Representing the creative future

How to get into Fashion PR

A PR executive at Lucien Pagès Communications shares tips on kickstarting your PR career

In the late ’90s, Sex and the City author Candace Bushnell and the TV series’ director Michael Patrick King wove a glamorous myth around the life of a glossy journalist – days brimming with Manolo Blahnik and Prada shopping sprees, and nights soaked in Cosmopolitans. A job “millions of girls would kill for.” Fast-forward 30 years, and our screens now spotlight new ‘it’ roles, such as brand manager, creative communication specialist, or content advisor – thanks to series like Emily in Paris. The allure of fashion PR or a creative agency gig has evolved, particularly in today’s landscape where brands, regardless of size, have transformed into content-producing powerhouses, placing a heightened emphasis on image and content creation.

In this environment, the role of a PR professional becomes even more crucial, tasked not only with shaping but, more importantly, safeguarding a brand’s image across diverse channels, both owned and earned. As brands metamorphose into their own media outlets, no brand is immune from potential backlashes that can erupt at the slightest misstep. So, we engaged with professionals spanning in-house, agency, and freelance backgrounds to unravel the essence of fashion PR in 2024.

What Exactly Does a Fashion PR Do?

In essence, the PR job revolves around making a brand more desirable, influential, and recognizable across channels like press and social media. However, day-to-day realities can vary based on your role and current client. For instance, in-house publicists for established brands might prioritize shaping overall sentiment to align with the brand’s identity rather than chasing more coverage; this may mean targeting only specific magazines and cutting out those that do not fit the strategy. On the other hand, a PR consultant for an emerging designer could focus on generating buzz and maximum brand attention. An agency’s goal might be specific, like strategizing a product launch or creating a cost-efficient gifting plan.

Nevertheless, the end goal remains constant: qualitative press coverage. The cover of a print magazine still stands as a stamp of a job well done, even with the growing practice of buying cover images. Fashion, distinctively image-focused, heavily relies on magazines as the primary source of image production. While obtaining coverage might be comparatively easier due to the perpetual demand for new names – as stylists are always searching fresh brands, and the shooting cycle never stops – there’s still no guarantee every sent look will make it to the shoot. PR professionals must be well-versed in numbers and budgets, especially for emerging brands where shipping constitutes a significant expense. A savvy PR strategist understands the cash flow, a critical factor in planning PR activations like press days, trunk shows, presentations, and runway events.

“It’s not the job that makes you dream. Stylists, creative directors, photographers – yes, but the reality of fashion PR is way more prosaic, and fashion week is only four times a year.” – Lucien Pagès

This aspect is particularly delicate for young brands. A physical presentation represents a culminating moment, allowing them to fully convey their brand story. A  PR professional acknowledges that staging a grand show might not be worth the investment in the initial seasons. Alternative suggestions, like joining a showroom, organizing a one-shot event with a PR agency for press days, or hosting a presentation at the brand’s facilities, can be more strategically and economically interesting.

Lucien Pagès, founder of the eponymous agency and a powerhouse PR figure in France, underscores the reality of the job. “It’s not the job that makes you dream. Stylists, creative directors, photographers – yes, but the reality of our job is way more prosaic, and fashion week is only four times a year.” He further adds, “Most of the time, it’s very repetitive and tiring; you send hundreds of emails with pitches. And many of them are not even returned. Sometimes it can be very discouraging.”


What Are the Main Types of PR Professionals?

In the realm of PR, professionals can be neatly categorized into three groups: in-house, agency, and freelance. In-house publicists focus on strategy and brand development, collaborating closely with various departments such as retailers, media, image, e-commerce, merchandising. Although not an unspoken rule, in-house PR teams are often a privilege of well-established brands with a defined voice and positioning. Younger brands, in contrast, tend to outsource their PR needs to agencies. Big fashion houses frequently engage with agencies for short-term projects like special launches or region-specific support, tapping into their expertise and expansive networks.

“Working in a fashion agency can be more stimulating in terms of exposure and creativity compared to in-house roles. However, in-house opportunities provide a unique chance to understand the business challenges behind every brand action.” – Sara Dalloul, senior PR at Maje

“For an established brand, you are a partner providing insider expertise, potentially serving as additional workforce. For a young brand, you act as a consultant, crafting a 360 degree communication strategy covering influence, digital, and content. Working with an agency grants access to their network and facilities. Big brands choose agencies when they need expertise in a specific region, gaining local market insights and press networks,” elucidates Lucien Pagès.

“Working in a fashion agency can be more stimulating in terms of exposure and creativity compared to in-house roles. However, in-house opportunities provide a unique chance to understand the business challenges behind every brand action,” shares Sara Dalloul, senior PR at Maje, who previously worked at Karla Otto. “An agency experience offers a more dynamic environment, wider opportunities for networking, and a chance to stay in touch with trends. Also, I found that the fast-paced nature of agency work can help develop adaptability.”

Freelance professionals, a relatively recent addition to the industry, cater to the growing demand for savvy and cost-efficient individuals who can assist with specific launches or immediate brand needs. “Usually, as a freelancer, you have fewer clients than as an agency PR director, so you tend to be more dedicated to each client, fostering a stronger relationship with the brand’s team,” notes Ottavia Palomba, a freelance PR executive with more than 15 years experience at Karla Otto and PR Consulting. “However, let’s be honest: you tend to have smaller clients, as big brands prefer to associate their name with large agencies. Brands without an in-house PR team and unable to afford an agency view you as an essential external partner. You can work directly with the creative director, brand founder, or commercial director, bringing a more in-depth approach similar to in-house, depending on your level of trust and closeness to the team.”


