2014 Ritson Award for Brand Manager Of The Year goes to…

I am delighted to announce that the 2014 Ritson Award for Brand Manager Of The Year goes to Jason Fairclough.

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His name may not be familiar compared to the usual suspects at brands such as Unilever, Innocent and the rest. But recent weeks have shown him to be the kind of marketer you want working on your brand.

Fairclough works for licensing and marketing company GLD Group, which owns the UK licence for a string of fashion brands including Italian brand Superga. It’s an ancient footwear brand named after a prominent hill in its home town of Turin and made famous by its iconic 2750 trainer created in 1925. For almost a century the Italian 2750 has fought a pitched battle with its American rival, the Chuck Taylor All Stars manufactured by Converse.

One of the first reasons to admire Fairclough is his long term ambition for the Superga brand in the UK. Conscious of the brand’s low levels of awareness and lack of edge, he recruited fashion icon Alexa Chung in 2011 to become the face of the brand for its spring/summer campaign. Impressed with the results, he signed her up again in 2012 to not only model for the brand but also act as its creative stylist.

Conscious that he needed to move on but keen to continue building Superga’s fashion-forward image in the UK, Fairclough turned to Rita Ora in 2013. The British/Albanian singer and actress, whose breakout album Ora had launched to critical acclaim and enormous media coverage, was on the verge of becoming a huge star.  

Fairclough signed Ora for a fee of £180,000. As part of that contract, Ora agreed not to be seen wearing any trainers other than Superga during the contract period. Pause for a moment and you begin to see why I rate Fairclough so highly. Most big brands could easily spend £180,000 on photocopying and yet for the same fee he achieves acres of publicity, gallons of brand awareness and, with every day that Superga is featured on the increasingly iconic feet of Ms Ora, stronger associations of cool fashionability.  

So imagine Fairclough’s horror in April of last year when Ora was photographed exiting uber-trendy London nightclub Mahiki in red lipstick, fishnet stockings and a pair of white Chuck Taylor All Stars. Any trainer brand was out of question but to wear Superga’s arch-enemy in such a vehement breach of her contracted duties was clearly unacceptable.

Once again, however, the admirable Fairclough was on the case. Rather than complain to Ora’s representatives, he attempted to leverage her misdemeanour to his advantage. He emailed Ora’s team proposing that “we could go heavy on public events” and suggesting “Get Rita to wear the product as much as possible over the summer? Ask Rita to tweet pics of her in the product, name-checking the brand? This should be happening regardless but we could crank it up.” 

I love this line of thinking. Too many marketers sit back and lazily watch their tactics roll out from afar. Not Fairclough. He is the kind of brand manager you want on your side because he is on the ball and not afraid, as the finance guys often put it, to ‘sweat his assets’. Ora’s reaction was clearly not good enough and Fairclough wrote to her team again, a month later, demanding: “We need to get Rita seen out and about in the shoes. We still have a number of contracted appearances and time is running out.”

Having tried all other avenues, he withheld half of Ora’s endorsement fee. She subsequently admitted to breaching a clause in her Superga agreement but wanted her missing £90,000 nonetheless.

The case was settled on Monday with an undisclosed, out of court settlement. One can only hope that Fairclough and GLD were not penalised for what was a strong marketing strategy, an excellent contract and superb brand management.

Ora’s latest single, ironically titled I Will Never Let You Down, is available from all good record shops.

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