By  on May 31, 2006

LONDON — Just how peculiar a beast is a luxury goods company?

The founders of Provenance, a new agency here aimed at helping luxury brands prosper, would argue that these companies have special needs — with their small ad budgets and particularly savvy clientele — and that those needs are not properly met by traditional ad agencies or public relations firms.

"Luxury is competing across a variety of sectors nowadays. Aston Martin competes in the automobile and the luxury market, for example," said Suki Larson, chief executive officer of Provenance, and a former consultant at McKinsey & Co., where her clients ranged from Johnson & Johnson to Christie's and Condé Nast (parent of WWD). "The challenge is how to grow the brand without becoming what Pierre Cardin was in the Seventies and Eighties," she added, referring to the overextension of Cardin.

While relatively few ad agencies in the U.K. have specialized in luxury brands, a handful, including Provenance, have recently entered the field, observed Francesca Newland, editor at Campaign magazine, which covers marketing and advertising. "However, this year has seen two other London agencies, Leo Burnett and Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy, open luxury/p.r. divisions, so it is a growing trend," Newland observed. "I believe it has come about because traditional revenue streams for advertising agencies are less robust than they once were, so some agencies are looking into new areas for growth."

Provenance's approach to brands is holistic, and takes into account luxury companies' limited budgets, compared with those of, say, Toyota or Coca-Cola. "The solution for luxury brands is never one-size-fits-all, and it's not necessarily a print or TV ad," Larson related. "It might be a new logo or new packaging. For some brands, customers may even be best reached through viral marketing."

Founded in February, Provenance counts among its clients Coutts, the exclusive bank that serves Britain's royal family; RF Hotels, the group founded by Sir Rocco Forte; and the Prince's Charities, run by Prince Charles. The luxury marketing agency was formed as a division of M&C Saatchi plc, the publicly traded parent of the London international ad agency M&C Saatchi and Talk PR.

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