Neither Werner nor her supervisors at the New Jersey firm would say how they split the money from the tours, which could have amounted to as much as $66,000 for the back-to-school roundup. (Assuming each of six principal sponsors paid the $11,000 initial asking price.)
Werner insisted the money doesn't matter. She said she will not pitch toys she and her two children have not personally used and enjoyed.
"I am not going to include any toy that doesn't do what it says it's going to do, that isn't fun, that doesn't fit the theme of the tour," she said. "If I bring out crappy products, the consumers are not going to want to hear from me and the stations aren't going to bring me back."
She said she takes nothing for her appearances on two national programs — ABC's "The View" and NBC's "Today" — that have helped her build a reputation in the news business.
I heard much the same argument from the public relations representative for Chris Byrne. Dubbed "The Toy Guy," Byrne is another big name in the toy promotion business, as an industry analyst and content director for TimeToPlayMag.com, a website that reviews toys.
The spokeswoman and public relations agent for the website, Michele Litzky, said Byrne has given his unbiased assessment of toys for many years. He picks products for TimeToPlayMag.com and only afterward considers including the products on television appearances he makes, Litzky said.
Litzky said her firm arranges the television tours and receives payment from toy companies that will be publicized via the tours. She said she uses some of the money to reimburse Byrne for his hotels, meals and travel expenses.
When I suggested that traditional news organizations wouldn't allow the subjects of reviews to pick up such payments, lest the money have an undue influence on the reviewer, Litzky scoffed. Byrne believes in some toys so much he includes them in his promotional tours if they haven't paid a penny, even for expenses, she said. "I have worked hard to keep his programs very credible," she said. "He is a resource for parents and gift givers."
I told the PR woman I thought consumers would be better served if they had a fuller understanding of how the Toy Guy's expenses were paid on some of his toy-touting tours. She said it was enough that television viewers knew that Byrne worked at TimeToPlayMag.com.
That seems to be the prevailing wisdom inside the local television news business these days, as well. It's a sort of don't-ask-don't-tell policy for the retail sector. Nobody in local TV seems to be asking much about where these unsolicited pitches come from. And they sure aren't telling their audiences, at least with any regularity. Consumers are the last to know.