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Special Report: People to watch in kids marketing

Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing and consumer products, Scholastic Entertainment, New York...
March 1, 1998

Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing and consumer products, Scholastic Entertainment, New York

Responsible for the development and implementation of marketing plans for hot properties like The Magic School Bus, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Scholastic’s The Real Mother Goose, Leslye Schaefer-formerly at VH1-says success in kids entertainment means ‘doing things that parents are going to embrace and that kids think are cool.’

This dual-message strategy is implemented through careful attention to understanding kids’, parents’ and educators’ needs, says Schaefer, a task made easier for her team by Scholastic’s strong foundation in outreach and research among these groups. Without a Nickelodeon- or Disney-level budget, Schaefer has spearheaded innovative events ‘to gain a national presence’ for Scholastic Entertainment’s shows and licensed goods. Case in point: a real-life traveling Magic School Bus that visited 30 malls and 60 theaters. Schaefer also oversaw Scholastic’s traveling museum, which visited PBS affiliates nationwide. Cost-effective promotions with other Scholastic divisions, including flyers at book fairs and book clubs, bursts in books and magazine editorial, all make Schaefer a player to watch when it comes to, as Schaefer says, ‘making [promotions] bigger and more impactful.’

People to

Watch in Kids

Marketing

Leslye Schaefer, senior vice president of marketing and consumer products, Scholastic Entertainment, New York

Responsible for the development and implementation of marketing plans for hot properties like The Magic School Bus, Clifford the Big Red Dog and Scholastic’s The Real Mother Goose, Leslye Schaefer-formerly at VH1-says success in kids entertainment means ‘doing things that parents are going to embrace and that kids think are cool.’

This dual-message strategy is implemented through careful attention to understanding kids’, parents’ and educators’ needs, says Schaefer, a task made easier for her team by Scholastic’s strong foundation in outreach and research among these groups. Without a Nickelodeon- or Disney-level budget, Schaefer has spearheaded innovative events ‘to gain a national presence’ for Scholastic Entertainment’s shows and licensed goods. Case in point: a real-life traveling Magic School Bus that visited 30 malls and 60 theaters. Schaefer also oversaw Scholastic’s traveling museum, which visited PBS affiliates nationwide. Cost-effective promotions with other Scholastic divisions, including flyers at book fairs and book clubs, bursts in books and magazine editorial, all make Schaefer a player to watch when it comes to, as Schaefer says, ‘making [promotions] bigger and more impactful.’

Cindy Bressler, senior vice president and general manager, Golden Books Home Video & Audio, New York

A whole new division devoted to home entertainment has sprung up at Golden Books, with a savvy kids marketer at its helm. Most recently vice president of acquisitions for ABC Video, and formerly director of business affairs at PolyGram Video, Cindy Bressler will interface with Golden Books’ new entertainment partner, Sony Wonder. ‘Our strategy will support the overall company objective of entering family entertainment with original programming based on classic titles,’ says Bressler. Growing the entertainment arm of one of the leading kids book publishers in North America will be no small task, but Bressler plans to ‘bring proprietary characters to life’ through aggressive development and sales efforts for Golden Books’ home video and audio lines.

Bressler brings her background in the programming area to her new realm of responsibility-looking for ideas and developing products. She points to the recently announced long-term strategic alliance with Sony Wonder as both an advantage and a challenge to marketers. ‘Our strength combined with their formidable force in the kids business will help us accomplish our marketing goals,’ she notes.

Suzanne Faber, children’s product manager, Anchor Bay Entertainment, Troy, Michigan

‘You have to start with the right property,’ says Suzanne Faber, a young marketer with this small, but savvy video distribution company that’s known for titles like Thomas the Tank Engine & Friends and P.J. Funnybunny, as well as classic titles Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Faber’s a one-person marketing department with responsibilities that mirror the tasks done by whole divisions at larger companies-but she thinks big.

Faber keeps herself abreast of the cutting edge. ‘Tie-in partners are becoming very key instruments of marketing to make a promotion work,’ she notes. Faber acknowledges that having a television show in place is part of having a successful property, along with implementing huge, well-rounded promotions. ‘You don’t just go after a couple of cross-promotions.’

Still, without huge budgets, it’s practically impossible to land major cross-promotional partners. ‘We don’t have million-dollar media buys, so we need to really press forward on our PR plan to create awareness.’ Grassroots promotions are another important way to increase a property’s leverage. Treetop Apple Juice’s recent partnership on Thomas the Tank Engine proved that small properties with a high profile can and do attract major tie-ins.

Brian Goldner, executive vice president of sales and marketing, Bandai America, Cypress, California

Joining the toy maker in August, Brian Goldner has already made waves, spearheading marketing programs to boost Bandai’s image in the U.S. Goldner hails from Bandai’s advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, where he also worked on Saban and Fox Kids accounts.

