James Gardner

James Gardner, ceo of the interactive agency createthe group, discusses social media and e-commerce during the downturn.

Interactive agency createthe group has a roster of clients that includes Balenciaga, Burberry, Gucci, Marc Jacobs and Stella McCartney. The agency is on the cutting edge with projects that combine e-commerce and social features, and recently has been busy with sites for St. John, Dunhill, Calvin Klein Jeans and CK One. As the firm turns five years old, chief executive officer James Gardner, who blogs at jamesgardner.tumblr.com, spoke with WWD about social media and e-commerce during the downturn.

WWD: Why the blog?
James Gardner: I personally have not embraced Facebook or Linkedin, but we’re doing a huge secret project, and I had to sort of immerse myself into it. And this new wave of microblogging — Twitter and Tumblr — really appealed to me because you’re publishing but you’re not asking for comments. I sort of don’t care what you think. The other thing I like about it is it’s bringing many of the elements we preach together. We shot this little video of the two of us [Gardner and co-founder and chief creative officer Tony King] playing around. This is the sort of thing we preach to clients: To get an emotional connection, it doesn’t have to be so curated and art directed. People respond to this kind of thing.

This story first appeared in the April 8, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

WWD: Do you post all the content yourself?
J.G.: Yes.

WWD: How much time does it take?
J.G.: Probably 10 minutes here and there, maybe up to half an hour a day.

WWD: What topics do you cover?
J.G.: Art, fashion, luxury and lifestyle. I’m looking for things that are setting standards and people who are doing things differently. Adam Kimmel is a great up-and-coming men’s wear designer who took a great approach to getting attention without doing a show. His look book includes Ryan McGinley and they shot a great video of skateboarders.

WWD: You like Twitter?
J.G.: I’m obsessed with it, absolutely obsessed. Ceo’s are very sound-bite- and headline-focused, so Twitter is great. I follow about 37 people, including WWD, friends and others. Last night I was at an event and Björk arrived and I typed “Björk just arrived and we love her.” It’s fun and it immediately posts through to our Web site, too. It makes the whole thing feel more multidimensional and modern.

WWD: Have you noticed any change in the e-commerce world since the financial meltdown?
J.G.: Yes. Now e-commerce is a top priority of almost all the brands and ceo’s we’re working with. It’s seen as a channel that helps them weather this storm. People right now are more comfortable shopping online than in the store. It doesn’t feel right to go to Bergdorf’s and be seen leaving with bags. Growth has slowed, but it’s still growing. It’s a huge priority for our clients. Either they already have it and they’re really focused on how to increase traffic and conversion rates and aggressively push the channel, or when they do not have it, they are putting a plan in place to implement it very quickly.

WWD: Is Marc Jacobs planning to do e-commerce?
J.G.: No comment right now.

WWD: Who is positioned to do well and what should retailers be doing?
J.G.: The brands that are positioned to do well are those that have e-commerce and have flexibility to evolve. Retailers should focus on driving traffic and keeping the site dynamic and engaging. It needs to create desire and demand more than ever. The client needs to be romanced because the client is saying ‘I have the money but I’m not spending.’ Brands that focus on having e-commerce, and that have an experience online that is driving commerce, are in the best position to succeed.

WWD: Has anyone cut their e-commerce budget?
J.G.: I think some have cut their marketing budget.

WWD: eLuxury is no longer doing e-commerce.
J.G.: I can’t comment on that right now.

WWD: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
J.G.: We’re in the best environment for everyone to be more innovative. It’s a challenging but a very exciting time.