To begin on a personal note, this scribe remembers the first pledge he made when he set out all starry-eyed at the beginning of his budding journalistic career. Pressing a cold nose against the window of one of Glasgow’s leading designer boutiques, a promise was made that with the hard-earned cash from his first pay-cheque he would purchase a stylish designer suit from that very Cruise store in an attempt to fit in with his smartly dressed peers. The reality of a journalist’s salary quickly put paid to such lofty aspirations...
Cruise is a truly Scottish brand. Established in 1984 in Edinburgh by Jim Gibson, the company spent 20 years making its mark on high streets north of the Border. Then, at the end of last year, Gibson sold Cruise for an estimated £7million to a consortium headed by John Heath, the former chief executive of fashion chain USC, and which also included investment firm Arev.
Now the company’s designer retail stores are selling products from labels including Hugo Boss, Gucci, Prada and Juicy Couture south of the Border too following the opening of stores in Newcastle.
“Despite our headquarters being in Scotland, we now view ourselves as a UK brand,” says Alison Melton, PR and marketing manager of Cruise. “That’s because we are also based in Harrogate and Newcastle.
“The first shop was in Edinburgh, then soon after we opened in Glasgow. Now there are ten stores throughout the UK – two in Glasgow, four in Edinburgh, three in Newcastle and one in Harrogate.” And a clearance shop, Cruise Clearance, has also recently launched at Livingston Designer Outlet too.
Having just returned from a holiday in New York, where she watched her husband run the city’s famous marathon, Melton is at ease. But her laidback interview style could easily be down to her own journalistic background – she worked as a news reporter for STV and ITN’s now defunct 24 channel, and then did some freelance work with GMTV before moving into the PR world at Royal Mail Scotland as senior press officer. At university, Melton also studied media and marketing, giving her a rounded view of the media world. “I see PR, marketing and media as using similar concepts and skills,” she says. “And having a media background has been a big advantage.
“It’s important to have seen both sides of the fence. It allows you to better understand deadlines, how a newsroom works, when people need the stories by, what they’re looking for and, most importantly, what they’re not looking for.
“It’s important that you can build a relationship with journalists and that you meet them face to face. Obviously with email and widening communications platforms, it could become a desk job, but media relations are important and there should be no escaping that.”
Melton joined Cruise in 2005 with the creation of the company’s first marketing department, which has focused heavily on gaining press attention rather than targeting above-the-line advertising.
“Cruise didn’t have a PR and marketing department until I was taken on, and we’ve developed it from there,” Melton says. “Hopefully it’s been successful over the last year, generating relations with key journalists in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Harrogate. By establishing these relationships, it makes it a lot easier to pick up the phone at any time and work with the writers.
“PRs and journalists should work together – they need stories as much as we need promoting. It can be a two-way process.”
When Cruise’s communications department was launched it was a one-woman operation. But it was no idle boast that Melton’s job title was head of PR and marketing, and since the department’s conception the number of staff has swollen to four. This has given the company a greater opportunity to put its message across in a variety of ways.
“Cruise has been such a success story that we’ve been able to communicate in many different ways,” says Melton. “We really push individual products by working closely with the brands we stock.
“There are so many more relevant magazines now – we’re not just looking to get into Sunday supplements, we’re working closely with the national glossies too. But without a functioning marketing department we wouldn’t be generating those longer-term lead-ins.”
The company does not employ an external advertising agency, choosing instead to use an in-house graphic designer for the website, poster design and merchandising work. Melton, however, does not rule out a future move to employing an agency as Cruise grows in stature across the UK. Indeed, the brand has become so successful that it is now an integral part of Glasgow’s own marketing to tourists, working closely with the city’s marketing bureau and the Scotland With Style campaign. And on the flipside of this coin, in order to attract tourists visiting the cities where it’s based, Cruise has formed partnerships with several other luxurious names to offer hospitality packages to anyone looking to spoil themselves a little while holidaying in the north.
For tourists looking to experience the high life, Cruise can arrange for a chauffeur-driven car to take you to a store for a personal shopping experience, and give you the opportunity to visit Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel for a spa or the National Galleries of Scotland for a behind the scenes look at an exhibition.
“It’s marketing collaboratively with services and offerings at a premium level,” says Melton. “We’re talking to Business Scotland about that. We’re promoting Cruise as a destination, whether it’s a tourist, local market or business destination.
“We work closely with the Glasgow Marketing Bureau, and with the Newcastle Gateshead Initiative, again linking with business-tourism arms through which we can promote Cruise as a destination to a wider market.
“We work with the companies so they can promote Cruise when they do their wider promotions. If, for example, the initiative targets Norway – with regular flights and sailings coming in to Newcastle – it will co-promote us.
“In the UK city break market the retail aspect is a real attraction. When people come to visit Glasgow, Edinburgh or Newcastle, we haven’t got the sunshine and we haven’t got the beaches, so in terms of city breaks, you come here to stay in a nice hotel, eat nice food, see some local attractions and shop.”
Designer brands have long used the image of celebrity to market their clothes – when their outfits are seen looking good on the rich and famous, the same outfits soon become admired by the masses. Cruise is no different. It has links with football clubs in the three major cities where it has shops. On the surface, this is a shrewd move, but Melton denies Cruise uses celebrities to endorse its products, simply saying that the products can very much sell themselves.
“We do have celebrities who shop with us, but we also have customer confidentiality,” she says. “We don’t overtly use celebrity in our marketing. We do work closely with football teams in different cities – we sponsor Rangers, Hearts and Newcastle as part of our marketing. We dress players in our suits. When they turn up for games they’re dressed in gorgeous designer suits, so they don’t just look good on the pitch. And a lot of footballers are good customers of ours. But what attracts them to Cruise is not just the brands and styles – it’s the fact that they can have the whole personal shopper experience. They can come in, they know the staff and they have a very personal connection.”
Maybe that’s where this reporter went wrong in his plans to dress in designer suits. Too long sitting at the computer and not enough time spent outdoors kicking a ball against a wall.