The indie fashion PR component to top fashion PR blog PR Couture, Show Me The Pretty features 5-question interviews with hand-selected indie fashion labels. PR Couture shares the pretty and then turns it back to the designers to ask questions and get advice and feedback about their own fashion PR strategy from a variety of industry experts. Sound like fun? Email info[at]prcouture.com for more information.
Merritt Charles encapsulates laid-back Southern California chic with wear anywhere and everywhere fashion staples including tanks, dresses and jeans. However, these are not your average toss in the back of your car and throw away at season's end pieces - fabric blends like cotton cashmere and Tencel jersey have a decidedly luxe aesthetic.
What is your background? Where did you learn to design clothes?
I grew up in Newport Beach and went to high school at Corona del Mar high school. I graduated with a degree in business and communication from The University of San Diego. After graduating I moved up to Los Angeles to start a clothing line with virtually no experience. To make ends meet, I started working with a luxury handbag and luggage line out of Los Angeles and ended up running the internal sales and pr division of the company for a year. I didn't go to school for design but I did take two classes at the Otis Center for Design in Pasadena, CA.
What was the catalyst for starting Merritt Charles?
In 2008, I left my job to start my own clothing company with the goal to master the niche I discovered in the marketplace for high end and luxury casual wear with style. I wanted to give women the opportunity to buy luxury clothes they could actually wear. I wanted to make top quality clothing with the best fabrics, the best fit, the best construction that were also extremely stylish and fashionable.
Most of the Merritt Charles materials are imported from Italy and all production is constructed in the US under my supervision. I focus very much on the quality of craftsmanship. The Merritt Charles line represents fashionable closet staples with unmatched quality material and construction.
The Merritt Charles woman is someone who goes from the beach to yoga in Malibu before setting off for the South of France. She is equally comfortable enjoying a bit of downtime as she is enjoying fine dining and traveling from New York to Paris. One of the greatest and most appealing aspects of the brand is that it was created to be versatile enough to work at the beach or the city - you can dress the collection up or down.
What is your favorite fashion decade and why?
Not a decade necessarily. But the transition from the 60's to the 70's. In other words, from the late sixties into the early seventies was my favorite time, for sure. Laid back people with aviator sunglasses, Jimmy Hendrix style headbands, levis jeans, Farah faucet flipped out hair, plaid flannels. It exudes my idea of free spirit, comfort and fashion.
If you could get your clothes into the hands of 3 people in the world, who would they be and why?
The Dali Lama, my grandfather: Merritt Charles Horning, and Bill Gates. Hands down, top three. My grandfather passed away right before I decided to create a company after him. He was a doctor and a profound influence on me. He always encouraged me to never give up and taught me how to live a healthy life. To get what I created after him into his hands would be an honor. The Dali Lama is one of the leaders in the world that I look up to. Clarity, peace of mind and comfort are things he and the Merritt Charles Company represent - feeling good in the mind, body and soul. Bill Gates is the richest man in the world, therefore, I would like to meet with him and show him my product...our conversation after that point would remain confidential.
What's next on the radar for Merritt Charles?
We are branching out into men's clothing in about a year and a half. This will be essential when getting it into the hands of the three men above! Our plan is to go out big in 5 years with a consumer empire of products from housewares to children's clothing. We have already gone international and are planning on branching out more into countries overseas. Currently, we are creating a network as a branch of Merritt Charles that sponsors up and coming artists, entrepreneurs, entertainers, and athletes. We sponsor and help raise money for individuals that need that extra push to get them to a place of success. Think early Bill Gates, Google, Shawn White, Kelly Slater, Cameron Diaz, Cut Copy, Salvatore Dali etc.
Fashion PR Tips*
Doing gifting suites and sending your product to celebrity publicists seems risky. Is there another way to do this? Are there companies that specialize in this?
PR Couture Says:
If possible, begin the process by leveraging any personal contacts you have - a sort of "seven degrees of X celebrity. A hand-written note that shares a personal connection or story can be a great way to ensure your garment makes it through to the celebrity of your choice. Only gift items you feel are a fit for that celebrity.
