Ford Models Gets Digital Makeover, Teams With Brands

Burgeoning Media Business Includes Web Spots With Bliss Spa, E-Newsletters for Retailer Express

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Everyone knows how-to content and videos are exploding on the web. But one success story has unlikely roots.

With its growing digital distribution platform, Ford Models is transforming itself from a traditional B-to-B fashion-talent-management company into an ad-supported digital-media company.
Expert beauty tips: How-to videos attract 'influencers,' who attract advertisers.
Expert beauty tips: How-to videos attract 'influencers,' who attract advertisers.

Since launching its digital-media business 18 months ago, Ford has showcased its talent in how-to beauty videos on its site, Fordmodels.tv, as well as on larger distribution channels such as YouTube and MySpace. It has partnered with retailers such as Express for bimonthly e-newsletters and Bliss Spa for web spots marketing both Bliss products and Ford talent. And in October, Ford held the first online video casting, enabling its clients to interact in real time with Ford models, saving the clients money and time.

"Ford has an offer that's unique, and we're finding clients are very receptive to the way we work and the way we solve problems with them," said CEO John Caplan, who has led the media efforts.

All this is certainly a new and profitable direction for the 62-year-old agency (though it won't say how profitable, citing that it's privately held). It represents 2,500 people working in the fashion industry, including models, makeup artists and stylists, and has a team of 130 agents around the U.S. who talk with clients to learn about a brand's challenges and work with them to market the brand with Ford talent.

Reaching influencers
"We are able to provide the talent for the campaign and bring the campaigns to life," Mr. Caplan said in an e-mail. "The ... talent-management business plus our growing media franchise is a killer combination."

The aspiring models and stylists who watch Ford Models' videos and read its e-newsletters are what Mr. Caplan calls "influencers" -- young, hip and fashion-conscious. Because of that, Ford's media platform has become a very desirable advertising vehicle for clients, according to Mr. Caplan. Its online database reaches 250,000.

Pamela Seidman, director of communications for Express, said partnering with the agency was a "natural getting-together." Express and Ford share the same office building, and as she watched the flocks of young women rush in for Ford castings, she realized that a lot of them were the same trend-setting women Express wanted to get in its stores.

The two companies first worked together last fall in an online contest, and this fall Express tapped Ford's database to collaborate on a number of e-newsletters. As a result, Express got 2 million hits a month on its website and introduced its brand to a slew of new prospective customers.

"[Our marketing is] very much about being a fashion insider, so collaborations with a brand like Ford is really important," Ms. Seidman said. She said "style authority" is critical to Express customers. They may not believe Express if it says that its jeans fit great, but they will believe insiders such as Ford models.

Inside information
Bliss CEO Richard Dantas was equally effusive about the collaboration. "We wanted to give our aspirational audience and Ford's aspirational audience some insight into how to look glamorous," he said.

So far, the companies have filmed four web videos, one of which has been posted online. It features Sabina, a cheery, blond Ford model, educating consumers about a Bliss self-tanner.

Mr. Dantas credits the video with driving "significant" traffic to Bliss' site and increasing the average time spent on it from nine minutes to 14.

Jim Frame, exec-VP and director of broadcast production at Deutsch, said the Bliss spot was "an interesting take on a testimonial. Certainly posting it on the web or leaking it to YouTube is smart."

Mr. Dantas said this online collaboration is just the first step in Bliss' partnership with Mr. Caplan and Ford.

"It will evolve to much more than just web content," he said.
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