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“Smart marketers should be all ears to Playboy strategy”

Christie Hefner’s head of a company that’s heading inexorably into the crapper, but someone apparently forgot to tell the writer of this puff piece that.

Las Vegas- The Direct Marketing Association conference and exposition at the Las Vegas Convention Center last month was highlighted by keynote presentations from some of the world’s top marketing experts.

The list included Crag Newmark, who turned an e-mail exchange service into Craig’s List, one of the top 10 Internet companies by Web page views in the world; Ty Pennington, whose television show, “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” has won two Emmy Awards; and Christie Hefner, chief executive of Playboy Enterprises.

Hefner has been recognized by Forbes magazine as one of its 100 most powerful women in the world.

When Hefner took the reins of Playboy from her father, Hugh Hefner, she updated the company’s image and initiated its electronic and international expansion. She also streamlined or eliminated some of the far-flung endeavors that had become a drain on the company’s coffers.
Building the brand: Playboy Enterprises Chief Executive Christie Hefner gives a keynote speech at the District Marketing Association Conference on Oct. 14.
SAM MORRIS / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

During her keynote, “Global Case Study: Playboy’s Growth as a Multichannel Marketer in the Digital Space,” Hefner talked about establishing Playboy as the first national magazine on the Web and some of the marketing methods that companies can use to be successful in the digital age.

“I’m a strong believer that expertise in the direct marketing industry is critical to all marketers,” Hefner said. “From my vantage point the two things that will distinguish successful marketing companies going forward are a strong brand connection to consumers and targeted marketing that includes a personalized approach to consumers.”

Playboy has used this strategy for years. It not only has one of the most recognizable brands in the world, it also has expanded its offerings to make that personal connection with a much broader demographic.

In the bulky version of Playboy that Hefner took over, expansion often involved an extensive commitment in time and money for each enterprise, which was essentially self-supporting (or not).

Today, Hefner says, companies have the ability to promote, and cross-promote, more seamlessly than ever, through an expanding stream of outlets.

A magazine, for example can promote a television show, which can provide information through a crawl at the bottom of a TV screen, including links to a Web site. The Web site can offer links to the company’s other sites, as well as those of partners or sponsors. Ultimately the links can lead back to the source, in this case, the magazine, through links that allow for subscription orders, to complete the network.

“The world of Playboy has as many touch points as possible,” Hefner said. “Our whole approach has been to create touch points around the Playboy brand.”

A network is only limited by the products, services or affiliations presented by a particular company and can include touch points in the real world as well as the virtual world.

Hefner pointed to a plethora of opportunities convention guests had to experience the Playboy brand while in Las Vegas.

These included starting the day at the Hugh Hefner Sky Villas at the Palms Tower with a dip in the adjacent pool, splashing on Playboy fragrances or cosmetics, tuning to Playboy on Sirius Radio and stopping by the Playboy Store at the Palms or the Forum Shops at Caesars.

After rejuvenating with a Playboy energy drink, guests could have watched the Playboy movie, “The House Bunny” and returned to the Playboy lounge at the Palms to win money to once again stay at the Sky Villas and watch Playboy TV or read the magazine.

The exaggerated example was used to demonstrate the value of creating a brand instead of just a series of products.

“A brand is something that reflects a point of view or an attitude,” Hefner said. “As such, it can be transferred from one project to another because consumers pick it out as a way of self-identifying with that attitude.”

Playboy’s initial multimedia offering, “Playboy After Dark,” was among the first to demonstrate that people would identify with a branded network concept and was a forerunner to the Playboy Channel, as well as the food, shopping and entertainment networks that are common today.

“The reason it worked is because we thought differently about television than print,” Hefner said. “What you are looking for is not a way of simply taking the content from one channel and refocusing it on another, but finding the intersection between that channel of marketing for distribution and how the consumer uses it with your brand or content or marketing.”

Reading magazines, for example, is personal, and Playboy magazine has been a success by focusing on its target audience: men. Television is a much more social medium so the Playboy Channel and the E! Network television show “The Girls Next Door” are programmed to be watched by a broader audience.

Although Hefner makes creating a brand that can flow seamlessly through the media sound simple, she says it is anything but. If it were as easy as it sounds, she points out, a sports television network might be called Sports Illustrated instead of ESPN and a news channel might be called Time instead of CNN.

Moving into the world of the Internet-based new media created a whole new set of challenges that included transferring the Playboy brand to the target audience for that medium.

“One of our ways of looking at new media opportunities, and I think this is maybe true of new business opportunities, is to be creatively a risk-taker, but financially conservative,” Hefner said. “I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, ‘Don’t bet the ranch,’ but in my case that really comes down to don’t bet the mansion. We don’t ever want to make an investment decision that if it doesn’t work out, I have to pick up the phone and call my father and say, ‘I’ve found a lovely two-bedroom apartment in Westwood for you.’ ”

By targeting college campuses and introducing a younger audience to Playboy through new media, Playboy has once again managed to marry an emerging target demographic with its preferred distribution outlet.

Although other companies may not have the brand recognition or resources of Playboy, Hefner says the concepts that make the Bunny a successful multichannel marketer can be universal.

Companies that create a signature brand, adapt it to the different media it is being channeled through and let content drive the distribution have an excellent chance for success.

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