The role of a fashion publicist is not what it used to be.
Good relationships between publicists and editors no longer guarantee press for PR clients — just like an article on a major fashion publication’s website no longer guarantees a brand’s success.
Today, not only do publicists need to secure press for a brand, but they also need to understand social media strategies, the importance of celebrity collaborations and social media influencers, and how results of their work—whether it be a story, eyeballs on social media, or purchases — actually move a brand’s bottom line.
In our latest installment of Confessions, in which we grant anonymity for honesty, we talk to a vp of fashion at a PR firm—who has been in the business for 11 years—about how the industry has changed in recent years and how brands’ expectations don’t often align with reality.
How has fashion PR changed in the last three years?
Fashion has just started to talk to its audience directly — everything used to be through the lens of the media, and our strategies as publicists were intended for that. For example, if a collection came out or a brand launched, it always started with media and press: What does the press think? What’s the review? But brands have a voice now, directly to consumers — they can tell their own narratives. They don’t need Elle.com or Vogue.com to filter the message.
But brands still want that coverage, right?
They still want coverage from Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and they still have that expectation, but what used to be worthy of press is no longer press-worthy. We’ve got clients who do big parties and store openings, and the photos from those events used to end up in the party photo section of Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar—but nowadays, editors are like, “Why would I write about that when it was all over Instagram last night?” Some brands struggle to realize that. They also don’t realize that hugely successful activations don’t need media to support them.
It sounds like they’re out of touch.
A brand may be working on something and want Harper’sBazaar.com to cover it, and for us it’s like, “Have you been on the website in the last year? Do you even know what they’re writing about?” There’s often a huge miss on what the brand is asking for and also on their expectation they’ll land it.
Do brands still link success to getting into one of these magazines?
Some of them do. For instance, there are standout pieces from collections every season, which may get covered in the media. Then there are the pieces that don’t get any media attention at all—but that doesn’t mean they’re not selling. Usually, pieces that do well editorially don’t sell well, which [publicists] know—but brands lack research elements and just look at what’s doing well in the media. They need other strategies to find out what their customers want. It may be a plain black sweater, which isn’t special and would never make it to Vogue.com, but it’s a huge seller. That confuses brands.
How has your relationship with fashion media changed?
Print media is largely run by advertisers, so the real estate available in print magazines is much smaller. You don’t really get feature pieces like you used to. When you do get stories about designers and brands, it’s for advertisers.
What do you mean?
It used to be that, to keep advertisers happy, magazines would traditionally do a kick back, where they’d feature products or do a story about their advertisers’ products, for example. But it’s gotten to a level where [magazines] desperately have to hang on to these advertisers. In fact, there are those that only include advertising clients on their shopping pages. Typically, when editors are looking to call in product, they’re given a list of advertisers they need to pull product from. If there’s space at the end, they can pull in other brands, but advertisers come first.
What about digital media?
When digital came on the scene, it was a haven. Three to five years ago, if we couldn’t get print credit, we’d go somewhere digital. Now, digital fashion media is governed by SEO and click-throughs — and if it’s not national, it has no place in digital press anymore. There are also a lot of sponsored posts today, so we’re competing for that space, as well.
As far as brands are concerned, where do social media influencers and celebrities fit into all of this?
Gigi Hadid and Kendall Jenner get enormous attention for what they’re wearing. You wouldn’t think the readership of certain publications would be interested in what a 19-year-old is wearing, but it drives a lot of their digital content because it gives them clicks. So if any of those girls are wearing your brand’s products, you get nice press credit. I’ve heard editors say, “It’s a great trench coat, but if there’s a celebrity who has owned it, even better” — because of the clicks.
What’s your biggest frustration working with brands?
The majority of our clients still don’t know how to loop us in on their analytics. We’re an industry that’s been pigeonholed: “You do media, you talk to editors.” They don’t want to open up to us about business and growth, but we’re asking about analytics because we want to know if a publisher is moving sales. Some big fashion magazines don’t move sales — sometimes it’s the smaller digital sites that we’re seeing sales from.