From an early age Vancouver, B.C. native Carly Sullivan knew she loved retail – from the product and packaging to merchandising and the in-store experience. She has built her career within retail, spanning positions across wholesale, vertical, brick & mortar and now e-commerce. After a decade in marketing and brand strategy leadership roles at lululemon, Carly Sullivan has added PR manager to her skillset as Senior Manager, PR and Community at Coastal, the largest online optical retailer in the world. These days, her role focuses on creating and deepening connections between the brand, consumers, and media.
How did you get started in the industry?
I started in PR this past February. Seriously. After nearly a decade with lululemon athletica in multiple community marketing and brand strategy leadership roles, I joined the team at Coastal to head up community marketing, social media and public relations.
My first job was for a now-defunct Canadian shoe company. From a very young age, I absolutely loved retail- the product, the experience, the branding, the packaging, the merchandising. It’s by no mistake I’ve built my career within retail organizations.
How did you get the job you have now?
Since very early in my career, I’ve been unwavering about my choice to work for companies I love and leaders I believe in. Coastal offered both. I worked for our CMO, Nancy Richardson when she headed up Brand at lululemon and knew I’d jump on any opportunity to be under her leadership again. At lululemon I got to change the way people dressed- disrupting the idea of technical athletic apparel and blurring the lines of gym/streets. But now at Coastal, I have the chance to change the way people see – it was an exciting & meaningful opportunity that was an immediate ‘yes!’ when I was offered the position.
What are your responsibilities?
First and foremost, I have the privilege to lead and learn from a very talented group of woman who all specialize in multiple functions- social media, public relations, communications, community, partnerships, product seeding, retail merchandising and local marketing. While we are the largest online optical retailer, our organizational structure is similar to a (very healthy) start-up, which is an environment I thrive in. The more entrepreneurial and diverse the better for this girl!
Since very early in my career, I’ve been unwavering about my choice to work for companies I love and leaders I believe in.
In addition to being in a leadership role, I develop and lead the public relations, communications, social media and community strategies for Coastal and it’s exclusive brands. Coastal’s portfolio of products includes a curated collection of third-party brands, such as Ray-Ban, Kenzo and Chloe, and our own exclusive brands that are designed in-house. The exclusive brands we design cater to different audiences so it’s really exciting to have a range of products to pitch. I’m lucky that I get to pitch everything from fashion to health to business on a daily basis.
Over the past few months, I’ve also taken on the management of our Executive Thought Leadership, including content creation, social media management, and public engagements. We run PR in-house and are very hands on; I share media and influencer relationships and pitching with my team.
How is your department is structured?
We’ve taken a holistic approach to PR at Coastal by joining social media, digital influencers & ambassador programs, partnerships and community marketing on my team. How and from whom people consume media is changing, and our goal is to create a seamless brand experience across multiple touch points. We’ve also found lines are also blurring between the producers, creators and consumers of media, and an open company structure allows us to develop more meaningful relationships as we can work with an individual across multiple mediums, instead of a siloed approach.
What is the mood like in the office? What are you working on?
Contagious energy! This summer we went through a rebrand and new site launch. Last year we put a new product design approach in place for our portfolio of exclusive brands designed in-house, and we are starting to see those product lines come to life. Right now our main focus is introducing and re-introducing who we are as a brand today and where we are going. We are excited to offer a best in class experience and gorgeous product- and to invite as many people as possible to #seeclearly on this journey with us.
We run PR in-house and are very hands on; I share media and influencer relationships and pitching with my team
What is a success story that makes you especially proud?
What makes me most proud is witnessing the development of my team. While I am the first to squeal at a great hit, getting tagged by ‘that Instagrammer’ or creating a new friendship with an editor or stylist, my excitement is tenfold when it comes from the success of a member of my team. Leadership and coaching is one of the biggest takeaways I gained in my previous roles and to bring forth those learnings and share and shape them with my current team is extremely fulfilling.
What’s the most memorable moment in your career thus far?
I don’t think it’s happened yet! While I savor so many moments so far, I can’t help but have the feeling that even more are to come. Anyone need a plus-one to Paris Fashion Week?!
