The media as a whole has experienced considerable change and evolution in recent times. The explosion of citizen journalism and blogging has meant that the fashion media has experienced some of the biggest changes of all. The fashion consumer can now as easily read and be inspired by blogs as magazines.
The impact this has had on traditional fashion media has been complex and significant. Good content, however, is still key, and well-written, timely and factually correct independent journalism is still regarded the most highly. But how do we differentiate between good and bad writing, and those that write from experience, compared to the rest? As the media landscape has become busier, and opportunities for coverage have increased, those wishing to appear in print have to be more discerning about where they want to be seen.
Fashion public relations (PR) has developed into a fast-paced and competitive industry that attracts large numbers of eager interns and graduates each year. For many of those interested in fashion PR careers, getting unpaid agency or in-house experience is a valuable foot in the door to an industry that is perceived as both glamorous and exciting. The reality can be glamorous, but it is also a demanding occupation that is often less well paid than similarly graded PR roles in other industries.
Public relations, in its purest form, is about establishing and managing relationships with all of the ‘publics’, or audiences, that an organization comes into contact with. PR is often defined as press or media activity, but it can also encompass how companies communicate with many other types of people. It includes working with the media, but also the general public, online audiences, employees, suppliers, buyers and others.
Fashion PR is primarily focused on gaining press and media coverage for designer collections, but can also include working directly with buyers to encourage them to view and buy collections, networking with industry contacts, managing catwalk shows, press days, establishing relationships between designers and potential collaborators, and much more.
Some fashion designers and brands work with external PR agencies, while others employ in-house staff. Working with an agency has the advantage of giving instant access to a vast array of established industry and media contacts, that a designer would take years to build up on their own. A good PR agency will also know how to create information about brands and how to pitch it to the right people.
The growth of online communication has presented increased opportunities for fashion brands, large and small, to carry out elements of PR activity themselves. By researching the most influential online magazines, blogs, social media commentators, reviewers and writers, it is possible to start building direct relationships with them through email, blogging and posting online.
Many designers, for both cost and control reasons, combine outsourced PR agency help with conducting a number of activities themselves. A PR agency can be engaged, for example, to focus on writing and distributing press releases, organizing and running press days, and making use of their valuable contacts to alert media and buyers to designer collections. A designer can then supplement this activity by running their own social media profiles, communicating with bloggers and industry contacts online and communicating on a more personal level among industry network groups.
There are a number of factors to take into account when deciding which agency is right for you. These include agency costs, location, expectations and perhaps even their principles about fashion, production and communication techniques. A good agency will be upfront and realistic about what they can and can’t achieve for a designer, and will be able to make informed decisions about the most effective and relevant media and contacts for a particular brand to engage with.
The type of agency is also an important consideration, and whether or not their existing client list complements a new designer. If an agency has an impressive list of high-end, well-known brands, a fledgling designer may find they don’t receive the attention expected because their budget doesn’t operate at the same level as the rest of the agency’s clients. Small ‘boutique’ agencies often seek out new designers as they can make their name on being a proactive consultancy that uncovers new, raw talent, and spends time and effort on nurturing industry relationships for small fashion businesses.
Ultimately, it is important to conduct research, speak to as many people with relevant experience as possible, and visit and speak to the agencies themselves, before deciding to work with one. The agency should be able to demonstrate their understanding and passion about your work, so that they can communicate this to your target audience.
Press days are a key activity in the fashion industry calendar. They are held by the majority of fashion PR agencies and larger fashion brands to enable the media and buyers to see the latest collections up close, and to assess whether to feature them, use the garments in photoshoots, or place orders. The challenge for many brands today is that press days are run throughout the year and many journalists and buyers have to be highly selective about which they attend, as they are invited to so many.
Press days can be held at a PR agency’s offices, a location such as a hotel, or in-house at the designer’s studio. In the UK, the majority are held in London as this is where the main fashion press and buyers are based and, with the competition evident, it is important to make it as easy as possible for guests to attend.
Press packs and lookbooks are generally made available at these events, which give the opportunity to directly engage with key industry influencers. Press packs should contain a designer biography and brand background, a collection lookbook, details of where the collection is stocked, as well as full contact details.
Modern consumers continue to watch celebrities avidly – as soon as a new look is seen on the red carpet at a film premiere, it is shared worldwide on websites and blogs. For a designer, having garments from their latest collection worn by a celebrity that regularly appears in the public eye can have a significant impact on sales. As consumer aspirations to emulate a celebrity lifestyle continue to grow, and reality TV continues to expand, celebrity endorsements have an even bigger impact.
For designers it is important to consider which celebrities they would like to be seen wearing their garments, and how that celebrity embraces what the brand stands for. This is a good starting point for making decisions about which famous people to offer garments to. A PR agency will have relationships with some celebrities and if a designer wants items to be sent to a particular celebrity, will have an understanding of how best to approach this.
