Ok. So you’re an emerging designer with an incredible collection. Maybe you’ve been around for a while and have some retail outlets under your belt. You’re expanding quickly, and there is a demand for your product. You now want to create more brand visibility get your line ‘out there’ consistently from an editorial, celebrity and product placement perspective. You’ve scored some PR hits and a dressed a few celebrities in the past, but you’ve exhausted all of those relationships and need to introduce your collection to a new audience. You’re contemplating hiring a PR firm, but you want to know 1) can you afford it 2) is it really going to be beneficial and 3) what’s the process of finding the right firm for you?
All great questions. As the owner of a boutique fashion and beauty PR firm, I’m approached often by emerging designers looking for PR. However, choosing to take on an emerging or new designer means more than how amazing or well-crafted his or her collection is— or even—how well I think it will do editorially. There is a process to determining whether a fashion line is— what we like to call— ‘PR Ready.’ The PR firm/designer relationship is a symbiotic one; just as the designer must find the right firm that suits his or her needs, the PR firm must find designer clients who grasp the PR process. It’s a marriage of sorts and requires teamwork, preparation and strategy to achieve ultimate success.
In our efforts to inform and educate the emerging designer community about the PR process, we’ve listed the top 10 Fundamentals for a PR Marriage, with the hopes that it will help answer your questions and get you moving toward becoming ‘PR Ready.’ We also hope that this will help you identify what to look for when searching for a PR firm. So, pencils out; you’re sure to gain something valuable from the tips below.
1) Get ‘PR Ready’
PR requires the right tools and tactics to achieve success. The PR firm has the responsibility of presenting you, your collection and your brand in the best possible light. This, however, requires some effort, input and organization on the designer’s part as well. Being PR ready simply means having a solid infrastructure in place—i.e. is your collection available online or in multiple retail outlets, are you meeting your orders and shipments in time, are your manufacturers (domestic or abroad) dependable and reputable? In a nutshell, is your business running smoothly and consistently? These are the types of things we consider, as— believe it or not— they have a direct impact on PR. We can’t so our jobs successfully unless we know that your infrastructure is solid and in place.
2) Think Like a Brand from the Outset
We’re strong believers in articulating and designating a clear vision for your brand and working diligently toward your future goals. Do you envision your collection being bought in mass by a major department or specialty store? Do you imagine jaw dropping ad campaigns in Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue? Well, it’s never too early to clearly define your brand essence, core brand values and to develop a solid brand identity. In the critical launch phase, you should be working with a PR firm that takes a brand-centric approach to your initiatives, one that genuinely believes in your future as much as you do and presents your collection to the media properly. In theory, you should be looking for a firm that grasps the importance of visuals and branded PR tools—including your website, press releases, press kits, look books, electronic materials and social media presence.
3) Make Tough Decisions
These days, everything boils down to budget. You may be saying, ‘I’m at a point where I need PR, but how do I pay for it?’ You have options. Perhaps it’s a matter of reallocating existing funds. Perhaps you should reconsider that big-budget Fashion Week runway presentation and do a small, private viewing for media and buyers instead. There are ways to save money, and if you’re considering PR, you have to look at it as a long-term benefit for your brand.
4) Consider Your Options
What many PR firms won’t tell you is that you have options when it comes to PR; there are many ways of going about achieving your PR objectives. While most firms require full-service monthly retainers under long-term contract, others are offering value-added options, such as ala carte or pay-per-placement services. Be sure to ask the right questions and know what your less expensive alternatives are.
5) Think Hard About The One Stop Shop
Many New York-based PR firms are joint PR and sales showrooms. They offer a comprehensive service package designed to get your collection into your target retail outlets, as well as get you coverage in the top magazines, websites and TV shows on the PR side. When considering the one-stop-shop, weigh your options and decide if you really need everything the package includes. Perhaps a single focused PR initiative, with your own in-house sales team in place, is a better option. Think about your specific needs and assess a strategy accordingly.
6) Use Your Resources
When it comes to PR, there will undoubtedly be extra fees incurred when executing a full-fledged PR campaign. Perhaps your firm suggests doing an event and brand presentation to editors that requires production and logistical costs. You’ll want to work with a firm that understands the importance of resourcefulness and achieving a top-notch presentation, while eliminating unnecessary costs. In a marriage, both parties should be coming to the table with resources that will contribute toward achieving core objectives.
7) Clearly Identify Long and Short Term Goals
The right PR firm should be able to help you with assessing and evaluating your long and short-term media objectives. You should look for a firm’s portfolio of media placements and ask yourself: are they diverse, are they consistently securing hits for similar emerging designer clients in the top consumer magazines, websites, blog and TV shows? Do they seem to be stronger in print vs. television? Do you get the feeling that they fully grasp digital and social media or does their approach seem ‘old school and out of date?’ You should be thinking in terms of what they can offer your brand and if can they realistically meet your short and long term goals.
8) Be A Partner
Your PR firm should not only be a representation of you, they should also be an extension of you. When considering a firm, ask for referrals from other clients (past or present) to fairly assess their working style. You should ask if the firm is flexible, do they really work diligently on behalf of the client? Do they go above and beyond? Are they available on weekends or after hours? Is their team or the person handling your account competent and eager? You should be asking the tough questions, as these are the nuances between firms that may help you decide which is best for you.
9) Set Goals, Not Expectations
PR is a process; it is part media savvy, part relationship building, part strategy, part branding, part preparation, part timing and sometimes, part pure luck. All of these components are critical when it comes to the firm/designer marriage. Perhaps it is your goal to be featured in Lucky or GQ. Perhaps your ultimate hit is the Oprah show. Your firm should be working with you to set practical goals, while working diligently toward the idealistic ones. If your ideals aren’t happening immediately, your firm should be able to, at minimum, show you tangible and quantifiable evidence that they are working consistently toward meeting your long-term objectives.
10) Take the Time to Educate Yourself
Sure, we know you’re busy dealing with sketches, fabrics, manufacturers and buyers, but it is imperative to take the time to educate yourself on PR, what it entails and its benefits. It is the only way you can truly determine when PR is right for you and who’s right for the job. It will only help you to guide your firm in the right direction, as you grow toward becoming a household name.
In summary, the PR/designer marriage must also be fulfilling, rewarding and stable. You should work with a firm that is a personality match for you, whether that’s fun and quirky, or serious and corporate. In the courtship process, be sure to do your research, get educated and go with your gut. Eventually, you’ll find the one.