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Lunch at The Four Seasons with Nina Kaminer

Published by The New York Sun on 2006-07-21

Nina Kaminer puts her money where her marketing is.

"I help create the magic of the luxury-goods experience, and I'm fortunate enough to be able to live that experience," the president and founder of Nike Communications Inc. said.

The Bronx-born Ms. Kaminer, who started her company 22 years ago when she was barely out of Amherst College, where she majored in the classics, is widely regarded as a prime public relations architect for the marketing of the luxury-goods industry. The industry's global revenues are expected to increase this year to nearly $275 billion from $248 billion in 2005.

Thus, it's entirely understandable that integrating her clients' products into her life is de rigueur for Ms. Kaminer.

"I'm not a show-off person," she said, expressing some reluctance to discuss her personal lifestyle.

Nevertheless, consider this: Her office refrigerator is stocked with 12 mini bottles of Moet & Chandon Champagne. ("That's perfect for spontaneous moments," Ms. Kaminer said.)

She possesses eight Montblanc pens, plus a gold limited edition pen given to her this week in appreciation for her efforts by the 100-year-old company's co-managing directors, Wolff Heinrichsdorff and Lutz Bethge. (Ms. Kaminer is credited with transforming Montblanc into a diversified luxury brand from a mere pen company over the last 19 years.)

Ms. Kaminer wears a Vacheron Constantin Malte watch. (She was the public relations force behind the celebration of the company's 250th anniversary.) She also sports a Bvlgari dress watch and bracelet, two pairs of earrings, and two necklaces. (Ms. Kaminer helped communicate Bvlgari's diversification strategy.)

She uses three Krups espresso machines and three coffee grinders, one for each of her homes -- in Manhattan, Sag Harbor, and Aspen -- which she shares with her husband, Allen Cohen, the chief operating officer of Nike Communications, and a former banker. These homes are also equipped with state-of-the-art Bang & Olufsen stereo equipment, crystal by Lalique, fine china by Haviland & Parlon, and phone service by Vonage. The homes also feature three teddy bears and two monkeys made by Steiff.

Ms. Kaminer has owned a Jaguar XKR. (She launched Jaguar's celebrated X-Type car in America.)

Her most recent vacations were taken at the award winning Las Ventanas al Paraiso in Baja, California, and Jumby Bay in Antigua -- resorts managed by Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. When Ms. Kaminer wants to relax, she goes to the Miraval in Catalina, Arizona, a spa owned by Steve Case. (Ms. Kaminer is helping Mr. Case to expand the lifestyle brand concept to New York City.)

Her clients seek her public relations skills in marketing luxury brands and premium lifestyles not just as a result of her robust record over the last two decades, starting with Lalique.

Her clients also turn to Ms. Kaminer because she has established a reputation for creative launches of their products, and for employing innovative techniques to enhance the visibility of their brands.

"The commercial landscape is constantly changing -- and that means that p.r. and marketing must be constantly inventive," Ms. Kaminer said.

Thus, when she was asked by Italy's Piaggio -- manufacturer of the Vespa motor scooter -- to re-introduce Vespa to America after a 15-year absence, Ms. Kaminer decided to organize an event on a lot at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Paramount made the celebrated 1953 film, "Roman Holiday," in which the stars Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck rode through Rome on a Vespa. ("Roman Holiday" was filmed at Cinecitta Studios in Rome, and was the first American film to be entirely made abroad.)

So for the re-launch of Vespa in 2001, Ms. Kaminer hit on the idea of inviting Hepburn's son, Sean Hepburn Ferrer, and Peck's daughter, Cecilia Peck. The event that she organized was also a benefit for the Audrey Hepburn Foundation -- which not only ensured huge publicity for the re-launch, but also fetched Vespa encomiums for its philanthropic contribution.

For another campaign involving Rosewood Hotels and Resorts, Ms. Kaminer approached various New York publishers and persuaded them to give advance copies of their so-called "big books" -- works that had created a buzz ahead of publication.

"When very affluent people go to resorts, some of them like to have bragging rights about what they did while on vacation," Ms. Kaminer said. "So we placed these would-be best sellers by poolside. By the time the guests returned home, they could legitimately have bragging rights -- 'Do you know what I just read?' That was one way of giving them a value added experience."

Such inventiveness and eye for details have long been part of Ms. Kaminer's repertoire. At Amherst, for example, she translated Euripides's "Medea," and then staged four performances on the portico of the campus home of college president Julian Gibbs and his wife, Cora Lee. (Ms. Kaminer and a fellow student were invited to live in the president's home during their senior year as part of an experimental college project.)

Not only did Ms. Kaminer transform the theatrical event into a campus cultural celebration, she also helped raise funds for Amherst's $43 million capital program by inviting donors.

Her enterprise prompted a prestigious college official to suggest that she might wish to consider public relations as a career. Earlier, Ms. Kaminer had been uncertain about her professional goals. The goal that she had held since her days at the Bronx High School of Science -- where she'd been a straight A student -- of becoming a physician unraveled after discomfort with college physics and science courses. Her parents, Leonard and Gloria Kaminer, shared her anxiety.

As life milestones go, the staging of "Medea" was seminal.

"I showed how one could take the DNA of a brand -- in this case, the classics -- and make it relevant to a contemporary audience," Ms. Kaminer said. "And while I did not know it at the time, that methodology would prove critical in branding luxury goods. Marketing is all about understanding the core value of a brand."

In developing her communications firm, Ms. Kaminer is anchored in the classics. She even named her firm "Nike," for the Greek goddess of victory.

But Ms. Kaminer was also canny enough to recognize when she started, that globally, the luxury goods business was just taking off in 1984.

"I saw that there would be a need for strategic public relations and sophisticated marketing," Ms. Kaminer said. "The world was changing. The brands were just starting to blend family business cultures with corporate cultures. Luxury-goods companies needed guidance in strategizing for an expanding market. And I was there."

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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