Don’t discount the discount, and other PR principles

Wainwright on: The Rag & Bone CEO's personal letter to consumers struck a nerve with PR pro David Chauvin.

As a marketing professional – and someone fascinated by the inventive ways in which brands engage their audiences – I often find myself torn between being scared about the potential overreach of targeted advertising and being excited about its possibilities.

On one end, it is startling when the movie I hadn’t thought about in years – until a colleague quotes it in the office – suddenly appears at the top of my Amazon Prime “recommended viewing” list. It’s almost as if our worlds are being surveilled.

However, oftentimes I am introduced to brands I would never otherwise have known about or even been interested in pursuing. I’m glad that this was the case when I was re-introduced to Rag & Bone.

I was drawn to the high-end clothing company’s website by a promotional email notifying me that Rag & Bone was drastically slashing prices. On the website, I found a public letter from CEO Marcus Wainwright addressing the coronavirus pandemic, its impact on the company and the company’s response.

We’ve all been exposed to an onslaught of coronavirus-focused commercials – they seem to blend together – but Wainwright’s letter stood out, because of its authenticity and the story behind the advertised discounts.

Too often, we see brands focus on what they’re doing while ignoring why they’re doing it. Many are going through the motions, putting out a message because it would be wrong not to. They should be doubling down on being genuine and reminding the customer base why the brand exists in the first place.

David Chauvin: Takes it personally.

Wainwright’s open letter gave me a glimpse into Rag & Bone’s psyche:

“We believe in giving our customers products that have value, literally and figuratively, at a fair price. But like the rest of the world and the rest of our industry we are doing our best to navigate our way through this, acknowledging that we need to do all we can to support and protect our employees, our company and our customers. To that end we have decided to lower our retail prices across the board until this is over, or until we are allowed out of our homes and back to work.”

It spoke directly to the public relations professional in me, hitting the most important aspects of storytelling: set the stage, so the audience is primed to understand the context; establish your core values, so the audience can better recognize why you’re doing what you’re doing; cater your message to your audience, so you’re speaking to them on their terms and in their language; and be truthful and transparent.

In the communications industry, we focus heavily on incorporating clients’ key message points in their stories. This is a good example of that premise in action. Wainwright’s focus was not on how they were implementing systems to maintain the status quo; instead, he emphasized that these drastic discounts were part of the way the company was changing everything, in the same way everything in society is changing and adapting.

After reading the letter, I saw the discount as more than just a pre-Memorial Day sale. This was an initiative.

However, it was Wainwright’s digression that separated this message from all the others:

“The time for buying stuff for the sake of it is over. I for one am buying only things that I need, or things that mean something to me, that are properly made and that will last. And for me at least, sometimes a damn good t-shirt can make me feel a whole lot better than a disposable one.”

Establishing a personal connection with the audience is the most important aspect of any public relations initiative, because it forges a relationship between the consumer and the brand. It’s not about what you do – it’s why you do it that matters.

I guess I’m not as jaded as I once thought, and can still get swept up in good marketing. Thanks to targeted marketing and a good story, my wardrobe for Zoom happy hours will be much more in-style

David Chauvin is executive vice president of Great Neck-based public relations firm ZE Creative Communications. and former director of communications for the Town of North Hempstead, among several government positions.