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I Need To Know: Is there still a place for fashion PR?

WORDS BY GENEVIEVE PHELAN

Yes, if you “think like an editor and don’t be a dick”. 

The evolution of the fashion-media ecosystem over the last few years feels momentous to me. I’ve worked in publicity now for four-ish years, and editorial writing for about six. Having one foot in media and the other in the realm of PR has allowed me to experience the best of both worlds, and gain a unique understanding of how these worlds play off each other.

That is, one doesn’t really operate without the other – they’re intricately linked in a symbiotic relationship of sorts. But what I’ve noticed lately, and have been dying to investigate, is a ‘decentralisation’ of the media-PR industry at large.


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It seems that smaller, nimble consultancies, individual operators and ‘anti-agencies’ are being favoured by small businesses when they hope to make their first foray into publicity. Snappier, humanised, entertaining emails outweigh the default media release approach. Formalities? I don’t think there’s a place for them.

Publicists are becoming more bespoke with their pitching, putting themselves at the desk of the writer and giving them workable angles to play with for a great story. Does anyone actually want to receive the same cut-and-paste, excessively wordy email that 50 other writers have seen today? No. I’ve received zillions of pitch emails as a writer, and disseminated trillions of pitch emails as a publicist.

But what I’ve noticed from both sides is that when you’re creative and you care and there is a relationship of sorts between the writer/editor and PR, brilliant narratives will emerge. I’ve had pitches land in my inbox that have absolutely no relevance to the articles I write (or have ever written), and sigh as I go through the painstaking admin task of saying “Thank you, but this isn’t quite relevant to me” and deleting them all. 

Engaging someone who deeply understands and aligns themselves with a client is the goal, and a tailored, adaptable and boutique approach to generating media coverage seems to be winning over large retainers with little reward. Then again, that’s just my opinion. And I’m biased.

But with more and more brand founders reaching out directly to editors and building relationships with journalists of their own accord, I need to know: is there still a place for fashion PR? Below, a few of my favourite Australian publicists and journalists dissect this delicate symbiosis and give their best advice on how to do good PR.

Annie Carroll, Director of In-Prose

 

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How do you think fashion PR has evolved in recent years?

Like all fashion comms, the fashion PR industry has been fragmented over the years. Smaller, boutique agencies have disrupted the status quo by charging less, and because they’re nimble, they can work with clients whose values align with theirs. Social media has obviously completely changed the landscape of fashion PR in several ways: individuals have become the conduit to mass influence and reach, and publications are having to adapt and tweak their own content strategies to maintain their dominance.

Throw in a pandemic and an increasingly urgent conversation around sustainability and industry ethics (fanned by the flames of whistleblowers like Diet Prada), and you’ve got a far more nuanced, decentralised PR landscape than ever before. The reduction in industry events over the past two years has, in many ways, democratised the space. I am interested to see what happens next.

Do you think there is still a place for it? And why or why not? 

More than ever, to be honest. Do you want a tight-knit, highly engaged audience? You better be telling them a cracking story. That’s where PR comes in! It is an incredibly powerful tool for emerging brands to grow an audience, build a loyal customer base and avoid getting stuck with average sales leads coming in at the middle of the sales funnel. In my experience, PR that makes a difference is less reliant on swanning about a showroom and more reliant on solid relationships with editors and journalists and genuinely interesting story ideas. 

What’s one tip you’d give someone hoping to hone their skills in fashion publicity? 

Think like an editor and don’t be a dick. 

@anniecarrolll

Divya Venkataraman, Content Editor at Vogue Australia

 

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How do publicity and fashion intersect in your world/career?

As a magazine editor at a fashion magazine, publicity is really important to the way we work. While I’m always keeping my eye out myself for emerging brands, new collections and collaborations, a good PR can make the right piece drop into your hands right as you’re looking for it (or just as a trend piece is beginning to percolate in your mind).  

Do you think there is still a place for it? And why or why not?

I think so. As we know, the fashion industry continues to get more and more saturated, and it takes more targeted marketing and slicker presentation than ever to stand out. Especially when it comes to making brands feel like an aspirational lifestyle – more than just a product to buy and forget about a few weeks later. 

What’s one tip you’d give someone hoping to hone skills in fashion publicity?

Consume all the media you can, especially the kind that you’d like your clients’ products to feature in. Being aware of trends and the way they are communicated to audiences editorially will be really useful for pitching. 

@divyavnkt

Lib Hutton, Director of Project Hutton

 

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How do you think fashion PR has evolved in recent years?

