As founder of recently-launched fashion, food, beauty and lifestyle PR firm Lexington PR, Suki Mulberg Altamirano puts her in-house experience at Kenzo Parfums, Elizabeth Arden and Williams-Sonoma to use daily, providing strategic thinking and access to a cultivated network of strong press relationships across broadcast, print and online media networks to secure meaningful placements for clients. Currently splitting her time between Louisville, New York City and Seattle, I was lucky enough to catch up with the media maven for a chat:
Describe your early days in the industry. How did you land your first gig?
I broke into the industry as a PR Assistant for Kenzo Parfums, LVMH. After I finished college in New York I moved to Italy and taught English for about six months. I had minored in Italian and loved living in Italy but during this time I started to miss being involved in PR and communications, which was my major.
While I was visiting family in Seattle for the holidays I came across the position at Kenzo on a career forum through my university, NYU. It sounded like a dream job! I went to visit friends in New York for New Years, landed an interview while I was in town, got the job a few days later and never left! I had to have my things shipped to me from Italy and Seattle. I didn’t even have an apartment at the time.
I think the biggest thing that helped me land my first position was the internships I did while studying at NYU.
I interned with the media relations team at ABC, the fashion department at Marie Claire and the public relations team for L’Oreal Paris. These internships gave me practical knowledge of the field and some great recommendations. My time at L’Oreal was incredibly helpful for my interview at LVMH as it had provided me with a good understanding of the beauty sector.
What skills did you develop at each position?
At Kenzo I learned how to build strong relationships, the importance of telling the story behind a product and how to make the most of limited resources. I learned to trust my gut and not to be afraid of trying something new. As a niche French brand, it taught me a lot about translating a European approach to the US market. I worked with a small, close-nit and very international team in New York, which taught me a lot in itself!
Elizabeth Arden gave me a perspective from the other end of the spectrum as a large American beauty brand with a heavy load of launches. I honed my skills there on how to run global media events – from paparazzi gatherings like a 5th Avenue ribbon cutting with the CEO and then celebrity spokesperson Catherine Zeta-Jones to press trips and launch unveilings.
My time at Williams-Sonoma was interesting as it put me on the side of a retailer verses a brand. I gained a lot of experience partnering with brands that are sold at Williams-Sonoma, growing my PR repertoire and media contacts into the food and kitchen category and working closely with buyers, creative teams, store managers and other executives. From seasonal media tours to events and national celebrity chef book tours, this was one of the busiest roles I’ve ever had!
What differences did you experience between LVMH and Williams-Sonoma?
I actually think there are a lot of similarities between Wiliams-Sonoma and LVMH when you think about the caliber of the products these groups produce, the solid branding and the feeling of luxury. The extremely detailed thought and preparation process that goes into every launch is also something consistent between the two. Both groups gave a lot of space for work independence, autonomy and creativity.
On the flip side, Kenzo Parfums, LVMH had much more of a bohemian, free-spirited culture that was focused on personal relationships and growing alongside a small and close group of individuals who were deeply dedicated to the brand. At Williams-Sonoma it was more of a traditional corporate culture, with a broad group of colleagues. Given the size of Williams-Sonoma, there are a lot of departments that are crucial to the company’s continued success and in PR I had an opportunity to work internally with many individuals.
What makes an ideal client for Lexington PR?
I always appreciate it when a client has a strong brand vision. As a publicist, this is extremely helpful when you’re developing the voice and brand identity. I love working on new launches and also re-imaging brands that have an impressive heritage but need to be modernized.
At the end of the day though, the clients you want to keep working with are those who appreciate your work, are transparent, honest and fun to be around! I really appreciate people who don’t take themselves too seriously and keep a sense of humor.
Of course beautiful designs and innovation are important too! At the end of the day though, the clients you want to keep working with are those who appreciate your work, are transparent, honest and fun to be around! I really appreciate people who don’t take themselves too seriously and keep a sense of humor.
What's the mood in the office? What are you currently working on?
The mood is holiday! We’ve been thinking about the holidays since we started pitching our clients to long lead magazines in the summer. We’re still in the midst of outreach for holiday gift guides, fashion and entertaining stories with short lead press. We’re also getting ready to work on some exciting new launches for spring 2014.
What is it like running your firm out of Louisville?
As a Seattle native and a New Yorker for 10 years, landing in Louisville last spring was an unexpected move! I’ve found Louisville to be a great place to run a business and with a convenient proximity to a lot of major cities. The culture here is incredibly supportive of independent businesses and it’s an inspiring time with the Louisville food scene full of innovative, artisan restaurants and of course loads of bourbon distilleries nearby too. This is an incredibly picturesque city with a lot of southern hospitality. I’m also infatuated with the array of beautiful doors and perfectly styled front porches that you pass by in Louisville, which you can usually find me sharing on Instagram.
It’s undeniable though that New York City is an incredibly important place from a media perspective. For that reason I travel to New York at least once a month, whether it’s for Fashion Week, press or client meetings. I also like to keep a West Coast presence with regular visits to Seattle.
What's a recent success story you're extra proud of?
I think it would be booking one of my fashion clients’ products on The Today Show during New York Fashion Week for the fourth time! Last week I also worked on a ten minute dedicated HuffPost Live segment for a fashion client, which was a great double hit as it was also built into a separate and dedicated HuffPost Style story.
How has the the industry evolved since your start?
I think the biggest change has to be the importance of digital media and related to that the speed by which a press story can travel. When I started in the industry, companies were just beginning to look at the idea of working with bloggers and participating in social media was even further away.
Today it’s unimaginable to pull together a solid PR campaign that doesn’t address digital and social media channels as pivotal arenas.
Do you think having a mentor is necessary for success in this business?
I certainly believe in having mentors but at the end of the day I think the best way to learn is through your own experience, both failure and success. Some of my best career education has been gained on the ground running, and I’d definitely categorize much of my background as self-taught. With that said though, I think mentors sometimes come in unexpected forms and not necessarily in the shape of a person teaching you the specifics of your job.
The mentors in my career have been the people that inspired me with their drive, ideas, creativity, how they work with other individuals and their belief in me.
I don’t think having a mentor is a must, but it’s certainly a great asset to have someone show you the ropes, provide a wise perspective and teach you more about yourself.
What are the three most-important considerations before sending out a pitch?
1. Keep it concise. I know this sometimes feels hard when there is a lot of great brand information to include, but nobody wants to read a huge email and you should always be able to quickly summarize the key points of your pitch.
2. Make it personalized. This is just intuitive – always take the extra time to personalize every pitch and think of how the other person is going to perceive what you’re offering. Why is your pitch newsworthy for this contact?
3. Be timely. This is a really key component to a successful pitch – knowing when to reach out to an editor and understanding their timetable is crucial.
Lexington PR Favorites and Must-haves
Morning reads: I usually start the day with WWD and always try to check out the latest headlines on Refinery29, PopSugar Food, Mashable, TheCut, the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Go-to "pitch a new client" outfit: My go-to outfit is usually a black dress with boots or flats. My two current favorites are a belted Rag & Bone dress and a classic black wool dress by Ginny H.
Office Essentials: I use my tablet all of the time, to share lookbooks in meetings and also to keep up with magazine subscriptions that I get digitally. Evernote is one of my favorite apps, which always comes in handy for quickly logging notes and follow-up reminders after press meetings. I like to keep my appointments digitally but also use a classic planner too. I still like the feel of penned paper! The same goes with my inspiration board – Pinterest serves this purpose digitally but I also like to keep one on the wall at my office.