Malibu toy maker Jakks Pacific has hired Bender/Helper Impact as its PR agency for the launch of Monsuno, a new line of toy fantasy animals similar to Pokemon.

For Jakks, the Monsuno project is potentially a bet-the-company proposition. Last year, downtown L.A.-based Oaktree Capital made an unsolicited offer to buy the company and take it private, but Jakks avoided the takeover by promising investors “potentially transformative projects planned and already under way (that) will provide significantly greater value to the company’s stockholders.”

The Monsuno line will be promoted on a Nickelodeon cable channel show and through a Topps trading card game.

Bender/Helper will handle media relations and online promotions. Also, the agency is in the process of scheduling promotional events at malls. Co-founder Dean Bender said the campaign will target boys 6 to 11 and their parents.

“We’ve had a lot of experience with anime and video games for boys, so we know how to go after both targets,” Bender said. “Of course, when you have an animated series, that helps visibility.”

The agency’s most recent experience comparable to the Monsuno launch was the reintroduction of the Power Rangers for Century City-based Saban Brands last year. The new show, “Power Rangers Samurai,” also runs on Nickelodeon.

“(Nickelodeon is) very good at on-air promotions, and we will support them through avenues that TV people don’t go after,” Bender said.

The PR campaign will launch at the Toy Industry Association’s annual show in New York on Feb. 12-15 and continue for the rest of this year.

Government PR

McConnell Government Relations has merged with downtown L.A. political advocacy firm Englander Knabe & Allen.

Jeff McConnell, former president of his downtown namesake firm, has joined EKA as senior vice president. He brings with him a long list of contacts and a history of securing government contracts for his clients.

“Jeff’s encyclopedic knowledge of the issues and structure of the city and county of Los Angeles allowed him to be immediately successful when he opened his own firm,” Managing Partner Harvey Englander said in a statement. “I have been continually impressed by his deep understanding of his clients’ business.”

McConnell’s clients will come with him to EKA.

Hospitality Online

Phelps Group has signed on as the new agency for Luxury Link Travel Group, a website publisher in the travel industry.

The Santa Monica agency will handle advertising, PR and marketing for Luxury Link.

The client operates LuxuryLink.com, a site that sells vacation packages for upscale travelers; FamilyGetaway.com that sells deals for families; and Vacationist.com, a discount site for fancy hotels and resorts.

“Phelps Group has a deep understanding of the travel industry and our customers, and how important it is to align to brand ideals in all communications to speak with one voice,” Diane McDavitt, Luxury Link Travel Group president, said in a statement.

Phelps’ other travel clients include Tahiti Tourisme North America, Malaysia Airlines, Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, Club Med, Starwood Hotels, EuroVacations.com and La Quinta Resort & Club.

Current Events

Miracle Mile ad agency Stun Creative produced the print campaign for Current TV’s new Politically Direct program block, which includes Keith Olbermann’s show “Countdown.” The ads feature pictures of Jennifer Granholm and Cenk Uygur, hosts of two of the shows.

But the print ads don’t show Olbermann, the channel’s highest-profile personality. That’s because he and the channel had a public spat last month when he complained about technical glitches on his show and the channel replaced him temporarily. Last week, former New York Attorney General Elliott Spitzer substituted for Olbermann during the Florida primary election. The print ad does mention Olbermann’s name, however.

A spokesman for the agency said the decision to leave Olbermann’s picture out of the print campaign was made by Current TV.

The campaign broke Jan. 29 and will include on-air, print and digital ads. Among the outlets for the print campaign is the New York Times.

Agencies & Accounts

Jennifer Wonnacott, a former communications director for two state Assembly members, has joined public advocacy firm Fiona Hutton & Associates in Studio City. She will manage client accounts, provide media relations service and produce social media campaigns. … Regan Group, a consumer marketing agency in Hawthorne, has promoted Lindsey Heisser to director of marketing, Allison Johnston to director of strategic partnerships and Cleo Kass Moloney to senior account manager. The agency’s clients include California Pizza Kitchen, Saban Brands, DreamWorks and Hallmark Channel. … Julie Sweetwood has joined Miracle Mile entertainment marketing consultancy Bemis Balkind. In her new post as vice president of business development for the TV group, she will focus on helping clients integrate their print, digital and on-air promotional strategies. … Creative Productions, a Long Beach marketing agency, has developed the website for regional commuter rail service Metrolink. The new site will “make riding the train more accessible to everyone in Metrolink’s six-county service area,” Deborah Golian Castro, chief executive of Creative Productions, said in a statement. … Public affairs consultancy High Lantern Group in Pasadena has hired Clare Thomas Maher as director and Timothy Golden as associate. Maher was formerly the worldwide director of communications for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. Golden joins from the Port of Los Angeles, where he coordinated the development of the agency’s strategic plan.

Staff reporter Joel Russell can be reached at jrussell@labusinessjournal.com or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 237.

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