(Written by William)
In the first part of this post, I introduced you to Kevin Hinkle. (Read: Your bridge to LEGO: Kevin Hinkle – Part One) We saw how he got from a part-time retail employee to the North American Community Coordinator for LEGO. But don’t let that picture fool you; Kevin is not sitting back enjoying his empire and scheming on how to rule it. What he is considering is the things that can be done for the LEGO-fan community.
This second part will dive into some of the nuts and bolts of the North American Community Coordinator position. It will explain why Kevin’s job is so important to all of the LEGO-fans that live in North America. Hopefully I can make it clear the things Kevin can and can’t do from his position. This is not by choice, since he would love to bend over backwards for fans just to see them succeed. However, he is restricted in several areas. Just know that Kevin doesn’t mind you asking about anything. He may just be unable to help with specific matters.
THE JOB OF BEING COOL
Working for LEGO may seem like a dream-job, but after all is said and done, it is still work. Kevin spends as much time as he can being engaged with the LEGO community. This involves getting on as many online LEGO forums and LEGO-fan groups’ websites as he can – to at the very least have some connection with LEGO fans all across North America.
Kevin also meets the public at the many LEGO conventions across North America. When he does this he may look like he’s having fun, but he’s secretly working on getting into our heads. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s what Kevin said when I asked, “What types of goals do you have when you attend a LEGO related event?”
I really only have one overall goal, and that’s engagement. As you can imagine, the majority of the support we offer comes through phone discussions, email exchanges and otherwise faceless interaction. LEGO-fan events give us a great opportunity to meet up in person and address any pertinent questions, issues, or concerns.
Since Kevin spends a lot of time answering questions and being generally helpful, he tends to get asked the same types of questions a lot. Here’s what he said when I asked, “What are the 3 most common questions you get asked and your answers?”
Working for The LEGO Group is considered by most to be a true dream job. So logically, working as a LEGO model-designer has to be the icing on the cake. Whether we are addressing the general public or the LEGO-fan community, “How do I become a LEGO model-designer?” comes up quite a bit. One important, and often unknown, requirement of the position is the need to relocate to the heart of the LEGO Company: Billund, Denmark. Only in Billund will you find our Product and Marketing Development department, internally referred to as PMD. As with any designing position we recommend studying varying fields of design such as toy-design, art & design and product-design. If you’re an avid LEGO builder, ensure you are documenting your LEGO models and LEGO building-techniques to build your portfolio. Most importantly, make sure you keep your eyes open on the LEGO job-listing website, as we are actively looking for the next member of the LEGO team (open positions companywide are posted at jobs.LEGO.com. (Read more about LEGO Job Opportunities.)
Another very frequent question/complaint that comes our way is on pricing. “Why are LEGO sets so expensive?” Obviously, finding the right price-point for each of our products is very critical for our business. Marketing-research and licensing can play a role when selecting our price-points. However, another contributor is the price of petroleum. LEGO elements are made using Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene, more commonly referred to as ABS plastic. Production of 1 kg of ABS requires the equivalent of about 2 kg of petroleum for raw materials and energy.
Now one thing I noticed in his job-description is that Kevin is responsible for LUG (LEGO User Group) support. Everyone who has had this position will interpret this differently. So I had to ask, “How do you define LUG Support?”
The LEGO User Groups house some of the most vocal advocates of the LEGO Brand. It is very important to us that we continue to support what they are doing, when and where we can, whereas also fostering and encouraging growth. Obviously, the most basic degree of support comes in the form of providing a singular point of contact within the LEGO organization to answer questions and funnel issues and/or concerns to the appropriate parties. However, we are constantly working with our various internal partners to come up with further ways in which we can support what the LEGO-fan groups are doing. We have several plans in motion to develop more consistent and sustainable ways to provide frequently requested items such as play-bricks for shows and displays, as well as giveaway items (flyers, posters, etc.).
Now I know some people may feel a little unclear how the process works with how Kevin gathers feedback from LEGO-fans. So, I asked him, “If you are given a suggestion, like making the LEGO board-game instructions more available to fans, what steps do you have to take to communicate this to TLG?”
The key is to identify the correct individual or team of individuals to pass along the suggestion, idea, or concern. Sometimes, it can be easy to forget that The LEGO Group is a rather large organization and with that comes a wide variety of different teams, departments, and groups that handle all the functions and aspects of our organization. Sometimes, it can take time to track the right person(s) down. Then, other factors come into play such as travel schedules, vacations, time-zone differences and the occasional business critical priorities that take precedence. It’s not uncommon for a few weeks or even a month to go by before a proper meeting can take place. However, we are continuously invited to attend meetings and discussions in order to provide feedback from the LEGO-fan community with certain projects. As we tend to have the most educated picture of what’s hot in the LEGO-fan world, we can provide an insight as projects flush out. Unfortunately, it can take a great deal of time to roll out certain changes or improvements based upon our feedback. Although it sometimes appears on the outside that nothing is, or has been, done about a particular issue, there is much taking place behind the curtain at all times.
In addition, Kevin also has to deal with things when stuff goes bad. So I asked, “Can you give an example of a fire you had to put out?”