Goldner maintains that an awareness of what has worked with kids in the past provides ‘clues’ to what will hit in the future. He put this strategy into place when Saban awarded Bandai the master toy license to Mystic Knights, one of its heavily promoted ‘Big Four’ shows and a brand-new, original live-action television property. ‘It’s never been done anywhere in the world,’ Goldner notes, adding that the show was influenced by the top-rated Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess series, which provided the ‘clue’ that kids respond to historic live action. The toy line aims to build on the success of the Power Rangers action figure line, only capitalizing on this new twist, says Goldner.

Another innovation in Goldner’s short tenure has been the move to bring 85 percent of Bandai’s sales force in-house to provide a more open dialogue with retailers. Power Rangers in Space, a new take on the Japanese toy maker’s most successful line, is projected to grow sales by 15 percent.

Goldner says success in kids marketing is simple but challenging. ‘It takes an understanding of how [kids] play and how they learn about the next cool thing.’

Deb Sawch, director of marketing development, Kraft Foods, Rye Brook, New York

Deb Sawch is a key player in the Kraft-Nickelodeon alliance, a marketing task force that pulls together key members from various Kraft Kids brands and Nick programmers to promote the programming block ‘Nick in the Afternoon.’ Sawch, who joined Kraft four years ago, helps to strike deals for the Kraft-Nick alliance, drawing on the combined media clout of the two.

‘Nick, with its attitudinal connection with kids, and Kraft Kids brands are a perfect match,’ says Sawch. She notes that a team of brand managers, promotional people, media personnel and corporate promotional people are all involved in developing promotional programs with kids in mind-represented by the icon ‘Kraft Kids,’ which appears on product packaging.

Sawch worked on the most recent promotion that sprung from the alliance, titled ‘Nickelodeon 3-D Nogglevision,’ in which kids watched special 3-D episodes of favorite shows with special 3-D glasses, which were available in specially marked Kraft Kids products. The on-air event was a striking success. ‘It is a promotional hat trick in which Nick ratings go up, [Kraft] sales go up, and kids get this fabulous event,’ says Sawch. ‘We feel it’s a unique template we’ve created together.’

Lisa Licht, vice president of marketing, Worldwide Barbie, Mattel, El Segundo, California

Making sure that Barbie remains on the cutting edge of girls toys is a formidable challenge year after year-one that is met by talented young marketers like Lisa Licht, who works on projects such as Barbie’s new sports-related lines and the anatomically correct Barbie, to be released later this year.

‘We struck a partnership with [figure skater] Tara Lipinski to endorse the Olympic Skater Barbie. She’s an inspiration and a role model,’ notes Licht. The skater was a perfect fit for marketing plans that called for figures that ‘show girls that anything is possible,’ she adds. The line, which launched in January, is selling ‘extraordinarily well,’ says Licht, thanks in part to an ad campaign that Licht is actively involved in.

Licht, who has been involved from idea to production, says the anatomically correct Barbie has been misinterpreted by the press. ‘She’s a teen, hip and young,’ she says. ‘We didn’t do it to be politically correct.’ She notes that the teen Barbie’s figure has smaller hips and breasts and is more athletic-looking.

A mom herself, Licht says mothers cannot be left out of the loop when marketing to young girls. ‘You need to understand where moms are coming from today. Moms believe that anything is possible for little girls,’ Licht concludes.

Todd McFarlane, owner, Image Comics and Todd McFarlane Productions, Tempe, Arizona

The young comic industry genius behind the Spawn comic line, character-animated series on HBO and recently released live-action feature film started out as a young artist at Marvel who demonstrated finely honed instincts on how to reach kids. There, he reinvigorated Spider-Man, providing cutting-edge artwork that helped spur what later would become a resurgence in the entire comic book industry.

When McFarlane realized the impact of his work, he asked for backing from Marvel to brand himself and his work in what later would become the Spawn property. Marvel declined, and he left to create Image Comics, where his edgy, non-traditional comics struck a note with kids, depicting a frighteningly scarred reincarnation of a murdered black government assassin.

The phenomenon of Spawn now incorporates a US$75-million empire of action figures, video games, comic books and an animated series on HBO. Granted, his dark hero inspires fear in parents, who hope kids aren’t going to identify with Spawn, but McFarlane argues that ‘kids like creepy stuff that scares Mommy.’ The formula has been assisted every inch of the way by McFarlane’s insistence on creating a higher-quality toy line and outstanding artwork. ‘Kids love it,’ notes ad agency kid watcher Mark Dominiak, vice president and media director of Foote, Cone & Belding in Chicago. ‘[Spawn] is really creative. McFarlane wants to have an impact on culture and gets into the teen psyche.’

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