Wary of the conformity mass advertising brings, Canterbury is relying solely on PR for US push
"This is a 100-year-old brand that hasn't been bastardized yet," Colin Gillooly, MD of sales and marketing for North America at Canterbury of New Zealand, says proudly of the apparel company. And to ensure that doesn't ever happen, Gillooly says the company is relying solely on PR to help it establish a major US presence in the clothing industry.
Canterbury's history dates back to 1904 when it was making uniforms and clothes for the military and citizens in New Zealand. In the late 1920s, it began producing rugby uniforms, leading to the invention of the rugby jersey. It focused primarily on producing on-field products up until earlier this year, when it launched an off-field lifestyle line targeting 25- to 45-year-old men consisting of long- and short-sleeve rugby shirts for men and women, and pants. It still supplies uniforms for professional teams overseas and clothing for US club teams.
Gillooly says his 10-year history in the clothing industry has proved to him that PR is more effective than advertising.
"I actually don't personally believe in mass advertising," Gillooly says. "Our target market is pretty select, and what are the chances I'm going to reach that guy with a print ad in one magazine? That's why, to me, PR, product placement, and event marketing are much more effective."
The company's AOR is New York-based Brand Pimps & Media Whores (BPMW).
Hap Klopp, US CEO and co-owner of Canterbury and founder of The North Face apparel and equipment line, says PR is more in line with the personality of Canterbury than advertising.
"We're a bit of an underdog, if you will," Klopp says. "The big four sports that the Nikes and Adidases of the world are involved with are mainstream. That's not the customer we're going after; we're looking at one who's a little edgier and tends to disdain mass advertising. The analogy we use internally is: How many restaurants do you go to that are advertised? Not many because those are for the masses, not the niches."
Klopp says Canterbury is not focusing on demographics, but rather on a specific psychographic consumer interested in alternate products and forms of marketing.
"And of course PR... has a tendency to occupy a different space in their mind, and what we're trying to do is differentiate the company, and advertising has a tendency to homogenize it, making it like everybody else," Klopp says. "Using PR activities, guerrilla marketing events, and placement in films and with stars are ways to get trendsetters and taste arbiters to back you up."
Canterbury products have been featured in fashion layouts in Details, Cargo, FHM, GQ, New York, Time Out New York, Playboy, and Esquire. Along with targeting fashion editors with open houses and at trade shows, the company also reaches out to bloggers. "We show them the line, send catalogs, and they profile it," says Edina Sultanik, co-owner of BPMW. "If they request product, we send it to them, but most of the time, it's strictly editorial coverage."
Canterbury is working with a celebrity product-placement professional in LA.
Josh Duhamel of NBC's Las Vegas has been photographed wearing Canterbury, and Gillooly says a box of clothing has been sent to the cast of the HBO series Entourage.
"We're hoping to see them wear it on the show or in public," he says. "We launched a MySpace page four months ago, and more than half of the people who come to the site are true rugby players, and the rest are people interested in fashion. We've got about 1,000 friends so far." Canterbury provides product photos and information and media links on its MySpace page.
Sultanik says creating a sense of discovery is key when targeting influencers and tastemakers. Equally important is getting ink for the brand in their favorite magazines and blogs. She says coverage in any such space is far more effective than an ad because of the level of trust these consumers have in lifestyle bloggers and specific magazine editors.
"PR works for us because our consumer doesn't like to be dictated to," Sultanik says. "They like to feel they've discovered things on their own. So reading about a brand in their favorite blog or magazine keeps them in the know and makes that brand special because editors of their favorite outlets have deemed it good enough to write about."
Those blogs and titles include Slam X Hype, Hypebeast, GQ, Details, and FHM.
Gillooly says maintaining a hip and alternative image for the brand is the goal, but such a strategy poses some challenges.
"We're trying to keep it on an organic level, and there's a fine line you can walk when trying to do this kind of stuff," he says, "because you want to keep it aspirational and have a mystique about it, but at the same time, you also want to do business."
Canterbury launched its e-commerce site, canterburynzusa.com, in late August and hopes to have a freestanding store on each coast within the year.
AT A GLANCE
Canterbury of New Zealand
Joe Middleton, global CEO; Hap Klopp, US CEO
Revenues and Latest Earnings:
A privately held company, but reports earnings of $200 million globally
Rugby by Ralph Lauren and Lacoste
Key Trade Titles:
WWD, Sportswear International, and WGSN.com
Roughly 5% of global sales
Mostyn Thomas, global mktg. director; Colin Gillooly, MD of sales and marketing for North America
Marketing Services Agencies:
Brand Pimps & Media Whores, New York