April 20, 2024

You’re the Boss: Using Public Relations to Drive Demand

Jill Cartwright with baby gear.Courtesy of Go GagaJill Cartwright with baby gear.
She Owns It

Jill Cartwright hatched the idea for Go GaGa, an online retailer of bags used to tote everything from baby gear to camera equipment, while earning her M.B.A. at Babson. She graduated and started the company in 2007. That fall, she attended trade shows ABC Kids Expo, ENK Children’s Club, and New York International Gift Fair. She emerged with pre-orders and began producing her products, which she says are differentiated by an ergonomically safe strap, in January, 2008.

Ms. Cartwright, 38, learned quickly how to work effectively with the independently owned boutiques that began to carry her bags. “They have a high-touch sales model, walking customers though the store, explaining products, and introducing new brands,” she said. She met with store owners, provided training materials, and sent samples as gifts for staffers. “They all became our brand evangelists and made sure every person who asked about diaper bags saw ours,” she said.

In fall 2008, Amazon.com and eBags.com began to carry Go GaGa. In May 2009, the company landed its first national brick-and-mortar retailer, a chain she preferes not to name that ordered six of Go GaGa’s 18 S.K.U.s, all of which sell for $118. Last October, Ms. Cartwright began working with the chain’s buyer on an in-store video to help market the bags. Things seemed to be going well. But two weeks later, the buyer sent an e-mail that said the chain was dropping Go GaGa. “She said they needed to scale back,” said Ms. Cartwright.

With hindsight, Ms. Cartwright realized her high touch branding and sales strategy had been unsuited to a megaretailer. She said most chain stores don’t place salespeople in the section where Go GaGa’s bags are displayed. Customers, who tend to know what they want, don’t seek their input. This means the bags must sell themselves.

Two days after the disappointing news, Ms. Cartwright spoke to her former buyer. “I made sure to understand what we needed to do to get back on their shelves,” she said. The buyer urged Ms. Cartwright to expand her assortment, so she could generate volume sales, and to offer some bags at lower price points.

The goal, said the buyer, was to make sure people came into the store requesting Ms. Cartwright’s bags. To accomplish this, Go GaGa would need to employ a pull strategy, building its brand by drawing customers toward it, partly with effective social media use. Finally, the bags needed more eye-catching packaging to stand out on fifteen-foot-high shelves brimming with products in similar colors.

Ms. Cartwright, who held marketing and business development positions for companies including Capital One and Circuit City before attending Babson, said Go GaGa lost 30 percent of its sales when the chain dropped it, and finished 2009 with annual revenues of $134,000. Despite the financial setback, she decided to invest in a publicist to help build the brand, and new packaging.

She knew she needed someone with deep children’s industry contacts. “You’d be amazed at how many P.R. folks reached out to me saying that they wanted to get into the children’s industry,” she said. For example, one specialized in product placements for all sorts of goods, and wanted to add child-related items to her capabilities.

Ms. Cartwright had recently returned to ABC Kids Expo. While there, she met a freelance publicist and was impressed by her extensive experience in the industry, including a stint in-house for a brand that sells child-related products. The publicist, who began working with Go GaGa last December, also had connections across outlets, including television and magazines, in addition to product placement and social media experience. Although the publicist charged larger clients a monthly retainer of $5,000, Ms. Cartwright was able to negotiate a rate of less than half that amount.

The investment provided immediate results, said Ms. Cartwright. Go GaGa was soon featured on numerous parenting blogs, and in various parenting magazines. Daily Web traffic shot up an average of 30 percent. Retailer inquiries also increased — from about one every five to seven days in 2010, to about five per week this year.

Then Go GaGa struck gold. Thanks to the publicist’s contacts, the company was featured on The Ellen DeGeneres Show earlier this month. As a result, Go GaGa saw a 60-percent increase in its number of Facebook fans, and its Web traffic is up 1,500 percent. Although Ms. Cartwright knows the hits will taper off, she is confident that the boost to her brand’s credibility will endure.

For tips on improving her bags’ shelf visibility, Ms. Cartwright sought feedback from her retailers. Based on that, she replaced hangtags with wraps that encircle the product and provide more room to highlight the bags’ features.

Ms. Cartwright said she had 2010 revenue of $250,000 and is projecting 2011 revenue of $575,000 based on new distribution relationships with Babies R Us and Whole Foods Northeast. Go GaGa has also added distributors in Canada and the United Kingdom.

The brand may also be getting a boost from an unexpected source, said Ms. Cartwright, who came up with her company’s name before the rise of Lady GaGa. She liked the fact that gaga meant crazy because she had known many parents who felt that way as they lugged kid-related gear. She saw the reference to baby talk as a bonus, but not everyone agreed. Ms. Cartwright remembered one man who told her he loved her bags but would never buy one because of the name. Now, Ms. Cartwright said, GaGa has additional, more adult, connotations.

But that kind of publicity can’t be planned, or bought. When investing in the more traditional type, Ms. Cartwright said she has learned to view her publicist as a partner. “Don’t just hand over your catalog and say, ‘go,’” she said. She and her publicist have monthly brainstorming calls, and Ms. Cartwright often supplies leads. For example, she recently found a calendar that listed obscure women’s health awareness campaigns and shared it with her publicist to help with planning.

Next fall, the company will introduce three new bag styles priced from $80 to $110. Ms. Cartwright believes she’ll then be ready to reach out to the retailer that dropped her. “I plan to ask for a second chance,” she said.

You can follow Adriana Gardella on Twitter.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=a7053d47a36376d3c6c50aee24df42cd

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