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Stay In Fashion: The How's and Why's of Choosing a PR Agency in 2009

[The following is a guest post by Melissa Davis of Ruby Press. Founded in 2001, Ruby Press is a boutique public relations agency representing style-driven businesses. Founder and Co-Owner Melissa Davis is a former fashion editor with a combined twelve years of experience at Harper’s Bazaar, Mademoiselle, Lucky, and 7x7 magazines. Additional information about Ruby Press can be found at www.rubypr.com.]

Vogue Cover Paris November 2008 with Vanessa Paradis
Vogue Cover Paris November 2008 with Vanessa Paradis

Hire a PR agency in this economy? Really?

In this kind of economy, which naturally makes business owners wary, many look at PR services as a place where they can “trim the fat”. The climate is scary right now, but PR is now more important than ever. In an economic downturn, when shoppers are cutting back on spending and are becoming more discerning as to where they spend their dollars, it is imperative that one’s products are in the forefront of the target audience’s mind.

Consumer spending is down to be sure, but people are still shopping - just not as much. They’re being more careful than ever with each purchase that they make, whether it’s a lipstick or a pair of shoes. They’re doing their homework (reading the magazines, scouring their favorite blogs) and educating themselves on the best buy. Editorial coverage, (specifically fashion editorial coverage) whereby an editor or writer has chosen to provide unique coverage of a brand/product/personality, is uniquely powerful, in that the potential consumer generally trusts the media outlet and its coverage. When they see that the editors have endorsed a particular product by putting it in their magazine, they trust that it’s chic and of-the-moment. And the more they see the brand in the press, the more familiar they feel with the brand and the company’s products.

US Vogue's November edition showcasing new designers. Modelled by Caroline Trentini.
US Vogue's November edition showcasing new designers. Modelled by Caroline Trentini.

Hiring a PR agency is not cheap, but it’s certainly less expensive than advertising - and when done correctly, it can be much more powerful. Consumers have become, for lack of a better term, advertising savvy, and they understand the difference between advertising and editorial. They know that advertisements are bought and carefully controlled. Whether it’s fast-forwarding the Tivo, changing the radio station as an ad starts, or just flipping past advertisements in a magazine, consumers’ advertisement filtering systems are second nature – advertisements are generally seen as a necessary evil that interrupts their entertainment. Editorial product placement, on the other hand, is just the opposite – it is the reason that they picked up the magazine in the first place. Consumers look to their favorite magazine or daily blog reads to show them fresh, exciting new products, trusting that editors only write about things that excite them and in which they truly believe.

Established press coverage is always a great foot in the door with store buyers, but these days, when they are buying less merchandise and reluctant to take chances on new brands, it can make all the difference. A brand that is consistently in the press is less of a gamble, something no one wants to take right now. Media coverage not only creates the perception of a stable, enduring brand but helps to make it a reality.

Online media coverage is becoming more and more important, putting businesses only one click away from their potential customers. The blog world has a highly dedicated and knowledgeable fan base. An endorsement or mention from well thought of bloggers can make an immediate impact on a brand and create a buzz in just days.

When looking for a PR agency, in this economy or any other, it pays to do your homework. I suggest taking the following points into consideration:

  • Make sure that an agency feels like a natural fit for you and your company; it is important that you not only like the people who you will be working with at the agency, but that they are truly understand your market and are enthusiastic about your brand.
  • Ask them to provide you with testimonials and/or references from current or past clients as well as from members of the media.
  • Case studies also can be especially helpful in seeing how the PR coverage they’ve obtained has helped their clients’ companies grow- ask to see some.
  • Choose an agency that has strong relationships with the media. It’s hard to get results by just sending out hundreds or thousands of press releases.
  • Remember that the agency doesn’t have to be in New York- what’s important is that the agency has the relationships with the media, not where their office is physically based. And hiring an agency in New York can be considerably more expensive than in any other city.
  • Keep in mind that the agency you choose doesn’t need to be in the city in which your business is based. We’ve performed just as well with clients based on the other side of the world as we have with local clients.
  • Take a look at the type of media coverage that they’ve secured and make sure that they understand the importance of online media and that they have relationships with those writers, bloggers and editors.
  • Ask the agency head if there is any room for financial flexibility.  Given the economy,  maybe they are willing to add in some trade or are willing to find other ways to make a PR progeam work with your budget. Beware, however, of an agency that seems desperate to gain your account- that’s a sign of instability.

Sylvia Heisel Fall 2008
Sylvia Heisel Fall 2008

While short term campaigns can be effective for launches, a long term, ongoing PR strategy is crucial for growing, and established, brands. Most reputable PR agencies will likely ask you to sign a contract for at least one year, which might seem like a big commitment, but it isn’t really possible to assess how the press coverage has affected your business until that point.

Take this time to focus on getting your product where it needs to be. Concentrating your efforts in marketing and PR at a time when others are panicking will only give you a leg up on your competition. And securing an agency now could potentially get you a deal that would last the term of your contract and maybe right through this dip in the economy.

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Meet Crosby Noricks

Hi. I'm Crosby, the founder of PR Couture and a fashion brand strategist. I care about supporting and celebrating fashion publicists as well as helping rad companies connect with their audiences in more meaningful ways. Recently, iMedia included me in their annual list of 25 Internet Marketing Leaders and Innovators, along with people from Starbucks, Twitter and Volkswagon, which I think is pretty neat. Like Elle Woods, I am a Gemini-vegetarian (that's about where the similarities end). Let's connect: Check out my full bio, Brand Elixer sessions or shoot me an electronic communiqué.