Stormrider: How did you get started as Marketing Director here at Hasbro?
Michelle: Actually, I had worked at both Disney and Bandai previously. So I worked on Power Rangers. That was my first job out of college. So I just kind of fell into the Marketing thing. From Bandai it just made sense to go to Hasbro. And when I started at Hasbro I was assigned to Transformers, which has been incredible. It just kind of fell into my lap in a way but it is absolutely perfect for me. I simply love it!
Stormrider: About the bonus pack sticker on Jetfire… is that something new Hasbro has released?
Michelle: Yes, that is something new. In the past we have done tech specs, the little trading cards included. However, because we are doing packaging with multiple languages it was better, we thought, to offer kids a sticker that they can stick on their keyboard, locker, or whatever. Instead of a tech spec that would have a lot of text on it in other languages. We will be looking to do tech specs again. I know there has been a big push for them from the collector market. We are trying to look for a creative way to do them that does not have to much language on them.
Stormrider: Are the Tech Specs intuitive or are the specs chosen randomly?
Michelle: They are quite strategic. Our design team goes through all the animation, the story, and they really develop that when they develop the character. So the strength and weakness of each character are designed at the same time so that they make sense with the Transformers World.
Stormrider: If you had to describe the process that these toys go through from conception to production, would you consider it a lengthy one?
Michelle: It is a lengthy. But the process has gotten a lot shorter in the past few years. . We are constantly being challenged with bringing out product in shorter and shorter amounts of time. From actual conception to actually being on the shelves, we have found a lot of ways to cut corners. Our Japanese partner, Takara, is also looking for ways to do things faster. So I think we have shortened the cycle down quite a bit by about maybe as much as 50% from the initial lead time. So it is slow but it is faster then before.
Stormrider: Is it hard to come up with new toys?
Michelle: Ummm... not really. There is so much inspiration out there. I mean, I don't come up with them myself, I kind of figure out ways to market them. But the R&D guys have a wealth of prior knowledge to build on. They can take something from the past and improve on it, or take a small idea and make a new toy out of that, or just what kids today want & also watch what collectors like and take their inspiration from all sorts of places.
Stormrider: What kind of demographics do you use to target your sales campaigns?
Michelle: It depends. For something like Transformers Armada that has animation with it, we are mostly targeting kids, boys mainly from the ages 6 to 12. There probably is a small percentage of girls out there who like it but mostly boys. That is what the animation, and the product, is going after. Now something like G1, that is strictly for collectors. We are not even trying to cater that to kids because the collectors have the nostalgia of knowing from when they grew up. Then something like Universe is definitely kid-targeted. We first target kids with all the collectors in mind. I know collectors are a growing business that makes up like 20% or some of the sales, so we try to do both there without sacrificing one or the other. It's a challenge.
Stormrider: With the GI Joe line, Hasbro will be releasing the 45 minute movies with some of the toys. Is this something we can look forward to Hasbro doing for Transformers?
Michelle: We might. It is somewhat expensive to do, so we usually focus our efforts on doing the TV animation on Cartoon Network several times a week. Because they (the animators) would focus their efforts on doing the movie instead of that. So we will definitely look at it. We are always looking for ways to do another Transformers Movie. But we just have to wait for it to physically make sense for the brand overall.
Stormrider: How do you still get in sales from the original movie?
Michelle: I don't actually know because our licensee Kid Rhino. They distribute all the videos but I know that last year, or the year befor,e they sold a record number of movies... even though very little advertising was done. There is a whole generation of people that are still buying the movie. Whether it is word of mouth or if people are having their friends watch it. But it still does very, very well. It is still one of our top sellers.
Stormrider: Are DVD sales of the cartoon episodes doing as well as the movie?
Michelle: The G1 episodes are doing extremely well. Kid Rhino just released a second boxed set, I believe it is season two of G1, the first part and there will be a second one coming out soon. Whatever they did with that the sales on that greatly exceeded our expectations. They have done really, really well.
Stormrider: When these new box sets come out do they increase any of the sales of your toy figures?
Michelle: It is somewhat hard to tell because we don't do research on who buys what against who buys toys. But the G1 exclusives at Toys R Us do extremely well and we sell out of them in a very short amount of time since we do a limited number. We do small quantities for collectors. We want them to be out there for a short amount of time so we can move onto the next thing.
