Christopher Byrne, The Toy Guy®, President Byrne Communications, Inc.-tBR Person of the Week
(Telling parents about what’s hot is something Chris loves doing.)
When Chris is asked how he got the moniker The Toy Guy, he points to talk show host Chuck Woolery. At the time, Woolery was the co-host of the first version of a show called Home and Family. Unable to see the cue card with Chris’s name on it, he just blurted out “The toy guy” when announcing the guests for the day. He was so tickled by it, he used that whenever Chris was a guest. Byrne trademarked it.
Chris didn’t start out to be in the toy industry, though, like so many arrived in it through happenstance, opportunity, and, as he tells it, luck. Starting as a child actor and singer at age 10, he performed with many professional groups in Delaware, Philadelphia, Maryland and DC. As he says, wryly, “when a boy soprano’s voice hasn’t changed by 16, you find yourself with some great opportunities.”
Though he didn’t know it at the time, his path to the toy industry began at Boston University. A student in the College of Fine Arts, his senior thesis involved introducing at-risk children in the Boston Public Schools with behavior problems to theater games—essentially playing. Observing the positive transformations improved attendance and grades in the students given permission to play, and becoming an ardent constructivist in the process, it looked like education would be a part of his career. The son of teachers, it seemed like a logical path.
(Playing with Gayle Anderson of KTLA.)
However, after moving to New York to work in theater, he landed a job in publishing with CBS. He was soon promoted into the corporation’s toys division. Thanks to some invaluable mentorship, he learned the toy business from the ground up—from manufacturing to research to marketing. Having the chance to work with Sesame Street and other educators, as well as some cool toys, he discovered the toy industry was his home. By the time CBS Toys was dissolved in 1985, Chris had “clawed his way to the middle,” as he jokes, and was manager of public relations for the division.
Following CBS, Chris moved into PR full time and was brought into Pezzano + Company to work on the launch of Pictionary. Working with Linda Pezzano was invaluable. “Linda pioneered guerilla marketing, and almost single handedly renewed the adult game market with Trivial Pursuit. To work with her on creating another mega-hit was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and shaped how I approached marketing strategy and the importance of understanding how to leverage the cultural moment.”
Chris then founded Byrne Communications, consulting, writing, developing products, research, marketing programs, and fostering innovation within and outside the toy industry. He was editing Toy & Hobby World when The Today Show asked his publisher to be a guest. Freaked out by the thought of going on national TV, the publisher asked Chris if he’d do it, and Chris responded with the sentence that he says has always guided his career: “Sure, I’ll try that.” Since then, he’s appeared on hundreds of TV shows around the world, and 2021 marks 25 years of playing on the ABC show, Live!
(Four of the seven books Chris has authored.)
Chris has written or contributed to seven books on toys and the business, including a textbook on the industry and two with the Toy Association. He is the creator and co-host with Richard Gottlieb of The Playground Podcast. He’s been an editor of the The Toy Book, Playthings, Market Focus: Toys, and was a founding partner of TTPM. He’s been a TOTY judge and is currently a Toy Association Play Ambassador. Considered a leading toy historian (not a crowded field), Chris also speaks at conferences and trade shows around the world. (One of his favorites was as keynote for the International Order of Real Bearded Santas convention in Branson, MO.) And, he hasn’t abandoned theater; he’s been a critic in New York since 1996.
Chris is passionate about play, which serves three vital functions in the lives of children. It allows them to explore their worlds, have new experiences, and express themselves. It’s a process of experimentation and discovery that leads a child to healthy development and self-realization. Having had a creative, imagination-rich childhood, Chris wants that for all kids. “Sure, I’ll try that,” started at an early age.
(Active play started early for Chris.)
“Play is a process,” Chris says. “Facilitating that process is how we empower play. Embracing it ourselves is how we maintain that childlike sense of wonder at the world that’s essential to make good toys. Try that!”