In 2011, Justin Bieber gave Martine Reardon, then a senior marketing executive at Macy’s, a scare during his appearance at the Herald Square flagship to launch his fragrance.
“He was on top of the charts and we had young women sleeping outside Herald Square for three nights. They wanted to be the first to meet him,” Reardon recalled. “He was going to do a little wave-by and instead he decided to actually go outside into the crowd. Security guards didn’t know it. We didn’t know it. I had to literally pull him in by the neck so he didn’t get mauled by the women.”
Orchestrating celebrity collaborations and appearances and major merchandise campaigns, be it a Karl Lagerfeld capsule collection or an American promotion, has been a big part of Reardon’s job at Macy’s. Last May, in a brief and highly controlled appearance with no surprises, Lady Gaga unveiled her Love Bravery limited-edited collection done with her sister Natali Germanotta, Sir Elton John and designer Brandon Maxwell. Twenty-five percent of each purchase from the collection supports the Born This Way Foundation, championed by Gaga, and the Elton John AIDS Foundation. “That was a trifecta…It hit on all cylinders — fashion, celebrity and giving back,” Reardon said.
Macy’s has also staged launches with Martha Stewart, Tommy Hilfiger and Donald Trump, among others, and in January 2015 launched its Thalía Sodi collection with the first-ever Facebook collection launch via a live-stream fashion show. The show aired on Thalia’s Facebook page and was viewed by millions. Reardon met Justin Timberlake very early in his career when he was just starting out with ’Nsync. “We discovered them as they were up-and-coming and brought them to Macy’s for a back-to-school event, and then had them in our Thanksgiving Day Parade. Just a few months later they hit the Top 10 in the music charts and the rest is history. There is also something I worked on with him for this fall, so I jokingly said, ‘You are coming back home to your Macy’s family.’
“There are so many more…watching Jessica Simpson grow and become a mom and find her love Eric [Johnson], we were the first to launch Sean Combs’ brand at Macy’s and our continued relationship with him, meeting with Karl Lagerfeld in his office in Paris, Taylor Swift, Beyoncé and her mom Tina, and my close bond with Thalía.
“We’ve worked with a tremendous amount of celebrities. The challenge has always been to try to find a new way to launch a new brand,” said Reardon.
Last month, 54-year-old Reardon, a fixture at Macy’s for decades, serving as chief marketing officer since 2012, left the company. She was one of the retailer’s most visible and popular executives, ranked by Forbes in 2015 as eighth among the 50 most influential chief marketing officers. She was also inducted into the Mobile Hall of Fame by Mobile Commerce Daily, and she received a Matrix Award presented by New York Women in Communications.
Leaving Macy’s “was probably the hardest decision of my life,” Reardon told WWD.
Her departure happened within weeks of senior marketing executives also leaving Neiman Marcus, Chico’s, Kohl’s and Hudson’s Bay Co., suggesting the cmo slot had become a hot seat. Retail marketing positions can turn over rapidly in periods of weak traffic, with performance sometimes tied to the success or lack of success of seasonal campaigns and the ability to woo new customers.
But Reardon said her decision wasn’t due to the pressures in an increasingly challenging retail environment. Instead, she had longings for a lifestyle change. Board work, charitable causes, consulting and spending more time with friends and family are in her immediate future.
“It’s pretty simple. It’s been an amazing run — three decades of building this incredible brand. It was a privilege. I loved it,” Reardon said in an interview after leaving Macy’s.
Yet at the same time, “It was like a drug for me. It was hard for me to put some balance in my life. I couldn’t pull myself away. I devoted my life to Macy’s. It was my family, my child. Now it’s time to focus on me and relax. I have never really taken any significant time off. I have been working since I was 16. It’s really time to just think about Martine.”
Chief executive officers look for modern skill sets in their chief marketing officers as businesses rapidly evolve both their digital and in-store experiences and shift advertising to new media. Reardon, however, adapted. She was instrumental in transitioning Macy’s traditional bricks-and-mortar retail business into social media and the digital world, and early on she foresaw the rise of mobile shopping. She was involved in a wide range of activities, from getting Macy’s connected with location-based services like Shopkick, adopting QR codes, beacons, live-streaming, as well as leading macys.com, advertising, creative development, brand public relations, cause and tourism marketing, media planning and consumer insight efforts and data analysis.
She and her 1,300-person marketing team also supervised Macy’s big three signature events — the Thanksgiving Parade, Flower Show and Fourth of July Fireworks.
Reardon believes there’s room for a fourth mega-event and that Fashion’s Front Row, a cause-related fashion show for the masses held for the first time at The Theater at Madison Square Garden last September, could be it. “It is in motion. This is only year two and it’s going to be fantastic,” she said.
She stressed that she didn’t succumb to the pressures of the job, which certainly intensified as Macy’s and other retailers struggled through 2015.
“I would never use the word ‘pressure’ for the reason I left,” Reardon said firmly. “I have said many times that I had this dream job. Is there a responsibility to get results? Absolutely. I was a results-driven executive. If I didn’t have that responsibility, I would not have enjoyed the job as much.”
It did become more complex, with the proliferation of data, new technologies, new types of competition, shifting consumer shopping patterns that must be understood and Macy’s trying to capture more of the Millennial generation.
“The amount of research and data we used to make better decisions relating to the consumer has for the last two years escalated exponentially,” Reardon said. “The mobile device has almost been liberating for the consumer. Having that device in her hand, whether she is traveling on a subway or bus, or sitting in a doctor’s office, means she is always busy with something. We better be wherever she is and provide whatever she wants.
“I do think we need to differentiate ourselves a little more,” Reardon added. “The wonderful world of the Internet has given the customer the opportunity to shop anywhere she wants. We have to make sure the product is really differentiated and innovative.”
While Amazon is grabbing market share, Reardon said, “Everybody is a competitor, not just Amazon. But we have a huge advantage. We have 800 locations where we can personalize the experience for the consumer. It’s all about the product, being able to touch and feel it, to try it on, and all that surrounds the product, and then being able to get a bite to eat — that makes the experience really gratifying to the consumer. Amazon is just an online experience.”
Shopping, she observed, must be more entertaining, kind of like the way she remembers it growing up. “My mom was an avid shopper and very fashionable. She would take me to Abraham & Straus on Saturdays,” which, coincidentally, is where Reardon started her career, first as an intern and later in the executive training squad. “We’d spend the day shopping and eating lunch in the Garden Room on the fourth floor, and just having a great day…Creating an incredible experience is what’s going to make consumers use their discretionary spend in our stores.”