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Front Row Fashion PR: Q&A with Kenneth Loo, Kenwerks

Creative marketing agency Kenwerks is known for expertise in branding, creative marketing, event production, and public relations, particularly among fashion brands looking for assistance through a brand transition or evolution. Founder Kenneth Loo has worked the fashion gamut as Entertainment Marketing Manager for Ben Sherman and Director of Turner PR's Los Angeles office, in addition to Dolce & Gabanna and CondeNast.

Inspired by a credo of doing things differently from the traditional PR agency approach, this free-thinking, energetic firm has built a solid foundation of clients looking to explore the fashion PR frontier with Ken and his team at the helm.  As stated, the agency runs "on a cocktail of fashion, entertainment, art, music, and film" and recently brought on MR‘s former fashion director John Jones as Vice President and to head up the New York office.

What is your background. How did Kenwerks come to be?

I called it Kenwerks because no one believes I work. I always look like I'm having so much fun.

I started Kenwerks coming on five years ago after working for over 14 years in the fashion industry and suffering from a bit of “job attention deficit disorder.” With no formal marketing experience and an extreme amount of trial and error, I’ve served as a marketing director on all sides of the fashion spectrum. My experience ranges from well known brands like Ben Sherman, Blue Marlin, and Dolce & Gabanna to agency experience at Turner PR and Q Media to media powerhouses like Time Inc. and CondeNast. Then throw in a stretch as Director of Operations and Marketing at LASC (Los Angeles’ biggest men’s clothing store) which re-invented everything I knew about marketing.

I’ve always been a believer that PR is just part of the marketing work that is needed to make an amazing fashion brand successful. The idea of my company being just another PR Firm wasn't enough for me. I started Kenwerks with one client, who is still with us today, and set out to carve a niche in the industry and soon became a resource for many leading companies.

What are some of the projects/clients you are currently working on?

We like to keep the roster very manageable. I know there are a lot of agencies that handle 28 brands to spread the risk, but we offer a deeper service for clients that makes that  impossible. We have been blessed to work with such great brands including Koolaburra, Rodd & Gunn, Bugatchi, Motel Rocks, Baskit, Piper Gore, Kappa, K-Swiss Palladium, and now Mavi. We work on good mix of projects for these brands covering full-scale representation to focused campaigns that have been game-changers each of them.

What makes Kenwerks different from other agencies?

At its core Kenwerks is a brand management and creative marketing firm. We handle PR as part of the paradigm of services we offer, but our specialty is being a one-stop shop for brands looking to launch or re-invent in this market. We have built a strong business on recommendations and for being a resource for significant transitions that some brands need.

The truth is each brand has a different formula and it’s our goal to find that recipe for success.

One of our bigger differentiators is we handle everything in the transition and never leave a client scrambling. It starts with a brand audit that manifest into a new brand strategy. This becomes the blueprint for not only our work but for the long-term direction of the company. Then we apply it to everything we do: photo shoots, press engagement, blogger relations, entertainment placements and loads of fun events. We are very creative about our marketing efforts, stretch budgets of all sizes and work hand in hand with all team members.  In some cases we apply a celebrity following mixed with strong visual elements, other times it can brand building editorial mixed with a solid music initiative. You want to give customers a lot to emotionally connect to in today’s busy world. One-sided marketing is a thing of the past.

ASHLEY TISDALE IN MOTEL ROCKS JACKET

Ashley Tisdale in Motel Rocks Jacket

How do you measure success?

Kenwerks is a success beyond my greatest expectations. For me to transform myself, our team and the work we do into a brand of it’s own that clients gravitate towards is an amazing task, especially considering the economy in which we started it in. Part of what it takes today to have a great brand is to inspire people to be part of it. That inspiration drives brands to be better, market their concepts clearly and empower their employees to work hard for a reason. Our two biggest successes is having clients and the industry continuously recommend us and attracting the most passionate marketing experts to work with us.

What are some of the ongoing PR challenges faced by your clients in the current marketplace?

