Playtime PR's Lesley Singleton on winning this year's ToyNews Woman of the Year Award and how she broke into the industry

Billy Langsworthy

By Billy Langsworthy

September 16th 2016 at 11:49AM
UPDATED September 16th 2016 at 4:40PM
Playtime PR's Lesley Singleton on winning this year's ToyNews Woman of the Year Award and how she broke into the industry

The industry voted Playtime PR MD Lesley Singleton as this year’s ToyNews Woman of the Year back in July, citing her as “brilliant, creative, professional, easygoing and kind”. Here, Billy Langsworthy talks to Singleton about her firm’s incredible year so far, life as a niche toys and games agency and dealing with shifting attitudes to toy PR.

How has 2016 been for Playtime PR?

I think it’s fair to say 2016 has been pretty decent so far. We’ve attracted a wealth of new business from legendary toy companies like Jazwares and Worlds Apart, and we’ve landed multiple toy briefs from the UK’s biggest toy retailer, Argos. 

That has been an incredible experience – the very fact that they approached us because we’re known for delivering results in the toy space was such a boost, proving that our positioning as a niche agency works. 

Our first two projects for them surpassed all expectations (the Top Toys story we worked on in partnership with broadcast agency, Markettiers, in June secured over 450 pieces of coverage in under 48 hours) and it’s been an excellent way of growing what we already know about the toy industry. 

Just as licensed toys have different challenges to, say, indie board games, so too do toy retailers. It’s fascinating to delve into the different objectives and approaches needed and to really push our thinking further as an agency.

The other big development for Playtime PR this year has been the growth of the team. I’ve worked really hard to ensure I only bring on board the type of people who’ll properly embrace my own ethos of having passion for every single product we represent.

They’re all experts with years of experience in PR and the media, they all have their own businesses and interests yet they choose to also work with Playtime because they know we’re so much more than box-tickers. 

As this year’s Woman of the Year, how do you feel about these kinds of awards? Why do you feel it’s important to recongnise the achievements of women in the toy space?

Look, I could take the well-trodden path here and say that diversity in all workplaces is fundamental, that women have a different set of challenges to men (not tougher – just different) and that it’s good to have a space for that to be recognised. But essentially, the true reason I feel the Women of the Year Awards are so vital is because women are just generally worse than men at taking the credit where it’s due.

I see it everyday across all our clients and among my peers – there are women doing incredible things in the toy industry at all levels but they’re all so ridiculously humble and play down their successes, when in fact they should be applauded, and loudly.

The women who triumphed this year – and indeed all the very talented women on the list of finalists – are all excelling in radically different ways, and some of them have been grafting in this sector for decades. 

Yes, I’d like to think we’re in an industry where gender is irrelevant but we’re not quite there yet. But with events like the Women of the Year Awards, maybe we’ll get there that little bit sooner.

What were your first steps in the toy industry?

I started out in PR and media back when press releases were faxed or posted and media lists literally were little black books. I’ve worked on campaigns for cruise ships, video rental shops, celebrity fitness DVDs, crooner Christmas albums and a lot of airlines. 

I started my own PR business ten years ago and, when I began working with Bananagrams back in 2011, I realised my heart was in toys. 

Top Banana Rena Nathanson has been a huge supporter of my transition into the toy industry and remains a true inspiration. Playtime wouldn’t exist had she not entrusted me with her brand in those early days, and it means a lot that she continues to believe in us as we evolve.

The idea to rebrand and relaunch as a niche toys and games agency – Playtime PR – came about while Peter Jenkinson and I were about to launch Board Game Club. 

As a journalist in the toy space, I valued his opinion and insight and tentatively told him of my plans to establish an agency that catered exclusively to brands in the toys, games and fun space, and he was firmly behind the idea. So much so that I can’t actually get rid of him now and he’s been a fundamental part of the agency’s growth. 

I do think some agencies are almost reluctant to be openly niche, because the perception is that it limits the pool of brands you can work with. But in my opinion, it’s about us having a richer offering than an agency with clients across varying sectors – we have a clear understanding of the issues within the industry, the way things are typically done and a solid grasp of what’s gone before and how things are evolving.

What have been the biggest changes within the industry since you’ve been a part of it?

There have been some really interesting and quite dynamic changes in the toy sector over the past couple of years and it’s an exciting time to be part of it. 

For instance, it’s much easier for people to get their creations to market these days, thanks to events like ToyNews’ Inventors Workshop and the runaway success of Kickstarter as a platform, particularly for board games. This in turn is making the bigger brands change the way they’re doing things. 

I love that a category leader such as Hasbro is embracing crowd-funding, tapping into talent beyond their usual pool and seeking out new concepts from people outside the industry itself. 

I love that a company like Big Potato genuinely can set out to ‘do things differently’, and actually have incredible, measureable success. I don’t believe that even five years ago three lads from an ad agency would’ve been able to convince the likes of John Lewis to stock a badult board game. 

I’m also watching with interest how brands are folding in new technology and using developments – particularly in VR – to enhance playability for both toys and games.

From a PR perspective, the biggest shift has been in client objectives. We’ve seen a definite move away from the more vanity PR side of things and an increase in demand for influencer relations and on-the-ground PR. 

Marketeers are also more appreciative of the fact that a robust campaign needs a combination of tactical approaches, and that some paid activity is often required to really make a story fly. 

How is the rest of the year shaping up for Playtime PR?

Busy but exciting. Argos has just handed us three more toy briefs to deliver on this side of Christmas, the Toy Fair PR machine is whirring into action already and both Big Potato and Bananagrams have us on board for new initiatives and games launches this quarter. We also have some massive nights planned for Board Game Club when it returns in the Autumn.