Margaret Ryan is a seasoned public relations executive with a proven track record of successfully planning communications programs and building brands (read the rest of her impressive bio here). She also writes the fashion blog, Season Five Style, a mix of industry and pop culture fashion commentary.
PR Couture recently caught up with Ryan during a visit to San Francisco, where Margaret currently works as Vice President for Double-Forte, a marketing communications firm. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on strategic Fashion PR, media training, and being fearless.
PR: Double-Forte calls itself a Marketing Communications Firm - How do you define the distinction between PR and Marketing Communications?
MR: Double Forte is a marketing and communications firm and public relations is a part of everything we do. We work with all the audiences important to our clients: investors, partners, customers and the media - to help our clients achieve their goals. The biggest difference between Double Forte and traditional agencies is that we have only senior people on staff.
PR: As Vice-President, what are some of your daily responsibilities?
MR: I provide strategic direction on three accounts but I also dig in and write press releases and take press calls. In a couple of weeks I will be going on a New York City media tour for one of my clients. We don’t have junior people on staff so we all do the work.
PR: What previous work and/or networking experiences lead you to your current position?
MR: I connected with Lee, my boss, at the suggestion of a mutual colleague that I had worked with at AOL 14 year ago.
PR: What do you think is involved with "working strategically" in your field? Do you work strategically?
MR: Working strategically involves taking your clients short and long-term business goals into consideration with everything you do. And yes, I absolutely work strategically. If an activity is not going to advance my clients business, I do not want to waste valuable time (theirs or mine) doing it.
PR: What do you enjoy about working on fashion accounts?
MR: Fashion is a passion of mine, so what I like most about working on fashion accounts is that most of the time it doesn’t feel like work. The frustrating bits are the same as with any other account – unresponsive media, confusion about products in the marketplace, not enough hours in the day!
PR:What are some of the mistakes that many fashion companies make with regard to PR? What about common PR mistakes in consumer industries?
MR: I don’t draw a line between fashion and other accounts. I would say the biggest mistake is what Made to Stick, a book I read recently, calls “the curse of knowledge”. It is important to not get so wrapped up in whatever industry you are covering that you no longer know how to reach your audience. Secondly, I think we need to put in the work necessary to stay in touch with the audiences we are trying to reach. The influential fashion media, for example, has evolved. If you are pitching only the big fashion books and columnists and not the websites and blogs – you are out of touch.
PR: How have you been able to cultivate and maintain such successful relationships with the media?
MR: PR is not just a schmooze game – if it were I would have dropped off long ago! I believe contacts are worthless if you don’t know how to craft a story and deliver it the media in a way that is useful to them and their readers. I have been around long enough to have cultivated relationships with the media – but I am successful in placing stories because I know my audience and package stories in a way that helps the media report the news.
PR: From being a Media Spokesperson for AOL, as well as being interviewed on shows like the Today Show, you must have a lot of experience with media training. What are 3 quick tips for keeping your cool under those hot lights?
MR: 1 – Practice: I have always found the people who come across as “natural” on television put in the most practice hours. 2 – Remember why you are there: The media asks questions and you may know the answer but you need to get your message across in order for the interview to be a success for your company or client, 3 – Take a deep breath and don’t over talk.
PR: What made you decide to start your fashion blog, Season Five Style. What are some of your favorite fashion or PR blogs.
MR: I started Season Five because I love to write, I love fashion and I needed a creative outlet for both. Also - my friends and family always call and email me for fashion advice. Not necessarily because I have the best style but because they know I have done the research! This was a way to communicate about fashion with all of them in a new way. The response has been really great.
A few of my favorite fashion blogs are prcouture, aesthetics and economics, the bag snob, fashionologie and the Sartorialist. I also read Guy Kawasaki’s How to Change the World and The Huffington Post everyday.
PR: As a PR professional, do you advocate targeting fashion blogs and/or online fashion magazines. What are the pros/cons of each – and what is the response/request from your clients.
MR: Absolutely! As I mentioned above, fashion media has evolved and the proliferation of fashion blogs and online fashion magazines is evidence of that. Our clients at Double Forte are totally in touch with this and proactively ask – what is the social media strategy? I think the problem is opposite of what one might think. Blogs and social media sites are the new shiny penny – but the real world publications have not gone away. There needs to be a balance of old and new media.
PR: What skills are most necessary to have a successful career in fashion public relations?
MR: Again, I do not really distinguish between fashion and other industries in this regard. Know the industry, stay on top of the trends, know the product and know the media. I like to “soft pitch” editors. One thing I found interesting when working with Zappos is many of the fashion and accessories editors I spoke with wanted to get information in the mail. As in postal mail! So I slapped a stamp on the news and marched myself to the post office. It proved to be a successful formula.
PR: You mention Arianna Huffington as an industry hero. Huffington recently wrote about book about being fearless. How have you incorporated the idea of fearlessness into your job?
MR: More than a few people have told me they can count on me to tell them exactly what I think – this could be construed as positive or negative depending on whom you ask! I am certainly confident in my professional abilities and not afraid to act on my instincts on the job. I reserve fear for areas where I have no professional training or experience – motherhood for example!
PR: What advice do you have for students or entry-level practitioners about succeeding in fashion public relations?
MR: Rather than give advice, I’ll share what every successful PR person I know has in common: a creative mind, an insatiable appetite for information, the ability to identify trends, excellent writing skills and the ability to shrug off rejection (daily).