JoAnn McLaughlin: Do your Homework; Know the Competition
What exactly do you do in the industry?
I am the SVP of Product Development at Disney working on all brands from a hard lines standpoint as well as soft lines on the Marvel and Lucas brands. My teams work on both licensed and owned & operated product development for our Disney Parks, Disney Stores and Shop Disney destinations.
What is your claim to fame in the industry?
I have been with Marvel for the past 28 years so many of the relationships I have built and products that were invented came from my team and continue to be strong at retail; some being the Spider-Man silly string Web Shooter, Hulk Hands, Marvel Legends which all now reside with Hasbro, our master toy partner and are still thriving. My team also worked on the Lord of the Rings initial trilogy and won many awards for innovation on that action figure program for all those films. Boys Action is my long term expertise, but I have worked on all types of toys through the years.
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I started as an assistant at Knickerbocker Toy Company and eventually was admin to Mike Satten the head of Product Development who trusted me with the handling of all inventor administrative relations and showroom tours. I fell in love with the industry and knew immediately that this is where my passion was and I continued to pursue different positions at various toy companies throughout the years.
What are you working on now?
It’s a secret!
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
There are so many trends right now that are a direct result of the Pandemic that do not necessarily concern me but hope that they do end somewhere in the near future like face masks. I love comfortable clothes so that is a great trend right now and really wish they had bigger pockets to put my stuff in so I don’t have to carry those items in a separate bag or my hands! Love that families are spending more time with kids playing games and that kids are using their imaginations on creative play that have led to the arts and crafts category just growing and growing. I don’t see this going away and just becoming stronger and stronger not because the Pandemic will still be here but because families have now realized that they should have been doing more of this to begin with.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Do your homework; know the competition or any like items so you can respond to them when brought up. Think clearly how your idea applies to the IP or IP’s that I represent. Have a focused strategy as to why your idea should be considered – whether it is trend, a new innovative mechanism that allows my IP to do something it could not do before in a toy and never show me an idea with a competitive overlay to it.
What advice would you give a young adult graduating from high school or college today?
Find a mentor – take your time to learn and absorb – I worked my way up from an Admin in Product Development to being the head of Product Development just by learning, asking questions, reaching out to my peers for advice and learning manufacturing processes. But above all pursue your passion and if that means additional education, interning and working your way up from the mail room so to speak then do it.
Do you have a typical work day and how does it play out for you?
My typical work day right now is mostly on Zoom calls (all day and night) strategizing or reviewing product lines.
What’s your workspace setup like?
LOL – it is a desk in my bedroom!
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
Hands down – it is Seeing a child pick-up one of my products off the shelf or ask for it as my number 1 thing, but also looking at new innovations that I keep saying “why didn’t I think of that”!
What is the worst job you’ve ever had and what did you learn from it?
Letting people go from their jobs and how to be as compassionate as you can about it.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
How to keep all my notes on my iPad!
What excites you?
Music, my grandsons laughter, new movies, getting out of this Pandemic
How do you define creativity?
Just use your imagination
How do you define innovation?
Crucial to growth of any company
How do you recharge or take a break?
Go for a drive, have a coffee break, get some sunshine
What words describe how you think or how your brain works?
Logical, inventive, strategic and sometimes it does not work at all.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
I loved my Easy Bake Oven and my parents took us to see Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the drive-in theater and Mattel made Chitty Chitty Bang Bang Little Kiddles – had to have them along with my Barbies! I had the best Barbie collection on the block!
Where were you born?
Jersey City, New Jersey
What was your life like growing up?
I always tell people we were half the Brady Bunch because there were 3 girls and my Mom and Dad and my parents were young and did everything with us. My mom loved to dance and she would put Rock ‘n Roll Part 2 on the record player and if you drove by our house and looked in our picture window you would see 3 young girls and their Mom dancing away!
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I grew up in a little town called Fords, New Jersey and everyone knew everyone – it taught me about being a part of something larger and having the confidence to participate with other families in community events. I was also in the girls scouts from Brownies to Cadets and learned a great deal about how to do things and having lasting freindships.
What is one mistake you’ve made, and what did you learn from it?
I have made many and learned from them all in life as well as business and I can honestly say that I never made the same mistake twice – it is important to accept the responsibility.
What do you read every day, and why?
Emails, emails, emails – work, family, friends
Who is the person you most admire?
My Mom for sure – she was my role model – took care of 3 girls, cooked, cleaned and worked and never had anything bad to say about anyone. She was pure sunshine
What is your favorite gadget, app or piece of software that helps you every day?
Google – is just say “Google it”
How do you jumpstart your creativity when you find yourself stalled on a project?
I used to go to the mall and just look around – now I surf the net!
When is the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
Everyday and usually my grandson will be the cause of that!
What is the last time you did something for the first time?
Memorial Day weekend when my husband drove to California to pick me up in an RV and drive me home to NJ.
What are your favorite childhood memories?
My parents never sat still – they coached our softball team, coached our bowling league, put into dancing school and they would throw us in the car and go somewhere whether it was traditional Friday nights at the ice cream parlor, going to the NJ Shore every Sunday in the summer to swim or on longer road trips to Virginia, Florida, etc. and stopping at Stuckey’s along the way. My mom hated to fly.
Are you named after anyone?
I have an official middle name “Elaine” which I am proud to say was my Mom’s name
Do you have any kiddos?
1 grown man and 1 grandson
Do you have any pets?
3 big doggies: Angie, Bandit and Major; a husky, lab and German Shepherd
Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Wine and Chocolate
What’s in your fridge?
Wine and Chocolate - LOL
Do you play any musical instruments? If so, which one(s)?
No but it is never too late!
Who are your favorite musicians, singers or musical groups?
Little Big Town
The Rolling Stones
Guns and Roses
And many more…..
What music are you listening to now?
Lots of country lately.
What’s your favorite cereal?
Honey Bunches of Oats
What’s the first thing you usually notice about people?
What are your favorite books?
Anne Rice Witching and Vampire series (all of them)
Bag of Bones, Under the Dome and Duma Key by Stephen King
My Sisters Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Memoirs of a Geisha
Twilight series and Harry Potter Series and so many more!
What are your favorite magazines?
People, Travel and any Food magazine
What are your favorite websites?
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
Happy Endings! And Scary Movies with Happy Endings.
What’s your favorite TV show?
This is Us
Who are your favorite actors, performers or entertainers?
I’m a Jersey Girl and love love love my Jon BonJovi and Bruce Springstein,
Favorite Actors change all the time, but I have always loved anything that Robert Downey Jr. and Michelle Pfeiffer does
Favorite movie of all time?
Wizard of Oz
What’s the furthest you’ve ever been from home?
Australia – other side of the planet!
Do you have any special talents?
None but I did take dance for years and love it. I also think I am a pretty good cook.
What’s your beverage of choice?
Tell us about your hobbies?
Summer of Winter?
Hugs or Kisses?
What is your eye color?
Everything would have been different if…
I had more than one child
The toy and game industry clearly has….
Made my life amazing with seeing the world and meeting new people and seeing new innovation before the rest of the world!
I’m lucky that….
I have an amazing supportive family and wonderful friends.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
Hmmmm…..what will life be like after this Pandemic!