For me, Karen Kane is one of those brands that I know, but I’m not sure exactly how I know, you know? If you’re in the same boat, here’s a quick rundown. Karen is an actual person, a fashion designer who launched her first collection in the late seventies out of her garage. The casual, California vibe caught the attention of specialty shops, department stores and eventually, big online retailers. These days, the company is family owned and run, with 85% of pieces produced in the United States. In addition to the Karen Kane lifestyle collection, Karen by Karen Kane and a plus size division, Karen Kane Women’s, Karen also launched celebrity friendly Fifteen-Twenty, whose silk dresses are worn by Eva Longoria, Jessica Biel and Carrie Underwood and Red23, a more casual, though still high-end line. Right now, Karen Kane is partnering with FIDM to offer a full-year scholarship.
Karen’s son Michael is Director of Marketing at Karen Kane, and was kind enough to provide insight into the PR and marketing strategy driving the brand’s ongoing evolution.
Karen Kane started more than thirty years ago. What role has public relations played in the growth of the brand and how have those strategies evolved in the last few years?
I joined Karen Kane in January 2011 after several years in entertainment and publicity. While the brand had grown on its own without much of a marketing or publicity plan, it was clear that growth had plateau-ed in the wake of new competitors with huge advertising campaigns & licensing agreements. So, my parents asked me about joining the company to help them build the brand’s social media platforms & general public awareness.
In the two years that have passed since that conversation, the brand has come a long way and developed a pretty extensive program to increase its public profile. Social media has been a major priority — especially Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest — as well as building relationships within the fashion blogging community, online style websites, and with our customers — both wholesale & retail.
We totally revamped our co-op advertising program, relaunched our website, partnered with some high-profile organizations (such as FIDM & the CFA), and re-focused our brand messaging. Since the “Made in USA” movement was picking up a lot of momentum, we decided that we wanted to be a leader in that field and really make sure our customers knew we manufactured over 90% of our collection domestically. Finally, we hired samantha slaven publicity to take over all of our publicity efforts and help us establish a relationship with the media. It’s been a great partnership.
What role does celebrity outreach play in your overall marketing efforts? Do you believe that celebrities are an integral part of growing brand awareness?
Karen Kane targets celebrities popular with our existing customer base, and will to continue to dress our favorite celebrities in 2013. Recently Trisha Yearwood has been spotted wearing the line, as have Carrie Ann Inaba and Emily Maynard. Celebrities can definitely help grow brand awareness, but we also feel our customer reads magazines and looks to blogs for fashion advice and suggestions.
Congrats on the recent product placement on Revenge – love that show. How do opportunities like that come about?
It’s always different. Sometimes the show’s stylist is a personal fan of our brand, and other times, Samantha reaches out and introduces them to us. It’s been really fun to watch our clothing pop up on a lot of our favorite shows.
How long have you had the Karen Kane blog and what role does it play in your content strategy?
We launched it in the middle of 2011, and then relaunched it in August 2012. It’s been an evolution figuring out what kind of content works best and trying to understand why. It’s a great platform to help us deliver longer messages and stories that are hard to tell in 140 characters or in a status update. While the readership is not as large as our other social media platforms, it is still an important part of our overall strategy. We’ve also used it to give a variety of perspectives on the brand — it’s written by 5 women who all have different roles at Karen Kane — retail merchandisers, sales executives, etc — so it’s a very different experience than following us on Facebook or Twitter.
How do you determine which fashion bloggers to work with?
For me, it’s normally a gut decision. I’d love to say that it’s a purely scientific approach, taking traffic statistic and social media metrics into account, but it’s a lot more than that. How strong is the photography? Is the content original and creative? How is the blogger’s personal sense of style? Is it consistent with the brand’s target market? All of those (as well as the traffic & social media stats) are factored into our partnerships. We love the blogging community and have really been inspired by its creativity. It’s exciting to see how it’s changing the fashion industry.
What is the Karen Kane & FIDM’s “Little Black Dress Challenge” and why did the brand decide to partner with FIDM in this way?
Karen graduated from FIDM before starting the brand, and has maintained a close relationship with the school since graduation. About a year and half ago, FIDM approached me about a potential partnership and we came up with the “Little Black Dress Challenge.” For 9 months, Karen mentored 11 Advanced Fashion Design students and gave them a project — to design their interpretation of the “perfect” black dress for the Karen Kane customer. They worked with Karen on brainstorming designs, developing the patterns, and fitting the samples…all of which led up to the dresses’ premiere on the runway at FIDM’s annual Debut Gala. Three students won the competition and their dresses were added to the Karen Kane Fall/Winter 2012 Collection. It was a great experience. One of my favorite moments was late last year when a student emailed me to tell me how amazing it felt to see their name on a hangtag in Macy’s for the first time. We couldn’t be happier with how the challenge turned out.
What trends or tools are informing your PR & marketing strategy for 2013?
Social media continues to be a major priority, but we’re also branching into building our in-store presence in much prominent ways. We’re developing a brand new shop-in-shop concept which we plan to roll out to stores late this year, as well as working with our retail partners’ publicity/marketing departments much more closely than we ever have. We’re also honing and focusing our celebrity seeding and outreach, continuing to work with top magazines such as Lucky, More, Oprah and Family Circle, and reaching out to scores of emerging and established fashion bloggers for coverage and outfit posts.
In your opinion, what makes a great fashion publicist?
For us, it’s key that our pr really understands the brand DNA, and support our current customer while also reaching new shoppers. We know our customers love seeing our products on the pages of Redbook, Family Circle, Woman’s World and More – and we have also reached new, younger shoppers via placements and pulls from InStyle, Lucky, Glamour, Shape, Refinery29 and poplar style blogs like Ramshackle Glam and Good Bad and Fab. Styling Emily Maynard on “The Bachelorette” and Carrie Ann Inaba on “Dancing with the Stars” also opened us up to a younger customer. Striking the right balance between supporting existing customers and reaching new ones has really been key for us.