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Friday, Nov 26, 2010, 2:43 PM / France
The Parisian publicist, Gérald Cohen, has been communicating luxury for over 20 years and has introduced France (and often the rest of the world) to everything high-end from Éclaireur to Tod’s and Hugo Boss. More than a press agent, Cohen considers himself a storyteller and conduit of information. Today, he tells TribaSpace a few stories about patience, luxury versus quality, and the values of the future.
TribaSpace: What does it take to be a great publicist?
Gérald Cohen: One of my first clients, whom I’ve worked with for 20 years now, is Éclaireur, the very first Parisian concept store. We’ve worked together not only on the promotion in France and the rest of the world, but also on the promotion of numerous labels. We’ve told the story of these brands and their products to the press and to buyers. Twenty years later, we still do what publicists call “storytelling”.
My work is storytelling. Success comes when a publicist gains the confidence not only of the best journalists, but also of celebrities and the Parisian professional and artistic network. These people of influence eventually tell a [brand/label] story to the greatest number of people. For all these things to happen, you must select your clients carefully.
How did you get your start in the business?
About 20 years ago, Tod’s was a little business with 15 employees. Diego Della Valle, who had heard about my work with Éclaireur, asked me to communicate Tod’s in France, as well as Hogan, Fay and Aqua Di Parma. It took me two years—and a lot of patience— to convince the French journalists of the quality and unique style of these products. Then I went after the French celebrities with the same patience and discretion. We were the first agency in France to use this strategy. A year later, Tod’s became an absolute must. It takes about three years to build the foundation for a successful commercial future at the international level. And Tod’s success in France ensured its success in Italy, and in the American markets as well as in the UK, Germany and the rest of the world.
At the same time, I was doing similar work for Mandarina Duck, Malo Cashmere, Hugo Boss, Safilo, Ozwald Boateng, Superga, Cutler & Gross and now with Tumi, Mykita, Zadig & Voltaire—as well as with some slightly less haut de gamme labels like Geox and Sequoia.
What is your philosophy as a publicist? How do you choose your clients?
My work is to validate the brands, their products and their leaders by telling their story. Most often, a brand will contact me and I will chose to work with it because their leaders are charismatic and they have the capacity to develop their brand at an international level. I am totally confident about their products and I don’t give any fashion advice—except maybe on the matter of trends around colour or material. Above all, my work is communication. And I must always be on the lookout for new talents and new brands.
In your opinion, what is the difference between the different fashion capitals regarding public relations?
There really isn’t a difference in communication whether you’re in Paris, New York, Berlin, Delhi, Tokyo or Shanghai… You must always have an open mind. The important thing is to have good networks to distribute information—whether it’s people or the media. And you have to have a good strategy and the intelligence to know how to evolve or adapt it.
Do you have any new projects that are particularly exciting to you?
These days I’m working with many fashion and accessories brands and in-particular, with Myriam Schaefer, an independent stylist who has been designing the bags for Balenciaga for the past ten years. She’s also been collaborating with Tod’s, Pucci, Dior and Cavalli. Until recently, she was known only in very small, professional circles. My work is to put her in contact with fashion and accessories labels. It’s always about the same work: to validate her work and her talents—and to help her realise her objectives and her dreams.
What can a brand do to adapt to such rapidly changing market conditions? Do you have any advice?
Creativity and quality are the only values of the future. And in my work, we must seek constant renewal. To choose the media that we work with—the monthly magazines are no longer suited to meet the needs of the general public since they come out two to three months too late. The brands must be communicated principally in the daily and weekly press and on TV—and of course adapt to the incredible internet revolution and communicate not just with pictures and the written word, but with videos and with the attitude that really speaks to people under 30. One must make the most of these communication platforms.
Brands must also invent new ways to communicate in association with each other through doing events, charity support, sponsoring and co-branding. Brands should not hesitate to collaborate with other products and brands—and they should also be sensitive to the new eco-conscious attitudes of their consumers.
Websites will also evolve by becoming merchants and charging for some of the items they feature. They will sell not only the products, but also advertising to ensure their growth. These websites will become a strategic tool for brands, and the choice of merchant site is also part of the communication of the brand.
You promote high-end and luxury bands—how can a brand remain viable in this global economy with out sacrificing its value?
In the past 15 years, with the big luxury groups seizing control of the small houses, the luxury goods industry has become capitalistic—that is to say that they must control their production with factories in emerging countries, control distribution through point-of-sale, likewise multiply its profit margin by 8 or 15 and make huge investments in publicity in order to have a strong editorial presence.
Today, the general public is saturated with mass-produced logo products of poor quality whose communication is pervasive and monomaniacal. The very word, luxury, has been tarnished. New brands are launching products that are more creative and of better quality, and the word quality will soon replace luxury. However, the classic luxury brands—such as Tod’s, Chanel, Gucci, Bottega Veneta and Hermès, will continue to grow due to their quality of manufacturing.
The big diffusion lines such as Zara will continue to grow globally as the 3-week long retail cycles accelerate the consumption of fashion and information through the immediacy of the internet.
Fashion is a business of small traders: you just need a good product, the right price, and a nice story. You also need to have real creative talent and to work very hard.
Catherine Levy | TribaSpace
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