Payless picks GCI to push fashion image

TOPEKA, KS: Payless ShoeSource has picked GCI Group as its PR agency of record as it tries to develop a more fashionable image for its shoes.

TOPEKA, KS: Payless ShoeSource has picked GCI Group as its PR agency of record as it tries to develop a more fashionable image for its shoes.

"Payless is going through a repositioning," explained Mardi Larson, head of Payless' PR operations.

A survey the company commissioned in 2000 found that consumers want more fashionable shoes at the low price points Payless offers. In the past, Payless had routinely watched new shoe trends and brought out comparable styles in the off season, or sometimes even a year after they'd appeared in more upscale venues.

Now, "we're refocusing the company on fashion," said Larson. Payless is coming out with more fashionable shoes sooner, and recently hired Star Jones, a co-host of ABC's The View, as its spokesperson to give the brand more cachet.

Last year, Payless increased PR efforts aimed at the fashion press, and "we knew we wanted to take the project further," Larson said.

The company spoke with three New York-based PR firms about becoming its agency of record, believing New York shops had the key contacts the company needed in the New York-based fashion media.

GCI won the assignment because the work it did for Sony Ericsson, in which the agency positioned Sony's phones as fashion accessories, impressed Payless, Larson said.

The agency has put a four-person team on the account, said Melissa Karp, a group VP in GCI's consumer marketing practice.

Payless is spending $60 million on its overall marketing efforts to reposition the chain, Larson said. That figure includes PR as well as print and TV advertising. She wouldn't break out PR spending.

GCI has already helped Payless stage its first-ever showroom event for editors.

"The strategy is to put Payless in venues that are fashion-oriented, to immerse Payless in a high-fashion environment," said Karp. "It's really an education effort, and that education starts with the media."

Since fashion magazines typically have long lead times for pitching stories, GCI is continuing to reach out to fashion editors despite the ongoing war in Iraq, Karp explained.

For its fiscal year ended February 1, Payless reported net earnings of $105.8 million, compared to $45.4 million in the prior year. The company opted to close 93 underperforming stores last year.

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