Doing gifting suites and blindly sending product to celebrities can not only be risky but extremely costly, especially for a young brand. However, it is true that in this day and age celebrity placement can play a huge role in increasing brand awareness and gaining popularity in the industry. There are PR agencies that specialize in celebrity gifting, many are based out of LA as that is the center of the celebrity world right now and the best way to go about finding the right fit is to meet with multiple agencies, ask to take a look at their portfolios and figure out which agencies are representing brands with a similar target customer as they will have relationships with the celebrities that will be most beneficial for your brand. If you are going to begin by handling your own celebrity gifting, the best way to get started is to choose a small selection of celebrities that you think are a perfect fit for your collection, get in touch with their publicists and build a personal relationship with the publicist before you begin sending them product to give to their clients, this way they'll be happy to pass on the goodies. - Malorie Kaye, President, Cameo Public Relations
There are absolutely companies who specialize in gift suites, it is an incredibly lucrative industry. Define your PR goals prior to tossing pasta at the wall and hope it sticks. Celebrities can bring in sales, but more magazine polls (WWD and Lucky to name a few) show that the average shopper really doesn’t care what Paris Hilton is holding at what is obviously a gifting suite. I think the sales occur when a celeb is snapped out and about doing their daily gig in something they bought and love to wear. - Shannon Cavanagh-Estrada. Partner, Pitch! Press
Don't discount gifting suites altogether because having a celebrity endorsing your items will raise your profile. Instead, think preplan what you're offering to whom and develop tiered lists to make the system work for you. If you're really not keen on the world of publicists, try going directly to stylists; pitch them your looks and send samples and you could find your brand being picked up by the publications and individual celebrity clients they work for without the middle man.. - Sarah-Jane Adams, Fashion editor, www.sarahjaneadams.com
I don't advise this to my clients, even though we get approached often. IMDB is an great resource for getting straight to the source, or celebrity. It costs money to have access to the IMDB database, but not a lot. It lists agents, publicists, managers etc.. of celebs. I find them helpful in telling me who I need to contact and where I should send things that will land directly in their hands. With that said, its not always guaranteed. High profile celebrities are often on the road, so you risk them being away from their main address for a while. But I find that a better solution than gift suites, most of the time. - Kate Sullivan, President, Kick PR
For editorial placement the key is to understand what how the magazine you would like to target organizes their editorials. Do they accept already photographed editorial stories from photographers or are they organized in house? If it is organized in house, do your research and understand who organizes them and pitch to that editor. If they accept editorials from outside figure out what stylists they regularly feature and work to build relationships with those stylists. Find their contact information and offer your collection to pull from for upcoming editorials. - Polina Raygorodskay, Polina Fashion
When sending press releases out to newspapers and magazines what are good ways to get their attention?
PR Couture Says...
Think of your press release as a resource document, and put equal effort into constructing well-written pitches (either in email or as a hand-written cover letter) that show your familiarity with the publication, demonstrate where your product fits as well as your willingness to send samples and be interviewed for any upcoming stories.
