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Let the Image Fade

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"Whoever invented 'the corporate image,' did public relations no favor. A clever and handy phrase defining the goal of efforts to project a company's identity; it was harmless as long as it remained advertising and public relations jargon. But the catch phrase soon passed into the common language and became a 'concept.' People began to believe that a favorable identity could be forged with artful words and skilled graphics, obtained as easily as reaching for a 46 long on a Brooks Brothers rack. It is not surprising that the public came to view the 'image' as a slick process and tagged it with a bad name. It's now too late to eradicate 'The corporate image' from the language; it's too firmly rooted. But public relations people can get back to fundamentals, avoiding the use of the phrase and emphasizing that a corporate identity must stem from what a company actually is and that corporate reputation must be earned with solid policy and action."

According to Paraphernalia's public relations director, Shirley Correl, a former model who knows the fashion picture from all angles, the new president of Paraphernalia is trying to salvage the avant garde and projective image cultivated by his predecessor, at the same time putting into effect the "solid policy and action" that was lacking in the franchise operation. "These people spent their money on franchise in good faith, and Paraphernalia has to give them public relations in good faith." In this context "public relations" means marketing and instruction in merchandising, and the machinery to maintain a profitable business. That machinery encompasses a unified bookkeeping system, a system for keeping stock proportionate to population and climate, a way of ticketing merchandise; and a complete two way flow of information.

In addition to the adoption of a new merchandising and marketing program, Paraphernalia brings the franchisees to the main office three or four times a year. Each showing is for all seasons, since all parts of the United States, including Puerto Rico, are represented. This development of product lines that more adequately satisfy the geographic and demographic needs of the customers is a major objective of the new Paraphernalia management.

An important facet to Paraphernalia's image maintenance is "editorials" in Mademoiselle." Editorials refer here to the selection and featuring of dresses from the Paraphernalia collection in the magazine. Local promotions, openings of new store, and local advertising make use of the Paraphernalia logogram, the black and white pattern, and avant garde theme; but in contrast to the leased shoe store operation described previously, the similarity to, and hold over of these promotions stops there.

Here are two examples of far flung chains one of leased shops, the other of franchisees which promote largely at the local level. The department store, with good cause, also promotes at the local level. The difference is that department store promotions have soared to high levels of invention and luxury, and become super spectaculars.

Neiman Marcus in Dallas, Texas, which has made merchandising history with its sales promotion techniques, instituted as one fortnight promotion a French exposition. This was a "first." It has been repeated many times since, using the products and decor of other countries, in other cities and other stores. The public relations work involved, applies to all major department store promotions.

The promotion itself was in answer to a regional need. It was designed to lure shoppers to a store filled with winter merchandise in ninety five degree October weather. Inspired by a French exposition he saw in Sweden, the president of Neiman Marcus created this great international event in Dallas. Planned as a "one shot," it was so successful and brought so much fame and business to the store that it set a pattern for future events.

A minimum of two years of planning is required for these promotional fortnights. The problems involved were compounded by the difficulties of dealing with foreign countries. In this land of situation the entire personnel of the store must be public relations oriented.

While the store buyers are searching the expo country for merchandise that could be featured or adapted for local consumption, the public relations director and his staff are arranging for tie ins. In the case of the French exposition, co sponsoring commercial organizations included Air France, the champagne industry, fashion councils and groups, the French Line, and the French automobile manufacturers. Neiman Marcus budgets a fortnight of this caliber at $300,000. This is a lot of money to spend on a two week promotion. It is a strong indication of the value of public relations to a store.

The actual dollars spent are only one of the expenses of a major promotion. A hidden cost is the time and energy of buyers and directors. If their daily operation suffers, no promotion can pay off. Maintaining the store vitality is a prime requisite.

A spokesman for Neiman Marcus describes the hazard of creating one or two day excitement followed by ten or twelve days of nothing. This is a PR problem common to any promotion lasting longer than a couple of days. The Neiman Marcus way of solving it can be used by any public relations director: a continuing series of events is planned for the entire two weeks. Groups are invited to participate. They may be clubs, ethnic groups, college groups, groups of children or senior citizens. Enlightened public relations can relate any group to any promotion within reason.

As the public grows more sophisticated, so do promotions. The French exposition of Neiman Marcus was store wide, and became a pacemaker in store wide promotions. The average store promotion is confined to one department. Recent pacemakers in this area, as named by the National Retail Merchants Association are:
  1. A Bath Planning Center promotion at a Minneapolis store.

  2. A furniture department promotion at a Worcester, Mass. store.

  3. A "Design Happening" in Pittsburgh.

  4. A color coordinated promotion called "Patternalia" in New York City.

  5. A "Round the Clock Bedroom" promotion in which 1,303 stores in 47 states participated.
The opening shot of the Bath Planning Center promotion was an invitation to the press to attend a Turkish Bath Bash, "enjoy a private performance of a belly dancer. Hear Far Eastern sounds of the Oud and Durbukee. See gorgeous girls in Turkish towels. Taste exotic hors d'oeuvres and cocktails."

