With the changing state of the industry, the role of fashion PR has shifted dramatically, too. In our new series, Ask a PR Exec, we’ll be spotlighting this transition and how executives are adjusting to it through interviews with top PR reps at some of fashion’s biggest agencies.
Jessy Fofana, founder of LaRue PR, is a firm believer in the power of the small but mighty.
After two decades in fashion PR and marketing, she’s come to realize that a bigger team doesn’t necessarily mean better. That was first made clear to Fofana while helming her first company, a cosmetics brand named Femme Arsenal, which she started straight out of college with a friend. What started as a fun side-hustle quickly developed into a full-fledged business, and Fofana not only found herself running the marketing side of the company, but also a number of other departments that helped her hone her skills as a business leader.
Her work paid off: She and her business partner sold their company to Ecko when she was just 27.
“It was an accelerated experience,” Fofana said. “Whenever you own your own business, you are forced into a myriad of roles, whether you like them or not. You need to figure it out as you go. I was very young, just in my twenties, so I was very green. But I never said no to anything, even if I had no idea what I was doing. Nine times out of 10, it worked out.”
Her entrepreneurial spirit has continued to propel her forward in her work at LaRue, which she founded ten years ago. The agency of just six employees mostly works with small, emerging companies; on the current roster is lifestyle brand ban.do, luxury fashion showroom High Fashion Home, and Create & Cultivate, an event series for professional women. Fofana said the small size of the company and its ability to forego bureaucratic obstacles, plus her clients’ willingness to experiment, make for a harmonious pairing.
For our Ask a PR Exec series, we talked to Fofana about the challenges of entrepreneurship, the benefits of running a boutique agency in the saturated world of fashion PR and her focus on the digital space.
How did your early experience building a cosmetics company inform your work in PR?
Femme Arsenal is where I really discovered that I had an aptitude for the PR and marketing side of things. It was a pressure cooker. I had to deliver press in order to build momentum and drive sales. I had to figure out how to get the brand recognized amid a sea of brands, so my methods were more guerilla-style. That informed my approach to PR now. I knew going conventional wasn’t where I was going to thrive.
What sets LaRue apart from other agencies?
We are a small team of six, so we work collaboratively and internally on every account we have. The whole team works on each account. As the PR landscape has changed, our approach has changed with it. We really shy away from the traditional press-release model that a lot of traditional agencies use. For example, we have married our work with influencers to a lot of what we do with traditional print and digital media. We’re looking to create content with influencers that we can then secondarily funnel to press; it would go live on the influencer page and then end up running on Refinery29.
From the brand perspective, what’s the benefit of working with a boutique agency?
Fashion PR is competitive; there are a lot of agencies. I think being a boutique agencies gives you a lot of strengths. We have some big global clients that are drawn to us because we’re nimble; we’re able to move quickly and creatively, and there isn’t a lot of red tape for us internally. When you’re a boutique agency, recognizing what the strengths are, rather than trying to compete with a giant firm, is important.
How do you collaborate with other agencies and in-house PR teams?
We work all the time with in-house PR and big agencies. Often times, we end up taking the lead when it’s a collaborative venture because we can move quicker. It’s easier for us to get a press release approved. With in-house PR teams, they love us and we love them, because we are another set of hands. We’re a group of thinkers looking for creative ways to get coverage for their companies. More is more. We never want to go in alienating anyone that we’re working with. PR is hard. There are a lot of negative stereotypes around PR and publicists, and I’m sure there’s truth to some of it, but anyone who works in it has a hard job. It’s a competitive, overcrowded landscape.
How much of your efforts are split between digital and print?
We’re focused 80 percent on the digital space and 20 percent on print. Years ago, digital was a small fraction, now it’s our number-one priority. We think about everything from features and profiles to listicles, roundups and slideshows. In the past, there was less to navigate, so it was easier in some respects, but there was limited potential for results. It used to be that you were competing for these print placement spots, and there was a finite amount of them, and there were certain loyalties or advertisers that got them. Digital space has opened up opportunities and created more chances for coverage.
How does LaRue take advantage of these new digital opportunities?
With fashion, in particular, it’s not just about a launch or a product. There are other stories — for instance, female entrepreneurship. There are ways to spin every client’s story, so you can get all kinds of different press. Another thing that’s been interesting is we now have access to ROI on press through client relationships: what drove traffic, what drove sales, what created momentum, what didn’t. Having that backend info has been amazing.