Stormrider: Out of all the lines you have worked with for Hasbro, which Transformers line was the hardest to market?
Michelle: I don't really know. I started with Robots in Disguise. It was my predecessors who worked on Beast Wars and Beast Machines. That may have been the biggest challenge. The collectors loved Beast Wars and Beast Machines but there were some challenges in getting the big kid audience we wanted. So it was a bit challenging to sell Robots in Disguise. But once it got into retail, the toys sold. Which pretty much paved the way for Armada and everything we are doing now. The sales are incredible in Transformers right now. We are really excited about that.
Stormrider: What about the new gimmicks being added to the toys?
Michelle: We are trying to add more stuff in there so you get a little bit of variety. Some transform by themselves, some you do manually. While others have lights and sounds.
Stormrider: Many of the marketing people (at Hasbro) market for more then one line, yet you only cover Transformers. Why is that?
Michelle: Well in the presentation we have G1, Armada, Universe, and a whole bunch of other things we are doing for 2004. So while it is one brand, it is like 3 times as much work because of those three different things. So it really takes myself and another person who are dedicated to it for marketing. So it takes all of our time. I don't think I could do another brand.
Stormrider: I know there was mention of the 20th Anniversary Figure (in the presentation). How heavily did the poll run on Transfandom effect your choice of figure?
Michelle: We mostly used the poll to consider what we are doing next. We are doing one G1 20th Anniversary Figure. We also used that poll to decide which older G1's to do in our line-ups. So we did use that to discuss with Takara what to make in our lines. All the information from the Poll was great. We love to hear feedback. You guys are why we are here. You guys have the fans we are targeting. So that information is invaluable to us. We loved getting that data. Any time you guys want to run a poll please let us know. We will definitely use everything we can get our hands on.
Stormrider: We run polls almost every month.
Michelle: I know Aaron, our designer, checks out your site. He sees what everyone is saying out there.
Stormrider: Last month we ran a poll regarding female Transformers. We did a poll asking fans if they would like to see more female characters.
Michelle: They probably did want to see more, right?
Michelle: I think most of our incentive is that when boys ages 6 to10 is our target, they necessarily want to see that. Or I don't know what caused us to decide that. But we are looking at doing more female characters in the future. We are really looking at it trying to find a way to make it happen that makes sense to the kids and the collectors.
Stormrider: What would you say is the biggest challenge in your job?
Michelle: I think the biggest challenge is trying to juggle everything. There is so much work that needs to be done because it is such a big brand for Hasbro. We are working on multiple lines at once. Like I said, Armada, Universe, and G1, so I am changing hats all the time. And you know there's just a lot of balls up in the air with advertising, product development, PR (Public Relations) and all the things that go into it.
Stormrider: Hasbro seems to have taken a more active role in participating in conventions for all of its lines. Is this something that will continue?
Michelle: Absolutely, we had a great experience last summer. We went to BotCon, Wizard World and Comicon and set up booths there. We got great feed back. It was really important for us to get feedback directly from those kids and collectors at those conventions. So we are doing that again this year and increasing our presence there. We are looking for that. We are thinking about a cool thing to give out this year.
Stormrider: I know you have a greater relationship with 3H and BotCon. How did that come about?
Michelle: I am not actually sure of the origins of this relationship but the gentlemen of BotCon have worked with Hasbro for a number of years. I don't know because it started back in Cincinnati with old regime, but we work really well with Glen Hallit. We have a very good relationship with them.
Stormrider: How far do you get with a toy before you decide that "Hey this figure isn't working, let’s start over"?
Michelle: We don't actually do that. Aaron does so much in preparations...
Stormrider: So you don't have flub ups?
Michelle: We don't really make prototypes that we don't create. It rarely gets to that stage of the design if we don't like it.
Stormrider: Why did you choose to create a new mold for Unicron instead of using the Takara Neo Mold?
Michelle: We wanted to give him a lot more features that weren't in the other figure. So the best way for us to do that was to start from scratch, and Takara was interested in that as well for the Japanese market. So it just made sense that we created one figure that worked for both Japan & America.
Stormrider: Will the Neo figure ever be used in the future?
Michelle: Not that I know of, but you never know. Things we always think we will never use sometimes come back.
Stormrider: So the option is still there?
Michelle: Absolutely, We always try to use stuff from our archives at some point later. Yes, it is very possible.
Stormrider: I believe that is all I have for now. Thank you for your time.