Just recently I received an email from the VP of a top fashion PR agency who declined to be featured on PR Couture, referring to himself as “one of those PR people who prefers to stay out of the spotlight.”
While there’s something to be said for keeping the focus on one’s clients and not the practitioner in the wings, this perspective dismisses the opportunity for discovery, thought leadership and professional growth currently available to agencies and individuals who invest in strategies that reinforce expertise, articulate differentiation and showcase personality, culture, tone and aesthetic.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Sep. '17 Beauty, Fashion & Lifestyle PR Magazine
There’s perhaps no public relations niche that has undergone quite as significant a transformation when it comes to transparency and access online than those operating in the fashion, beauty and lifestyle sectors. Over the more than ten years since establishing what has evolved into the quintessential online platform for these practitioners to learn, connect, share insights — and most recently, be recognized and celebrated for their accomplishments through the establishment of PR Couture’s own Bespoke Communication Awards — there’s been a shift not only in online accessibility, but mindset. The propensity to hold one’s cards behind a bulletproof vest has, in many cases, given way to a more trusting, shared information model that values collaboration over competition.
Today’s firms are scrutinized by prospects, in large part due to their online presence. After all, it's a hard sell that you're the right ones to be advising on a brand’s communication strategy if it isn’t clear that you're “walking the walk” across your own channels. The trends outlined below demonstrate how some of the most innovative agencies in the space (all winners of the 2017 BCAs) have committed to ongoing evolution as well as embraced the value of coming out from behind the curtain to stand visibly front and center, confidently communicating their vast and varied expertise.
Trend: dropping the “PR”
As the communications landscape shifts, agencies have been challenged to clarify their worth, particularly with regard to digital and social expertise, but also brand development, licensing, talent management and sales.
For Janna Meyrowitz-Turner, a recent rebrand at her company’s 10-year mark from Style House PR to Style House Co marked an articulation of the agency’s broad scope of services, beyond the traditional print media relations that formed the core of the firm’s earlier work. As Meyrowitz-Turner explains, Style House Co communicates, “a more modern and ubiquitously clearer definition of our role as reputation managers from a 360-degree perspective that seeks to enhance every touch point our clients have with their public, both online and offline.” She also notes the long-standing confusion for many brands about what exactly PR is, and what a PR agency does, noting that “Instead of lamenting that our clients don't understand PR, we decided the onus was on us to provide our own definition. We’re redefining what we do as holistic brand reputation management.”
At Be Social, the firm’s focus has always been digital and now also includes an influencer talent management division, Be Social Talent. Founder Ali Grant explains that “Our decision to drop the “PR” was simply that it was limiting prospective clientele from understanding our full scope of capabilities.”
Trend: embracing a web presence
A few years ago, it seemed as though every boutique fashion PR firm was using the same color of pink. Thankfully, the trend seems to be shifting toward more ownable brand identities, which is an important means to achieve sustainable differentiation. For the aforementioned Be Social’s (who won “Best Agency Digital Presence” at PR Couture’s Bespoke Communication Awards earlier in the spring), Instagram in particular has been a huge asset for boosting agency awareness.
Grant shares that while most inquiries come from referrals, “We're one of the few agencies with a strong social following and engagement, and one of the ways brands hear about us or recognize our name through the RFP process. Our sizable following is because our work is so heavily influencer-focused and based on long-standing digital relationships, which showcases our strength in that area.”
It’s not all Instagram and Twitter chats however. Savvy pros are also beginning to play with new levels of transparency and access through different video channels. PR Couture recently partnered with WhatRUWearing on PRGirl, an original reality web show set to debut in October. The show follows Alex Moresco, a 24-year old entertainment publicist, full-time graduate student and Lyme Disease advocate over the course of, as she puts it, “one helluva summer.”
New York fashion PR firm AMP3 launched #Amplified, a video series that provides free PR and social media tips aimed at emerging and established brands. Co-founder Alyson Roy explains that “Video is a great medium for sharing our expertise and showing our personalities, in an easily sharable and digestible format that can be utilized across all platforms.”
Trend: mentoring the next generation
Most public relations undergraduate programs do not consider the fashion, beauty and lifestyle sectors. For new practitioners, this lack of information and relevant coursework combines with an industry notoriously bereft of mentorship to often result in “Devil Wears Prada”-style trial by fire initiations that leave both managers and entry-level talent frustrated. This has shifted in recent years, however, and there are now a handful of opportunities outside the traditional classroom for those interested in our space. Fashion PR Confidential provides a two-day NYC immersion, complete with editor and influencer guest speakers and an agency speed-dating round. For those unable to attend an in-person workshop, the PR Couture course PRISM offers both a live and self-study means to get a virtual education in personal branding, essential PR skills, and career planning to help facilitate the process of breaking into the industry.
The aforementioned AMP3 PR also launched CAMP3 this year, a one-day, complimentary fashion PR bootcamp for 10 young professionals who applied for the opportunity. Co-Founder Alyson Roy explains, “There is a cut-throat stigma associated with fashion PR, so at AMP3, we make educating and inspiring the next generation a priority. Our agency relies on a strong mix of industry veterans and newcomers with the belief that we all have something of value to learn from each other — and with CAMP3, we’re offering up our combined expertise to those who will become the future of our industry.”
Our industry continues to be strengthened by those who put down the to-do list and invest in providing the future CEOs of our space with opportunities to learn, connect and grow, even before getting their first set of business cards.
So, are you staying behind the curtain or embracing the spotlight?
Nowadays, pressing your finger against a follow button, dropping your email address in a contact form, even attaching your resume to an application, is the currency of success; demonstrating enough gain to warrant a deepening of the relationship.
Agencies who understand, plan and test out these conversions across channels are worth our collective curiosity; a new metric of success for a digital world.
Crosby Noricks is Founder and Director of PR Couture, the leading sourcebook for fashion and lifestyle communicators. She’s the author of Ready to Launch: The PR -Couture Guide to Breaking into Fashion PR and teaches at San Diego State University in the Journalism and Media Studies department.