Gone are the days of fashion editors having the time to visit PR showrooms and pull product. The fashion teams at mags are much smaller now. This means PRs are more important than ever to help coordinate product to shoots seamlessly or to supply flat lay imagery. And of course, there is no surprise [when it comes] to the shift to online we’ve seen over the last 10 years.

Do you think there is still a place for it? And why or why not? 

I do. Every brand has a story to tell. Online provides a wonderful platform to be able to share those stories in short form (as opposed to long-form in print mags) with direct links to the brand website. Print will always have a place. The benefit to brands now, other than the obvious brand awareness is the incredible content they produce. Having your brand styled by the best creatives in Australia is priceless.

What’s one tip you’d give someone hoping to hone their skills in fashion publicity?  

It’s all about relationships. Get out there and meet the key contacts for either breakfast, lunch or a drink! Learn from them too. Ask how they like to receive info/be contacted because, at the end of the day, it’s a PR’s job to make life easier for the editor. And once you nail that, they’ll keep coming back to you. 

@libcarter_

Dani Maher, Digital Writer at Harper’s Bazaar

 

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How do you think fashion PR has evolved in recent years?

It’s changed a lot, in a lot of ways. I think that with the continued evolution of social media in recent years, and particularly with the growth of TikTok and Instagram Reels, the way a large segment of the market consumes content has changed. We have shorter attention spans, which means that brands and media have had to adapt our methods of grabbing that attention while it lasts. Fashion PR has had to evolve to become snappier in communicating brand ideals and campaigns so that publications and writers like me are more likely to be able to communicate that in turn to our audiences. 

Obviously, COVID has had a major impact too. For PR, a lot rests on creating meaningful connections with media, and the decreased opportunities to do that in person have been difficult. Adapting to conducting more business between PR and publication online instead of face-to-face is something we’re all still getting our heads around, I think.

Do you think there is still a place for it? And why or why not? 

You could argue that the democratisation and increased accessibility of the industry mean that there’s a bit more of a direct line between brand and consumer. But even so, there will always be a place for publicity in fashion. Working in digital media, a lot relies on timeliness and keeping up with everything that’s going on in your scope of content. Like I said previously, PR is like an intermediary for us, keeping us informed so we can inform the public.

Having that line of communication is vital for ensuring we are on top of everything major that’s happening in the fashion world, so as long as publications exist, so too will publicity. Will it have to continue to evolve as the industry does? Absolutely! But people still love to have content served up to them, so we’ll continue to work together to do so, evolving as we go. 

What’s one tip you’d give someone hoping to hone their skills in fashion publicity? 

I’d say the biggest and most important skill in this industry (and all media, honestly) is flexibility – if you are open to trying new things and being experimental with new platforms as they arise, going with the flow as it all evolves and trying to upskill and learn from those around you wherever possible, you’re more of an asset to the people you’re trying to connect with. 

@danimaherr

Danielle Gay, Executive Editor at Gritty Pretty

 

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How do you think fashion PR has evolved in recent years?

I’ve definitely noticed the pendulum swing toward events. When I first started in the industry, at Vogue, I made an effort to do one-on-one breakfasts with PRs to meet them, hear their latest updates and brand stories. This was the main way I was able to connect with publicists and brands.

Now, I feel like I really get to ‘touch’ the brands we work with at weekly immersive event experiences created by fashion and beauty PRs. I am certain the job of fashion PR has expanded into event coordination. It seems, like most jobs in the industry, they’re really expected to do it all.

Do you think there is still a place for it? And why or why not? 

There is absolutely still a place for fashion PRs. I really believe they’re at the heart of the industry. They are the ones that cultivate the relationships between journalists and the brands, doing so with grace and having tough conversations on both sides so that this symbiotic relationship continues to flourish.  

What’s one tip you’d give someone hoping to hone their skills in fashion publicity? 

The best fashion PRs are the ones that take the time to understand how individual journalists work. The days of the email blast to everyone are over – journalists can see through when they’ve been bcc’d with 50 other writers and this just doesn’t work anymore. There are some journalists that want to jump on a call and others that don’t – all of the incredible beauty and fashion publicists I work with tailor their communications to each journalist in order to yield the best results for everyone involved.

@danielle_gay

Genevieve Phelan is Fashion Journal’s Lifestyle & Careers Columnist. Her writing fuses introspection with investigation, calling on her own personal anecdotes and the advice of admired experts in the realms of intimacy, money, friendship, careers and love. You can find her here and here.

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