In the cutthroat world of e-commerce, Bluefly.com had carved out a niche as an online clothing discounter.
But the company found itself burdened by its image as a retailer of low-priced dresses, handbags, and other goods, even after a shift in focus made Bluefly a far more fashionable destination.
CEO Melissa Payner realized the company needed to educate the media and the public about its new direction.
"We really had more of an IR focus before and didn't really concentrate on consumer PR at all," she explains. "But we didn't just want to hand things over to an agency and say, 'See where you can get us.' We needed to know that they understood our strategy, understood where we were coming from, and understood where we were going."
After a lengthy search, Bluefly selected RLM Public Relations and gave it the task of positioning the site as a must-visit cyber location for the fashion conscious.
RLM president Richard Laermer says an initial study found that most reporters were familiar with Bluefly, but hadn't yet noticed the change in focus.
"We had to explain to them that the site had turned into something that was sassy, keen, and always fashionable," he says. "We had to position [Bluefly] strictly as a lifestyle brand, but one that had discounts for its regular users that made it almost like a private club that anyone could join."
RLM quickly realized the key to that repositioning was to give the site a public face, so it approached Payner about taking a higher profile.
"I generally enjoy focusing on the work of running the company, but I agreed we needed one voice," Payner says. "So the convincing was that it would be worth it for me to spend a lot more time out there talking about the business."
RLM began by overhauling all of the company's background material.
"Everything was brand-new, including the media kit," Laermer explains, adding that one goal was to develop content that could be pitched to a variety of media. "When Bluefly launched its blog, FlyPaper, we were able to notify tech and web reporters to let them know that, if they were doing anything about consumer blogs, they needed to include this site."
Laermer also targeted the growing number of shopping reporters, including New York Times columnist Michelle Slatalla, who ended up doing an entire page, complete with an interview with Payner, on the changes at Bluefly.
"That story ended up getting us calls from a bunch of regional morning shows, such as Good Day New York," Laermer says.
The repositioning effort generated coverage from a variety of outlets, including The Boston Globe, USA Today, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and eventually six stories in The New York Times. Bluefly was also featured in such lifestyle outlets as Details, CosmoGirl, and even on ESPN.
More important, Bluefly reported a 26.7% rise in revenues during the first three months of the campaign, and new customers rose by 16% to 29,561.
"We had a lot going on simultaneously, including our first ad campaign," says Payner. "But RLM definitely pushed to get us out there, and it all combined to have an impact on our sales growth and a dramatic increase in our site traffic."
Bluefly continues to use RLM, and the agency is expanding its media outreach to other parts of the country.
"We're starting to do more press on the West Coast because it has a different fashion sensibility and look, and we want to get some celebrity users on the site," says Laermer.
PR team: Bluefly.com and RLM Public Relations (both New York)
Campaign: Bluefly Repositioning Campaign
Time frame: April to October 2005