MRL President, Molly R Leis has more than a decade of experience creating brand-marketing campaigns for some of luxury’s most influential brands such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Estée Lauder. Since launching her own strategic marketing firm, MRL Communications, Molly has relied solely on word of mouth and referrals to build up an impressive client list that includes Worth Avenue, a celebrated shopping venue in Palm Beach, Florida, Sambarela Swimwear, and InStyle.
How did a family steeped in retail and a love of fashion color your world view?
As a fourth generation retail entrepreneur, growing up in a fashion focused family served as a source of inspiration from an early age. Family dinner conversations often revolved around the nuances of color and texture. Those conversations have taught me how beautiful design and a clear brand message impact a person’s decision to buy. My upbringing was the foundation for my creative, solution-oriented perspective; I was taught that if you dream it, you can achieve it.
Since the age of 13, one of my best friends and I would create inspiration boards from Teen Magazine tear sheets as we anticipated our forthcoming fashion careers. More than 20 years later we are both immersed in the industry, committed to helping companies achieve their dreams.
You attended FIDM in San Francisco - what was that experience like?
My graduate program in Fashion Marketing Merchandising Management was a fantastic academic experience. Not surprisingly, my favorite class was “Promotion in the Merchandising Environment.” The course required a comprehensive semester-long project to develop and execute a retail store strategy. Each student developed a store concept including business plan, marketing plan and corporate identity. These types of projects confirmed my desire to build a career in fashion marketing.
Kate Spade and InStyle Las Vegas Launch Event
Did your education at FIDM prepare you for work in the PR/Marketing sector?
My retail education provided the type of industry-specific insight that fashion schools do best. FIDM taught me that beyond the concept, a business needs a strong plan of action, unique brand identity and the importance of immersing the consumer in a curated brand experience. I completed my program with a dynamic marketing portfolio that helped me secure fashion copywriter positions with Eluxury.com and Bloomingdale's. FIDM prepared me for fashion marketing by teaching me the importance of thinking both strategically and creatively about my work. I believe supplementing education with internships is the best way to gain well-rounded experience.
Did you have any mentors through the years or are you primarily self-taught? Do you think having a mentor is necessary for success in this business?
Experience has been the greatest teacher of all, however I believe mentors can be invaluable to career growth. The right mentor can help you navigate the industry and guide you through professional development. I have had a few mentors throughout my career and wholeheartedly believe that being both a mentor and a mentee has huge benefits. As much as I appreciate my mentors, I love mentoring and nurturing a team. I’m partially self-taught, an aesthetic sensibility, attention to detail and on-point execution are key characteristics of successful fashion communication professionals. I try to learn from every experience and believe constant professional and personal development needs to be a way of life.
What was the single-most valuable thing you learned during your time as Director of Marketing for Saks?
Saks was a tremendous experience. The opportunity was special because it gave me the chance to apply the accumulation of my career’s work to over 50 ready-to-wear and accessory brands from Michael Kors to Jimmy Choo to John Hardy. Saks taught me the importance of understanding each brand’s unique positioning, goals and challenges. I learned to respond with relevant sales and marketing strategies that ultimately drive the bottom line.
What inspired you to make the jump toward opening your own firm?
I loved my experience at Saks and realized I could make an even greater contribution to the industry if I worked directly with designers and retailers to help them connect with their consumers through retail marketing, branding, event and design services.
As a strategic marketing firm, what role does PR play in the services and strategies you provide clients?
We take a broad communications approach to business development. As a strategic marketing firm, our communication services encompass marketing, branding, events, design, PR and social media. Once we understand the client’s objectives and challenges we develop a strategy and tactics to achieve those goals. PR is just one of the communication tactics we offer clients.
What were a few of major considerations when developing the MRL brand?
Two core elements of the development of MRL were our brand positioning and visual identity.
It was important to clearly define our point of differentiation. What makes MRL unique is the combination of our retail and corporate fashion marketing experience, a comprehensive 360’ approach to fashion communications from branding to marketing and design, plus that we work as both a consultancy and agency helping clients with long-term growth strategy through execution.
It was equally important to create a corporate identity that spoke to our luxury expertise. We hired Marius Fahrner Design, an international design agency with extensive experience in the luxury market, to create a corporate identity reflective of our brand essence.
What were some of the biggest investments you had to make in order to create your own company?
Time is one of the greatest investments an entrepreneur makes. Little luxuries like socializing, shopping and relaxing become big luxuries when you’re passionate about your work and committed to growth. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I have quickly become a workaholic and love it. When you work for yourself, your priority needs to be your business.
What are some of the ongoing communication challenges faced by luxury retailers in the current marketplace?
One of the greatest challenges today that luxury brick and mortars face is competing with online retailers. Retailers are struggling to understand the difference between multi-channel and omni-channel marketing as they try to ensure consistency between the brand’s online and offline experience. From brand personality to customer service, retailers are struggling to craft an equally engaging in-store and online experience across all communication channels.
What are 3 tips for fashion brands looking to develop strategic partnerships?
- The right partner can elevate your company's positioning and extend its reach. Establish your goals, analyze the market and do your due diligence to determine which potential partners will align with your brand positioning and target audience.
- Make sure all of your objectives will be met before you move forward. New relationships can be fun and exciting to explore, but it’s better to wait until you find the right fit for your brand.
- Test the partnership before making a long-term commitment. Work on a project basis for a limited-time to see if the partnership proves successful.
Strategic partnerships can be a dynamic, influential marketing tool to help grow your business. They can expose your brand to new markets as you work towards reaching your goals.