Having a strong visual is a great way to grab the attention of editors opening up your email-- if they are intrigued they will likely read your press release and respond. Your press release should be short, sweet, and informative-- be sure to include the information they need to know, such as what's new, what sets your collection apart, your retail price points, where to buy, and where they can access more information/download your catalog. Editors are pressed for time so it's crucial to focus on the specifics-- it makes their job easier. – Adrienne Dorsey, CEO Magnolia PR
You don't want to blindly send out press releases, do your homework first. Create your Top 10 list for publications you wish to see your brand in and ask yourself why you want want to see your brand in these magazines. Is it for the cache? Because it fits your target audience? Make the list diverse, don't just list Lucky, Instyle and Vogue. Every designer wants those. Using indie publications such as Bust or regional focused publication can lead to quicker, and even more quality coverage. When working with several of my jewelry clients, they had better success (in terms of online orders) with more niche publications. PR is investment; don't you want it to make money for your brand as you pay your PR rep? Once you've created the list, then take the time to find out who would be interested in your line. It doesn't hurt to get the magazine editorial calendar (there are over 400,000 editorial calendars available on EdCals.com) so that you can tailor your pitches to stories they have planned. You're more likely to be receive coverage if you do some homework for the writer. - Macala Wright Lee, CEO, FashionablyMarketing.Me
First, make sure you’re sending the release to the correct contact. If you’re just blasting it out to folks that don’t cover retail or clothing, chances are pretty good that it’s going straight into the trash can. Second, although this may sound time consuming, send out your pitches individually. The odds of your news getting picked up are much greater if you personalize it to a specific person as opposed to using the generic “Hi!” Lastly, try and stay updated on stories that reporters cover. If you’re able to add a quick note before the release that demonstrates you follow their publications, it indicates you pay attention to what they cover! An example would be:
I recently read your story on _______________ and thought this news might be of interest to you. I welcome your feedback!” Alyson Rybar, Program Manager, Stalwart Communications
What is the best yet most cost-efficient method to get the Merritt Charles name out there? I know a celebrity wearing your stuff really helps, but is there anything else that isn't so costly?
PR Couture says...
Public relations and social media outreach is more cost-effective than an advertising driven campaign - and will help ensure your long-term success. Use your PR budget on those tactics that are going to have the most benefit - photography, brand identity, and strategic, consistent media relations. As the designer, you can begin to build a following through direct engagement with brand fans through your Facebook Fan Page and Twitter account. Make the experience fun and interactive - and learn from other brands like Purple Lab NYC and Airess and Church who are using social media to launch new brands.
Online fashion shows, viral/controversial content, video of your line worn at events, interviews with the designer, and online contest announced via video can be extremely effective. While video may still sound intimidating, we assure you that it is not once you start down that path. Furthermore, video content has a snowball effect. Once you begin producing videos, you finalize a certain formula for your videos, cultivate an online following, and truly gain speed and momentum with producing more content. Video, unlike written online articles, is more shareable, and given the ADD-like behavior of online surfing, better lends itself to the attention span of the average online web user; most importantly, video tends to be more evergreen compared to text, meaning people will still be coming across, sharing, and watching your videos from ages ago.
Secondly, for your particular needs, as we have researched thus far, we recommend a place on your site for subscribing to you by email. Encourage your existing online communities on Facebook and Twitter to join up, and work with Skova Design on alerting subscribers by email on sales, collection news, sharing new videos, giving them notice for events coming up, etc. This will assist with a more active, alert, and loyal fan base and will help make use of your existing web traffic while also directly increasing awareness as well as sales. Polina Raygorodskay, Polina Fashion
Hands down, social media. This is free advertising that allows companies to connect with their target audience, listen to their needs and wants, engage in conversation and offer promotions. However, it you create a social media account for your brand, it shouldn’t be taken lightly or neglected. It’s essential that if you’re going to participate, you need to be actively involved on daily basis and if you don’t, it will reflect poorly on the brand. I’ve witnessed actual sales leads as a result of Twitter and it’s all about being involved in conversation. - Alyson Rybar, Program Manager, Stalwart Communications
What are three must-do public relations steps for a new clothing line?
PR Couture says
1) Invest in your brand with clear messaging, positioning and great lifestyle and product photography 2) Be ready to move quickly when an editor calls 3) Be available and accessible through social media channels to further engagement with current customers to boost WOM.
1.) Have high-resolution, magazine-ready images! This is so key-- if a magazine is on deadline and unable to call in a sample or has a smaller staff, they may request a high res image. A product shot (a photograph of the product with a white background, 300 dpi) is usually the most requested.
2.) Blogging is also important-- your website should have a section for your blog where you can regularly update visitors with all of your news-- this should include your latest designs, recent press, new store accounts, fashion trends, and special promotions.
3.) Social media-- having a Facebook fan page and Twitter for your brand is a must. You can easily update your fans and followers with your latest promotions, build relationships with the media, gain brand exposure, and build your SEO this way.
