It’s hard for any designer to find the right fashion PR. So how do you know what to look for, what to expect and what questions to ask? I met fashion PR, Alison Lowe a few years ago and thought she might be able to give us some advice.
How long have you done PR for?
AL – I set up Felicities just over six years ago but have worked in PR, marketing and business consultancy for 20 years for a range of companies in the private, public and not-for-profit sectors
How did you become interested in PR?
AL – I became interested in PR after working in promotions and became interested in how businesses communicate with the press, customers and potential new business and I felt that so many businesses do not communicate clearly and miss opportunities to increase their sales and generate new business by not giving clear messages about their brand.
Can you take us through your CV?
AL – I have had what they now call a ‘portfolio’ career – I left school at 16 to work in the theatre and on TV as an actress and singer and was a good jobbing artist for several years. In between jobs I always used to do promotions work in order to pay the bills, promoting products and companies in exhibitions, stores and through campaigns – working on everything from selling toys to tea bags. It was during this work that I first realized that companies often spend a lot of money promoting themselves in the wrong places. After a couple of years working for other people I decided to set up my first company Chameleon, an agency specializing in setting up promotions and recruiting promotions staff from the entertainment industry. I sold the business after several successful years in order to concentrate on another business venture that I became involved in, RoadRunners was an international courier business and I became involved to increase business in a niche market. I worked with the other Directors at RoadRunners to establish a service specializing in high risk print copy. RoadRunners was sold in the early 90s and after a couple of years career break to have a family and study for a Business Degree with the Open University, I returned to work as a freelance consultant working with creative businesses. During this work I spotted a gap in the market for a new type of PR company, so set up Felicities.
How did you create your business?
AL – I set up the business as I could see that there was a gap in the market, I am quite impulsive when I believe that something is right, so I just went ahead, registered the business and started trading, I got my first client within a day of deciding to set up the business, I didn’t even have a name for the company at that point! I chose the name Felicities, as it means ‘the ability to express oneself appropriately’.
Felicities offer more than a basic PR service, we offer advice and support on public relations but also provide marketing and general business management advice and support, as PR can never be taken as a standalone service and must be part of the main business plan with very clear objectives and outcomes set. So we work closely with the designer to offer them a complete service including introductions to buyers and provide an open showroom policy with access on daily basis to press, stylists and buyers, encouraging the designers to participate in a year round campaign rather than just during fashion weeks. We regularly meet our designers and give them feedback about the reactions from press and buyers to their collection which helps them find their market and create their next collections.
What should a new designer look for in a PR?
AL – A new designer or brand needs to find a PR company that is going to work closely with them and offer them constant advice, guidance, support and feedback. It is really important that there is a good relationship with the PR manager and that you feel that you can trust them and believe in their advice and capabilities. Public relations can play a critical role in achieving a competitive advantage by, for example, opening new markets, attracting buyers, giving more access to funding and investors, creating a high value and helping businesses grow. A new designer needs to find a PR company that understands their needs and can work with them to achieve the best results with the budget available, which is often limited for a new label. The designer needs to look for an agency that offers them more than a press release distribution and cutting service – at Felicities we work with the designer to determine their objectives, what they want from their business and where they see themselves going and give all our designers the same level of service, no matter how established they are.
How are their needs different from an established designer?
AL – A new designer has different needs to an established brand as they need to build and find their niche market, which an established designer has already done. Also the demands on time for a small design brand is much greater as the whole business is often run by a sole person, which means they have little external feedback and can leave them feeling very isolated. The need for feedback is essential to enable the designer to understand what the press and buyers are looking for and helps them understand where they are going and how their collection is received by the industry. I have seen designers that have continued to create collections each season whilst they have received limited press and sales but due to the lack of valuable feedback have not realised the problem until it is too late, continual feedback helps a brand evaluate the success of each collection.
What should a new designer expect from a PR?
AL – Well the first thing they should expect is some media coverage – but it must be in the right sort of publications – it is only any use if it is appropriate to the brand. And the media coverage should result in sales as media coverage is great but at the end of the day there has to sales in order for the designer to continue and grow their business and often PR companies rave about the coverage they have achieved but there has to also be an outcome from this coverage and if it doesn’t result in sales then there is a problem.
How does PR effectively help build brand awareness?
AL – It’s not what you say about yourself that gets results, it’s what others say about you that builds positive brand awareness,. That is the value of public relations. PR does something that advertising can never do, it can make a reader, viewer or listener believe that your product is credible and good. So when the reporter says this product is the best thing since sliced bread, the reader will probably believe. If they read the same thing in an ad, they probably would not. Positive public relations is harder to get since it depends on a third party to believe in your product before it gets to their audience. But when it does, it has more impact than a typical advertisement.
What type of clients do you represent?
AL – Felicities currently provides PR services to a range of clients in London, across the UK and internationally from diverse industry sectors including creative industries, fashion, film, music and property development.
Our London Showroom specialises in working with new and emerging fashion designers as well as a couple of established brands. We are a small boutique agency as we want to ensure that we can give every designer the same level of service. We have vowed only to represent brands that the Felicities team feel passionately about, which results in a team renowned for being motivated, friendly, efficient, ambitious and determined in their approach.
What is the best way for someone to start in PR?
AL – I see a lot of students who say they want to get into fashion PR but have the perception (wrongly) that it is all about wild parties during fashion week! So the first thing I would advise is to go and get some experience as a volunteer or intern in an agency – and see if it really is for you. That experience will also be invaluable on your CV when you start applying for jobs, as a qualification alongside actual work experience will put you ahead of the crowd when it comes to jobs in the industry.