Small issues tend to pop up in the LEGO community frequently; one could say it’s the nature of the beast. However, sometimes serious problems get reported in. We try to keep a close finger on the pulse of the LEGO community as much as we can. As we spot or get wind of any serious issues, we pass them along to the appropriate parties to be addressed immediately. Due to the sensitive nature of these issues we tend not to broadcast them in detail, but I can assure you they do pop up.
Finally, I’d like to end this section with a few words from Kevin about programs LEGO wants fans to know about. This is in response to my asking Kevin, “What programs are currently out there and how can LEGO-fans get involved with them?”
The LUG Showcase Program currently operates in our LEGO Brand Retail Stores. The program as it operates today was launched in October of 2011. The stores provide the local LUG with a rotating area that can be used to display LEGO MOCs built by members of the local group. The program provides an opportunity to build awareness of their group as well as rewarding participants with a few in-store perks. If you have a local LBR Store in your area and your group would like to participate or would like further information, please let me know and I would be more than happy to work with your group. (Read more about the LUG Showcase Program.)
The LUGBULK Program provides LUGs an opportunity to purchase bulk LEGO elements currently in production at a deep discount directly from production. As it operates today, orders are taken once a year from qualifying groups. If your group is interested in knowing more about the LUGBULK program you can reach out to LUGBULK@LEGO.com. (Read more about the LUGBULK Program.)
The LEGO Ambassador Program is a LEGO community based volunteer program made up of representatives from LEGO User Groups globally. The mission of the LEGO Ambassadors is to work together with the LEGO Group in all areas which concern the worldwide LEGO community and be the voice of their respective LEGO User Group towards the LEGO Group. Head over to LEGO Ambassadors 2012 for more information and a list of LEGO Ambassadors for 2012.
LEGO Certified Professionals, also referred to as the LCP program, is a community-based program made up of adult LEGO hobbyists who have turned their passion for building and creating with LEGO bricks into a full-time or part-time profession. LEGO Certified Professionals are not LEGO employees, but they are officially recognized by the LEGO Group as trusted business partners. More information along with a list of current LCPs can be found here: LEGO Certified Professionals.
THE WISHES THIS GENIE CAN’T GRANT
As good as Kevin is at his job, he also has his hands tied. Fans can forget that he needs to know things ahead of time, but also cannot share everything with LEGO-fans due to company obligations. Having spoken with him I know it’s a very fine line he has to walk when it comes to doing his job.
Just so fans get an idea of just how difficult, I asked Kevin, “What types of questions will you most likely never be able to answer?” (This is not to say you can’t ask Kevin these questions. Rather, this is a general idea how restricted he has to be on a regular basis.)
Anything pertaining to new and otherwise unannounced product is always confidential and strictly off limits. Although we appreciate the excitement and enthusiasm the LEGO-fan community has over our novelty items; before we officially announce a particular product or theme of products, we are not allowed to discuss them. I’m afraid I like my job, and would like to stay employed for as long as possible.
Additionally, Kevin can help groups up to a point. In many cases he does not have full control over certain things he can give or share. This is why I asked, “Roughly how many different people need to give approval before you can help a group/event/project with a physical item?”
That can depend on the request and what is involved or needed. In most cases simple support such as product-samples goes through the Community Events Leadership Team. However sometimes we need to speak with other departments for either help in funding or approval such as marketing, public relations (PR), or the LEGO Legal team.
What it ultimately comes down to is that you should not be disheartened by the fact Kevin’s hand are tied in certain areas. He does not mind putting forth ideas time after time. He can only do so much given his limitations. The only time you’ll receive an emphatic “No” is when you don’t ask.
FINDING THE MASTER OF DISGUISE
Kevin spends a lot of his time trying to connect with as many LEGO-fans as possible, however since he has to handle all of North America it can be a bit challenging to get in touch with him. Therefore, he wants everyone to know that his e-mail box is open and waiting for you. Drop him a message especially if you’re starting a LUG or trying to find a LUG. Email Kevin here.
Also, if you’re are on the numerous LEGO forums keep an eye out for the username kevinhink or just want to check out Kevin’s Flickr Gallery. He enjoys talking with serious LEGO-fans even more so since he gets paid for it.
If you are not in North America and would like to know who you should be talking to, Kevin is more than happy to direct you to the appropriate person. Just give him a little time to respond, there may be a slight delay in answering all the e-mails.
I’d like to end with a big THANKS to Kevin Hinkle for taking the time to answer all my questions. He really has a positive attitude that I believe will resonate with LEGO-fans both young and old. It’s hard to imagine what types of characteristics in a person you’d need to do the job he does before meeting him. Now that I have met him, I’d say you need a Kevin Hinkle.
For all our readers, I hope you found this two-part post both interesting and informative. It’s usually my goal when I write to give fans a little something they may not have thought of before. I’m just happy that I had the opportunity to introduce you all to someone you should know. If you have any comments or questions please post them below. Also, here is the link to Your Bridge to LEGO: Kevin Hinkle – Part One, and other related posts that you might find helpful: