The public relations industry always has its eyes peeled to represent the next “it” thing but there’s something so secretive about the faces behind the celebrity – or, if you’re in fashion, the brand.
Samantha Jones and Kelly “cut-throat” Cutrone are arguably pop culture’s most known (and heavily glamorized) examples of what being a publicist entails. But there’s a lot of mystery surrounding the profession. It does makes you wonder: Wait, what do publicists actually do?
While in fashion, the job isn’t necessarily as intense as Olivia Pope‘s seemed, there’s still that urgency to attend to your clients’ most pressing matters. Behind the glossy pages and a relatively well-spoken designer (on second thought, maybe not everyone can say that…), fashion publicists are the brains behind a project. The scope of their work covers everything from making sure samples get to photoshoots to hosting industry events to effectively communicating a brand’s mission and latest developments to the right people.
For many, becoming a publicist isn’t a clear path — and as we know, in fashion, nothing can ever be made too easy.
“I didn’t even know that publicists really existed apart from Samantha Jones in ‘Sex and the City,’ which I grew up watching with my mom,” Gregory Werbowsky, co-founder of Loft Creative Group (which represents brands like Christopher John Rogers, Elena Velez, Luchèn, Ph5 and more) tells Fashionista. “There’s still this weird ambiguity of what we all do, or what that even is.”
Lindsey Solomon, founder of Lindsey Media (whose brands include Sandy Liang, Wiederhoeft, Dauphinette and Marimekko, among others) explains that these job openings are often hush-hush. “Fashion jobs aren’t necessarily listed — it’s not like they’re on sites other than Fashionista,” he says. “A lot of PR jobs, funnily enough, are through word of mouth.”
Not everyone can endure such a grueling career. (And according to Nate Hinton of The Hinton Group — home of Sergio Hudson, Aliétte, Bally, Moose Knuckles and more — it really takes a go-getter to make it out alive.) So, we asked some of New York’s leading PR professionals to answer the industry’s million-dollar questions and lift the curtain on what their jobs actually entail.
How did you get into PR?
Gregory Werbowsky, co-founder of Loft Creative Group: “My very first job out of college was as a sales assistant. I interned at this luxury accessories brand and was just floating around, trying to get whatever I possibly could for a job, so I could stop being a [restaurant] server. I was offered a sales associate job, and I took it because I needed a job.
I wasn’t very good at the whole sales numbers, even though I’m a people person by nature. I just found it really difficult to sell a product when someone’s not really believing in it. Why should it be up to me to force that person to buy it or put it in their store? That would be a reflection of my ability to do my job.
But during all of this, I made nice with the PR girls because they were super outgoing and always saying the coolest things. Customer service is quite adjacent to pretty much any industry where you have to deal with other people.”
Nate Hinton, founder of The Hinton Group: “I started in PR kind of by accident and not knowing exactly what a publicist did. I started a fashion organization on my college campus. I knew I wanted to be adjacent to fashion, but growing up in Virginia, it wasn’t as accessible as it is to people in major cities.
I had this dream to be a mogul, and my influences were Diddy and Jay-Z at the time. I wanted to do what they were doing with Sean John and with Rocawear: They were selling clothes, but they weren’t actual designers. I didn’t want to be a designer — I wanted to be the person who was running the business.
I was applying to jobs in my senior year of college, and I ended up landing a spot in an executive trainee program in what’s now Macy’s. It was a financial analyst role, but it was as close to fashion as I could get. I befriended the people in the marketing team; I understood and started learning what they were doing. I ended up leaving that company on a whim and moved to New York. I got a freelance job at Prada in the sample closet, and then became the men’s PR coordinator. It was through discovering things on my own that I found out what PR actually did.”
Lindsey Solomon, founder of Lindsey Media: “I went to NYU for communications, and I interned at Max Mara, Stella McCartney and Tory Burch in their PR offices, which gave me a really good understanding of how PR functioned in terms of doing sample trafficking. Funnily enough, at Stella, there was so much going on, I actually was pitching, sample trafficking, conversing with celebrity stylists about what looks were available — I got a lot of hands-on work done.”
What’s the difference between working at an agency versus in-house at a brand?
GW: “When you work in-house, you have the advantage of focusing on a singular brand and working for hopefully one designer figure. It allows you to really focus your attention on that singular voice and how you can apply all the different factors of the industry to amplify your goals.
In an agency, there’s higher stimulation because you’re working with multiple brands at the same time. When I was at my last agency job, I had a swimwear line, a jewelry line, a bridal line and an evening wear client. I had street wear, I had Italian suiting… I literally had almost every category possible except for lingerie. Working in an agency teaches you a lot of prioritization and time management skills, because you might have clients across different time zones. It taught me how to manage a lot of different voices and a lot of different personalities that I still do to this day.”
NH: “[In-house,] you tend to drink the Kool-Aid and go along with whatever the creative team has put forward. You go out, push that message and drive that home. When you might have a different opinion, that people should be doing a certain thing or moving in a different direction, a lot of times, in my experience, it’s not necessarily always welcoming… Seeing the creative genius be involved in every aspect of the brand was invaluable. And no matter what, I will always cherish that experience because it set the tone for how I service my clients today.
