PR & Communications Panel Discussion

PR 101

As part of CFDA’s Professional Development programming, we recently held a discussion panel which focused on public relations and communications and addressed some of the challenges that designers face.  Panelists included Malcolm Carfrae – EVP of Global Communications for Calvin Klein, Ed Filipowski – President, KCD Worldwide and Leslie Rubisch, Global Image and Communications Director at Alexander Wang.

Here are some of their top tips:

 1)      Have a clear brand vision.

Ed Filipowski suggests that you should be able to close your eyes and have a very clear picture of who you are.  Stay consistent with your vision, don’t listen to everybody and don’t be afraid to take a stand.

2)      Know where you are and where you want to go.

Leslie Rubisch advises emerging designers to be comfortable with where they are and to set goals for where they’d like to be.  There is no one path to success.  Be realistic and go slowly.  Dream big and take small steps.

3)      PR Agencies and In-House PR serve different needs.

Look at what your current public relations needs are.  A modern approach for established businesses is often a combination of both agency and in-house to service their different needs-digital PR, events, traditional media, foreign markets and Fashion Week. An agency publicist is an extension of you so choose carefully.  When looking at agencies, pay attention to the brands they represent, how they align with yours, and who the people are that would be communicating on your behalf.

4)      Get personal.

PR is really about personal relationships.  Set up meetings, develop personal relationships with editors and don’t be afraid to go to the top of the masthead.  You should be informed about what the editor specializes in or what they have written recently. Don’t be afraid to give them a compliment or let them know that you enjoyed a certain story or spread.  They will appreciate and remember the acknowledgement.

5)      It’s not all about the runway show.

The panelists were in agreement that there is a lot of pressure in today’s industry to do a runway show, but that there were other ways to legitimize oneself as a designer.  A presentation can be as effective as a runway show and allow for one-on-one communication between the editors and buyers.

6)      Know your pitch

Malcolm Carfrae emphasized that your pitch has to be authentic.  Relationships are about creating trust. If you pitch an editor an irrelevant story too often, they will stop taking your call.  Ed Filipowski encourages his team to think twice before pitching a story. Ask yourself if you have developed the story far enough and if you are pitching it to the right person.  Leslie Rubisch warns against using overplayed words and stories.

7)      Stylists are the key to celebrity placement

The right celebrity is an important element of public relations and can generate both sales and press. Stylists are often the most effective way to reach a celebrity.  Invite them to your showroom and find out what their clients are looking for. Cultivate a relationship. And once you get that amazing celebrity placement, get the image out within 24 hours!

8)      Go digital

Digital media shouldn’t be ignored and is an excellent way for emerging designers to build brand awareness.  There are so many good fashion websites and they are always looking for content.    Malcolm Carfrae notes that twitter is an excellent platform to create a relationship with editors and the industry in addition to creating brand awareness. He also advises not to ignore bloggers and to include them on your invite list.  Some have millions of page views and can make a real impact.

9)      Don’t make assumptions

If you are interested in working with a Public Relations firm, reach out to them.  Don’t assume that you can’t afford them.  Sometimes these firms will take on smaller brands if they see potential growth and talent.  The same can be said about editors and media.  Be realistic but don’t be afraid to ask for a meeting or to introduce yourself to the industry.