Approaching people that we see on our television and movie screens every day can be a daunting task, but if a celebrity feels an affinity with a brand, they are often happy to be seen supporting the label. A great shot of a high-profile celebrity in a key look from a designer’s collection can be enough PR for some brands to last a long time.
Journalists will only be interested in material that is relevant to their readers, whether that be for a newspaper, glossy magazine or blog. Without readers, a publication loses the ability to create revenue through advertisers, who look for reader numbers. Even for bloggers, without an audience the impetus to share thoughts and information with others would quickly be lost.
Working with a fashion PR agency that has existing connections and contacts can provide the perfect way for many designers to build connections with the media, giving them exposure that would otherwise be difficult to obtain. This can, however, be too costly for many fledgling fashion businesses.
If working directly with journalists, it is important to remember that they like to be kept informed on a regular basis of what’s happening, sometimes expecting exclusives and information in advance of general release, so they can beat their competition to a new story.
Bloggers have different pressures to journalists and their deadlines may be created for entirely different reasons. A number of bloggers work from home and may have to balance family commitments with a full-time job, so they may only work on their blogs in the evenings. They do, however, play an increasingly important role in communicating news so it is important to ensure that you consider bloggers when building your media contacts.
While it is ultimately the journalist or writer’s responsibility to understand the needs and preferences of their readers, anyone wanting the media to write about them must also have a strong understanding of the sort of news and information that is of interest and that sells.
If you want to be covered by Vogue, for example, you will need a very clear understanding of who reads it and what they expect from it. Even if you think you know who the readers of a publication are, you should check the profile of the publication by accessing its advertising information data, which is usually available online. This is intended to demonstrate to advertisers the audience demographic for a publication, highlighting the type of reader their adverts would need to be targeted at.
Ultimately, the best way to assess what the reader is looking for from a particular publication is to read it yourself. To get a feel for what the reader wants and expects, you only have to take a look at the images, the editorial, regular features and advertisers. As you read through relevant magazines to assess their readership, it is also worth familiarizing yourself with the regular sections and columns, as these can provide good opportunities for you to supply timely and relevant information that works within an existing format. Understanding a publication and how it covers topics and news, and then making informed and relevant suggestions for input, can be much more powerful than sending a general press release to the editor.
Likewise with bloggers, the only way to get a clear understanding of what their readers are looking for is to read their blog, including its archived articles, comments and social media profiles linked to the blog. Facebook and Twitter can be powerful communities and forums, where conversations are held that give a real insight into what interests blog readers.
As with most data sources, building a useful and current media target list takes time and patience and a considerable amount of research. It’s a good idea to begin with a larger list of all of the magazines, newspapers, blogs and broadcast contacts that you would like to print your news and information and then edit it down into a smaller list of priorities. Include a top tier of approximately ten key contacts that represent the most desirable publications you would like to cover your stories.
There are a number of media list subscription services available that allow access to a researched and up-to-date database of contacts for a monthly fee. These can be refined to build your own tailored list. They can be costly to subscribe to, but save a lot of time. Fashion Monitor, Mediadisk and ResponseSource are just some of these services. Most PR agencies subscribe to a list of this sort that can be refined for each client.
There are also press release or newswire distribution services and news syndication services that charge a fee for sending out text and/or images to a large database of contacts. This is more of a scattergun approach that can gather coverage across a much broader range of publications, especially online. Examples of these include PR Newswire and SourceWire.
A number of the publications that cover stories using this method can be obscure, but a presence across a number of online sites can boost search engine optimization (SEO) presence and numbers, which can also help raise brand awareness (see pages 110–111).
Creating content such as features, press releases, news alerts and product details forms the basis of a significant amount of PR activity. This can be challenging and time consuming if a target publication’s content and preferences are not clearly understood. Some publications issue editorial guidelines with details of how they prefer to receive submissions. Some also provide editorial team contact details and information about which areas each journalist covers. This should provide a clear indication of what the publishers are looking for.
Most publications also issue guidelines on submitting images to accompany a press release or feature. These will refer to the image format, caption and other information regarding image copyright, the file size and also the style of the image. It is vital to study the type of images and ‘feel’ of the visual aspects of a publication to gain a full understanding of what they are likely to accept and, ultimately, print.
While most publications will accept press releases – generally in digital format – not all will be receptive to lengthier features or ideas for them. Some will, however, accept a brief summary of a suggested feature, in a couple of paragraphs. If they consider it will fit in with the publication, they may then ask for the article to be submitted in full.
Press or news releases are the most common method of communication for many designers, PR agencies and in-house press teams. A press release offers a journalist or writer information that will be concise, topical, and based on factual details that are of interest to their readers. Press release content is generally geared at releasing news and information that hasn’t previously been available and is relevant at the time of release. There is no point in sending out details of an event or launch that has either already happened (unless offering a review of a successful event), or is going to happen a long time in the future.
