Hosting a designer Q&A event can be a rewarding experience for both the featured designer and the publicity team who curates it. The key to success is to create an engaging event that spotlights the designer and gives the audience a glimpse into their world so that they can fall in love with the collection and the backstory behind the brand. On a recent trip to London that happened to overlap with London Fashion Week, I saw many retailers highlighting local designers via in-store Q&A events. The scale of these events ranged from informal, open to the public Q&A style events during business hours to more intimate gatherings with catering and cocktails held after-hours. These events gave consumers a free and easy way to take part in the buzz of fashion week and gave editors and style bloggers the opportunity to see the collections up-close and hear more about the line directly from the designer.
When making the decision to do a designer Q&A event it’s important to establish goals early on in the planning process so that event details can support those objectives. Common goals for designer Q&A events include introducing the designer to potential retail buyers, promoting the launch of a new collection, connecting the designer directly to consumers and to build buzz for a brand that is new or recently revamped. Here are my top tips to hosting a successful designer Q&A event.
Take advantage of influencers and media partnerships
There are so many creative ways to put a spin on traditional designer Q&A events. One strategy that has become popular is to find someone to host the event like an influential style blogger or magazine editor. Another idea is to partner with a local or regional magazine to host an exclusive event celebrating a new collection or designer debut. Be creative, plan ahead, keep the overall goal in mind and your event will be a stylish success!
Choose an appropriate venue
Pick a venue that is in line with the featured designer’s brand and product mix. If the brand is aimed toward a high-end clientele don’t pick a bar or nightclub as a venue because there will be an obvious disconnect. Instead, look for a posh hotel lounge or swanky restaurant with a private room that may be willing to host you. Retailers that carry the line may also be interested in hosting the event as it will allow them to draw traffic into the store and highlight a brand that they stock.
It’s also important to consider the flow of the event when picking the venue and to consider seating - will the designer and moderator be standing up or sitting down? If the designer is actively showing pieces from the line, standing may be better, but if there is a multi media presentation planned, a seated arrangement may be better. What about the guests? Where will they sit, stand, and naturally cluster. Also consider your technology needs and expected capacity. Finally, there will likely be a host of professional and smartphone photos taken at the event, where is the lighting and space best for photography and how can you set up the event to highlight these areas for close-ups?
Consider food, drinks & entertainment choices carefully
In addition to choosing a venue with great bones, it's also important to plan out refreshments and any additional entertainment carefully and to ensure the event is on-brand for your designer from every angle. Kelly Cutrone of People's Revolution learned this lesson the hard way when she served pink cookies with black frosting at an Agent Provocateur party as told in her book 'If You Have to Cry, Go Outside: And Other Things your Mother Didn't Tell You'. Before she knew it, fashion editors and guests had black frosting all over their teeth, potentially ruining the event photos. Of course Kelly found a discreet way to pull guests aside and help them wipe off the frosting, saving the party and helping guests save face (literally). Consider if your food choices could end up messy, sticky or easily-staining a guest's dress. I always opt for refreshments that are light colored, not messy and easy to eat. If the budget allows, include the designers branding in the mix by using cocktail napkins with logos or even having custom treats made, just take a tip from our pal Kelly: black frosting is a no-no!
Make it easy to peruse, touch & shop pieces
Be sure to allocate enough time to properly plan out how the designer’s merchandise will be displayed at the event, considering that a successful event will likely result in both social media chatter and interested buyers. Beyond just folding items, or putting them up on rolling racks, how can you creatively display client product? Perhaps a small model presentation is best, or dress a few fashion bloggers in key looks.
Also, make sure that there is ample signage to communicate key brand messaging and interesting information about individual pieces. Signage and collateral can take a while to get produced, so ensure there is enough time built into the planning calendar for displays. Adding a multi-media presentation may also be a good way to showcase the designer and introduce a new collection. Showing behind-the-scenes video footage of a photoshoot or fashion show can help to communicate a designer's point of view.
Prep your designer for the Q&A
Just like in a more traditional media training session, part of your job as a fashion publicist is to ensure that your client is a confident communicator who stays on message. Develop a list of common questions and practice answers that are authentic and interesting. If you have a moderator, make sure to do a call or in-person meeting ahead of the event to run through event expectations, timeline and to ensure the moderator has all the background information she needs to host the conversation, including an introduction for the designer and a few lead questions to kick off the Q&A segment in case the audience is shy.
Promote offline events online
Don't underestimate the importance of utilizing social media to build buzz for the event and to engage those who are not able to attend. Use an event hashtag and encourage people to send in questions for the designer via Twitter and Facebook. Consider running a social media contest the night of event to encourage guests to share event photos and information about the designer/brand. If you are too busy to personally oversee social media execution the night of the event, make sure to fully prep your social media strategist and empower her to respond in real-time to social conversation.
Reach out to guests the morning after
There’s nothing worse than going to an event and never getting a follow-up or thank you from the publicist who invited you. If you have hosted a public event, make sure to capture email addresses and social media handles at the event for a quick shout out of thanks. Always make time to send out personal notes and to provide guests with additional information that will make it easier for them to cover the story including digital lookbooks, photos of the collection, pull quotes, fact sheets, etc. These follow-ups should be done no more than 48 hours after the event. Remember, you are building and maintaining relationships with the guests who attend so be helpful, gracious and sincere.
Designer Q&A events offer a unique opportunity for companies to connect with fashion editors, retail buyers and consumers. When executed correctly, they can help increase sales, boost awareness for the brand and give designers a platform to intimately connect with their target audience. What are your essential elements of a designer Q&A event? We would love to hear from you!
Photo Credit: coco+kelley