The protector: Puma’s Joanne Fletcher

Most marketers would kill to land a high-profile placement on the ever-popular Canadian Idol. But not Joanne Fletcher, Montreal-based Puma Canada's director of marketing. The show tried to land Puma apparel to clothe its pop tart contestants for a segment last year, but Fletcher turned them down. 'It took us about two minutes to make that decision,' she recalls. 'As much as it's important for us to be seen on the right people, it's even more important for us not to be seen on the wrong people. Me saying no to things is more important than saying yes to things.'

Most marketers would kill to land a high-profile placement on the ever-popular Canadian Idol. But not Joanne Fletcher, Montreal-based Puma Canada’s director of marketing. The show tried to land Puma apparel to clothe its pop tart contestants for a segment last year, but Fletcher turned them down. ‘It took us about two minutes to make that decision,’ she recalls. ‘As much as it’s important for us to be seen on the right people, it’s even more important for us not to be seen on the wrong people. Me saying no to things is more important than saying yes to things.’

Fletcher’s fiercely protective approach to marketing her brand is clearly working. In her two years with the company, Puma Canada has seen double-digit growth and, perhaps more importantly, made significant strides towards Puma’s global mission of being the most desirable brand in the world, by getting high-profile Canadian scenesters like members of ‘it’ bands Metric and Death from Above 1979 to wear Puma. Based out of Puma’s small Toronto office, Fletcher, 32, knows that to be desirable, her brand can’t be seen on just anybody. So she focuses on making sure ‘key influencers’ are wearing it, primarily through having what she calls ‘brand zinger’ events for the target throughout the year in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. She even brought an insider onto her team – Blue Station marketing manager Sheila Roberts is plugged into the hipster scene, making it easier for the brand to stay connected.

‘It’s all about the trickle-down effect…keeping the tip of the iceberg interested,’ Fletcher explains. ‘The majority of our sales dollars come from the mass segment – only about 5% of sales come from key influencers. But we spend just as much, if not more marketing dollars on the key influencers, because if we lose them, we’ll lose the [mass segment], too.’

Fletcher credits part of her success with influencers to not trying to present the brand as something it’s not, and maintaining a single, genuine voice. ‘We don’t use artsy language for artists, music-y language for musicians,’ she says, adding that the same approach works with the youth market, too. ‘We respect the fact that [youth] have their own culture. We’re not trying to pretend that we totally understand that.’

Perhaps Fletcher’s greatest coup in terms of winning over a difficult audience was her ability to round up Toronto-area bike couriers, leveraging a global Puma initiative to engage couriers by producing the mini-doc The Bike Gangs of New York. ‘They’re very anti-establishment. The key to our success was that we didn’t try to talk their language, we didn’t try to ‘dirty ourselves up,” Fletcher says. ‘We just said: ‘We’re Puma, we respect what you do’…we didn’t try to over-promise anything.’ She and her team did some digging to find out favoured courier haunts, and invited them to a Toronto screening of the doc, where they received free Puma gear. Over 250 couriers showed up. ‘Bike couriers really personify the essence of the Puma brand – they’re the ultimate urban athletes.’

However, Fletcher is willing to make a play for the mass market – when it’s right. She has agreed to a placement deal on an upcoming episode of Canada’s Next Top Model. ‘It’s so mass, so mainstream,’ she says, adding that after much thought, she and her team decided to do it. ‘We said yes because our brand has evolved.’ Nonetheless, the show will get Puma gear that influencers were wearing years ago, and Fletcher plans to have a ‘brand zinger’ event for the latter to counter the placement, as a way of saying ‘we’re doing it with stuff you liked four years ago, now here’s some new stuff for you.’

Fletcher has also improved the sports apparel side of the business. ‘We had a genuine imbalance before Joanne joined the company,’ notes Ritch Benford, SVP, general merchandise at Puma Canada, referring to the disconnect between how Puma’s sports lines were presented versus its fashion lifestyle lines. ‘She has diversified our portfolio, and made Puma a true sport lifestyle brand.’ Fletcher appeals to athletes the same way she appeals to key influencers – through events. She regularly sponsors urban sporting events across Canada, like the Puma Road Race Series for Hemophilia event last month in Winnipeg. And last year, she organized the Puma Pursuit, which saw 200 competitors embark on a 10k ‘urban adventure’ across Toronto, à la the Amazing Race. ”It was really grassroots, and carried over online,’ says Libby Viner,

account executive at ZenithOptimedia, Puma’s media agency. ‘Online is important for a brand like Puma.’

Viner points to last year’s partnership with Dose for the ‘Win What You Snap’ contest as another strategic initiative that carried over online, and was a result of Fletcher brainstorming with Zenith. The contest invited consumers to go to Puma’s retail store in Toronto, photograph the Puma merch they wanted to win, and e-mail the photos to Dose. It was promoted in hardcopies of Dose, as well as at dose.ca. The contest garnered over 350 responses – quite impressive, considering the amount of work it involved for consumers.

And, Fletcher has a fashion show in the works for June 15 at Toronto’s Capitol Theatre to launch Puma’s new Flawless Elegance line targeting busy, sophisticated urban women. ‘It aims to bring to life a day in the life of a Puma woman,’ she says, adding that the ladies strutting down the catwalk will be average women, not models, doing things like pushing strollers. The launch will be supported by a print campaign set to break in early July.

Fletcher’s flair for working with minimal resources and developing grassroots initiatives can be attributed in part to her four-year stint working essentially for herself as a personal financial advisor at Merrill Lynch, where she was given a phone, a desk and a $5 million target. It was quite the culture shock for her, though – she moved into finance after a three-year marketing run at Kraft Canada, where she worked on Cheez Whiz, Philadelphia Cream Cheese and Handi-Snacks. While she loved the constant challenge at Merrill Lynch, she missed the camaraderie of marketing, and was drawn to Puma, where it was small enough to have autonomy, yet she could still work on a team.

Reflecting on her non-traditional career path, Fletcher has no regrets. ‘The safe path would have been to stay in packaged goods. I’m not afraid to be the one to jump first.’

FUN QUESTIONS

Favourite book:

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. It’s just always stayed with me. I never get tired of it.

Favourite movie:

The Shawshank Redemption. I love Morgan Freeman, and it’s such a poignant story.

Favourite TV show of all time:

Definitely Sex and the City. The writing is fabulous. I always admire shows that become part of the fabric of society.

First job:

Plant waterer at the Sheridan Nurseries, when I was 15.

Most useful business book, and why.

What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business School, by Mark H. McCormack. It’s very ‘real-life, this is what to expect.’