– Adrienne Dorsey, CEO Magnolia PR
My recommendations are more marketing based. The Merritt Charles site is very nicely designed, but our first recommendation is not related to PR, it's to the web accessibility. We'd removed the flash intro and go directly to the page with all the navigation below it. A writer or potential customer doesn't want the flash page when they go to your domain to review you. They want to see your product line and what you're about. Give that to them. The imagery is striking and will automatically make them go deeper. As I mentioned in question #2, do your homework, know what publications you want your product to appear in and why. Cater your pitches to those writers and make sure you provide all the information anyone could need. Also, under your "members" section, have your webmaster create a mailing list instead of the user having to email you to be added. You're missing valuable sales leads and even press coverage not having one. - Macala Wright Lee, CEO, FashionablyMarketing.Me
Do you have any tips for getting picked up on a fashion blog? What do you think are the best ways of contacting the writers?
Spend a few weeks doing nothing but reading five blogs you think are a fit for your brand daily. Comment on their posts, follow them on Twitter. When you really understand their style and voice, develop a pitch that is personalized to them. Include details that demonstrate you have read and commented on previous posts - anything that personalizes it - you have the same favorite ice cream flavor, whatever, helps to build a relationship and increases the likelihood of a response. Of course, when you are sending that pitch, address the blogger by name.
A creative e-mail gets any blogger’s attention. If you can use a current runway trend, show a celeb wearing something similar to what your collection has, or write a tongue-in-cheek description of what it is you would like featured, bloggers will give your brand consideration. Remember, e-mails are details. So when you do contact a writer, include their name instead of a generic “Hey there” or “Dear blogger”. Bloggers like to know that you know their name, their site, and how you can fit into their theme. – Jordana Stephen, Touch of Pink PR
Cultivate relationships with blog writers/owners that will yield consistent and mutually-beneficial relationships designed for your long term benefit. Be direct with them and be honest with what you want them to write about. Writers know that, as a business, you want exposure and, in turn, sales. Give them something unique to write about; the more interesting details the better. Start with writers relevant to your line that you can meet in person in Los Angeles or even elsewhere if you will be traveling. It can't hurt to provide incentive and give them some samples; the minute they fall in love with your line, additional blog entries will be sure follow.
When you contact a blog, you are contacting the person behind the scenes. Your initial contact may not yield a big blog entry so realize it is a numbers game, and like all places online, they also probably have a Twitter, Facebook, Youtube account, etc. If they feel that a full article is not appropriate for their weekly entry, for example, it takes little effort to tweet about you or mention you to their Facebook fan base; a simple tweet can be excellent exposure and can successfully initiate a relationship with that blog writer.
- Polina Raygorodskay, Polina Fashion
I suggest reaching out to a select, handful of blogs that you loyally read and cultivate relationships with them. Reach out and let them know you read their blog, you appreciate it, and that out of the thousands of blogs out there, you want nothing more than to work with them, provide samples for any trend or fashion stories they may be working on. Sincerity, integrity and honesty go a long way in this fickle industry. - Shannon Cavanagh-Estrada. Partner, Pitch! Press
I work as the West Coast Editor for online luxury magazine called LadyLux. When a West Coast based brand or designer emails personally, includes photos and all the necessary information I'd need to do a write up on their brand, I usually do. I know that emerging brands have limited resources and often do all their work themselves. I have respect for them, catering their pitches and a personal note goes a long way with me as writer, just make sure the product line you're asking me to cover fits with my content. - Macala Wright Lee, CEO, FashionablyMarketing.Me
* PR Couture is committed to sharing a variety of voices and opinions related to PR on our site. While we may not always agree 100% with our advisory panel’s suggestions, we believe in the power of discussion and debate and recognize that there are many approaches to fashion PR and each one deserves it’s due. Please consider leaving a comment with your own thoughts to continue the conversation. Or to put it another way, The opinions contained in this article are those of practitioners quoted and may not reflect the opinions of PR Couture.
PHOTOS: all images are protected by copyright laws and are property of MERRITT CHARLES