Yassine Saidi, Global Head of Product Partnership, Puma Select, tell us more about his secret sauce

“I started at Puma six years ago,” says Yassine Saidi Global Head of Product Partnership, Puma Select. “When I moved, I sought to change the game.” It’s safe to say Saidi changed Puma’s fortunes for the better in those six years. Initially, it didn’t look like much would change for the German sports brand. It had seemed that between Adidas’ Superstar collection and Nike’s Air Jordan machine, Puma would fade into obscurity. Then in early 2016, United States’ Under Armour made some serious strides and threatened Puma’s third spot. It was all pretty much doom and gloom.

Towards the second half of 2016, however, Puma injected itself into the forefront of relevancy by consistently pumping out stellar collections featuring just the right mix of new and old. The company’s third-quarter sales in 2016 showed extraordinary growth, doubling its net earnings from the year before. Puma didn’t stop there.

As 2016 drew to a close, Rihanna’s PUMA Creeper silhouette dethroned Kanye West’s Yeezys as Footwear News’ Best Shoe of 2016. By March 2017, boosted by the likes of Rihanna, The Weeknd, Young Thug, Kylie Jenner and Big Sean, Puma’s stock price rose from €194 to €289.Puma yassine saidiSaidi, for his part, doesn’t hog all the credit. “We had a new CEO who brought an amazing energy, supported us with collaborations and made things happen. I’m just a soldier,” he says modestly. Too modest. For those who may not know, under the Puma umbrella, Select is Puma’s department responsible for collaborations and its platform for creating new styles and aesthetics.

Ironically, the man behind Puma’s resurgence with a concentration on sneaker collaborations isn’t a big fan of sneakers himself. “I’m not crazy about sneaker,” Saidi says. “I love many things, but I’m a die-hard fan of nothing. This gives me perspective. It helps me stay outside the bubble and spot any faults. It helps me understand what consumers want. To be able to do my job well, I need to be out of the bubble.” Saidi is a rare breed. He’s essentially an artist, but one who understands the need for corporate marketing. He speaks of his creativity like as if art is just part-and-parcel of business. “What we do is called attention trading,” Saidi explains. “When deciding on a collaboration, we have to choose between one of the two: either create something new in a space where are all the attention already exists, or strive to create something that will draw people’s attention. Our choice depends on the person we’re collaborating with. People like fashion designers know exactly what they want right down to the product. Others have a vision but don’t necessarily know how to translate that into a product. We have strong designers within Puma who can translate that vision into design.

Since he took over at Puma, Saidi has worked with at least 50 different people on collaborations. While that may not sound like much, you should know that each collaboration takes between 12-18 months to flesh out. “It’s challenging because Puma is first and foremost a sports brand,” he says. “While we’re encouraged to push the boundaries, we’re expected to not stray from the brand’s roots.” You may have noticed that despite being a sports brand, Puma has collaborated with musicians to stay relevant. Saidi believes this is because musicians are the marketing and communication vehicle for fashion and sports.

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“There’s nothing more powerful than an artist with fans,” Saidi says. “You have fans of brands like Puma, Adidas and Nike, but that’s nothing compared to a Rihanna fan. The intensity and adulation of those fans are on another level.” Puma clearly has the right pull. At the very least, friends in the right places. From Rihanna, The Weeknd and Selena Gomez to Alexander McQueen, Puma’s collaborations have been with celebrities that are trendsetters. “No one wants to be second,” Saidi says. “If we ever miss the boat on something we go back to the drawing board. We never really planned on becoming one of the best in the world. That’s purely thanks to our consumer base, which is why collaborations are important to get closer to those consumers. Having a corporate message in an ad may work, but the deeper relationship between the artist, brand and consumer works far better. There’s no replacement for that three-way relationship.”