Rebranding registers 'big' impact

After buying Casual Male Retail Group's (CMRG) assets out of bankruptcy in 2002, David Levin (above), who became CEO, devised a three-year turnaround plan to establish the company as the leader in the specialty men's big and tall space.

After buying Casual Male Retail Group's (CMRG) assets out of bankruptcy in 2002, David Levin (above), who became CEO, devised a three-year turnaround plan to establish the company as the leader in the specialty men's big and tall space.

"It was a company leveled in obscurity and coming out of bankruptcy," says Billee Howard, EVP and MD of Weber Shandwick's global strategic media group. "They [wanted] to take it to the next level by leveraging PR strategically."

Success would hinge on rebranding and changing ideas about what it meant to need large clothing.

Strategy

CMRG hired WS to communicate the turnaround and rebranding to Wall Street and consumers.

"The original PR strategy was to elevate awareness and to tell the turnaround story to investors and Wall Street," says Ric Della Bernarda, CMRG SVP of marketing. "We saw [that] rebranding could add more success."

The idea was that shaping positive perceptions of the big and tall category could enhance CMRG's reputation, as well as boost business, valuation, and stock price.

Howard says "consumer-driven innovation" was vital. Customer surveys and focus groups found that "big and tall" was believed to be a euphemism for fat. The company needed to be seen as a provider of fashionable, designer clothing for large men. Most customers believed a new logo, Casual Male XL, was "upscale," of "higher quality," and made them feel "more like an athlete."

"To be taken seriously, we could not be seen [as] exploiting an obese population" Howard says. "Strategic massaging of the message in talking about meeting the needs of this population was the brilliance of using PR."

Tactics

The national business media, retail industry trades, and Wall Street analysts were targeted. Levin spoke to reporters about the rebranding, the redefinition of "big and tall," and the continued successful turnaround.

The agency also positioned the company as a leader that could provide commentary and analysis of retail industry news.

Fashion shows on local news stations occurred in tandem with national efforts and helped increase local market brand penetration and build store traffic.

"PR generates millions of impressions," Della Bernarda notes. "It's almost more valuable than ad dollars because it's a more believable medium."

Results

Stores magazine recently ranked CMRG as the number one company in terms of earnings growth from 2004 to 2005. The company's stock has risen 26% since the beginning of this year, and total sales increased 24% during the first half of the company's fiscal year 2006.

Print coverage has included The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, USA Today, and The New York Times.

In addition, a fashion show on the Fox affiliate in Memphis, TN, fueled a one-week 20% sales boost in Tennessee. Similar segments in Charlotte, NC, and Chicago also showed double-digit sales spikes for the week.

Future

The agency will position Levin as an industry leader in "customer- driven innovation" and will tout new developments in customization and personalization.

"We will keep pushing the envelope to be seen as a leader in big and tall men's retail [and] in retail overall," Howard says.

PRWeek's view

This was a potential Catch-22. To communicate a turnaround story to financial media and analysts, CMRG first would need satisfied customers to help facilitate the turnaround.

Delving into customer perception was the right thing to do as it uncovered that the brand was actually fueling negative self-images. Delivering recalibrated messaging about what it means to be "big and tall" via PR effectively created positive media coverage, increased positive resonance with customers, drove sales, and increased valuation.

By demonstrating sensitivity, CMRG was able to win leadership positioning.

PR team: Casual Male Retail Group (Canton, MA) and Weber Shandwick (New York)

Campaign: XLence in redefining big and tall

Duration: 2004-ongoing

Budget: $300,000

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