[The following is a guest post by Kate Sullivan of Kick PR]
Most people would advise against talking on clients pro bono or for trade. Time and time again when I chat with successful public relations professionals, they tell me doing work for little pay or trade is a big mistake. I agree on some level, but not always. In the summer of 2007, someone casually mentioned Portland Fashion Week in conversation and how it was going to be biggest sustainable fashion week in the world. We’re talking bamboo runway, recycled fabric used for décor, eco friendly styling products, energy efficient lighting, even a bio diesel shuttle to transport people from the hotel to the venue. Seriously.
I decided that Kick PR needed to be part of this event. Knowing that several of these designers would likely not have big budget (or any budget for that matter!) set aside for PR, I contacted the producer of Portland Fashion Week and bartered my services. I wanted to let everyone in NY and beyond what was going on in Portland, Oregon and why they should be interested.
Part of my outreach for PFW was to get in touch with many of the designers (20+) and get to know them, their lines and what makes them stand out. From there, I created email campaigns with My Emma (I can’t sing this Gals praises enough) wrote designer profiles and presented the designers to various fashion and business editors as a “What You Will See” preview at PFW.
Now, this wasn’t a local, neighborhood show, this was a national event which attracted designers from NY ( naturevsfuture), Chicago (Lara Miller), CA (Stewart+Brown), and the UK (Izzy Lane). Despite my excitement, helping out the designers of Portland Fashion Week was a lot of work, and I wasn’t getting paid. Like any small business owner I started to wonder, “was this a good idea?” but stuck with my instincts and saw the project through. Thank goodness I did! My work paid off. At the time that I was doing the outreach, it was also NY Fashion Week, Spring 08. The buzz about PFW was already in the front row and people like Fern Mallis, Allison Janey, Ivana Trump and few more celebs were commenting on what they thought of PFW. Amazing! It’s all about the buzz and word of mouth. Mission Accomplished.
One of the designers I came in contact with won me over from the get go. Her designs were unique, architecturally chic, wearable and she herself was a doll! This designer was Leanne Marshall, who’s name you probably recognize as the most recent winner of Project Runway. When I met Leanne, I asked her if I could PLEASE do her PR because people needed to see her talent and skill. Like many designers, Leanne was struggling to pay rent, produce her line and get into stores. PR is often a luxury for designers. Usually they tackle it themselves, which seems baffling to me as I spend most of my life pitching editors! I could never do this AND design AND do sales. I have said it before; fashion designers carry certain superpowers that amaze me.
I decided I didn’t want to take Leanne’s money and so I asked her if I could work with her for trade. This was the perfect arrangement for her and I have the most fabulous jacket and dress that she custom made for me, guess the price just doubled!) From a true passion and belief in her talent, I started promoting her line with no regret or doubt whatsoever. This collection spoke for itself and I knew editors would love it. I was able to get her designs in front of the editor at Vogue; she was featured on Fashion Indie (which I believe is how Bravo TV found her), Season Magazine in Atlanta, Coquette and many other top fashion blogs.
Most recently, an editor from Boho Mag desperately wanted samples for their Fall 08 issue, but Leanne wasn’t able to send over any samples. I was shocked when she explained vaguely that she was “going away for a while” and couldn’t get the sample out in time. That was in June, and I didn’t hear from her again for months! Then, in the last week of August I was reading the Chicago Tribune and found out that Leanne Marshall was one of the contestants chosen for the upcoming season of Project Runway! No joke, I nearly fell off my chair. I definitely screamed, texted her and emailed her right away, and we got big kick out of it. It was my dream for her, and it was coming true!
I knew the minute she started designing on Project Runway that Michael, Heidi and Nina were going to see what I saw; A fun, sweet, humble girl and one of the best designers to come onto the scene in a while. Leanne and I have stayed in contact and she knows that I am a huge fan. When I told her that she was designing my wedding dress for my future wedding (2010 maybe?), she told me to wait in line with a laugh. She has tons of fans now and I don’t mind waiting in line. It is a surreal and emotional experience to see someone so talented emerge from struggle to such success and media attention. I knew she was good, and I knew she needed a big break to take her where she needed to go. I cried on Wednesday night when her name was announced as the winner!
As a PR professional and as someone who worked directly with Leanne to help build up her name, I feel proud of my small contribution to Leanne’s success. All of the money in the world couldn’t make this experience any more fulfilling for me. Sometimes I feel so close with my clients and want them to soar beyond they could ever imagine. It’s why I only work with collections I personally believe in. While many people in this industry can pretend to be excited about what they are pitching, my secret for success is to go with your gut and incorporate a little heart into the work that you do. Working with Leanne was working with gut and heart and the honest desire to see her grow. I am so proud of her and this experience reminds me to trust my instincts and continue to seek out and support new and fresh designers who can benefit from fashion PR.
(Project Runway Photos: AP Photo/Richard Drew)