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Show Me The Pretty: Fashion PR with Madras 641

smtp-logo1The indie fashion PR component to top fashion PR blog PR Couture, Show Me The Pretty features 5-question interviews with hand-selected indie fashion labels. PR Couture shares the pretty and then turns it back to the designers to ask questions and get advice and feedback about their own fashion PR strategy from a variety of industry experts. Sound like fun? Email info[at]prcouture.com for more information.

 

Madras 641
Madras 641

 

First up is Madras641 with Ina, Marketing Director, answering and asking the questions! M641 is a blend of feminine and sexy, rebellious and bold. The core of each collection includes tunics, blouses, dresses and button down shirts. To connect with Ina, comment on this post, follow @m641 on Twitter and send her an email at ina[at]madras641.com

M641 relies strongly on PR outreach and WOM rather than traditional advertising. Now that M641 has a few collections down, what has been most effective about this approach and what has been the most challenging?

Yes, the most effective aspect of WOM marketing is that you can really apply a personal touch to your message. We’ve been able to gain direct/immediate/personal feedback from end-customers by doing WOM. With all the social networks available, we’re able to really pinpoint our reach numbers vs. traditional advertising. PR outreach through social media has been especially successful. Each time we reach out with a message, it’s directed to our loyal followers. Another advantage we've found from PR outreach and WOM vs. general advertising is the ability to cross-promote…which we feel very strongly about continuing. One huge advantage of going about promotion the way M641 has, is that it’s totally free! We are building a reputation and an image from the ground up. While we see benefits of running ads eventually, right now it’s more about breaking into the market slow and steady. Another advantage of online marketing via social networks, photosphere, etc. is that unlike a paid ad - the message remains pretty static and is always there rather than only running for a period of time.

A big challenge of this marketing strategy is that we do not get our product out there for enough people to touch and feel. Initial penetration into the market is tough but once buyers see some positive PR and are sent a sample pieces…they generally tend to place an order or request more info.

Where is M641 headed?

We currently work with sales agents and are breaking into bigger wholesale arenas by attending trade shows and Market Weeks. However, our focus will remain smaller indie boutiques and online shopping sites.

 

M641 Brand Identity Box
M641 Brand Identity Box

In the M641 Identity Box, you explain and explore who the M641 girl as well as what the brand stands for. What was the creative process like in building out this persona/brand?

My partner and I really drew inspiration for this persona from our own unique and similar qualities. We are both work from home moms who, unfortunately, all too often find fashion a luxury. We personally cannot spend a fortune on clothing but love trends and having something special in our wardrobe that we can turn to for dressing up. The M641 gal encompasses those parts of us, which we know all women can relate to.

Quality clothing shouldn’t have to be super expensive. It should hold up well in the wash, stand out in a crowd and make us feel fabulous.

We wanted to create buzz worthy apparel. The hope is that when you wear M641 other people will be in awe that you’ve got something really distinctive and is thus coveted.

M641 is a fusion of South Asia meets common American style, can you explain how these disparate sources of inspiration show up in specific M641 garments?

A great example of our niche would be found in any of our button-down pieces. Our overall concept is that we take something as common as a great button-down American style shirt and sprinkle delicate, subtle, Indian touches to it. We know if something starts to look too ethnic that we’ve gone overboard. In any of our pieces you will find a little surprise, like a lurex stitching or an interesting tape trim. Our collections contain small subtleties which overall give a big pop of exoticism. We rely on trend forecasting but also incorporate a particular trend in our own way. Take for example the plaid trend for Fall/Winter ‘08...this was mixed up with foil paisley prints as done on our Bow-roque Blouse.

What has been your process for getting M641 into boutiques?

We are pretty discerning with whom we choose to work with. Being a lesser-known label it is tempting to want to be featured in boutiques that  carry well-known brands. But, we strongly believe that in order to be successful, the boutique customer must match the M641 product (remember her income, tastes, etc?) Therefore we pay close personal attention to our buyers. We have researched boutiques both in person and via the web. My partner and I set up time to make phone calls, offer our Look Books via email or regular mail and then follow-up to discuss order potential. Recently,  given our limited manpower and inability to travel consistently, we have started to work with a Sales Agent who goes around to particular territories and shows our samples. This is the “usual” method for apparel brands to tap into the market

Simple Innocence Dress, 2009 Summer Simpatico Collection
Simple Innocence Dress, 2009 Summer Simpatico Collection

Where can readers find M641?

M641 is carried in boutiques across the US. These are updated on a regular basis on our website: www.madras641.com on the Stockist page. If a reader were unable to find M641 in their area, I’d encourage them to contact us directly! We are happy to hear from end-customers and would be able to raise an invoice for a particular desired piece…if in inventory.

