Case Study: Kathleen Hills on Marketing a Business
Kathleen Hills, designer and supplier of modern lighting and tableware, graduated from the Royal College of Art in 2002 following her degree at Central Saint Martins 1997- 2000. Kathleen studied ceramic design and came to her practice after a career as a graphic designer working in publishing and also having run her own floristry business. Never one to toe the average route. Kathleens floristry business was always a little avant garde, choosing to focus on shop displays and creating interesting installation rather than traditional arranging flowers. She therefore, began her ceramic design business with an insight into the market place and experience of running her own business.
Types of PR and marketing activities the business has used:
Thanks to the experience Kathleen had gained as a graphic designer she knew early on how to approach journalists. So during her final years on her BA and throughout her MA she was in contact with journalists, documenting her work and sending out press releases. She was well aware of the importance of stories, and knew she needed to have an interesting angle to sell to the press.
Her first piece of press came about during her BA show- she had contacted Elle Deco about one of her pieces, and asked if it could go on their graduate pages. Rather than sending information via mail or email, she made an appointment. She’d had her work photographed, and took samples and images in for them to use- they featured her work and enquiries began- she realised the impact this type of attention could have in launching an idea or business. It also brought home that you need to do the leg work, you have to have images and all the details to hand so people can access it immediately.
One of her final projects at the RCA involved working with a manufacturer and Kathleen approached Wedgwood. Rather than designing products for Wedgwood, Kathleen took the approach of using their skills, knowledge and industry approach to design a range of pieces for her collection. She used the story to generate some attention and to highlight unique approach in the lead up to her MA graduation.
During her MA she had spent important time researching who she would contact for her MA show and once she’d launched her business. She used magazines and newspapers to look for stylists names, she looked out new photographers, junior stylists, who were keen to get a name and were building portfolios to see if she could get a cheaper photo shoot. She saw the opportunities building relationships with those types of people generated, relationships where they were keen to promote her and her work. She also started to contact feature writers to see what type of stories they were looking for. By the time the Wedgwood project came to fruition she had people ready and primed to take the story.
As a result of the attention she received from the Wedgwood story she sold 100 pieces direct from publicity she had achieved through the magazines and newspapers.
Kathleen continues to use these same tools, building relationships, looking for unique stories in what she does and thinking ahead. She has an understanding of what type of publications work for her and finds that magazines are great for her profile or brand, and that weekend supplements sell the actual products.
How effective have these been – e.g. the impact on the business:
The time and focus Kathleen has given building relationships with press and media has had a huge impact on her business and how it has evolved. Kathleen is now often called upon by magazines if they have a question about new designers, they trust her opinion. Through swapping of skills she has managed to create a group of people who she can turn to with queries and needs and vice versa. In 2006 Marie Claire featured Kathleen as one of 100 women to watch in the design world. They photographed her home and this launched another aspect to her business- through this she met a photographer she now works with regularly and her home is used as a location.
Through that relationship with the photographer her eyes were opened to an alternative way of shooting her products and her sales have increased. Previously everything was shot for cut outs- which magazines like- but through the article on her home she recognised the impact of seeing product in the home. She changed the look of her images and the market for her work has grown. Previously the work was seen as slightly ‘out of reach’, ‘desirable design’, but by placing it in the home environment, more people buying for their homes saw its potential and placed orders.
By building this understanding of her own work and how it is viewed has only come about through feedback, working with others, being objective and understanding who was and wasn’t buying her work. She remains inspired and creative, and hungry to succeed.
Kathleen's advice to makers approaching PR and marketing for the first time:
Use your previous experience and contacts- whatever that is – you may be surprised by the contacts and knowledge you already have
Have a really clear focus Research, research, research- know the names of the editors, features writers and stylists. Get to know them, and get to know the up coming ones too. Regularly remind people of what you do, what is new…drip feed info..dont give it all away at once Pre plan- with images, prices, and product. Make sure you have all the information they’ll want right at your finger tips so you don’t loose impetus.
Kathleen's tips for showing at 100% Design:
1. Be prepared- ensure everyone knows you are doing it, this is where your marketing skills and network are vital. As you should invite everyone who you want to see, this includes calling people up on the telephone to remind them the show is on. Remember they’ll be getting lots of invitations, so try an alternative approach , invite people commit to showing them round the whole show- not just your own stand.
2- Blog….ensure that people know who you are before you get to the shows and you can do this via blogs www.decor8blog.com
3- Know your limitations- keep your presentation low cost and easy to put up. My favourite display was one I fitted into my very small hatch back- it consisted of wooden ladders on which products were displayed, easy to transport on your own, fits into a car and had a life after the show- this won Kathleen best stand at Pulse.