In a fashion industry where a lot of marketing dollars flow exclusively toward public relations, PR agencies operate at the nexus of the attention. So it is possible that no one in the world of fashion is as connected as publicist.
On this week’s podcast, Rachna Shah, managing director of KCD, one of the best-known PR, fashion and production firms in the industry, joins us to discuss the shifting role of PR and how the rise in digital outlets has changed the industry.
Edited highlights below.
Ownership remains a bone of contention in fashion
On the brand side, fashion used to be very simple, said Shah. There were the different departments (and corresponding budgets) — marketing, advertising, PR — and they never crossed over. But the advent of the internet meant brands suddenly needed to tell their own story. “So there was a new channel, but nobody knew who owned it, marketing, or PR, or who?” said Shah. “And that’s still an issue in brands.”
Working with digital publishers and bloggers is refreshing
For years, KCD and its clients worked only with print publications. The launch of a digital arm five years ago opened up the world of online media. “There were more opportunities” with digital media, as well as blogs and now, influencers. “In print, we were telling a story with clothes. And there was one way to tell the story,” she said. “Now, it didn’t fit into a mold. [Online media] didn’t say ‘we do this type of story every month’.”
Brands also have a new place for their content: Digital media without big budgets want, for example, videos of shoots happening in Barbados because they can’t send their own crews. “The pages were so much more open.”
Brands make mistakes when they don’t understand storytelling in digital
One of the most common mistakes fashion brands make when they come to KCD is trying to shove what worked in print into online. Taking five pictures for an ad campaign for a season, for example, and expecting that to sustain momentum throughout that season. “They are not open to understanding that more types of content need to be developed. Luxury houses that have developed strong relationships between creative directors and customers, like Olivier Rousteing at Balmain or Riccardo Tisci at Givenchy, understand that perfectly, she said.
“They can understand they can have the most elevated, gorgeous runway show, but they also need to speak directly to the consumer.” Not everyone has a Tisci. In those cases, big-name influencers can take the place of a creative director, and act as muses. “Brands have realized the value of that.”
The influencer bubble is really a fame bubble
At the same time, the fashion blogger and fashion Instagrammer bubble is a problem: Regular stylish people with large Instagram followings feel entitled to huge paychecks and overnight fame. That’s aggravating. “My worst nightmare outside a show door is people coming to pretend they’re coming to a show,” Shah said, describing wannabe “stars” who are hoping to get snapped for a street style story.
“The street style thing can be people who just want to be famous.” And shows like Project Runway have convinced anyone they can be famous without the necessary training. Shah recalls Simon Collins, the former dean of design school Parsons, telling her how the programs were constantly full of applicants. “I keep saying: There can only be so many designers. There is a limit.”