Hands down everyone’s biggest ongoing challenge is focused communication with audiences. That audience extends beyond customers to employees, partners and even designers. When you are dealing with brands in transition; it’s hard not to put out mixed messages. You really want to stay on brand through thick and thin. You want to make sure your team is preaching the same gospel and most importantly, DO IT RIGHT, or don’t do it at all.

What are three common missed opportunities for fashion brands?

1. Knowing Themselves: Brand strategies should be evolving pieces that grow as the brand develops. That evolution should always follow a very consistent “why”. Know what inspires people to be part of your brand and they will be loyal followers.
2. Not Making it Memorable: I recently went to a press event for a well-known, mass-market underwear brand that was an 8 model runway show in an art gallery with the designer explaining each style. What a missed opportunity to do something cool. Listen, I know that you are a mass-market brand, but in a time when attention spans are low to begin with – forget about getting the attention of the press – you need to stand out in everything you do.
3. Connect all the dots with your brand: Make sure that anything you for marketing has a product, viral, collateral, social network, event, and press component. It should all work together like a nice package.

What types of partnerships or opportunities get you excited these days?

Memorable brand experiences that get people talking. I have seen some amazing brand moments lately and with the ever-expanding social network we wrap ourselves in. [It's great when]you have also experienced it through a connection with an online friend. Successful branded interactions are ones people talk about on Facebook; take photos of for Instagram and “Power Tweet” while attending.

Today brands need to do more then just have a party that Katy Perry performs at, Paris Hilton attends and US Weekly covers. It needs to go deep and the experience has to be intelligent.

Top of my recent list are: Everything having to do with the re-election of President Obama (they pretty much invented well-designed Facebook images that everyone wants to share which is know a requirement); Sailor Jerry Rums backstage tattoo parlors at music festivals across the USA; Lacoste Live and Guess Hotel at this year’s Coachella; and one of my personal favorites New York Marathon sponsor Asiac’s awesome multi-media subway tunnel presentation in Columbus Circle – I think someone shares images from it with me weekly.

How have you seen fashion marketing evolve since you started in the industry?

The industry is skewing, across the board, to a younger age demographic. Today the holy grail of customers is aged between 16-25. They are vocal, smarter and more connected than any other generation. Some experts talk about these Millennials like they are a bad thing: impossible to
control, fickle, and constantly distracted. But they are truly powerful when it comes to recognizing authenticity and even quicker to let everyone know it. Facebook was a game changer for marketing. I've imagined it as this: If the brand is the "house" then Facebook is the "backyard." Facebook offers a community-generating platform that has becomes a place where you can hang out and yet still feel like you're home. Thus this makes Twitter the phone, Instagram the TV and so forth. Kids go to concerts today not to enjoy the experience, but to capture content they can upload to their platforms. It’s their badge of honor. I would expect that the next major marketing trend will be to harness all customer interactions under a unified branded experience.

It’s going to be tough. We are all still trying to figure out how to achieve this and make it look organic. One major issue impeding this is it’s challenging to harness so many platforms while simultaneously motivating people to act monetarily through social networks, but I should stop
here. I feel like I could write a thesis on the topic.

Final thoughts?

I do want to say, that I am honored to answer these questions on PR Couture. This site is such a valuable resource to fashion brands searching for the right solutions. If I could offer a bit of advice for those in search of a PR partner in this effort…meet everyone. I have a policy of taking a meeting with everyone who requests it. Part of it is I’m fascinated by fashion and the role marketing plays in it. But, mostly, I’m a fan of people who seek to come into our world with new ideas. Fashion is by far and away the most interesting industry in the world. It’s part illusion and part business, but it the end it is something we all share a passion for.

About the author: Crosby


Known as the "fashion publicist's most powerful accessory," (SD-UT) and the "West Coast 'It' girl of fashion PR," (YFS Magazine) Crosby Noricks is a brand strategist, author and founder of PR Couture. Crosby was included in the iMedia 25 Class of 2012 Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators, and enjoys helping fashion and lifestyle brands connect with their audiences in meaningful and creative ways.

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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 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 a note.