Here’s a situation that will be painfully familiar to many of our readers in the lingerie industry:
You spent years in fashion school honing your skills and another six months developing the debut collection for your own label. But despite all the pre-launch buzz among your own circle of friends, you had a hard time generating press interest and few customers to show for all your hard work.
What happened to that WWD profile or the phone call from Macy’s or the celebrity placement on Lady Gaga — all of which you surely deserved?
It wasn’t for lack of trying. You sent out press releases, told everyone you knew on Facebook, invited bloggers to a champagne lunch and watched Google hoover up your cash with a short-lived ad campaign. What did you do wrong?
It’s a situation that Alle Fister (above) has seen many times.
“A lot of startup brands want to be all things to all people,” the founder of Bollare Communications told us. “Their marketing strategy is like throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. It’s destined to fail. They are working really hard, but not smart.”
The L.A.-based Bollare is a public relations agency serving over 100 fashion labels. It’s also one of a handful of PR firms that have developed a special expertise in helping lingerie brands — especially newcomers — get noticed in a crowded industry with innumerable niches.
Now 31, Fister got her start at ShopBop, the Wisconsin-based designer fashion e-commerce site. When ShopBop was bought by Amazon seven years ago, she set up her own PR consultancy and began seeking clients “who have a story worth telling.”
“Lingerie was always a personal favorite category of mine,” she said. Bollare Communications quickly built up a client list that included many distinctive U.S. lingerie independents such as Only Hearts, Eberjey, Jenna Leigh, Red Daisy and the celebrity-powered IntiMint and BeachMint brands.
Marketing a lingerie brand is a lot different than anything else in fashion, Fister said. Too many brands focus their marketing only their product details, and the results are often clumsy, misdirected and ineffective.
“Lingerie has to make you feel good from the inside out. It’s all about selling the lifestyle and the aesthetic,” she said. “It’s marketing on a more personal level.”
Successful PR for lingerie brands comes down to one thing, she says: telling stories that engage customers. She offers these three keys for developing an effective PR strategy:
1. Know Thyself
Yes, Socrates’ famous advice holds true in lingerie marketing, too. Having a clear sense of your brand identity is vital, Fister said.
She likes to begin her PR consultations by asking new clients to describe themselves in “one punchy sentence that says who you are and what you are about.”
“There are so many wonderful brands in this space, and our job is to get their story out there,” she said. “But to do that I need to know what makes their brand tick, what makes them unique in the marketplace. Unless you know those things, it’s going to be a pretty ineffective campaign.”
“And being a copycat can’t be your punchy sentence.”
2. Set Clear Goals
Brands need to have a clear sense of who they want to reach — and there’s no single cookie-cutter answer here.
Some labels want mostly to pull customers in to their e-commerce sales platform, while others aim to get picked up by big retailers like Bloomingdale’s.
Even within the retail market there are numerous avenues to pursue: do you want to mix with youth streetwear sellers like Anthropologie or Urban Outfitters or high-priced luxury retailers like Neiman Marcus or Nordstrom? Fashion department stores like Macy’s or high-volume, low-margin juggernauts like Walmart or Target?
Each situation requires a different PR approach. “You need to know what your end sales goal is, and who you are trying to reach,” Fister said. “Knowing your goal will help you decide what your marketing strategy should be.”
3. Use The Right Tools
In the digital media age, there are innumerable tools and technologies for connecting with consumers. Not all of them will be suited to your needs.
Social media marketing “skews younger” for obvious reasons, Fister said, while traditional print campaigns are still a strong way to build overall brand awareness. And getting a coveted “placement” on a fashionable celebrity — the holy grail for many fashion brands — opens doors with luxury retailers.
A lot of lingerie brands “don’t stop to think what will work best for them,” Fister said.
For an example of how this tailored approach to lingerie PR can work, she points to Jenna Leigh Lingerie, a young New York-based luxury brand with a quality reputation and a growing presence in the bridal lingerie market. When Bollare’s team met with Jenna to assess her needs, it was clear she knew exactly what she wanted — to get her lingerie line into Bloomingdale’s.
To achieve that, Bollare focused on placing Jenna Leigh pieces with stylists working for major fashion magazines, “to show Bloomingdale’s that if we get a purchase order, this is the kind of marketing support you can expect.”
They targeted magazines like Cosmo and Glamor that are favored by the same fashion-forward, trend-conscious consumers that Jenna Leigh was trying to reach. Here are some of the results; and yes, Jenna now counts Bloomie’s among its growing network of distribution partners.
(How precise is this kind of approach? Fister points out that a similar engagement for an entirely different New York brand, Only Hearts, involved a different print audience with a broader focus, targeting magazine placements in Vogue, Elle and Harper’s.)
All of this sounds fine for national brands with many distribution channels and big marketing budgets, but what’s a cash-strapped independent to do? Many lingerie labels in that category, fueled by a DIY approach to entrepreneurship, try to manage their own PR with mixed results. But it’s possible to outsource professional PR on a budget, Fister insists.
“A lot of times people figure they can’t even talk to (us),” she said. “But we can provide different scopes of focus. I’d rather partner with you at the beginning and grow together with time.”
One of Bollare’s latest success stories involves one such partnership with the Canadian indie Fortnight Lingerie. Fortnight was a tiny one-person operation when it debuted three years ago, but when its first pro bono video went viral overnight, the young label was thrust into the international spotlight.
Staff from Bollare’s New York office sat down with Fortnight’s young team last year and realized “it was a real fashion brand for real fashion consumers,” Fister said. More importantly, it had a good story worth telling.
In Fortnight’s case, the company’s goal was to increase its presence among boutique retailers across North America. To achieve that, Bollare and Fortnight set out to boost the label’s profile among consumers by sharing its story through social media, outreach to bloggers and connecting with traditional fashion media.
“We have great relationships with strong retailers that understand and support our brand, but getting the retailer is not enough to have the sales of a brand grow,” Fortnight V-P Greg Denny told Lingerie Talk. “A brand must reach out to the customer on the floor who is buying the product. And the only way to accomplish that is to have product buzz outside of the store.”
“Bollare instantly understood our brand, and every day they reach out to publications and press about our product,” he added.
“Bollare has an entire team that works on Fortnight. They have a showroom where they’re able to expose our brand to the press with an upfront and tactile experience. They have an office in New York and L.A., and they have thousands of contacts and trusted relationships. This is something we could never acquire without them.”
Fortnight has earned coveted status as a press darling in a few short years. Its creations have enjoyed several plum magazine editorials in both Canada and the U.S. and, for such a small brand, Fortnight has built up a strong social media following that includes over 10,000 Facebook friends, 3,400 Instagram subscribers and 2,500 Pinterest followers. Here are some examples of how Fortnight’s story has captivated the fashion press:
After starting out as a “basement business” in 2010, Fortnight is now widely distributed in stores across North American, and widely admired by the fashion media for sleek, sporty, well-crafted designs. And some of its success is directly attributable to its decision to seek outside PR help, Denny said.
“The cost of working with a PR agency is a commitment, but well worth the return on investment,” he said. “I don’t actually think of Bollare as an outside company that we pay for PR. I think of Bollare as one of the departments within our company.”
Bollare offers three areas of PR support for lingerie brands: traditional media, digital media and celebrity placements.
Asked to sum up the basics of a successful PR strategy, Fister offered this simple formula: “Be definiitive about what your goals are, find someone with niche expertise in that space, and work with them relentlessly to achieve that goal.”