ToyTalk's Eleanor de Bruin lifts the lid on what goes into running a toy awards programme and why the firm charges for entry as a result.

Why we charge for entry to the ToyTalk Awards

Imagine this scenario: you are a professional dog breeder and you want to get a puppy’s quality certified by the vet so that you can sell it for a great deal of money.

The vet helpfully gets in touch with you a few times to remind you that they offer this service and helps you to make the arrangements. The vet provides you with some paperwork they have prepared so that you can give them all the information they need about your puppy. The vet does this not only for your puppy but for all the dog breeders who need or want this service – over a hundred of them.

When the puppy goes into the vets, the vet takes time to check each one over individually herself (remember, there are over 100 of them). She spends at least an hour with each puppy.

Then, because she wants to be really sure that you are getting the best possible service, she sends each of the little guys to spend some time with someone who really understands puppies, so that they can help her to assess them. This involves contacting an individual for each puppy (remember, there are over 100 of them) and making arrangements for them to go to specialists that she carefully selects as the most suitable match.

The specialists then spend several days each with their individual puppy, and the vet provides them with paperwork to fill in so that they can provide feedback about the puppies.

At the end of all this, the vet spends hours producing a report, highlighting the best puppies (and that’s not easy because who can choose between puppies – they’re all cute, right?).

The report highlights the winning features of these puppies and explains why people should buy them, based on the vet’s experience from 10 years in the industry, where she sees puppies every day, and the feedback from the specialists.

Not only that but the vet publishes this report in a way that means it is targeted towards 20,000 puppy buyers per month, even giving them a direct way to buy lots of your puppies. All the time that the vet is doing this, she is spending time on your puppy that she would otherwise be spending on other work. You sell a lot of puppies and make a lot of money.

Then the vet bills you a reasonable fee for this service and you say, ‘What? You charge a fee for this? But puppies are so cute and adorable, why should you get money for doing this service?’

This is what running a toy awards programme is like at times.

Of course, most of our lovely clients don’t share this view and they happily pay us for our hard work, knowing that the administration, analysis, endorsement and exposure are well worth the fairly nominal fee.

We do get the occasional person, however, who disapproves of the fact that we charge a fee, and it makes me want to ask them if they get paid for doing the work that they do! 

Today, I will be boxing up more toys that I will send out to testers. I’ve located these testers, assigned a toy suitable to their age and gender to each one and then made arrangements to get the toy to them. I’ll also be contacting the companies who still want to enter but are a bit late in getting their entries in to see if I can do anything to help.

I’ll be contacting the companies whose samples arrived today and acknowledging receipt as well as invoicing them. I’ll be sending out forms to the testers – one for each of the over 100 toys we are looking at this year – and collating data from any forms that have come back in speedily, as we start to draw together the information and scores that lead us to the selection of winners in each category.

I’ll be ensuring that we have images in for each product so that we can feature these alongside the winners and those whom we highly commend in each category, to make their products more instantly recognisable to consumers.

Elsewhere, tester kids are getting to play with cool toys in exchange for their parents watching carefully and feeding back the information that we need: Could the age-appropriate child operate the toy? Did they love it? Did it look like a really cool toy but turn out to have something about it that let it down? What was the best thing about it? What sets it apart from other toys? Did it break? Did they play with it again and again or did it get shoved to the back of the cupboard?

In another location, our designer is hard at work creating our winners’ badges – new this year to match our redesigned site. Soon, I’ll have to start pulling together all of the information, meeting the team to agree on the final winners and then writing up the report, with images and links to retailers websites where consumers can buy the toys.

On Awards Day I’ll publish this throughout the day to our thousands of unique visitors, tweet about it to our 1.5k+ followers and post it up for our 1.8k Facebook followers. PRs and toy companies will get very excited and proud about their wins and they will shout about them to all their followers, too.

At the end of the day, I’ll probably lie down on the sofa and catch up on some of the recorded TV that I’ve missed over the past few weeks when I’ve been spending my evenings doing Awards admin instead, and I’ll feel relieved that the whole process has gone successfully again.

I probably won’t be able to resist scrolling through all those happy tweets from toy companies that we have recognised as the very best of 2015 whilst I watch and I will feel content about our seventh year of a job well done.

A few weeks later, visitors to our site looking for Christmas gifts will click over and over again on ‘Best Cuddly Toy’, ‘Best Educational Toy’ and all the other winners.

Later, in the shops, consumers will see a ‘ToyTalk Winner’ badge on the packaging of a product they were considering buying and it will convince them to make that purchase.

It’s undeniably fun, but it’s also a lot of hard work and, I hope you’ll agree, a very valuable service. 

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