Fashion PR rarely deals in crisis communication, but if there is one sore spot that continually emerges, it is negotiating the relationships and expectations between Fashion PR's and Fashion Bloggers. Although many PR agencies have begun to value the voice of the fashion blogosphere, many still don't give out the kind of respect that fashion bloggers often feel is their due. Additionally, lingering bad blood from initial experiences, often due to poor decisions on the part of Fashion PR agencies, continues to impede any positive steps that are made.
Blogs are appealing to Fashion PR's for several reasons. Unlike traditional monthly fashion magazines, most fashion bloggers update daily, giving readers more immediate access to fresh news and content. Savvy consumers appreciate the insider tone and expert knowledge fashion bloggers share - as well as their independent affiliation. I think fashion blogs are gaining in importance within PR because they provide a highly targeted audience, read by people who like to shop! Through comments given by readers about posts, it also gives insight into how people are reacting to a trend or product.
There are fashion blogs that focus on everything, from general fashion news, to very specific niches like celebrity fashion, lingerie, handbags, and shoes. Fashion bloggers have a real passion for fashion, and their promotion, or dismissal of a particular product, trend, or service carries real weight with readers.
It's a great platform for pitching client products because bloggers update more often. We don't have to deal with the traditional press deadline. Also, the online format means that there aren't any space issues - no concerns that a fashion editor might pull the article at the last minute to make room for something else. The influence and importance of fashion bloggers is becoming a crucial factor for fashion public relations, with issues of transparency and legitimacy at the forefront.
The importance of fashion blogs for PR is part of a larger shift from traditional to new media tactics. New media impacts PR greatly - there is talk of the death of the traditional press release, and the growing need to not only understand social networking and social media, but to participate. Getting up to speed with all the emerging technologies out there is a challenge for a lot of agencies - the old tools and tricks are becoming less effective and less comprehensive. Knowledge, familiarity, and competence online, blogs included, is crucial for staying competitive and continuing to bring value to PR clients. Increasingly, these skills are very attractive to employers.
I wrote something similar to the above for a Eliza, a journalism student at Concordia University in Montreal who blogs at My Empty Closet, as part of her final piece. It seemed particularly important to share these thoughts today, given the current controvery regarding the leaked photos of Sarah Jessica Parker's new Bitten line that surfaced on Fashion Blogs.
...last week, Gawker founding editor Elizabeth Spiers' new blog site, Fashionista, published photographs from a password-protected area of a preliminary Bitten Web site intended only for long-lead-time monthly magazines. When attorneys from Steve & Barry's requested Fashionista remove the photos, it did, but by then dozens of other blogs had already posted images, giving plenty of potential customers the chance to put in their two cents.
Many of the reviews from readers were less than kind.
The next day, Fashionista blogger Faran Krentcil received an anonymous e-mail from a tipster who claimed to work with the Bitten team and said they are trying to redesign the pieces. The e-mailer speculated the change-up had perhaps been prompted by the online storm of criticism. A few hours after Fashionista published the photographs, the password-protected area of the Bitten Web site disappeared, so the images are no longer available to the press.
Steve & Barry deny that the influence from the blogosphere is leading to the redesign of the Bitten line.
One of the bloggers to pick up the images when they were up on the Fashionista site is Kathryn Finney at The Budget Fashionista, a well-loved fashion blog. She explains in great detail why she thinks she is being asked to take down the images, citing her critical review and the desire of Steve & Barry to control the message. As of now, Finney has put the decision to either take down the images or leave them up to her readers.
In support of Finney, Lesley Scott at FashionTribes, one of the top fashion blogs, re-published the cease & desist letter Steve & Barry sent to TBF and is encouraging readers to share their opinions at TBF.
The letter reads:
To Whom It May Concern:
Good Morning, I am the Assistant General Counsel for Steve & Barry's asking you to please remove the images of the Bitten collection from the above captioned website and any other site or link in your control that may lead to these images. These were wrongfully obtained from a password protected website, and are not authorized for public distribution. I hope you understand, we're a company that as a mission looks out for our shoppers and the public at large. To keep our prices as low as they are for merchandise of such high quality requires that we don't advertise. We rely on mass publicity as our leading awareness builder. 4 We absolutely want to work with you to provide information and/or images that are unique and special to you and your audience as a thank you for your cooperation. As a first step, we will grant permission to you to use the black/white image of Sarah Jessica Parker in a tshirt and jean jacket. But for now we are hoping you will cooperate with us and remove all the other images.
In her post, Scott also criticizes PR Firms for the hard-sell pitches they send to fashion bloggers, but then fail to give any of us a decent seat at one of their fashion shows, or even invite any of us to fancy product launches or events, limiting the invite list to
dinosaur print editors only. These companies fail to realize the reason blogs are popular is because unlike traditional magazines with a specific "voice" and a faceless masthead, bloggers are real people - with real opinions (which companies could probably benefit from). Unlike the blogs, long-line media is beholden to their roster of advertisers; it's specious (on their part) to talk about their "editorial" content, when in truth, it should probably come with an "advertorial" warning label.
Second-City-Style, a blog that focuses on fashion in Chicago, has since reposted Scott's post, agreeing with her critique of Fashion PR, stating PR firms love us when they needs us, but God Forbid, we don't sing their clients praises even though they don't always deserve them.
So basically, it's a huge mess. It's fascinating to see the power of fashion bloggers to rally together and virally mass-communicate about the situation. You'll notice as well that each blogger post reposts the leaked images. I love the activism of it all.
That said, as a PR practitioner, I find it hard to believe that the real issue is the negative reviews. More likely, I see the larger issue for the company as the fact that "Having any images appear on the web prior to the launch of this collection June seriously jeopardizes agreements we have in place with global media outlets that have been promised first rights to show the merchandise." PR's work hard to secure these exclusives, and seeing all that go to pot is pretty wretched. Despite the incorrect assumption that Finney herself used the passwords, I think that the letter does a pretty good job of trying to salvage their relationship with the traditional media outlets, as well as with the fashion bloggers. It seems that the crux of the issue is about the misguided ethics of taking a password meant for somebody else and using it for personal gain. However, this has been largely ignored by the blogging community (however, in the 5 hours it has taken me to finally complete this post, The Fashionable Kiffen seems to agree. She says if anything, Steve and Barry's should go after whoever leaked the images).
I encourage public relations pracitioners from all industries to get involved in this discussion. It really speaks to the influence of new media and technology and how it is changing our profession. The internet does pose an increased security risk for similar launch information to be leaked, however, there is a need for both bloggers and pr's to take responsibility for their pieces in the somewhat gray area of public domain.
At any rate, this issue has revealed some valuable insight into the relationship between Fashion PR companies and Fashion Bloggers, and Fashion PR would do well to learn from this experience and to begin to address those criticisms and concerns elocuted by the fashion blogosphere.