Q&A: Designer’s guide to hiring a PR firm pt.2

This is part two of Shannon’s guest entry Q&A: Designer’s guide to hiring a PR Firm. To remind you, she is co-owner of Pitch Press which provides affordable public relations focusing exclusively on securing fashion editorial.
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Q. Let’s say I can’t afford a publicist but would like to try to get product placement in editorials for local magazines (Seattle has a few higher end magazines that include fashion editorials). What is the best way to approach their style editors and begin building relationships?

Shannon: First, you need to have a strategy in place. Are you looking to secure editorial at a local or at a national level? If it is local, I do not think you need to hire someone. Most editors of city publications or daily newspapers are user-friendly -especially when working directly with the designer. If that’s the route you are looking to take, I suggest the following grassroots approach:

  1. Contact the editor to find out how he/she prefers to communicate (email, desk side, telephone).
  2. Create a package customized to him/her (include a look book, short intro letter (samples are available for shoots, how old the collection is, where it is manufactured, size run, fabric content, local retailers), biz card, contact information).
  3. Reach out to your local fashion week event. More often than not, your city books and papers will cover the event, which is a great introduction of the line to the editor(s), and a great introduction of the editor to you, as a designer.
  4. Go after your city guides: online, in print, or even on the radio. Find out whom to contact and ask for a review.
  5. Work with your retailers to get your styles they carry, credited in the fashion stories that are getting written about their store.

Q. Let’s say I want the same person/agency to do my PR that does other certain brands, i.e. [competing brands], etc. How do find out that information?

Shannon: As a publicist I will not take competing brands. One, it is a disservice to my clients. Two, I think it causes confusion at an editorial level. Be wary of firms (and showrooms for that matter) unwilling to provide a comprehensive list of clients they represent. Read all the fine print in your contract and if you feel verbiage is missing, ask for a clause to be added.

Q. How do products get into the hands of celebrities (or onto their babies), and once there, how do you get photos? Purely through celebrity gifting events? What other channels?

Shannon: Celebrity placement (that being a celebrity or their offspring), strutting the streets in your design and getting photographed at the same time, comes down to timing, luck and money. Some celebs do it the good ‘ol fashion way: they buy it and pay for it because they like it and then you win the lottery because they wear and are photographed in it. Others are gifted the item and snapped on the spot as they receive the giveaway (rarely do you see a celeb traipsing around town in a freebie). And often times, the celeb is being paid big bucks to wear the garment or carry the bag. Pay-for-play has never been more popular. Celebs don’t sit front row at the collections for free, at least, not all the time.

As for tracking your celebrity placement, there are a few ways. If you are participating in a swag suite, the organizer will have Wire Image photographers as part of your package. If you get wind from a retailer that a celebrity has purchased a piece from your collection there are numerous sites online that monitor celebrities’ every move and you can scroll through the abundance of images they post daily.

Q. Like a lot of us, I wonder about the cost/benefit relationship. It sounds like you and Miracle have had a great experience. Not everyone has such positive results. I suspect it’s about the match between the PR firm, product you sell, and your business goals. I too have questions about finding the right person and I’m also curious about ways to manage costs. Are there things I can do in conjunction with the PR firm to keep costs reasonable? What questions should I be asking of a firm to assess whether they are a good match? Is success primarily about contacts the PR firm has? Is it about the other firms they represent? What are the indicators I should look for?

Shannon: Know your needs. Are you seeking a full-service public relations firm? Marketing as well? Is location a factor? These three may set you back thousands a month. By identifying your needs and goals you’ll have a better shot of finding a firm that caters to what you need. For instance, at Pitch Press, we focus on just pitching and securing editorial. By eliminating the rest of the full-service efforts, our monthly retainer is a fraction of full-service rates. So, for those designers seeking on-going editorial and media placement at an affordable monthly rate, we are fit. For others who are looking for expertise in fashion shows, we are not. Designers who are looking for an as-per-credit retainer, we are not. Those needing business/financial press release, that’s not us either. But there are agencies out there for all of these things and more.

Q. Having had a not so good experience with PR (lot of money with nothing to show for it), I want to know how you judge success along the way. When do you pull the plug? Should you sign a contract? We agreed to 6 months, and a lot of magazines/pubs were approached (I guess), and it’s a crap shoot, I know, but there must be some way to assess it.

Shannon: It is important to understand the PR process. Monthly fashion books work 4, 5 and 6 months out. More often than not, hundreds of samples are called in (sometimes thousands, no joke) for but a few spots. First you have to be a part of the trend they are seeking -then- beat out the competition (by style, price, color, silhouette/shape, fabric etc.). Then get through the hands of: the Assistant, Market Editor, Fashion Editor, Fashion Director, Sittings Editor, Photographer, Art Department, Credits Editor, Editor in Chief, then hopefully reaching the printing stage. Be realistic. Is your line all-fringe when they are seeking geometric prints one month, or suede when it’s patent they are calling in the next? Are you designing suits when dresses are all the rage? Is your price point in queue with the economy? Unfortunately, a time limit cannot be put on a publicist’s efforts as the trends changes as often as the tides. Consistency is key in this case, as when the tides turn in your trend’s favor you will be at the forefront of their mind and on the top of their desk.
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Thanks for answering our questions Shannon! All, don’t hesitate to contact Pitch Press if you think they’d be a fit for you.

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