Mike Gray is retiring from Hasbro Inventor Relations leaving some big shoes to fill (literally and figuratively). Mike can part waters at some Fairs and is a dear friend to many of us. A few months ago I had the pleasure of having dinner with his successor, Dougal Grimes and his colleague, Milan Balogh, from Hasbro Europe before our ChiTAG London Get-Together. Dougal is talented, experienced, thoughtful, energetic as well as interesting. He will bring much to our inventor community.
One of the talents he brings is musical. If you are attending I-SPI or T&GCon, you can experience this firsthand. Dougal, Ben Dermer from Spin Master and Matt Nuccio from Design Edge will be jamming on stage during the Thursday evening networking dinner and drinks, before playCHIC. I can hardly wait!
I’ve asked Dougal to tell us a bit about himself and what he hopes to accomplish. He readily agreed as he is looking forward to getting to know everyone.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I've always loved toys and games, and when I studied Product Design in Glasgow at University, a lot of my projects were Toy based. I even wrote a faux case study and business plan on the 'Grimes Toy Corp's' new launch 'Mutatorz', a rip off of Transformers. When I left Uni I wanted to design Toys and Games, and Hasbro had a graduate position opening….but only in Marketing & Sales, so I took it as my way in.
How do you feel your background in marketing will impact your position with inventor relations?
It means that Inventors will always look at me with a suspicious eye, Haha! Honestly, coming from a Product Design background and then spending 4 years in Marketing (with some Sales) in a global consumer product company has really helped me understand the importance of how the correct positioning, targeted communication, the right in-store promotion and the ultimate retailer relationship can drive the success of a product. I am lucky enough to have seen products being conceived, right the way through to presenting them to large retailers and eventually creating the media plans for promotion. The whole process can be, and should be ,very interconnected. If I can draw on my experience and help Inventors understand our Marketing (and Design) teams objectives clearly, then I will have done (most of) my job. The core benefits of a product can heavily steer how the eventual product is marketed, so it is my role to make sure that there is always a two way dialogue between the inventor and our internal teams to ensure the success of an inventor item.
What trends do you see in games?
Over the past 10 years the gaming world has exploded, and looking at games as a whole (digital and physical) there are interesting trends in both consumers and technology. I think it's common knowledge now that with the advent of smart devices, gaming has become more mobile, more accessible and more casual. Since the boom of mobile gaming, from the ease of availability and the low cost of apps, a 'typical' gaming consumer will have different expectations of games and how they are played. There is less waiting time, multiple players all play at once, there are minimal rules, multiple games can be played at once, you don't play at the dinner table and it's expected that you don't even need to be in the same room to play. Gamers want to play wherever, whenever. It's also interesting how today, you couldn't pick a gamer out in the street, EVERYONE plays games, be it 45 year old mothers, 2 year old children or a group of 21 year old hipsters. On the tech side, the constant advancement in control and communication technology, such as gesture recognition, low power wireless communication, high resolution displays and flexible displays are deeply enhancing the gaming experience in both physical and digital gaming. Gamification is a bit of a buzz word at present, but the concept of gaming and infusing it into everyday life is a huge trend. The use of competition and gameplay in relatively mundane things, such as going to the supermarket (Foursquare) is becoming more apparent, and beyond that , when gameplay is added to more exciting things like your exercise workout then it takes on a whole new level (Nike fuel band, Zombies Run! App). There is huge opportunity for fresh and innovative ideas within gaming at the minute; there is a 'larger' consumer base and there is unbelievable technology out there, anyone could bring us a 'game changer' at any time!
What advice can you give inventors presenting ideas to you?