Most glamorous moment in your career thus far?
Every trip to NYC. There’s something about that city, no matter how many times I’ve visitedt, I get the sense ‘I’ve made it’. I grew up on an island on the West Coast of British Columbia and dreamed of NYC glamor a la Carrie Bradshaw. I never get tired of the glam, the grit, the lights, and the buzz.
What makes me most proud is witnessing the development of my team. While I am the first to squeal at a great hit, getting tagged by ‘that Instagrammer’ or creating a new friendship with an editor or stylist, my excitement is tenfold when it comes from the success of a member of my team.
Least glamorous moment in your career thus far?
I was escorted off a plane by the RCMP! While traveling home (Vancouver, BC) from a round of desksides in NYC, I witnessed a minor scuffle between two passengers. Don’t fret- everyone was fine and it was an unfortunate case of a tray being put back a little too aggressively. I learned on that flight that all in-air altercations need to be reported to the police and that the best way to embarrass co-workers is being escorted off a packed airplane (even as a witness!) by individuals in uniform.
PR can be stressful and full of rejection – how do you deal?
There’s a certain healthy separation that’s needed between oneself and one’s work. This is a field where it’s important to know who you are, what your worth is and what your boundaries are. While I love my career and find it immensely fulfilling, it bears constant reminding that I am not my job. This attitude is one I’ve had to hone over the years and allows me to put things in perspective. It’s great to be passionate and bring emotion to work- it can fuel you to go further than what you may think is possible. When things are tough, let them be tough. Just give yourself a timeframe & commit to being as angry or as sad as you need to be during that time then let it go. Everything changes so quickly!
What are three must-haves essential to your job?
I love Instagram. I’m a very visual person and gain lots of inspiration and ideas from what I see. I am with a company that’s mission is to help people #seeclearly after all. I’m also really into aromatherapy at the moment. I’m particularly fond of the products made by Saje and have several essential oils within reach at my desk, in my purse and at home at any given time!
I’ve replaced my 3pm coffee with peppermint oil- a feat I never would have imagined was possible. Lastly, I’m super old school and need to write everything down. I’m meticulous about having a black pen and fresh white paper with me to record notes, ideas and doodles. My brain is always moving and my pen tends to be too.
This is a field where it’s important to know who you are, what your worth is and what your boundaries are.
What do you wish more people understood about your job?
Everything we do is strategic. There’s this whimsy that seems to exist around PR and the truth is it takes a lot of strategic thought and planning to make it all look so seamless.
What’s the biggest challenge facing fashion/lifestyle communicators right now?
Cutting through the clutter. With so many outlets and points of influence, it takes a much more thoughtful and tailored approach to create anything of meaningful impact. I’m about the long-game with short term success. We want to see results today, but everything has to be building to something bigger and sustainable.
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
I’m really excited to be a part of the PR world right now. I feel that we have the ability to shape our roles, our brands and even our industries more than ever. I don’t do well with cookie cutter. I approach things with the mentality of what’s the best, most meaningful and impactful way of doing things vs. what’s the traditional approach. I always ask what’s right for us and what’s right for them- them being an influencer, an editor, a publication, our customers. The industry is at a point where things are evolving so quickly allowing us to write our own rules of engagement and find success in doing so. Mine are rooted in authenticity- both in who/how we pitch and how we show up for our others.
There’s this whimsy that seems to exist around PR and the truth is it takes a lot of strategic thought and planning to make it all look so seamless.
What type of person thrives at Coastal?
It may sound cliché, but one who is adaptable and can thrive through change. While we are 10 years old, online optical is in its infancy and we are pushing forward creating a future that wouldn’t otherwise exist. This equates to change. A top performer can recognize what to push for, what to let go and what’s needed now.
What would you tell someone who wants to be like you when they grow up?
Trust yourself. I haven’t always been able to articulate my choices or give a really great answer why something will work. I just knew. I knew it would work and if it didn’t I trusted myself to figure it out. I’ve made my choices based on what makes me happiest and most fulfilled. It’s important never to feel guilty for that- take your career and make it what you want. This is what’s gotten me here and will take me to what’s next. It’s an exciting ride!