How to Kickstart Your Career?

The consensus among most PR professionals is that a career in fashion PR is learned on the job. While communication schools provide basic industry knowledge and skills like press release writing, practical understanding of the profession is essential. Schools can serve as your initial network, with tutors offering contacts and administrations handling legal aspects such as internship agreements, which are essential. Be prepared: early stages of PR involve substantial physical work, often beginning with sample trafficking for many PR interns.

“All newcomers to this profession pass through the showroom part: the heart of our métier,” explains Maria Eugenia Perez Pinaud, Head of PR and Communication at Jean Paul Gaultier. “Coordination work may sound unexciting, but it’s our daily operation. Stylists make requests, we approve or deny, then we try to find the right sample – a challenging task when the look may be with another stylist, in another market, or stuck in customs. There’s no guarantee it will be finally shot, but the primary objective is achieved: the stylist gets the look. Sometimes, you send the same look to the same team repeatedly, and it only works out on the fourth time.” Maria, who began her career as an intern at Acne Studios, moved to Ritual Projects agency, followed by Camper, where she witnessed the brand’s international ascent during her 5 years on the team.

Despite many school graduates aspiring to join big-name houses or agencies, Maria recommends not overlooking smaller independent brands. A match with such brands enhances the likelihood of career advancement. In large corporate structures, individuals often linger in the same positions for longer periods with the same scope of work. “If you manage to deliver an outstanding result, you will soon be in charge of different missions and tasks. It helps a lot, as from this point, you will understand how the brand functions inside, giving you advantages on your further career path. This means you will be allowed to advance faster through the hierarchy,” Maria explains.


Does the Network Mean the Most for PR? If Yes, How Can Beginners Grow It Organically?

Yes and no. Yes, because at the end of the day, sometimes your coverage depends on the level of your proximity with a person in charge of an article or a shoot; it’s always easier if you can make a direct call to the stylist or an editor. However, what distinguishes a great professional is the ability to understand which magazine and talent can seamlessly align. Vogue may sound impressive, but what if your brand’s core audience leans more towards Wired? Think of it as matchmaking – people will appreciate your knack for finding what suits them best.

“The peers with whom you create the industry are those who will lead you to your objectives.” – Lucien Pagès

There are numerous ways to expand your contacts, but the main challenge is consistency and creating meaningful connections. Ottavia Palomba suggests devising a strategy from the outset. “Identify who is strategically relevant for you. List them by category and intra-networks, and understand who connects with whom. If you can’t reach this person directly, reach the right intermediary. Don’t forget to identify your added value from the first encounter and express it through that point of relevance. Despite the seemingly horizontal nature of society due to social media, it’s still very much vertical. Be social, but wisely:there’s no need to attend every event,” Ottavia says.

Lucien Pagès emphasizes developing horizontal networks. “Don’t rush. Grow with your generation. Create connections with those you can collaborate with and nourish each other’s projects. Network building is a marathon. For some people it took me 15 years to know them – but I wasn’t rushing. The biggest misconception is that someone bigger can make you successful, which is not the case at all. The peers with whom you create the industry are those who will lead you to your objectives. Your ability as a PR is to recognize talents at the dawn of their career; you’re the precursor of what’s going to be big next. Your contribution to this ‘bigness’ will be highly appreciated in perspective,” Lucien explains.


What Can Be the First Steps?

People are your main resource, and you should precisely know who you are looking for and why. Research should be at the core of your activity. Thanks to social media, it’s easy to conduct research and build your first database, which will be your main toolkit for ages. Leverage the power of Instagram, LinkedIn, and even TikTok. Identify stylists, editors, freelance journalists, photographers, models, retailers, and artists you’d like to work with. Compile their names in an Excel sheet, find their contacts, and draft pitch from your client. Be clear from the beginning about the value you can bring to this person and why you reached out to them. This may seem obvious, but the abundance of information can make your message drown, so make your pitch stand out by bulletpointing the benefits of collaboration.

This approach is particularly potent when venturing into freelancing as a direct kickstart to your career. When seeking clients, identify brands you’re eager to collaborate with and construct a concise pitch highlighting how you can enhance their communication strategy. Precision is paramount; focus on a narrow topic, showcasing your specialization within a specific field. As a PR professional, you might position yourself as a gifting strategist, adept at managing logistics, or as an event organizer with strong connections among alcohol brands or production studios. Alternatively, you could excel in fostering branding collaborations. Once again, meticulous research is the linchpin.

“A brand will choose you for your network and your capacity to strategically leverage it to rapidly build brand visibility and awareness.” – Ottavia Palomba, freelance PR executive

“I began my career in finance at Thomson Reuters, assuming the role of an Associate Research Analyst with a specific focus on private equities & funds in the MENA region. Nothing to do with fashion, but surprisingly relevant to PR, requiring strong communication skills for engaging with CFOs and fund managers to gather information,” recounts Sara Dalloul, illustrating her unconventional pathway.

“A brand will choose you for your network and your capacity to strategically leverage it to rapidly build brand visibility and awareness,” emphasizes Ottavia Palomba.

In the end, the PR profession demands patience above all else, as underscored by Lucien Pagès: it’s a marathon. The results of our work are mostly intangible and challenging to measure, yet the impact is palpable when the job is executed with precision. Whether it unfolds after one successful event, six months, or even a year remains unpredictable, making patience a virtue in this field.