The furniture department promotion was built around the showing of a new Colonial Gallery. The American theme was developed throughout the store, with help from the famous Massachusetts village restoration called Old Sturbridge Village. Antiques displayed included a vial of tea, part of the cargo saved from the Boston Tea Party. A "crafts comer" was set up near the gallery where pottery making with red clay, rug braiding and hooking, wood working, and other colonial skills were demonstrated. At this promotion, attendance prizes were given. Almost six thousand entry blanks were received.

Coed magazine collaborated with the Pittsburgh store on the "Design Happening." This same promotion was featured in other cities as well. Decorating a room and designing a dress, or selecting one shared the spotlight, spilling over into cosmetics, fabrics and furniture.

Both the "Pattemalia" promotion and the "Round the Clock Bedroom" promotions were magazine inspired; the first by House and Garden and the second by Better Homes & Gardens.

Promotions of this size are pure public relations; the immediate objectives are to create a vital image, and to involve the consumer, not sales at first.

The work of the public relations department starts with the basic idea for the promotion. The PR department serves as think tank, liaison between the store and outside industry and culture, coordinator within the store; and lastly it is the instrument of publicity for the event. The events must be handled carefully so as not to cheapen the promotion with too much, or the wrong land of publicity; and to reach the consumer effectively,

An example of effective publicity in New York a city where drum beating is at a maximum is Bloomingdale's press release for the department store's promotion called "Art Beat." Excerpts follow:


Bloomingdale's Fall Show of Designer Rooms and Shops

New York, now considered one of the cultural centers of the world, offers a vast selection of exciting experiences in the visual and performing arts the theatre, ballet, concerts, opera, museums, galleries, etc. To stimulate the sophisticated tastes of art and culture enthusiasts in this dynamic and demanding city, the search for talent and beauty is worldwide. The tradition of the Japanese Kabuki, the exquisite talents of Fonteyn and Nureyev, experimental theatre which excites and often shocks at the same time, these are but a small sampling of the cultural and artistic opportunities available to New Yorkers.

Bloomingdale's, attuned to the art beat of the city, is inspired by famous artists, living and dead, and has captured their moods and expressions in creative and distinctive room settings...

Inspired by Demarco

"To transcend the traditional, have a mind bending experience, hold a séance, or dream the impossible dream, this is the room to do it in. In this black light environment ultraviolet lamps have been strategically placed to play on the art fantasia created by Demarco, whose work is on loan from the Denise Rene Gallery in Paris. There is a large box containing small pins headed by marble sized balls which gyrate. The balls, in assorted colors, emit an eerie phosphorescent glow. Suspended from the ceiling is a 'Plafond Anime,' a six foot square piece with long wire threads animated with balls of color... To contemplate this fantastic array of art, people sit in a large banquette arrangement which combines with lacquered tables to form a huge square... Several smoky glass, Plexiglas cubes function as cocktail tables and pedestals...

ROOM in/EXOTIC LIVING AREA by Barbara D'Arcy, Inspired by Henri Matisse's 'Tristesse du Roi'

"Color and shape are highlighted in this setting, providing a successful blending of the contemporary and traditional. On the back wall is a French stainless steel daybed, shaped somewhat like a flying carpet, and covered with a bright lemon yellow leather bedspread... On the left side of the room is a platform with a painted orange frame and an illuminated floor composed of Plexiglas pieces nine inches square, set into the frame. Tucked into a niche on the platform is an orange tweed bundling chair designed by Milo Baughman for Thayer Coggin... To the left is a built in cabinet which houses a unique collection on Pre Columbian pieces such as vessels, bowls and other unusual shapes...

"This could be the housing of the future, a sculptured 'environment' of walk through spheres in a cave like structure made of sprayed urethane foam from Hooker Chemical... The upper level is designed for contemplation and conversation. Here we find a 'Turkish lounging corner' covered in a hand embroidered, woolen Greek spread in brilliant tones of red, purple, royal blue and emerald green... A window has been carved into this insulated material for contemplating the sky and sea; a perfect setting to create and philosophize... Growing out of the wall is a huge, carved work table. Emerging from a cul de sac created by a curve in the wall is a molded, free form chair covered in a taut orange stretch fabric. Here we also see a beautiful, clear Plexiglas chess table, 16 inches square by 20 inches high, which lights up to glow in tones of red, white a blue..."

This release illustrates the degree of sophistication and opulence now part of major store promotions. To the public relations minded, it shows even more: that Bloomingdale's, the parent store, has started a campaign to upgrade itself. The public relations rule that stores do not stage promotions merely to sell merchandise is emphasized again in this promotion history.

But where do stores and promotions go from here? How opulent, how sophisticated can they be, and still achieve positive results in public confidence and approval? It would appear the ultimate had been reached. These two examples of the Neiman Marcus store wide promotion; and Bloomingdale's limited promotion have gone about as far as possible in bringing the man made delights of the world to the shopper at home.

In the future the challenge no longer will be to go every where and see everything, or even accept the next best substitute offered by a store promotion. The challenge will be to exist where we are, and be happy about it.

It is possible that concern about the social and environmental quality of today's life will find its way into store promotions, and that the "non merchandising reasons for coming into the stores" of which the president of Macy's spoke, will be an attempt to help solve the problems created by growing technology.
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