When Christopher Parr moved to Madison nearly two decades ago armed with a master’s degree in writing, his arrival coincided with the emergence of the Internet.
He quickly recognized it as a powerful, world-wide communications platform and he rushed to learn how it all worked, teaching himself — among other things — web design, HTML coding, Photoshop and configuring servers.
Combined with a strong creative streak, he was off to the races. His first content site, which focused on pop culture, launched in 1996 and was named “Best Site of the Year” by MacWorld.
“From there, companies reached out and asked me to create their web site and online marketing strategies,” he said. “Parr Interactive was born, we launched the first websites for many companies, from Rayovac, Sub-Zero, Musicnotes to WPS Insurance.”
He also created “Pursuitist,” a luxury travel, style and leisure blog for well-heeled consumers. He recently signed a deal with The Times of India — the major media player on the subcontinent — to produce an Indian Pursuitist.
WisBusiness contributor Brian E. Clark interviewed Parr to discuss his company’s philosophy and success.
Brian E. Clark: Please tell me a bit about your background.
Christopher Parr: I’m 46, born, raised and educated in Wisconsin, having received my Bachelors from Viterbo College in La Crosse. I attended graduate school at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., and I returned to Wisconsin, a state I love, after receiving my masters. My background is in communications, writing and PR — usually with a design and creative focus.
Clark: How did you connect with The Times of India for the luxury blog you’ll be doing for it? When will it start and will it have an Indian focus or is luxury international?
Parr: Times of India reached out to us, inquiring about expanding the Pursuitist brand into India. It was the right time and the right fit, allowing Pursuitist to expand to an emerging market with a publishing company that can make it happen. They’re the biggest media conglomerate in India – radio, TV, magazines, papers, online – so they have a big bullhorn to help spread the Pursuitist brand.
They’ll have their own team, dedicated on local luxuries, news and destinations. They’ll also republish articles from the U.S.-based site. The Pursuitist India site is expected to launch in April.
Clark: In a 2006 interview, you said that in many cases, location no longer matters and that publishers seek out your wife, children’s book illustrator Alison Relyea-Parr, through her website rather than her having to take a portfolio around. Is that what happened with the Times of India?
Parr: In this day and age, it doesn’t matter where you live. It’s irrelevant. I can share news with Pursuitist followers on Facebook and Twitter as I stroll the Madison Farmers Market or while my daughters play at the Children’s Museum. It’s a small world with these terrific technology tools that keeps us easily connected.
I receive a lot of press invites to fashion shows and other events, and the PR people always naturally think I’m based in New York. It’s amusing.
Clark: How big is India’s demand for luxury items?
Parr: It’s a huge emerging market for the affluent. Household wealth in India rose 7.4 percent in 2013, while the number of Indian millionaires is expected to triple by 2018. They’re looking for the best brands, from fashion, auto to gadgets, and seeking our travel recommendations. It’s an existing audience — and we can only serve them properly with a dedicated team in India.
Clark: Is Madison a good place for you and your wife to be based for your careers?
Parr: Madison has been a fantastic hub for both of us. We’re a two-hour drive from Chicago, and a three hour flight to New York. But at the end of the day, we have a sane and normal setting to raise our two daughters. I can’t imagine raising kids in a major metro.
Madison offers terrific amenities and services, from L’Etoile Restaurant, the Farmer’s Market to Sundance 608. We love the parks, rivers and the countryside that Dane County offers. However, if we ever want to try the latest talked-about restaurant in New York or a Broadway play, we can just jump on a flight.
Clark: Could you foresee doing something like this in China, or would there be a language barrier? Are you doing Pursuitist websites in any other countries now? If so, where?
Parr: We will be expanding into more regions and countries. The partnerships will be similar to the Times of India deal, as we work with existing publishing partners. We can’t go it alone, it’s essential to have a physical presence in those countries and to truly know those cultures. Luxury, from country to country, is a different and unique beast.
Clark: When did you start The Pursuitist? What prompted you to create it and how does it work? Is it supported by advertising?
Parr: The idea of Pursuitist.com was to create a travel, style and leisure destination for affluent consumers. For readers pursuing amazing fashion brands, hotels, restaurants, gadgets, experiences, and autos — Pursuitist was launched as a destination site that curates the good things in life. We’ve brought in world-class content producers that have written for Conde Nast Traveler, Forbes, Mashable, Saveur and TechCrunch — remarkable writers sharing remarkable experiences.
As we’re able to serve up a targeted audience, luxury brands love our platform. We’re also very selective of the advertisers that appear on our site. Pursuitist is truly a targeted online destination for luxury advertisers to connect and engage with affluent consumers. Advertisers have included Burberry, Coach, BMW, Chase Bank, Audemars Piguet, Broadmoor Hotel and Cosmopolitan Hotel. The Pursuitist is a great place to be seen — as our readers are affluent (65 percent with an annual income of $75,000 and up) and influencers.
Clark: How did you pick the categories?
Parr: Pursuitist is one destination site with nine targeted sections (Arts, Auto, Epicurean, Family, Green, House, Style, Tech and Travel) — best described as an online mashup of The Huffington Post and Conde Nast.
They’re categories I’m interested in. More sites focus on autos or watches, while we offer a variety of topics. We aspire to go beyond the bling, and as I say, Pursuitist is luxury redefined. We focus on the artisans that make amazing handcrafted products — from a designer at Louis Vuitton to a 2nd generation organic winemaker in Napa. We pursue to tell the story and go behind the scenes.
Clark: How many of the items in the blog do you write and how do you choose them?
Parr: As I’ve brought other writers in, I’ve dialed back my daily contributions, but I will post one or two stories per day. Often, a brand will pitch the story to me — or it’s a topic I’m following.
Clark: How often do you travel and where are your favorite places to go?
Parr: I prefer to visit a destination once a month, either to a resort or hotel in a major city. Travel is my area of focus, and I’ve been fortunate to visit some wonderful places, from Russia, London, Thailand, New York to a VIP tour of Disney World. My favorite trip was to the Cannes Festival and a visit to the Cognac region in France. Afterwards, I spent a few extra days in Paris, seeing sights and museums. So yes, France is my favorite place to visit.
Clark: Can you talk a little about Parr Interactive and the work it does?
Parr: Pursuitst is a Parr Interactive project. We wanted to show that we can create a successful content site with over 700,000 Facebook fans. We’re not just whistling Dixie. We can walk the walk and talk the walk. We know this stuff, inside and out.
We’re a small digital interactive agency, focused on digital marketing, web design social media and blogging strategies. We’ve been working with brands in Wisconsin since 1995, from InSinkErator, TDS, Sentry Insurance, WPS Insurance, Sub-Zero, Musicnotes to BizFiling.
We’ve created numerous award-winning web sites, online and email campaigns, blogs and videos — you named it.
With the success of Pursuitist, we’ve been focusing on social media campaigns for high-end companies, from creating online buzz for a brand or making a video go viral. Every project is unique and different – but we learn something new every day. The diversity of work is what keeps us interested. It’s fun too.