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Food & Drink Agencies Agency Leadership

What does a head of inventor relations really do? TMS’s Andrew Hajithemistou explains

By Andrew Hajithemistou, Head of inventor relations

March 8, 2024 | 4 min read

Andrew Hajithemistou is head of inventor relations at TMS, the agency behind McDonald’s Happy Meal campaigns. Here, he explains what his role actually amounts to and how it keeps one of the most popular commercial promotions in the industry fresh.

andrew h tms


My career has been deeply rooted in toys. In fact, as part of my degree, I did a year at Hasbro, where I learned the trade. From there, I built up my skills in the engineering world and then went into promotional and consumer product, before ending up at TMS.

Inventor relations is really about reaching out to a network of Imagineers, designers, engineers or game developers who have a different lens, and who can bring solutions to us. Currently, McDonald’s Happy Meal is the only account we work on. McDonald’s has been a huge partner for our parent business for over 40 years now. TMS has been a big part of that for probably close to 30 years.

We’ve always had an innovation function, but we created a specific role for it two years ago. We’re just beginning to enter this space. Inventors are aware of trends in toy and game development – as are we, but they can give us a different perspective, and help us solve solutions quickly in different markets.

We often get cold calls from designers unfamiliar with the industry and unsure how to start out. They could be solo inventors, or small startups or studios.

What we typically do is set up a contract – we obviously want to protect them and their idea and likewise want to protect our space – it means it's a safe space for an inventor to share an idea and they know that we’re not just going to run off with it.

Then they’ll pitch their idea to us. Sometimes that’s an elevator pitch, sometimes that’s supported with prototypes or free samples, or a pitch deck. And we try to give inventors and designers that we work with insights into our world and what that involves.

I’m supported by a small team called the Future Lab. Within that, we’ve got industrial designers, creatives, and creative directors who, like me, have come up through the toy industry. Most of what we do is offline development of new ideas and concepts, or trialing those concepts with kids and parents to see how they’re received before we go live with those ideas.

Happy Meal is a global account; we’ve got offices in London, Chicago and Tokyo. Rollout is typically four to six weeks, and in a calendar year, there are at least 10 programs a year in most markets. So we’re on a constant rollout of new programs. The need for new innovation and fresh play activities is constant.

The Tokyo team is really focused on bringing campaigns that suit the Japanese market, often driven by intellectual properties that only live and breathe in Japan itself. In France, there’s legislation that means McDonald’s can only offer certain types of toys. Globally, there’s a big push to drive out the use of plastic materials and instead use sustainable solutions.

Inventor relations makes a small contribution to our overall efforts in the innovation and R&D space, but it is a vital one.

As told to Sam Bradley

Food & Drink Agencies Agency Leadership

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