Mostly- let's have fun and play some games! Practically- Think of what the 30 second TV commercial would be, and then make it or re-tell it to me. I love video filming/editing, and giving yourself a 30 second time limit can really help you really cut to the chase: what are the benefits of this concept, who it is for and why should someone buy it? At the end of the day, if the creator can't get the idea across in 30 sec, how should we be able to do it to the consumer? A video also gives you a real chance to sell the product yourself and add your own flavor to the idea. If you aren't into video, then think of the pitch like a newspaper's front page. First comes the headline; What's the big deal? Second is the sub-headline with some more context on the target/benefits/concept. Lastly is the article which has further details on the concept should there be more interest or any questions on gameplay, materials, cost, functions etc.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
So many to choose from! I was pretty mad on Action Force (UK version of GI-JOE) and M.A.S.K. figures. The cartoon for M.A.S.K. was outstanding! Having a big family we played a load of games; Connect 4 was a firm brotherly challenge favorite which then turned into games like Heroquest/Space Crusade and Cranium when I got older. Cranium is still our family's Christmas game every year. I still get star struck when I meet Inventors of games and toys that have given my friends, family and me so many good memories.
What musical instruments and music do you play?
I play the double bass fairly badly, but absolutely love it. I love all types of music, but usually when playing the double bass it's rock n roll and folky stuff. I recently bought a chanter (pre-requisite for the bag pipes) but have only managed to make it sound like a dying cat…..which some would say is the point.
Boxers or briefs?
I wear Mike Gray's briefs now…..they came with the job.
What does your typical day look like?
It's a bit cliché, but typical doesn't really apply in this job! The most important aspects of every day are maintaining contact with inventors, maintaining contact with the Design and Marketing teams and catching up with the Inventor Relations Team. Whether this is email, phone call, Skype, Whatsapp…it doesn't matter, there's always plenty to talk about!
What is the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I once had a student job as an in store rep for 'Scottish Beef' an organization which promoted home reared Scottish meat. It was fun in some respects, I had to wear a kilt and speak to people in supermarkets…..but handing out flyers to Grandmas and Granddads in the frozen meat section of Tesco soon gets tiresome, especially for 8 hours on a Saturday. I learned from then that I will never have problem approaching people and creating conversation, even when I am virtually freezing and wearing a skirt.
What inspires you?
I am inspired a lot by opportunists who aren't specialists; those who are passionate about an idea then follow it through and appear to 'make it up' as they go along, ultimately forging their own destiny. Someone like Richard Branson is an obvious choice, but I really like Musical Svengalis like Malcolm Mclaren, Brian Epstein, Pedro Winter and Tony Wilson. All of them wouldn't be considered talented musically , but have all made massive imprints on the history of Music.
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
My dad worked in the oil industry (Scotland's second best export , after 'The Water of Life') so he travelled a lot , and accordingly I was born in Singapore. We stayed there for a few years and then , after a couple of years near London, we moved to Aberdeen in Scotland, my Dad's hometown. I think all the travel at a young age definitely gave me a passion for traveling and a curiosity of all things new, whilst growing up watching Scotland consistently fail at every sport gave me tough skin. Both of which helps in this job!
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
Whilst working in Product Development I was leading a local marketing team and a development team on a game. Both sides kept disagreeing as to the direction and we kept going to try and find a middle ground, going back and forward…until the product nearly didn't get released! I learned that nothing is ever finished, so what's the point in trying to get 99% of nothing when you can get 89% of something.
What do you read every day, and why?
I read the Guardian (British Newspaper) App every day, I try to be as informed as possible , especially as I travel a lot with the job, so it helps me feel a bit grounded. I also have a few Whatspp (instant messaging service) groups, one for mates and one for family, which are usually constant streams of gibberish, but keep me informed in a different way.
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
I would definitely say my iPhone; its pretty much an extension of my nervous system. I use the list app 'Clear' religiously, 'Whatsapp' to communicate with friends when I am away from home and a whole host of Gaming Apps to try and beat Mike Gray on a daily basis.
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I am a big fan of 'Curb your Enthusiasm' and I recently watched the latest series that's set in New York. Larry David is a pretty, pretty, pretty funny guy.
Thank you, Dougal, for taking time to thoughtfully and entertainingly answering our questions! See you in November during Chicago Toy & Game Week!