototype into the person’s hands so they could hold it and even play with it on the spot. That is no longer the case! With online pitching your sizzle is working overtime. Yes, your sizzle has got to convey the features, scale, and play-patterns of your toy or game, but now it’s also pulling the weight of conveying emotion and generating excitement. The quick sizzles you threw together on iMovie just won’t cut it anymore, and it may be time to head over to Fiverr for an affordable video editor. But what good is a sizzle if no one can access it? If you’re hosting your sizzle on Google Drive check your permission settings. Keep in mind that if your idea is moving it’s way up the ladder of approvals in a company, that means it’s going to be sent around quite a bit. In that case you may opt for a single share link instead of giving individual permissions to individual mail accounts.
Secret #3: You don’t have to JUST talk about your pitch.
This one may sound confusing or even counterproductive since, I know what you’re thinking, your time in front of this audience is short. Why waste it talking about something other than your pitch? Well, how you present may be more important than what you present. Building a relationship with this potential licensing partner is really what matters here. And just because everything virtual doesn’t remove the human element. You want to try and connect with your meeting guest just as you would if you were meeting in person. Since you can’t talk about the weather off-hand (due to varying time zones), and you can’t comment on your common surroundings, instead you’re going to have to focus on you. Start off by quickly giving a short intro about yourself, even if it’s just 30 seconds. Let them know a little bit about your credentials if it’s your first time meeting, so they know they’re in good hands and you’re not going to waste their time. If you’ve already met with them before, give a quick update on what you’ve been up to- professional accomplishments of course. And if you’ve done your homework, congratulate them on the success of one of their newer toys, ideally in the same category as you’re pitching to. That’ll show them that you are familiar with their product lines and likely get them more interested to see what ideas you have for them.
Virtual meetings don’t have as many visual cues as in-person meetings do. So, you can’t rely on the usual “how’s your Toy Fair going?” type of comments. You’ve got to come prepared with icebreaker topics related to the industry. Even if your meeting is filled with “no”s, your goal is to leave with an invitation for another.
Secret #4: Your background speaks volumes.
Let’s be honest. Working in the toy industry is a lot of fun. Pitching toys is essentially playing and talking about how fun they are — well frankly sometimes it’s just unreal that this is a job. Isn’t it? But this is still business.
And in business, people choose who they want to work with based on a variety of reasons. How you present yourself, how you speak about others, the products you bring to the table, the business ideas you have…the list goes on and on. And now, with virtual meetings there’s a new layer. Your home. Now I know, that sometimes after a long day, you’ve got a meeting coming up and you just can’t bring yourself to clean up the space behind you that will show up on camera. So, you decide to throw up a virtual background. Big mistake. Virtual backgrounds are the absolute worst for product pitch meetings. You can’t show a product fully unless you have spectacular lighting and a green screen behind you. The background starts to blur into anything you try to hold up and show on camera, and all it does is frustrate the person trying to watch your pitch. Worst yet? When you eventually turn off that virtual background, the messy space behind you gets even more attention than it would have if there had never been a virtual background in the first place. That being said. Keep your background tidy. A messy, poorly lit, background makes you come off as disorganized and unprepared.
Secret #5: Personalize that presentation for whoever you’re showing it to
If you are a full-time toy inventor, chances are you are constantly coming up with toy concepts. And while licensing your toy ideas is a numbers game, just because you have a lot of good ideas doesn’t mean you have to show all of them to each company you meet with. A toy company would rather see three excellently developed and relevant concepts over seeing 10-15 concepts that are underdeveloped and not on-brand. If you have a one-sheet (a one-page document that briefly explains the toy or game you are pitching) or a Power Point presentation, make sure the name and even logo of the company you are presenting to is on there, it’s a nice touch. Organize your product pitch for maximum effect on your viewers’ attention span. If you have four items to show, lead with the best of the four, put the okay concepts in the middle, and put the second best at the end of your presentation. Considering toy companies might be reviewing more product pitches than ever right now, you want to open strong, catch their attention, and leave them with something they really like. People will always remember how the last thing they saw made them feel, so make it good. If you want bonus points for personalization, research the competitors of the company that you’re pitching, and if you have a product that will help them stand out against that competitor, say so. Let them know that you’re knowledgeable about the landscape, and that you designed the products you’re pitching to help them stand out in it.
Secret#6: File formats are King
This one is a bit more on the technical side, but still highly relevant. Remember when I said how you present can be more important than what you present? File formatting falls into the how. Most importantly save your file sizes way down. The only thing that will need to be a link in your email is your sizzle video. Everything else should fit in the email itself. When you have more than one concept to present, it’s a lot more professional to have it all planned out on a presentation too, like Power Point. What’s ideal about Power Point is that you can embed your sizzle video right into the slides, you can link your one sheet right into the slide as well, and most established toy companies tend to be Power Point-friendly. You can save the file size down within the program, and if someone’s interested in your product, you could send along the PowerPoint with everything inside of it. While you should still continue to send a PDF one-sheet with links to your sizzle, the visual aspect of a Power Point presentation makes it a lot easier for a toy company to quickly remember your idea without having to read through rules and uncover a sizzle video link. In other words, make it as easy and convenient for your recipient to download and view your material. Provide whatever file format they’re most used to receiving and make sure all your files are under 25 MB so they can easily be emailed.
Secret #7: Follow up, pitch, follow up, follow up.
This pitching game is a long process. It’s very rare that you’ll pitch an idea, and it will get optioned on the spot. The bigger the company you’re pitching too, the more people, higher up, that need to review and approve a concept before any agreement can be made. Consider that toy companies are reviewing hundreds of concepts while going about their normal day-to-day product development processes. So, it’s safe to say that your pitch will probably get buried in emails at some point. But that’s why following up is crucial. It’s all in the follow-up. You don’t want to reach out every single day and ruin the relationship you worked so hard to build, but if you get interest in a concept that you pitched, follow-up after seven days. If they’re still interested, they’ll respond with an estimated time frame of when you can expect next steps. Mark that date on your calendar to send your second follow-up and keep on preparing new ideas to pitch.
The strongest follow-up would be another video meeting, right? So, give them a reason to meet with you, and that reason should be that you have more, high quality, toy or game ideas to pitch.
Overall, the toy industry is going through a massive shift right now. The dust hasn’t settled on our new normal yet and I don’t think it will for some time. But it’s created an opportunity for new inventors and entrepreneurs to enter our industry and make big waves. It’s never been easier to get in front of toy companies and buyers to try and sell your ideas. Make sure you’re adapting your pitch and your space to give you the best shot at a successful pitch meeting. That means more time and money spent making a killer sizzle video and making sure your home is clean and well lit. Making toys is fun, but it can also be challenging, and there are enough obstacles. Not knowing how to have strong digital pitches should not be one of them. These seven secrets should put you on the right path to a successful online pitch! And you can register for Toy Creators Academy to learn more at join.toycreatorsacademy.com.
A cancer survivor, 3x patented inventor, Women in Toys Wonder Woman award finalist, and award-winning designer, Azhelle Wade has climbed up and across the ladder in the toy industry for over 10 years with companies like Toys’R’ Us, Horizon Group USA, Madame Alexander, and Creative Kids. Now, as the President of The Toy Coach and host of the podcast, Making It in The Toy Industry, Azhelle creates online resources that help educate inventors and entrepreneurs about the toy biz. You can learn more about Azhelle TheToyCoach.com and about her podcast at MakingItInTheToyIndustry.com.
This piece appeared in the February 2021 issue of TFE Magazine.