How to Make PR Work for Your Luxury Brand
Whatever luxury product or service you offer – whether its travel, jewellery, cosmetics, hotels or fashion – the luxury sector is extremely competitive.
It’s a thriving industry, which is great for the economy. But with so many high-end brands vying for attention, how can you push yours front and centre stage?
Making PR work for your luxury brand is crucial. Traditional marketing techniques are no longer effective, especially with a millennial audience which no longer reads magazines or watches TV. This audience is more discerning too and looks to luxury brands to provide an authentic experience with real storytelling.
The power of luxury brand PR
We know the luxury buying customer is hard to attract and even harder to keep. So luxury brand public relations is key to engaging a luxury-loving audience that stays loyal to the brand through a lifetime.
So what techniques should brands be using as part of a creative PR strategy? Storytelling, celebrity endorsements, building a community through social media, influencer marketing, and exclusivity.
Let’s look at each of these areas in turn.
Tell your brand story
Every brand has a past and an interesting story to tell about the company’s beginnings and the people involved. In the luxury sector this is particularly important as brands need to connect with their audience in a way that’s authentic, transparent and human. In fact, millennial buyers demand it.
The most successful luxury brands are those that are good at telling richly detailed stories that resonate. Stories about how the product was constructed and the care and attention taken always garner interest. Or the quality and the rarity of the materials – and the provenance of those materials – all make for a good PR story. And from a media relations point of view, a luxury PR pitch showing the creative process and the materials used is more likely to secure media coverage than a straightforward pitch to journalists about a new luxury product or service.
Discerning customers of luxury goods want to know about the creative talents behind a brand too and whether they share similar ethical beliefs. This is particularly true of designers at some of the world’s leading fashion houses. It’s not enough that the clothes or handbags are beautiful. How they are made and who they are made by is just as important for luxury-buying customers.
Burberry and Chanel
A textbook example of powerful brand storytelling is Burberry. Founded by 21-year-old Thomas Burberry in 1856, the brand built its name during the second half of the 19th Century, when it started producing high-quality outerwear that became a staple in the British military. In fact, during WWI, Burberry’s first incarnation of the beloved trench coat was issued to every officer in the Army. Burberry’s story has given the brand its charisma and reputed quality.
Or how about Chanel’s brand story? Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel is a classic rags-to-riches story. Abandoned in an orphanage, she grew up to open her first store at the tender age of 21, and then changed the fashion landscape forever with her draped jersey fabric and the ubiquitous Chanel suit. Despite the founder’s death in 1971, her name is still used as part of the brand’s story and she is still often quoted: “luxury must be comfortable, otherwise it is not luxury.”
One of the world’s earliest endorsements was in the 1760s when Josiah Wedgwood of pottery and chinaware fame used the company’s royal endorsements as a PR tool to promote its products.
While watchmaker Omega is able to publicise the fact that it’s the only wristwatch to have withstood rigorous testing by NASA and is ‘flight-qualified for all manned space missions’. How’s that for an endorsement? While many of Omega’s competitors can claim similar values of prestige and premium quality, none can claim such a high-level of distinction.
The celebrity endorsement has been a natural fit for luxury brands over the years. Oscar-winning actresses like Kate Winslet, Nicole Kidman, Charlize Theron and Natalie Portman have all had long associations with luxury brands. Winslet with watchmaker Longines, Kidman with Chanel, and Theron and Portman with Dior.
Some luxury brands are opting for less obvious celebrities to be brand ambassadors in the hope of engaging millennials. While they may not have the money to afford luxury products right now, they aspire to buy the brand at some point in the future. But for these celebrities, it’s not a question of turning up at the studio and having your photograph taken with the product. These days the celebrity endorsement is less endorsement and more a full-on collaboration, with contributions to worthy causes as part of the deal. Today’s celebs are part of the creative process. And that’s a good PR story.
What luxury brands are getting celebrity endorsements right?
All-round talent Pharrell Williams (singer, producer, writer, entrepreneur and fashion designer) works with Chanel as one of the brand’s few male ambassadors. He collaborated with the late Karl Lagerfeld on a pair of sought-after trainers, starred in an ad for the collectible Gabrielle Chanel handbag and also worked on the brand’s first unisex capsule collection.
Singing superstar Beyoncé worked with luxury brand Balmain’s designer Olivier Rousteing to produce her outfits for her appearance at music festival Coachella. She also worked with the brand on a Balmain x Beyoncé collection, with all proceeds from the collaboration going towards the United Negro College Fund.
Another singing megastar, Rihanna was the first woman to work with luxury behemoth LVMH to create an original brand. Consequently, LVMH saw a significant rise in engagement with the millennial market.
