Best in-house team private sector 2015 Article icon


Before the arrival of global communications director Ed Watson, N Brown Group was described by many in the fashion and consumer press world as the ‘biggest retail brand no one’s ever heard of’.

With an annual turnover in excess of £800 million, the business had no internal PR expertise and spent millions on activity driven by brand teams working in isolation, supported by local agencies charging huge retainers.

Watson appointed head of PR Carie Barkhuizen, who embarked on a full review of PR spend, drawing budget into a central pot focused on three power brands – Jacamo, Simply B and JD Williams. Retail and news specialists were recruited and a newsroom environment was created to ensure an ‘always on’ approach.

Manchester-based fashion PR agencies were replaced with London-based competitors, near to national media to increase product placement coverage.

The next stage was to create market leading PR campaigns for each of the power brands, ensuring they appeared in new titles to raise their profiles and extend their reach. For example, with JD Williams the team created a conversation around empowering women aged 50 plus, recruiting television presenter Lorraine Kelly as brand ambassador and launching a reactive campaign against Victoria’s Secret’s ‘Perfect Body’ campaign, which included ‘Over 50 shades of Grey’ lingerie campaign on Valentine’s Day featuring three 50+ models.

The team commissioned the UK’s first ever 50+ Female Fashion Report, in association with YouGov, which was launched at a breakfast event, with a panel of experts such as Caroline Nokes MP, who is chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Body Image.

For male clothing range Jacamo, the team signed Toby Huntington Whiteley, brother of supermodel Rosie, to model the look book and establish the brand’s style credentials, delivered a consistent stream of news stories to improve awareness (such as a body shape guide entitled The Architecture of Men) and worked closely with brand ambassador Freddie Flintoff to improve his clothing range to make it more editorially appealing.

And for Simply Be, which sells clothing in sizes 12 to 32, the team worked to position the brand as an advocate of fashion regardless of size. JD Brown partnered with Cosmopolitan and Milk Model Management to find the next generation of curvy models.

In just one year, the five man team has generated more than 6,000 pieces of coverage for its power brands, boosting awareness for each by several percentage points. Averaging 527 pieces of coverage a month, achieving ten per cent growth month-on-month, the team has a 100 per cent hit rates for news stories.

‘The team had a broad brief with a range of challenges,’ said the judges. ‘They showed skills across a range of areas and various engagement points across the business.’