I found that there’s a lot more creative freedom running my own company than there is in-house, because there’s no stone unturned. If we’re hosting an event, we’re doing everything, down to the napkin selection. That level of detail is missing in today’s fashion landscape. The way I work with my clients is similar to the way that I worked at Prada, in the sense that I try to be a part of their teams and not so much telling them what to do — it’s a collaborative experience.”
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What skill sets do you need to be a good fashion publicist?
GW: “You have to do your research, first and foremost. For me, that started off by learning my publications and who the publishing companies are. This helped me understand what magazines are under which publishing umbrella and who are the people that work there and their titles.
A lot of people pitch the wrong things to the wrong people. The best way to avoid that mistake is just to get to know them, what they write about and who they cover. If someone doesn’t cover luxury, don’t pitch them luxury. Staying ahead of where people move and how publications change their direction is important, so I can be very careful and select what I bring to people, making sure that it feels tailored to them as much as possible.”
LS: “The biggest thing that I started to pass on to my interns is the ability to problem solve — like, take a request, which is what we get 15 to 20 times a day: They’re often times going to be asking for the same five to six items, so what do you think the client’s most going to be excited about in terms of the placement?
I rep a lot of different brands, so making sure that they can say, ‘Okay, I don’t have this right now, but here are some other options from other brands,’ or, ‘Here’s that same item in a different color.’
In terms of writing, I try to show them what I like to do for a market pitch or press release, and break down the things that they need like flats, pricing, images, a catching headline. I also make sure they ask themselves: If you received this email, would you open it? Would you engage with it? Would this make sense for the publication itself?”
What goes into maintaining client relationships?
NH: “It starts big-picture, always, planning and thinking about what each client needs. Every client is different — I try not to look at any client as the same. I don’t have any sort of formula, because I feel like if I did, it would dilute how I service each client.”
What are the differences in titles and ranks in the PR industry?
LS: “They don’t really mean anything. From my understanding, it comes down to who has access to which editors. A VP at an agency would be emailing the executives of a publication, whereas an associate might work on getting samples back from the market editor or sample coordinator.”
Savannah Engel, founder of Savi: “It absolutely has meaning — it shows how many years you have worked your tushy off.”
Walk us through a typical week as a fashion publicist.
NH: “We start with looking at what projects are happening. Before I reach out to any press, before I go to anyone to tell a story, I normally look at what the story arc and the timeline are.
I think about what the projects are internally first. I’m having meetings with my team about what our strategy is before we even go to the client. I’m involved in almost every aspect of that. We plan the strategy, and we write it out. When we go to the client and we’re talking to them, it’s usually about what’s happening around their brand. For instance, there’s one brand right now that’s gearing up to shoot a campaign. After they shoot that campaign, we need the assets. We’ll then go out and pursue press coverage around telling that story for their show in September.
Sometimes it sticks, sometimes it doesn’t. If we’re successful at that, we go to thinking about what our social media strategy is going to be and how we’re going to drive customers to the story, which will then drive them to shop.
There are other collaborations or partnerships, so the job then shifts from a traditional role of being a publicist to being a partnership strategist, connecting with other entities to create those partnerships, which are normally in an effort to raise or make money.
My role shifts a lot of times — if I’m working on an event or a fashion show, I might take on the role of a producer or a co-producer. I’m raising money for the show. I’m planning the show. I’m inviting guests to the show. I’m seeding the show. I’m pursuing press coverage for the show. I’m planning the guest experience for the show, the wrap-up, the after party. Then I’m moving on to the next season. It really depends on what the client needs and what they’re working on.”
What’s the biggest misconception about fashion PR?
LS: “The biggest misconception is if I sent an email again or if an editor doesn’t respond immediately to me, then it’s a reflection that I’m not a good publicist. This drives me up the wall because editors and writers all have responsibilities and articles to write. Sometimes your job isn’t to respond to my immediate email every day.”
SE: “That you’re the star or special. You’re neither in PR — your client is. We’re the hired help!”
Any advice for aspiring fashion publicists?
LS: “Keep your networking and your outreach super organic and natural. I’d rather someone follow me on Instagram and reach out to me in a way that feels true to themselves.
Everyone has these grand ambitions of working for these big PR firms, but there are so many amazing independent PR agencies that are looking for qualified help and are willing to give them the time of day to train them and get the necessary skills. Do research in terms of what other firms that are out there — Daily Front Row does a good job of listing the moves in the career industry, who’s going to which firm and which PR firms are representing which brands. It’s actually been great process for me, to learn about what other firms are out there, what type of services they offer and how that can change.”
NH: “Remain hungry. If someone wants to be a publicist, they need to be curious and intentional.
I always have some anecdote, but one quick example of this is when we posted on our Instagram Story that we were hiring freelancers for fashion week. We got hundreds of inquiries — I wasn’t expecting that. Through those inquiries, we’re going through trying to find the right matches.
I’m driving to work, and I get a phone call from a random number. I answered it, and it was someone named Caylen who applied for this internship, didn’t get a response, but just really wanted to call and express her interest. When he sent his resume at first, I wasn’t so sure, because he didn’t have prior PR experience, but he was so eager. I loved that. He just started with us. Out of all of those people we got, it was the person who wanted it the most that we entertained. If he continues to have that same type of energy throughout his career, regardless of what direction he takes it, he’ll accomplish something and be good at it, because he went for it.”
These interviews have been edited and condensed for clarity.