In the mid 90s, Cairns & Associates established itself as one of the premiere consumer marketing PR firms in New York, especially impressive in the fashion and beauty arena and on the short list of almost every client who wanted to find a creative way to reach female consumers. But Cairns has experienced growing pains over the past couple of years—an aborted entry into the healthcare arena and the distraction of opening an office in London—and growth slowed, although the quality of the firm’s client work did not appear to suffer.
What sets Cairns apart from dozens of competitors is its strategic approach to branding. Much more than just a publicity shop, Cairns begins each assignment with in-depth market research and brand analysis, using its Strategic Brand Decoding process to figure out what’s unique about a product or a proposition and then using traditional public relations skills—from media relations to special events—to get the message out.
Fees for 2000 will be around $6 million, up about 13 percent on last year, with new business coming from clients such as Energy Brands bottled water, Elle.com, Helene Curtis.com, and Snuggle (a major cause marketing program). Cause marketing has become a major area of expertise, with programs for clients such as Volvo and Bailey’s Irish Cream. The departure of Lisa Kovitz, now managing director in the consumer group at Burson-Marsteller, was a blow, but Cairns has been recruiting some top talent, including Kathleen Waugh from Macy’s as senior VP in the lifestyle and consumer group and “boomerangs” Lisa Aurrichio, Melissa Luke, and Kipling Berger.
Meanwhile, the U.K. operation is beginning to take off. Fees will be around $1 million this year, with new business from Persil (the U.K.’s number one detergent brand) and Comfort, and continuing assignments for clients Vaseline, Van den Berghe, and Timotei shampoo.