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.
As traditional brands rethink their priorities and upstart companies increase competition, the fashion PR landscape is undergoing a makeover of sorts. Stacy Forgang, the vice president at LaForce, has seen this firsthand. She’s been with the company since 2007, working closely with clients including Target and OMEGA.
Like most of the industry’s PR agencies, LaForce has long been New York–based, but Forgang recently moved to Los Angeles to open a satellite office for the company. “I saw Los Angeles as a huge opportunity for us, with all of the innovation and manufacturing that’s happening here,” she said. “The overall energy just feels ripe for newness and excitement in a way I wasn’t seeing in New York.”
Indeed, fashion has been rather infatuated with the California city of late: Designers Tommy Hilfiger and Rebecca Minkoff have opted to host recent shows there, and the CFDA has made a push to up its local programming and overall support of L.A. designers.
But it’s the area’s entrepreneurial spirit that Forgang finds especially appealing, since working with young companies has become central to her business. “We’re seeing a lot of brands that are disrupting markets and getting amazing funding as a result — but they don’t necessarily know how to take it to the next level,” she said.
To introduce our Ask a PR Exec series, we asked Forgang to elaborate on that shifting brand landscape and how the role of a fashion PR agency is transforming alongside it.
How is the work you’re doing with brands today different than when you started out?
You have to be more creative today than you had to be 15 years ago. When I first started in this industry, it was purely about product placement and funneling a bag from one place to another, or getting a story here and there. It wasn’t about the deeper storytelling. With today’s brands, we are being smarter and asking: How do we tell your story? Who do we tell it to? Who do we partner your brand with in order to amplify your message? It’s no longer about blasting out an e-mail; it’s about actually developing relationships with media that the brand will resonate with.
It requires a more senior level of thinking than before, when you could run a brand with 10 23-year-olds, and you’d be fine. It’s no longer just about that manpower, or a certain number of bodies doing basic tasks; it’s about strategic thinking.
Do PR agencies today have to do more (and work harder) for individual brands than they used to?
Absolutely. I think bringing value in new and unique ways is the only way this industry is going to survive, which is what I push the 30 people who report to me to do every day: Surprise, delight and change perceptions. That’s the only way we’ll really make a difference with the companies we work for.
When I first started, it was sort of a foregone conclusion that you could get the press you needed; it was much easier to secure. Now, you really need to think differently to break through the clutter that comes with so much competition. The amount of brands today is staggering. Inboxes get incredibly full and schedules get incredibly packed, so you have to create moments where you stand out from the barrage.
What are some ways you’re breaking through that “barrage”?
You need to differentiate between what deserves coverage and what doesn’t, and you have to be more creative with how you’re packaging a story. It can’t just be, “Hey, we’re launching X.” You want to create news and make it compelling so you don’t alienate the press or embarrass yourself.
Researching editors to discover what they find interesting, what they’ve written about in the past and whether or not they’re actually relevant for a brand is crucial. You want to delve deep into the many outlets that are out there, and be voracious about figuring out where a certain brand might fit in. That doesn’t mean creating a list, sending out the same pitch to 50 different people and crossing your fingers that somebody writes you back. You have to individualize how you’re speaking to people if you want your client to be seen and heard.
We tell designers this when they’re planning an event or presentation, too: If you’re asking people to leave their offices and get off their asses, you better make it interesting for them. Nobody wants to go to 15 appointments a day and rifle through racks of clothes. That’s boring!
How have things changed internally at LaForce since you started out?
The way we think about work has changed. I encourage people to leave the office at a decent hour so they can actually experience things. When I started here, I was working every weekend and left at 9 p.m. every night.
Work-life balance is hugely important. You’re not going to bring anything to this table if you’re not experiencing life. And those experiences you have outside of work come into play so much more now. There are more conversations and brainstorming sessions amongst team members. It’s not just about coming into the office, ticking a box and leaving.
What do you look for when you’re hiring someone today?
It’s really hard to find passionate people. My biggest challenge has been figuring out how to get people excited, and finding the right people is key. I need people who are excited about this industry and are constantly looking to innovate. If we don’t do that, we’re dead in the water.
I don’t need someone to be connected to the fashion industry too deeply and, frankly, I haven’t had a ton of success with people that have come from a very strong fashion background. It’s more about thought-process: Where are they getting their information? Are they excited? What’s their work ethic? That’s so much more important to me than someone’s pedigree.
How do you think fashion PR will evolve in the next 10 years?
I think we’ll see a shake-out. Agencies are either going to move with the times and survive, or they’re not. There will be fewer players out there — doing much more creative work — than there are now, and teams are going to be more senior than they have been. A lot of people get their business done with very junior staff, and it’s not working out very well. When brands come to us, we often hear they left their last agency because they weren’t strategic enough and were working with very young people. I think agencies will also start working with fewer brands, it will no longer going be about having a huge stable of clients.