To gain further understanding of news and other information sent out from a brand, journalists are often interested in the people behind the brand. Information of interest is likely to include where they come from, what their experience is, what they have done in the past, along with some relevant personal details. Creating a professional biography to address this is important as it encourages a connection with brand customers, as people increasingly look for the human element of what they are buying into. Ensuring this information is readily available online on branded websites and social media profiles is also important for brand connection and consistency.
Consider designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Tom Ford, for example, whose personal profiles, beliefs, and experience are integral to their brand and what it stands for. Not all designers approach the public face of their brand in this way, but for new designers, creating a personal element to the brand can lead to a closer understanding of the customer. Professional photographs can also be provided to depict the people behind the brand, which the reader will become familiar with and recognize over time.
Features and lengthier, more involved opportunities to contribute to magazines, newspapers and broadcast channels can also be secured, giving an opportunity to provide more column inches in targeted publications. These can take the form of an in-depth interview with a designer, a feature on an industry issue that may include contributions from other designers, or a comment piece on a particular trend or style. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and many publications are open to ideas for features if they are presented in an informed and concise manner and demonstrate a sound knowledge of the publication itself.
PR agencies are adept at ‘pitching in’ ideas for features and at the placement of stories with targeted publications. For designers approaching this independently, building strong relationships with journalists over time by consistently offering up information in a relevant and timely manner can create opportunities for story and feature ideas in the future.
Once relationships have been developed with the media, whether via a PR agency or directly, it is important to ensure that these contacts are kept informed of label and collection updates and developments on a regular basis. Media interest in the brand should be maintained by ensuring they are communicated with and perhaps offered exclusive information.
Keeping websites and social media channels up to date and creating content on own-branded blogs is also important as it shows evidence of a committed and informative communicator and allows interested parties to be kept informed about the label.
Maintaining a consistent and regularly updated profile across key channels is much more involved than simply sending out a press release at the launch of each new collection. This is a consideration when deciding whether or not to invest in outsourced media and PR assistance.
Established by PR consultant Sam Fearn, Fashion Press Week was launched at the Saatchi Gallery in London in November 2010. Sam Fearn has worked in PR for more than ten years and began her career with Weber Shandwick PR in New York after graduating from Leeds University. She was headhunted by Hill and Knowlton PR in New York, before returning to the UK in 2001.
Sam established her agency, Fearnhurst PR, in London and currently works with a number of well-known high-street brands including AllSaints, Hobbs, Pied a Terre, Nine West, Bertie, Kenneth Cole, Kookai and Pandora. Familiar with press days herself and the time and costs involved in managing and hosting them, she decided to look for an alternative approach.
Sam explains, ‘The media get invited to numerous press days throughout the year. For many journalists, stylists and photographers interested in seeing garments and meeting designers but short on time, they are a necessary luxury. I decided to find a way to bring together designers, their PR representatives and the media in one location twice a year, to see if the whole process could be made more efficient.’
Exhibitors are chosen by a panel of industry experts. They are selected as part of a representative cross-section of brands and retailers and include emerging designers, ethical brands, high-street brands, accessory companies, wholesalers, department stores, childrenswear designers, and international brands.
Collaborative events of this nature are being seen more often across the industry, as people become more focused on efficiency and are challenged by time constraints. The benefit for brands, the press and buyers is that everyone can capitalize on multiple opportunities and exposure at one event, in one location, at one time.
Bloody Gray PR is a boutique fashion PR agency that represents rising as well as established design stars across the industry. Founded in 2010, Bloody Gray has built up a reputation of being a supportive and nurturing agency that works with clients it connects with and truly believes in. Rebecca Gray is its founder and MD.
Using the five Ws principles (see page 83) of writing a press release about a collection, create a brief news release, two or three paragraphs in length. It could focus on either your own or another brand, and should be written with relevant target media in mind.
Think about the most important element of the story, and what would be most compelling to the target readers. If you’re releasing a new collection but it’s not your first, think about what makes the second collection different, and the reasons for the new approach. If the collection is similar to a previous one, think about why – was this a response to positive customer feedback?
Journalists receive dozens of releases a day, so yours has to offer something interesting and memorable in order to stand out. If you’re a very young designer or you have transferred from another industry, that could be what’s unique about you. Alternatively, it could be that you’ve collaborated with others to produce the collection, or that the materials you’ve used are unusual.
Ask others what they think is your brand’s unique selling point (USP), as they can take a more objective view. Ask friends and family, colleagues and customers what they think makes each collection stand out and work this information into your press release.
Try to keep your release brief, to the point and make sure it includes all the relevant details, such as where an event is happening or a collection is being launched, how people can obtain further details and contact you, and where potential customers can buy your collection.