Build a community though social media
When so much of the luxury brand experience is based on the quiet and attentive customer service received in-store, using 24/7 social media to build a following seems counter-intuitive. But social should be an integral part of any PR strategy for luxury brands and it’s essential that brands embrace the power of social, especially platforms like Instagram. Social media gives luxury brands the opportunity to create awareness and position the business as an ‘aspirational brand’.
What content should brands be creating and sharing? Some content will include stunning imagery of the product that links straight through to a sales page. But it’s important to vary the content in order to engage an online audience. Images of mood boards, colour charts, sketches and ideas are always interesting to followers. As are Stories on Instagram. Share films of the creative process or perhaps an interview with the designer. Live videos of fashion shows, backstage access to fashion shoots and ‘first looks’ of yet-to-be-launched collections always garner likes.
Balmain and Fendi
And, of course, platforms like Instagram and Twitter give luxury brands the opportunity to use custom hashtags to encourage engagement. Balmain uses the hashtag #BalmainArmy for content relating to different collections. While luxury fashion house Fendi uses hashtags for products including #FendiBaguette, #FendiCouture and for individual collections such as #FendiPrintsOn.
Chanel and Valentino
So which luxury brands are successfully building a community on social? Chanel still reigns supreme and is considered the most influential luxury brand. While smaller brands like Valentino are one of the most effective luxury brands on social media, thanks to a mix of professional photographs combined with user generated content. They’re also happy to engage with customers directly and answer questions online. This level of transparency and authenticity has ensured a loyal following.
Work with influencers
Working with social media influencers as part of a PR strategy gives luxury brands a much greater reach than the traditional media relations route. It’s why luxury brands are embracing it.
The key to successful influencer engagement is to identify the right influencer based on proper analytics and data, not on gut instinct or just because another luxury brand is working with them. Brands must be alert to influencers who provide an inflated user base or engagement rates.
High-end jeweller Tiffany & Co. partnered with a number of influencers as part of a campaign including travel influencer Jack Morris (@doyoutravel), and actress Yara Shahidi (@yarashidi), as well as model Kendall Jenner (@kendalljenner). By working with these young, hip influencers, the 200-year old jewellery brand introduced itself to millennials and Gen Z-ers. In other words, it’s future customers.
Fashion brands like Dior, Chanel and Gucci have gone as far as to invite bloggers and social media stars to various fashion weeks around the world and give them behind-the-scenes access. The result has been high-quality content shared exclusively with their followers. Gucci brought famous vlogger and Gucci fan boy Jeffree Star on board and collaborated on a custom pink luggage collection. Photographs and videos of the collaboration process and the end product were shared across Jeffree’s social media channels, securing Gucci lots of media coverage and an increase in sales.
Hilton Hotels have also partnered with influencers in order to increase their followers and customer base. Having identified the Seven Urban Wonders of the World, including the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, the Temple Street Night Markets in Hong Kong and Camden Market in London, Hilton collaborated with several Instagram travel influencers to promote the list, as well as Hilton Hotels. These included Jack Morris @doyoutravel (again) Tun Shin Chang @tschang and Junell Cornejo @shackette. Each post name checked @hiltonhotels, and used the hashtags #SevenUrbanWonders and #RightHere. Travel photographer Junell Cornejo filmed a stunning video of the architecture, shops, and environment of the UAE and received 18,574 likes and 341 comments. An impressive engagement rate of 20.79%.
Having something that others can’t access or acquire easily is the epitome of luxury. Luxury brands have long relied on a certain allure or mythology to make customers part with their hard-earned money. From tech brands like Bose, and Bang & Olufsen to car manufacturers like Rolls Royce and Jaguar, exclusivity is a consistent theme in the way top-tier brands market themselves. In fact, luxury car manufacturer Rolls Royce only makes 2,000 cars a year and each one is hand-finished.
Buying into these brands allows consumers to become part of their gentrified world. They feel that they belong to an exclusive group that not all people can belong to.
So how do you make a luxury brand exclusive? You can build a sense of exclusivity in many ways. Don’t make it too easy for customers to buy your product, for a start. Customers will want to own a product even more when it’s hard to come by. And the likelihood of very few other people owning it makes it all the more desired.
The Hermes Kelly or Birkin bags are totally desirable. Not only do they look beautiful and provide a good investment (buying a Hermes bag is better than playing the stock market), they’re also incredibly hard to come by. Could Hermes ramp up production so everyone who wants one could have one? Probably. But there’s a reason they don’t. They want to keep it exclusive. And high demand for a product that now gains value every year, thanks to its exclusivity, is a great PR story.
You can also invite your most valuable customers to exclusive VIP events; or offer consumers exclusive access to new products for a limited time; or distribute your products to only a few select retailers.
This is where an experienced luxury publicist can add real value, by helping you exploit the very best in your product, while paying homage to tradition and luxury values, and using those values to generate a higher level of exclusivity for your brand.