"I want to bring a new energy and spirit to something my father created," the young scion said, sitting cross-legged in his office in the headquarters of the estimated $10 billion lifestyle empire dreamed up by his father, Chairman-CEO Ralph Lauren.
Though the younger Mr. Lauren has been in his current role of senior VP-advertising, marketing and corporate communications since 2001, marketing was consolidated under him in June upon the departure of previous marketing head Jeff Morgan, who moved to president of the company's product licensing division. His candor-he says "it's too early to tell" what stamp he'll put on the business-by many accounts may be his greatest asset.
"David approaches the job with a great curiosity and an interest and openness to other ideas, other people, other things," said Peter Hunsinger, VP-publisher for Conde Nast's GQ. Mr. Hunsinger has worked closely with Mr. Lauren as the recipient of some of the company's roughly $112 million media budget. "He doesn't walk into situations pretending to know it all," agreed David Zinczenko, editor of Rodale's Men's Health.
knowing both sides
Such lack of pretension may be misinterpreted by some as a deficit of experience or wisdom for the job, especially given who his father is. But Mr. Zinczenko offers a different perspective. "David spent a few decades learning the business from the absolute genius of image marketing, and then went out and started his own magazine to learn the media business from the other side," he said.
Mr. Lauren, the one-time editor in chief of the now-defunct youth lifestyle magazine Swing, is still a major media hound. As such, he is anxious to develop projects that will evolve the storytelling tactics employed by his father and tap into the convergence of advertising and entertainment. But he must walk a fine line between a brand image cultivated over 37 years and the changing times.
taking his time
"We're not in a rush," to choose an entertainment project , Mr. Lauren said. "There are a million ideas out there but we have to pick our projects carefully." Branded content, when it comes, might not be such a leap. Mr. Lauren cultivates close relationships with both editors and publishers of the magazines the company advertises in, maybe more than most because of his editorial background. The company has been criticized for putting pressure on magazines for mentions in editorial pages in exchange for ad dollars.
Mr. Lauren is unapologetic. "If there's a push from the company, there is a push from all fronts, from advertising to editorial content," Mr. Lauren said. GQ's Mr. Hunsinger said synchronicity between Ralph Lauren's ads and the editorial product has always been a goal for the company. He added Mr. Lauren's creative leanings mean he is particularly concerned about ensuring that the same emotional message resonates throughout.
In an effort to protect its image, Polo earlier this year brought its advertising in-house. It brought on staff many of the people who had worked at its long-time agency Carlson & Partners. The company has always had close control over creative and now has media buying in-house.
The younger Mr. Lauren is a "voracious reader" who brings to weekly ad meetings as many as 30 tearsheets, many from outside the traditional fashion and shelter titles, according to Nancy Murray, senior VP-public relations and financial communications for Polo Ralph Lauren. "He brings things to his dad that aren't on his radar and Ralph feeds on that."
The end result has been an extension of media buys into hipper, younger titles, especially for the launch last year of the Slim-Fit Polo.
While the ad campaign featured a classic European polo player, the new twist was a create-your-own-polo concept on polo.com. Together with a major push to get the shirt on the backs of young celebrities and fashionistas, editorial coverage and a direct mail piece, the efforts have paid off. In its women's Polo business alone, sales shot up 100%.
Given Mr. Lauren's storytelling strategy, why not create his own magazine? In-house media projects have "been discussed, created, not released, then we've gone back to the drawing board," he said. But right now, "it's not the company's priority."
Expanding the company's storytelling tradition is crucial, however, and for now at least, the Internet is Mr. Lauren's tool of choice. He began his tenure at Ralph Lauren as chief creative and marketing officer for polo.com, and still oversees that site.
Streaming video offers interviews with photographer Bruce Weber or makeup tips so that "one spread in a magazine becomes hundreds of pages on the Web site," he said. Mr. Lauren himself has interviewed a host of people who "embody the Polo philosophy" on the site, among them actor Kevin Costner and OutKast's Andre 3000.
The site has helped drive relevance of Polo with teenagers, giving it a cross-generational reach that is "a marketing feat in the fashion business," said GQ's Mr. Hunsinger.
Reaching out to young consumers will continue with a host of new product lines, among them the test of a preppy retail concept for Polo called Rugby, set to open in Boston in October, and the launch of a new premium business with Polo Jean. Polo will also make a big push on its RLX brand of very young, high-tech performance sportswear.