I love this idea that M641 is a fusion of friendship, between you and co-founder Subu, and fashion. What is it like working side by side with a great friend?

This is most rewarding! Subu actually had a dream to launch her own label and approached me with her idea of melding my Americanized style while taking into consideration and paying homage to her Indian heritage. I find that while brain-storming or strategizing, I often recall that initial conversation. There is a lot of time spent in corporate work doing team building in effort to get to know your colleagues. When working with a friend you are well aware of personality traits, likes and dislikes, which we have found is immensely helpful. Given that we are both mom’s to toddlers we cut each other slack (but only when absolutely necessary) and provide much needed support to each other. To be effective we hold regularly scheduled web-conference meetings and status review calls. We hold working sessions at each other’s homes several times a year and use this as opportunity to continue have fun together in the process! These working sessions  typically involve our husbands watching our little girls, while we go on inspirational journeys or simply sit together with our laptops making phone calls to customers…usually over some wonderful co-cooperatively made meal and a nice bottle of wine! ;-) Mostly, we encourage each other to not lose site of that initial dream and to hold our friendship most dear.

Fashion PR Tips*

Madras 641 asks...

Madras 641
Madras 641

The fashion industry relies less on the web and more on touch/feel and in-person sales. Many brands have a presence at trade shows. With Indie brands budgets are very low, often too low to have a proper presence at expos, not to mention budget to cover the travel expenses related to these events. How can indie brands leverage the web or other channels? Email often goes to spam filters. Editors are inundated. Buyers get pitches up the wazoo! Perhaps smaller emerging brands can help to shift the thought process of the fashion industry in this regard. How do we entice and give a comfort level to new wholesale buyers?

PR Couture says...

Trade Show- if you are unable to budget for trade shows, consider a site like FadMashion that connects emerging designers with retailers (we interviewed FadMashion a few months ago and love the concept.)

Fashion on the web- it is true that fashion has to be experienced and in this regard I think that incorporating video, lifestyle photography and developing websites that feature experiential content can help you stand out.

Media/Buyers- consider the challenges and needs of the wholesale buyer and create content and information on your site that speaks to this need. In terms of emails going to spam, working with a email marketing program like MyEmma or ConstantContact can help (check out this post to see how one fashion PR practitioner uses email marketing for sending out media pitches). Alternatively, you might consider starting a social media newsroom on your site with new updated through an RSS feed. In this way, editors can subscribe to your feed to stay updated on M641 news without using email.

Emerging brands should definitely embrace social media tools as they can be quite cost-effective. Try a well-shot virtual Look Book or a well-edited video inspiration & mood piece to attract the attention of both media and buyers. A little creativity goes a long way!- Dina Fierro, Fashion & Beauty Director, Attention PR

One of the strongest areas for indie brands to explore online is blogging.  Exclusive to the web, fashion blogs are influential in their own right, and their founders have the potential to escalate to heights of bona-fide fashion editors. Because many fashion bloggers are facing their own struggle (in this case to become as recognized as print and mainstream publications),the majority of fashion blogs place an emphasis on emerging talent. Simply put, blogs are a great place to harness the power of the internet to promote your wares to industry insiders and potential customers.  Dedicate a portion of your PR outreach to approaching blog owners, and increase your chance for pick-up by offering samples for review, and be easily available for interviews.  Many fashion labels also recognize the power of publishing their own blog to entice loyalty amongst customers. Content ideas include posting new stock previews, photo shoots, promotions and insights into the behind the scenes of running of their label.  When bloggers and independent designers joining force, it increases the strength of their collective voice within the fashion industry.  Joining this proactive community will raise your online profile and provide you with a good working knowledge of how to pitch effectively and exploit additional PR opportunities. - Sarah-Jane Adams, Fashion Editor, www.sarahjaneadams.com

 

Blooms of Envy Dress
Blooms of Envy Dress

How do we ensure our positioning is correct? We have always sold ourselves as a moderately priced, high-quality, and high-fashion brand. This is great in the current economic situation. However, price can have positive and negative psychological responses in buyers. How do we ensure the perception of the market is in line with or mission? When the economy picks up, cost of goods to produce will surely increase. So how do we re-position ourselves staying true to loyal customers in mainstream America—while staying loyal to ourselves, so as not to go out of business?

PR Couture says...

I don't think that high-quality for an affordable price ever goes out of style! If you do decide that you want to try a higher price point, consider doing a limited run of a "black label" line that is priced higher. Be clear in your PR messaging the reasons why these garments are priced higher.

