Lego’s Kerry George puts the pieces together in Canada

In just three years, Kerry George has taken Lego Canada from being the U.S. office's marketing afterthought to actually out-performing it on a launch. She knows how to maximize her lean team of two (including herself), and focuses on interactive efforts, local event marketing and co-promotions to help the global brand resonate with Canadian kids.

In just three years, Kerry George has taken Lego Canada from being the U.S. office’s marketing afterthought to actually out-performing it on a launch. She knows how to maximize her lean team of two (including herself), and focuses on interactive efforts, local event marketing and co-promotions to help the global brand resonate with Canadian kids.

George has taken one of Lego’s key internal mottos: ‘hands on, minds on’ to heart. She ensures Lego has a strong community presence, with large interactive Lego displays set up at zoos and festivals across the country, as well as a travelling science show exhibit – an impressive Lego model of ancient Egypt, which is currently on display at the Calgary Science Centre. ‘It’s profitable for both sides,’ says George, adding that the Calgary centre has done a local media buy promoting the Lego exhibit.

She’s also big on retailtainment, like setting up ‘make and take’ stations at Toys R Us. ‘We want [kids] to have that hands-on experience,’ she says, adding that partnering with other brands stretches lean marketing resources. ‘When you have a team of two, you have to pick the things that have the biggest bang for your buck.’

Aside from event and retail efforts, George has also sought out CPG and restaurant partners to help to reinforce the Lego name and get the brand out there. ‘We pair up with other brands to make Lego cool, exciting, fun,’ she explains. In 2005, she did co-promotions with Pizza Hut, Saputo, East Side Mario’s, L’Oréal Kids, Parmalat and McCain.

Her promo with McCain’s Zwak fruit drink was particularly successful – they did an on-pack Lego coupon on 2.5 million Zwak packages, a co-branded microsite, and Lego got a mention in a Zwak TV spot, scoring an estimated extra exposure value for Lego of over $250,000. ‘It really came from networking and talking to agencies and pitching them,’ says George of the co-promos. ‘I had to get my name and the LEGO name on their radar. [Last year] really did establish that for us.’

George is eager to see the fruits of this holiday season, when Lego Canada does 60% of its annual business. Lego is really pushing its

Exo-Force brand this year, and George is doing a co-promo with YTV and Pizza Hut, which includes in-restaurant visibility, a contest, and a DPS in YTV’s Whoa! Magazine. She’s also doing an interactive activation to leverage a global promo with popular band The All American Rejects, as well as a Quebec online/TV promotion to boost Exo-Force and Bionicles.

When George joined Lego as director of marketing in 2003, the Canadian office had been lacking a marketing department for the previous three years as a result of downsizing. Marketing had been run from the Enfield, Conn. office, which was dumping the entire Canadian budget into TV – not particularly efficient, especially since this excluded the massive Quebec market, where TV ads aimed at kids aren’t kosher. Not to mention that Lego’s number-one competition is based in Montreal. ‘Mega is definitely a force to be reckoned with,’ says George. ‘One of my biggest challenges was to get [marketing] back up and running again…and to develop a better media plan.’

George attributes her U.S. sales-trumping coup to finding just the right partner for the Canadian activation of the 2004 launch of Clikits, a line of DIY Lego jewelry for girls. ‘Right from the get-go we knew we’d need a retail partner that could add some authenticity to the brand,’ she says. George chose to partner with Montreal-based chain La Senza Girl, whose sweet spot is girls five to 10, the same as Clikits. She did a media buy in the chain’s magalogue, an e-mail blast to its list, POP (including a sampling component) and a contest. George also made sure that there was a Clikits presence at all Lego events – a move she credits with giving the brand that extra sales push. ‘I think that’s why the Clikits brand was more successful here than in the U.S,’ she says of the events.

George relies a lot on her gut instincts, as marketing is relatively new to her. Her background is in finance – she has an economics degree from UBC – and she spent the first eight years of her career working in advisor and project manager roles at the likes of VanCity Savings Credit Union and Manulife Financial. It was at the latter where she was thrown into a marketing role as part of an internal managerial rotational program. Her work on a DM campaign promoting ManulifeDirect.com, which scored a 3.5% response rate, won a Gold at the 2001 Canadian Marketing Association’s RSVP awards.

‘That’s when I fell in love with marketing,’ George recalls, adding that it was an exciting time to be working on promoting a digital property, when people were just starting to shop online.

When a recruiter called her about moving to another financial post after Manulife, George instead opted to hold out for a marketing gig. When the Lego job came up, she jumped at it. ‘[Toy marketing] is so much more volatile than the finance industry,’ she says. ‘I like an industry or organization that’s not necessarily stable. That’s what excites and motivates me.’

For Lego, George’s focus on results has been a key asset. ‘I wanted somebody who could really push back and make the key account managers really accountable,’ says Larry Sedran, GM at Lego Canada. ‘She brings a real rigor in terms of looking at ROI.’

George’s numbers background serves her well in marketing: As well as being an asset when managing the budget, she’s also skilled at poring over market research reports and analyzing trends. ‘Kids are changing so much every year,’ says George, adding that, unlike three years ago, kids as young as six are regular Internet surfers today, and her media plan needs to reflect that.

George has worked with her media agency, Toronto’s Starcom Worldwide, to develop some clever interactive efforts this year, including embedding a Lego character directly into content on YTV.com and Teletoon.com. With YTV, a Lego Bionicles character (there is also a global Bionicles TV show) blows up the YTV homepage. And, over at Teletoon, a Bionicles character is embedded into one of Teletoon’s online video games. George credits Starcom’s Kevin Hung, SMG IP manager, digital solutions, with coming up with the innovative media buys. For his part, Hung credits George with clearly articulating what she wanted to achieve, and then giving him the freedom to test new ideas. ‘She’s definitely not old school – she lets us go where we need to go with her brand,’ he says.

She’s now working on her 2007 plans, which include implementing best practices from markets other than just the U.S. ‘There are learnings from the U.K. I look forward to tapping in 2007.’

FIVE QUESTIONS

Favourite book

The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho. Every time you read it, you get something new. It just makes you think and question and ponder what’s going on in your life.

Reality show you’d most like to be on

The Amazing Race. I’m an adventure seeker.

Favourite website

Dailysudoko.com. [Sudoko] challenges you to think differently.

Favourite vacation spot

There’s so much to do and see in this world, I don’t want to go to the same place twice. I did do an

eight-week camping safari in Africa. That was by far my favourite trip.

Number-one thing you look for in an ad agency

Their ability to debate back.