The P.R. Agency You Didn’t Know You Had

In an era of media exposés and consumer skepticism, how do you market fine jewelry? The Jewelry Information Center has several answers. It hosts fashion shows for the press. It provides jewelry fashion feature ideas to national publications. Its staff promotes jewelry on TV. It’s combating negative publicity by spearheading a new program to change bad trade practices. Ironically, however, the organization has an even tougher task – promoting itself and building its own membership.

The four-person organization based in New York has fewer than 800 members. “There’s no other group like the JIC that represents the entire industry, and yet we’re supported by only a tiny fraction of the industry,” notes Lynn Ramsey, JIC’s president and CEO.

“One of our hurdles in getting more support from the industry, especially retailers, is that they don’t understand the value of a generic public relations effort,” says Ramsey. Another problem may be JIC’s dues, which start at $95 for retailers and $250 for suppliers. “In our industry, because of the nature of the business as being really small, $95 can be an obstacle for some people,” she acknowledges.

Strategic alliance. JIC had been rather quiescent until Ramsey’s arrival in 1995. “When I go out and give talks to retail organizations, I find that people have little understanding of the Jewelry Information Center, even though we’ve been around since 1946,” says Ramsey, who had worked at N.W. Ayer’s Diamond Information Center and a public relations firm before joining JIC.

Ramsey’s activities are raising the profile of jewelry and jewelers as well as of JIC itself. “I don’t know of any other organization that has gone from relative obscurity to being so out there in everyone’s face,” says Gary Gordon of Samuel Gordon Jewelers in Oklahoma City, who recently completed a term as JIC board chairman.

JIC has increased its visibility in the past year owing to an alliance with Jewelers of America, which gives JIC at least $200,000 annually plus office space in its Manhattan quarters. The deal has doubled JIC’s budget and paved the way for Shaye Strager to come on board as media liaison. Strager’s media-relations background includes experience at a TV station and a public relations firm and a stint as a spokeswoman for a health and fitness company.

Matthew A. Runci, JA’s executive director, lauds the fact that JIC is spreading the message of “Buy your jewelry from a jeweler you can trust.” Says Runci, “We must not allow our industry to lose the trust and confidence of the consumer – not only in the product, but also in the outlet where the consumer shops.”

The partnership has helped promote JIC among JA member retailers. New JIC board chairman Steven Kaiser, president and CEO of Benedom Inc., a watch distributor in New York, hopes the increased visibility will enable JIC to double its membership in three years.

Ambitious endeavors. JIC’s work helps the industry compete for consumers’ luxury dollars, notes Kaiser. “Our competition is not the other jewelry and watch companies but the furniture, car, and vacation industries,” he says. “Every time Shaye Strager is on a TV show promoting jewelry, that’s publicity for every single vendor.”

Recent JIC activities include:

  • A photo shoot with fashion models. While other trade organizations also photograph models wearing jewelry, Ramsey notes that “others can’t pull from all segments of the industry – show diamond earrings with a pearl choker, for example. In reality, people do mix it up.” JIC is offering the photos to newspapers and magazines along with a press release on spring fashion trends. (One of the photos is on the cover of this issue.)

  • Lunch with a top designer and an American diamond. Last May, JIC collaborated with the World Gold Council, the Platinum Guild International, and the Cultured Pearl Information Center to host a New York luncheon for the consumer and trade press. The event, which previewed fall fashion trends, featured two big media draws: hot fashion designer Nicole Miller and the D-flawless diamond found at the Crater of Diamonds State Park in Arkansas. The story aired on national and local New York television.

  • Outreach to magazines and newspapers. Magazines such as Women’s World and Family Circle traditionally have been reluctant to show fine jewelry because their readers generally wouldn’t spend more than $400. “We try to find affordable jewelry for magazines with those price constraints,” Ramsey says. “It’s creating a new audience for fine jewelry.” JIC also distributes camera-ready stories to daily and weekly publications on key jewelry-buying occasions and pitches jewelry-related story ideas to fashion editors.

  • Local and national broadcast appearances. Ramsey and Strager tour the country, appearing on radio and TV to educate consumers about buying jewelry. In addition, Ramsey has appeared on national shows such as “Oprah,” “Today,” “CBS This Morning,” and CNN’s news programs. Notes Gordon, “When an elegant, well-spoken woman like Lynn Ramsey is on the ‘Oprah’ show saying, ‘Here’s how to pick a jeweler you can trust,’ that counters all the negativity that we often have to suffer.”

  • A task force to upgrade the industry’s image. Last year, JIC created the Industry Image Task Force. A joint effort of 23 organizations, the group aims to change trade practices contributing to bad press and to create a unified front when unflattering reports appear. A major project initiated by the task force is “Counter Intelligence,” an educational program geared to retail sales personnel, slated for launch this year. The program recently received a $148,000 grant from the JCK Jewelry Industry Fund and $42,000 from JA.

JIC has offered to introduce producers of television newsmagazine shows to industry spokespeople who can comment when a controversial issue arises. “By and large, we weren’t addressing the media in the past,” Ramsey says.

Services for members. In addition to these efforts, JIC tries to help members in more tangible ways. Ramsey and Strager show manufacturers’ products during their television appearances and mention a local retailer as a source for the items. JIC press releases, articles, and video news releases feature members’ products.

Retailers are listed on the consumer portion of JIC’s Web site (www.jewelryinfo.org). This year JIC plans to offer a public relations “how-to” handbook to members, with tips on producing press releases and special events, handling crisis communication, and creating a favorable image. On the marketing side, a new JIC program offers low-cost, camera-ready ads that feature photos of jewelry products with space for a retailer’s logo and address.

Ramsey believes the organization could do a lot more if it had more member support. The first thing on her wish list is additional staff. “Public relations is very labor-intensive,” she says, noting that her recent appearance on “CBS This Morning,” while relatively inexpensive, required hours pitching the idea and following it up.

Greater support from jewelers will enable JIC to tell millions more consumers why jewelry is the perfect gift. Retailers who see the big picture realize why that’s an important goal, she says. “This will require a mind-set that doesn’t ask, ‘What about me?’ but rather, ‘What can I do as a member of this industry to help raise the level of awareness of our products and our professionalism?’ ”

She acknowledges, however, that positive publicity generated by JIC benefits everyone in the industry – even those who never join the organization. “It’s like public television. You don’t have to be a member to benefit; you just turn it on. But if you don’t support it, it will go away.”