Twenty years ago, the best public relations firms understood the media and their core competency was delivering great publicity for their clients and their products or services. Ten years ago, the best public relations firms understood brands, and their core competency was delivering campaigns that built or protected brands. Today, the best public relations firms understand the consumer, and their core competencies include delivering genuine insights into the consumer mindset, and then creating campaigns that work through a variety of channels—traditional and digital—to make an emotional connection and ultimately drive changes in consumer behavior. Kaplow is one such firm.
Kaplow’s expertise is in lifestyle public relations, specifically in the consumer technology, emerging media, luxury goods, retail, food and wine, and youth sectors (although 2008 saw the creation of a new corporate practice), and its hallmark is creativity, specifically an approach that focus on insights and ideas rather than specific delivery channels. So while Kaplow’s media relations capabilities are second to none—historically, the firm has been known for its strong personal relationships with top-tier lifestyle reporters and can draw on the experience an editorial advisory board that includes experts from the print and broadcast realms and helps account teams “think the way journalists think”—its capabilities include guerrilla marketing, event marketing, and an impressive digital capability, all of which can be deployed as appropriate to make sure that the insights and ideas deliver genuine impact.
In a challenging year, Kaplow was well-served by its entrepreneurial spirit and a willingness to innovate: it placed new emphasis on measurement, with senior vice president Leah Schmerl spearheading the creation of the firm’s online influencer index algorithm and use of proprietary tracking software; it developed a new unit, K:studio, focused on content creation and distribution, filming and producing professional videos for distribution on online media and social networking sites, as well as for use at traditional events and client meetings. And it continued to expand K:drive, its social media division, with the addition of senior vice president Stephanie Schwab.
Schwab joined an impressive senior leadership team that includes founder and CEO Liz Kaplow; senior VPs Leah Schmerl (Internet and e-commerce practice leader), Danielle Arceneaux (retail, food and wine practice leader, Shannon Eis (head of the youth and luxury practice groups) and Joanne Amorese (finance and operations) and newly promoted Chaim Haas (head of the new technology and emerging media practice).
Fee income declined in line with the industry average (about 5 percent) to around $9.5 million, enough to keep Kaplow among the top 20 independents in the U.S. The firm maintained its longstanding relationships with clients such as Target, CVS/pharmacy, Avon, Skype, iVillage, Shiseido, Timex and Alberto Culver, and added new business from, GSI Commerce, Netflix, State Farm and T-Fal, building a more diversified client roster.
Some of the firm’s most interesting work has been in the cause-related marketing arena, and in 2009 Kaplow worked with State Farm’s 50 Million Pound Challenge, focused on the issue of obesity. The firm created a national grassroots movement for the Challenge, working with health and wellness expert Dr. Ian Smith and the inspirational stories of individual “challengers” to generate stories on CNN and ABC News, and in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, and iVillage. Together, participants in the campaign lost more than 5 million pounds by the end of 2009. Other highlights included promoting Skype’s free broadcast-quality video calling in a campaign that saw Oprah Winfrey use the service to connect with viewers during a Webcast and supporting Avon mark’s number one business objective, bringing thousands of new sales representatives into the franchise through an integrated communications plan encompassing established and social media.
“Kaplow is a true partner in helping us take mark to the next level of our business growth,” says Claudia Poccia, global president of Avon mark cosmetics. “Kaplow has a great understanding of mark’s DNA and has successfully partnered with us to make direct selling relevant to young women everywhere.”
Finally, Kaplow continued to emphasize staff development programs and pro-bono initiatives. Kaplow U, an ongoing staff educational program, continued despite the economic conditions, as did the firm’s work with Project Morry, a youth development organization.