This past Feb. 16-19, the eighth annual Digital Kids Conference and the 111th annual Toy Industry Association's (TIA) American International Toy Fair shared the same sandbox — New York City's Javits Center — for the fourth time. But it wasn't the fourth consecutive year the two events were co-located. Since joining forces in 2010, Austin-based Digital Kids Media, which owns and operates Digital Kids Conference, and New York City-based TIA skipped a get-together in 2012.
The two organizations enjoy “a wonderful relationship,” said Marian Bossard, TIA's vice president of meetings and events. As in many relationships, both sides “had to take a little time away. When we came back [together], I think both groups had a better understanding of what each could bring to the table.”
TIA first sought out Digital Kids Conference, recognizing the “changing landscape of the way children play” — expanding into digital gaming and digital play platforms, Bossard said. “We are a trade association. We run an excellent show. We are a wonderful advocacy group. But these changes put us in a position of not necessarily being content experts. So knowing that our members in order to grow their business need to understand the opportunities and challenges related to digital playing, we needed to get them that content prepackaged from a reputable source.”
Having Digital Kids Conference on site has given TIA's member companies and other exhibitors the chance to bring their product-development staff to the fair for the education sessions. This year, the conference featured 57 speakers, on topics ranging from mobile technology to raising venture capital.
Everyone who attends Digital Kids Conference is allowed to visit the Toy Fair show floor — a “big draw,” Bossard said, “because ours is a very tight registration process.” Digital Kids Conference attendees may not fit the strict attendee criteria, but TIAbends the rules abit for them. “People making the ‘guts’ of the toys need to have relationships with the companies producing the products,” Bossard said. “It’s a wonderful convening of these folks. We need to keep people together who will eventually do business together.” TIA promotes Digital Kids Conference to its members, and its attendees and exhibitors pay a discounted fee to attend.
WHAT MAKES IT WORK
Bossard advises other organizations that are considering co-location opportunities to “take a step back from your event and take a look at who else is out there on the periphery that at one time you might even consider to be a competitor.” You have to believe that doing something together would be better than doing it separately. “I think it is important to recognize what your core competency is,” Bossard said. “Don't try to be what you are not, and try to find the organization to fill the hole that would make the overall experience for your core audience that much more valuable.”
TIA's motive for co-locating with Digital Kids Conference wasn't driven by the recession or the need to boost revenues, she said. “When you get into a relationship like this, you will seek to protect your financial interest. You will also look to find out where there is opportunity to generate revenue. But it was absolutely not the driving force [for us]. The driving force was the need for our industry to have this information, and we were not going to be able to provide it [ourselves].”
Moreover, Bossard said, co-locations must be mutually beneficial to both parties — and to both audiences, Tonda Sellers, president and vice president of conferences for Digital Kids Media, pointed out. “We co-locate with Toy Fair in order to give industry access to the toy industry,” Sellers said, “and the toy industry access to leaders focused on the digital components of entertainment and education.”
The Digital Kids Conference website page promoting the co-location highlights the benefits of pre-show cross marketing: “More than just a physical co-location partnership, this relationship extends to marketing activities as well. We welcome the TIA's marketing muscle and their deep reach to the entire entertainment marketplace, spanning toys to filmed entertainment. Digital Kids Conference attendees will once again span the gambit.”