London Fashion Week: Followers of fashion

As the fashion circus arrives in London, John Owens explores how PR professionals can grab the spotlight for non-fashion brands.

Double act: Evian has sponsored On|Off during Fashion Week
Double act: Evian has sponsored On|Off during Fashion Week

The multi-million-pound fashion circus comes to town today. Long-limbed models will stalk the catwalk at London Fashion Week as an estimated 5,000 press and photographers capture the trends and names set to shape this year's fashions, from high-end boutique to high-street chain.

For clothing sponsors such as Topshop or Monsoon, it is not hard to see the appeal of being associated with such an event. But a growing number of non-fashion brands such as Canon, DHL and Mercedes-Benz are also lining up to create a brand association.

According to John Doe founder Rana Reeves, the benefits for such companies can be boiled down to one thing. 'Fashion and style are part of a language of credibility,' he says. 'It says something about your brand to be fashionable - people want you and people want to buy you. It's not about being cool, which is something transient. Credibility has depth.'

Car manufacturer Mercedes-Benz has sponsored the event since 2009. The brand's press and PR manager Debbie Hull says this involvement helps to 'sharpen the brand and make it more attractive, appealing and relevant to a younger target audience'.

So how do non-fashion brands go about making the most of the fashion spotlight?

 

THE RIGHT BRAND ASSOCIATION

The first rule of any sponsorship programme is to make sure there is a credible link between the brand and event. Figures within the industry warn against desperate attempts by brands that have nothing in common with London Fashion Week to score some short-term consumer PR points. Among notable 'misses' was a PR effort to push cleaning products by scrubbing the catwalks with them as part of the show.

Shine Communications MD Richard Brett says 'there has to be a natural link because you have to be able to articulate a story that is believable'.

Grazia's fashion editor-at-large Melanie Rickie also warns against companies believing they can simply throw money at an idea without understanding the fashion world and expecting it to work. She says if a brand is launching a product and just wants to bustle its way in, then it will fail.

It pays to do your research on an industry with its own set of practices, terminology and hierarchy, and in which gimmicks are quickly spotted.

 

THE OPPORTUNITIES

Media coverage of the six-day event is constant and frenetic, so it pays to be aware of the diverse array of promotional possibilities within the show.

Whether it is ensuring - as Evian does - that your water is drunk by luminaries such as US Vogue editor Anna Wintour on the front row at a Somerset House show, or aligning your brand with an off-beat party alongside an edgy designer, it pays to look into what best suits your brand and budget.

One route is to work with designers. Young designers - with some of the best coming through NEWGEN, a scheme launched in 1993 by the British Fashion Council to identify and help rising talent - have always looked to patrons.

Providing sponsorship for up-and-comers and developing a relationship can create a more powerful association; success stories lead to long standing links and wider industry credibility in the long run. Fashion respects loyalty.

Shine Communications' associate director Matthew White advises brands to work closely with designers for the best results. 'You need to work in collaboration. Then the story you build will be much more genuine, and the output you are going to get will be much more compelling for consumers,' he says.

More subtle methods can work too.

Grazia's Rickie praises Mercedes-Benz for the way it makes the lives of busy industry figures easier with cars and goodie bags full of treats, from peanuts to beauty products. This is something that can generate wider coverage than just slapping a logo everywhere: 'It's an indirect way of doing things but it creates a positive association.'

 

THE PLANNING

Plan ahead and be aware of the strict order of the catwalk calendar. The fashion run takes place twice a year. The womenswear spring/summer round begins in New York in September, then London, Milan and finally Paris in October. The autumn/winter round begins in New York in February and ends in Paris in March.

According to Reeves, it is best to launch a campaign promoting a product in line with this cycle. This means starting two weeks before New York so that the UK media have time to take notice before they head across the Atlantic.

When it comes to sponsoring parties or events during the week itself, he also warns against picking days and times pitting brands against the fashion big guns that might draw similar coverage.

Daniel Marks, director and partner at The Communications Store, recommends giving a sneak preview to those who matter: 'We offer the opportunity for editors to preview the collections we represent during the weeks before fashion week begins.'

 

THE SHOW

Once the planning is completed, it is time to perform. Brands should make sure they have done their homework to make the most of their access and content. 'Nothing beats knowing the key faces in the industry,' says Marks. 'Greet them by name and with a smile and show them to their seats.'

Do not focus solely on traditional media brands. In fashion especially, bloggers such as Susie Bubble hold great sway.

Ben Taylor looks after the VIP section for Vodafone, the show's principal sponsor. He says this sponsorship means that as well as having its logo displayed far and wide, it can 'offer our customers increased access'.

'London Fashion Week has traditionally been a closed shop, but we can give access to it and we are offering customers something they otherwise could not get,' he says.

At the end of the show, the tight schedule of the fashion calendar will kick in again, so get your content out quickly before the pack heads to Milan.

 

CASE STUDY: VAUXHALL

John Doe was asked to draw attention to and promote the Vauxhall Fashion Scout show, which involves fashion experts picking new designers and showcasing them.

To do this, it collaborated with designer James Small to create a three-minute film titled Wash ahead of London Fashion Week last autumn. It showcased Small's spring/summer 2012 collection, announcing Vauxhall Motors' patronage of the British designer and linking through to the car maker's fashion scout event.

Directed by Konstantinos Menelaou, the film starred Jaime Winstone and provided an exclusive look at the Vauxhall Astra GTC, inverting the stereotype of attractive women washing cars by placing men in the role. The video premiered on Vogue online, spreading out to both traditional and digital media.

Vauxhall then showcased Small on Menswear Day at the Vauxhall Fashion Scout show before hosting an after-party at the Corinthia Hotel. Among those in attendance were Kate Moss and Meg Matthews, generating more than 70 pieces of coverage, from Dazed Digital to the Daily Mirror.

 

CASE STUDY #2: MERCEDES-BENZ

To kick-start the Mercedes-Benz Concept A-Class activity during last September's London Fashion Week, the in-house team partnered with designer Giles Deacon to host an exclusive media reception following his catwalk show at the event.

The reception was held at Elms Lesters Painting Rooms in central London, immediately after the Giles catwalk show. The team transported VIP media and celebrities in a fleet of Mercedes-Benz cars. At the venue, the team created 3D projections, incorporating a reveal of the Concept A-Class, and a soundscape created by the DJ at the event.

The event attracted Kelly Brook, Jaime Winstone and Pixie Geldof, who had their photographs taken in front of a branded step.

This generated coverage on social media and in print, including in Grazia and OK, and online at Stylist.co.uk and Glamour.co.uk.

Mercedes-Benz then posted exclusive interviews, comment and film footage on its website.

 

THE DESIGNER'S VIEW - MARIOS SCHWAB

Marios Schwab worked with W Hotels and American Express to create a short documentary looking at what the future held for London fashion. It was launched during the capital's fashion week.

- How did you first team up with W Hotels/American Express?

The collaboration with W Hotels came through W Hotels' global fashion director Jenne Lombardo. She asked me to act as the 'London insider' for its new project to promote the rising visionaries in design and fashion.

- What attracted you to making the video?

The film was a way to make the project more personal. I could explain my reasons for choosing the designers I felt were names to watch on the London scene in a medium other than print. It was a fantastic tool to promote the project due to the trend of films being shared globally online.

- Why was it a good idea to launch it at London Fashion Week?

The launch date allowed a much wider platform for the rising stars, as it is a time when press and media are concentrated on new stories and developments in the fashion world.

- How do you feel about non-clothing brands associating with London Fashion Week?

As long as the collaborations are a good match in terms of company profiles, it is a very positive experience for all involved.

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