VFS Mentoring Event Review - PR and Media Relations

The New Year certainly has got off to a good start with Tuesday’s mentoring class (the first for 2011) perhaps being the most popular of the season. This may well have been due to our impressive panel of industry experts who joined us especially for our discussion on the topic of ‘Fashion PR and Media Relations’:


Jessica is the Fashion Features Editor for Vogue.com and is responsible for the writing and breaking daily news stories, designer interviews and Vogue Loves pages. She covers and features the shows during Fashion Week and is always on the look out for new designers.


Caroline Issa is the Exclusive Fashion Director and Publisher of Tank magazine. Her publishing house, Tank Magazine Ltd, also publish "O:Magazine by Tank", the luxury fashion supplement for The Observer.Caroline is also editor-in-chief of online publication, Because Magazine.

Courtney Blackman: MD of Forward PR

Courtney Blackman is the founder of London’s Forward PR in 2004, she is serving as managing director. She also founded Fashion Business Club in 2006 and was appointed board member of the Ethical Fashion Forum in 2009, both working towards shaping the fashion industry. An Entrepreneur in all aspects of life Courtney works internationally including producing art and music festivals. She has also been featured in numerous publications and is a regular fashion commentator for NBC’s Today Show (New York).

Lauren Martin: Mainline Account Manager of Blow PR

Ivan Moya Denia: Mainline Account Manager of Blow PR

After following the steps advised in our previous mentoring classes that focused on the topics of ‘Production’, ‘Pricing & Brand Positioning’ and ‘Sponsorship’, you will hopefully now be beginning to build a professional and proficient brand, (which will no doubt be producing a sizable amount of attention within the world of fashion media!) So I bet now your thinking ‘what next?’
Well like with most things the best place to start is with a spot of research:

• Think where would you like to be featured. For example, do you see your pieces within the pages of Vogue or Grazia? Remember different magazines/ blogs/ webzines relate to different markets and therefore not all press will be suitable for your brand identity and consumer.

• Similarly, begin to think about whom would you like to be seen wearing your creations. (i.e. which celebrity/ model)

Contacting the press:

• If you are to get in touch with an editor/journalist/publisher make sure you contact the right person! (For example, if you are a clothing designer there isn’t much point contacting the jewellery editor!) If you are unsure then look at the masthead (usually found at the front of the magazine) to find the appropriate contact details, or alternatively ring their head office and they will happily point you in the right direction.

• It is polite to send an introductory email or letter first (you can always follow up with a phone call later.) Additional research may be needed to ensure your message is personal and tailored to the individual journalist/ editor/ publisher. For example; ‘Dear Jessica…’ ‘As fashion features editor of Vogue.com, you may be interested in…’

• This research isn’t something that should be done only once: you should always be looking into new publications/ blogs and follow what specific journalists/ editors/ publishers are up to. (Twitter is a useful tool to achieve this)

• Some press may also be interested to know what you’ve been up to and if you have any exciting new projects/ stockists/ collaborations/ events/ celeb fans…etc so don’t be too modest or shy to get in touch! It is also a good idea to use social media (Twitter, Facebook…etc) to your advantage to spread word about your brand and all your latest news.

• It takes time to build up a brand and gain recognition so don’t be offended if you don’t receive a response straight away. If you’re concerned then follow up with a friendly email/phone call a few days later.

• Once you have contacted/ established a relationship with a member of the press be sure to maintain it!

• If a printed publication features your clothing/ shoes/ accessories you should contact them to request tear sheets/ a copy of the issue for your press cuttings/ website/ portfolio.

Press Requests:

If the press contact you it is essential you are as prepared as possible to maintain a high standard of professionalism:

• You should have a set of images of your pieces/collection (either styled on a model or as individual product images or even better, both!)

• You should have two sets of these images: one in high resolution (generally 300 DPI) for print use and another in low resolution (72 DPI) for web.

• Each image should be labelled clearly (for example: yourname_outfit1) so there is no confusion amongst the press who receive your images.

• You will also need a professionally written press release. If you don’t feel comfortable writing this yourself then get a friend or even better a fashion communication/journalism student to do it for you (they usually won’t charge for their services and they will appreciate the experience.)

• Your press release should include a short biography about yourself (where you studied, your previous experience before setting up your label… etc), an outline of the inspiration behind your latest collection, a list of your current stockists (if you are at that stage yet) and your contact details (your registered company address, website URL, telephone number and email plus any social network profiles you have such as Twitter.)

• It is also really important that by this stage you have created a full brand identity (i.e. brand name and logo.) This could also be included on your press release.

Celebrity Requests:

• At the beginning of your career it might seem exciting when a celebrity requests to wear your clothes/shoes/accessories, however be selective; don’t just say “yes” to any so called ‘celebrity’

• Think to yourself ‘does this celeb typically reflect my style and brand identity?’

• Lending samples to celebrities and press that are below standard of your target market may actually do your brand more damage than good!

• If a reputable celebrity is seen wearing your pieces make sure you request pictures for your press cuttings/ website/ portfolio.
PR Agencies:

As your brand continues to grow and become evermore popular, you may decide to employ a PR to assist you with your publicity and press requests.

• Again, the first step is research. Look at various PR companies’ websites to find out what section of the market they fit into and what other labels they represent; are their current clients similar to you?

• Arrange some appointments to meet a few PRs and their show rooms: it is advised you visit as many PR agencies as you can before settling on the one that’s right for you.

• As like when meeting with a buyer (discussed previously in ‘Pricing & Brand Positioning’) you should be fully prepared before your meeting and take along with you a well presented look book/look books of your current and previous collections, a short written bio on yourself as a designer and a press release outlining details of your latest collection.

• If you decide to sign with a PR agency make sure you have a contract in place. Agency fees can range from a couple of hundred pounds a month to thousands so only commit if you are certain you have the funds to support it. (Remember to include this in your costings for the season’s budget: for more details on this please look back at the ‘Pricing & Brand Positioning’ notes) Additional fees for press days, couriers, mail outs, shows and events may also be added onto your final monthly fee.

• The best time of year to join a PR company is usually just after fashion week/ the selling season so your PR will have more time on their hands to ensure you’re ‘settled in’ and your collection will be present in their showroom during those all important ‘press days’.

• The worst time to leave your PR company is (unsurprisingly) a couple of weeks before your Fashion week presentation/show!

• Building a relationship with your PR is important so constant communication between you both is essential. If you are unhappy with the service you are receiving from your PR then don’t just ignore the situation or disappear, arrange a meeting and discuss your issues with them.

In-house PRs / PR interns:

• If you do not have the funds to sign with a PR agency or employ your own PR but still require assistance it may be a good idea to take on an intern to fill this position. It is advised to consider a Fashion Promotion or PR student/graduate or someone who you feel you can trust. However one of the most important things to remember is that this person will be representing you as a designer so it is essential that they understand you and your brand identity.

• Whether you employ an experienced PR or take on an intern its essential that you don’t just ‘leave them to it’ so to speak but manage and over see all that they do: Find out what press they have contacted, what stylists/editors they have sent samples out to, which magazines have featured/ wrote about you...etc and constantly ask for feedback. The same applies if you are signed to a PR agency.

Remember to sign up for the next VFS mentoring class on the topic of ‘Sales,’ taking place 3rd February at the Hospital Club.

Sarah Barlow