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NEW YORK — When Richard Dickson started at Jones Apparel Group Inc. as president and chief executive officer of branded businesses last February, he found what he called “a rich portfolio of brands” with plenty of opportunities.
Dickson’s newly created role as the shepherd of Jones’ brands — which include Jones New York, Nine West, Anne Klein and more recent additions like Stuart Weitzman, Robert Rodriguez and Rachel Roy — allows him to focus the divisions with a more structured form of brand management.
“We will be moving toward a more brand-centric way of approaching many of the most heroic brands in our portfolio,” Dickson said. “I work across all brands, but the most significant use of my time will be spent on what we call the flagship brands. For us, about 11 brands make up the majority of our business. I will be making sure they are centered around a new brand strategy that is all-encompassing, with a renewed spirit around design, creativity and how we leverage that asset into a really well-organized marketing and communication platform.”
The former Mattel Inc. executive, who did much to raise Barbie’s profile in recent years, and his team at Jones are starting with the flagship brand that gave the fashion conglomerate its name — Jones New York.
The better sportswear label is celebrating its 40th anniversary, and Jones executives have created a multifaceted branding platform to reinforce its core values while updating its image to attract a new generation of career women.
The Jones label was not immune to the challenges in the better arena, with shrinking real estate from an influx of fashion brands such as Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein white label and Michael Michael Kors. But Dickson said the brand, which has $800 million in retail sales, weathered the recession.
“We are incredibly pleased with the performance,” he said. “For the year, it has had nice single-digit growth, which, on a mature brand in challenging and uncertain times, is a reinforcement that we have a strong connection to our consumer, the right values and the right design. We think that, with the additional enhancements we are making in merchandising, design, visual, advertising and social media, we will continue to see more and more momentum.”
Stacy Lastrina, chief marketing officer at the Jones Apparel Group, echoed the sentiment. “There has been a convergence of many marketplace and consumer dynamics that align with the Jones brand legacy values,” she noted. “Brands that bring you authenticity and trust have been performing well. We are looking at how to optimize everything that is going on for us, and taking this brand to the next level. How do we crystallize what the brand stands for and really ensure another 40 years of success?”
The renewed brand platform is centered around the “Jones New York — Empowering your Confidence” mantra, and comes with several elements. It is kicking off with an advertising campaign that was unveiled on select light boxes at Grand Central Station this week, followed by placements in The New York Times, WWD and a run on Taxi TV, beginning Sept. 8.
Jones developed the campaign with Raul Martinez, founder and chief creative officer of AR New York. He said the mandate was to highlight the brand heritage and brand truths and celebrate them in a new way, so Annie Leibovitz shot a group of models as high-powered female executives at the iconic Midtown station. “[The Jones executives] started talking about empowerment and the American woman and how important celebrating that woman was, hence the campaign with Annie,” Martinez said. “It’s a way for Jones to be really proud of its heritage of dressing the American working woman, and it does so with a nod to its past in a contemporary way.
“Being authentic is so important,” Martinez added. “Consumers are looking for that to connect to something more than just a product or a piece. They need to connect to a brand that is larger than just what they’re buying.”
To that end, the campaign incorporates several elements that take the brand beyond the season’s new clothes. In the early stages of research, Jones executives closely studied “The Shriver Report: A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything,” a report by California First Lady Maria Shriver and the Center for American Progress, and Shriver’s quote “Women as Half of All Workers Changes Everything” struck a particular chord.
“We wanted this to not just be an ad campaign but to also give content that matters,” Lastrina said. “We called Maria Shriver’s office, and they liked what we were doing enough that they wanted to take part in the campaign. We integrated the quote and are sponsoring and linking to Maria Shriver’s conference and report.”
The Jones brand will also be featured at The Women’s Conference, which is hosted by Shriver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and will take place Oct. 24 to 26 in Long Beach, Calif. Jones will have an 800-square-foot “Jones New York Empower Your Style” booth selling pieces from the collection, and the brand’s resident fashion expert Lloyd Boston will be on-site offering makeovers. The temporary shop also unveils the brand’s new retail look, which resembles a top female executive’s office. Mannequins will be lined up to resemble working women, carrying briefcases and speaking into cell phones.
Jones New York’s Broadway showroom will be overhauled with the new visual identity in time for the September market, and Macy’s Herald Square will adopt the look in its 2,238-square-foot Jones shop-in-shop, replete with digital display tags that women can scan with their cell phones to upload inspirational videos from the campaign. The plan is to transform all shop-in-shops and Jones New York retail areas next year.
The brand is also putting together a “Little Black Book of Career Advice,” and has asked inspiring women, including Nora Ephron, Marlo Thomas, Arianna Huffington and Beverly Johnson, to offer their career wisdom. The book will only be available on jny.com, and the plan is to add a feature next year that will allow Jones customers to upload and share their own career stories and advice.
The site will also feature a dedicated suit section and a Lloyd Boston power-dressing video segment.
Meanwhile, Jones is hoping to further drive home its empowerment message by working closely with Dee Dee Myers, who was the first female White House press secretary and is the author of “Why Women Should Rule the World.” For instance, Myers is writing the foreword to the “Little Black Book of Career Advice”; she will be hosting a Jones New York power lunch next month, and contributing essays about empowerment to jny.com. She is also serving on the selection committee for the newly established Jones New York Empowerment Fund.
The emphasis isn’t only on marketing: The actual product is also a focus. Lastrina said there are plans to start a power suit collaboration with well-known designers, though she wouldn’t disclose details. The company is also updating silhouettes in suits and incorporating features such as inside pockets for iPhones and BlackBerrys.
“We are not walking away from being a lifestyle brand,” Susan Metzger, ceo of Jones’ women’s better sportswear division, said. “This [new branding platform] is resonating a modern tone, but behind it there is still the everlasting commitment to quality, fit and to her lifestyle.”
With the renewed branding kicking into full gear for the Jones label, Dickson and his team are already mulling the next big branding challenge for Jones Apparel Group, which had total revenues of $3.33 billion in 2009. Dickson declined to disclose details other than to say, “The size and volume would suggest Nine West. It’s a well-developed brand with an identity. It’s a business that is healthy and doing well. There is no better time to enhance and drive a brand than when it’s at it’s healthiest.”