What are your thoughts around commission based PR or a la carte services?

PR Couture says...

Madras641 already has so much going for it - lovely lifestyle photography, an active social media presence and great price point. If you want to continue to manage your presence and only need a bit of consulting or you realize you no longer have the time to do a ton of pro-active pitching, I could see it making sense to hire someone for their media relationships to just handle the publicity/product placement portion of your promotional strategy. That said, be very careful that the agency or practitioner is experienced in this area and secure they will be actively scouting opportunities for you.
additional ideas...

In my opinion, PR should be priced at an hourly rate of service. A la carte services are a great option if a company cannot afford a full PR retainer.- Sarah Essary, Freelance PR Consultant, ConsumingPR

I don't really believe in doing "per placement" PR. I work soooo hard for my clients in so many ways, that if we only based my value on secured media hits, it wouldn't be an appropriate correlation.  Media coverage will happen, but the "behind-the-scenes" prep work is considerable.  I don't think it would be fair for me to do all the work and just get paid per hit. Also, I'm not sure that you get the same level of service with commission-based services. Kate Sullivan, President, Kick PR

After personally experiencing both the commission based PR and a la carte services, I'm a true proponent of the commission based model. The commission based model forces your PR practitioner to chase opportunities and get results faster. I'm not preoccupied with counting hours, but rather working hard to generate results in a more timely fashion. Alyson Rybar, Program Manager, Stalwart Communications Marketing and PR

When is the right time for an emerging brand to seek the help of a PR firm?

Ideally, as soon as it is financially feasible. There is no need to enter into this blindly guided by what you think might work. Good PR agencies can help you with your positioning, your key messages and leverage existing media relationships to guide coverage. Great PR agencies see your brand as an extension of their own and will be an additional set of eyes and ears looking for opportunities and helping to discern which ones are worth taking!

additional ideas...

From the beginning. If a brand is "emerging" then it needs the boost of public relations to effectively climb the latter to recognition. -Sarah Essary, Freelance PR Consultant, ConsumingPR

The best time is in the beginning stages. This allows your PR firm to help develop a PR and marketing plan that helps to ensure the launch of the brand is executed correctly and early PR opportunities and brainstorming sessions can begin taking place. - Alyson Rybar, Program Manager, Stalwart Communications

When working with a PR firm, how can we ensure solid exposure? What can we do to help a PR consultant/firm?

Ms. Moxies Button Down
Ms. Moxie's Button Down

PR Couture says...

Past performance and passion are the two ingredients to consider. What have they done in the past and how much do they love and understand your brand? Speaking of love, I love that you are asking the question, how do we help PR. Share brand insight, be communicative, and easy to reach. Be ready to move quickly on a media opportunity and be willing to adjust based on PR recommendation. In addition, Melissa Davis of Ruby PR just wrote a great article for PR Couture that lists what you should consider when looking to hire a PR firm - check it out!

additional ideas...

To ensure solid exposure, it's vital to have 100% communication. If there's a new product launching or other pertinent brand information, it needs to be shared. Too often are things forgotten or sometimes the company doesn't believe it is important information when in actuality, it could potentially turn into a story. Be open with your PR firm and always keep them in the loop. The more information you share with them, the more opportunities they will have to gain you exposure. - Alyson Rybar, Program Manager, Stalwart CommunicationsPay-on-PerformanceSM Marketing and PR

 

The term 'indie' and is ready to blossom more mainstream, taking on representation will help remove the barriers you've reached independently.  If your business is still finding its feet and its brand identity, and you comfortable with the demand, wait until you are in a stronger position to call in the pros. - Sarah-Jane Adams, Fashion Editor, www.sarahjaneadams.com

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PR Couture is committed to sharing a variety of voices and opinions related to PR on our site. While we may not always agree 100% with our advisory panel's suggestions, we believe in the power of discussion and debate and recognize that there are many approaches to fashion PR and each one deserves it's due. Please consider leaving a comment with your own thoughts to continue the conversation. Or to put it another way, The opinions contained in this article are solely those of practitioners quoted and may not reflect the editorial opinions of PR Couture.

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Meet Crosby Noricks

Hi. I'm Crosby, the founder of PR Couture and a fashion brand strategist. I care about supporting and celebrating fashion publicists as well as helping rad companies connect with their audiences in more meaningful ways. Recently, iMedia included me in their annual list of 25 Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators, along with people from Starbucks, Twitter and Volkswagon, which I think is pretty neat. Like Elle Woods, I am a Gemini-vegetarian (that's about where the similarities end). Let's connect: Check out my full bio, Brand Elixer sessions or shoot me an electronic communiqué.