Janna Meyrowitz is the president of Style House PR, a New-York fashion public relations company founded by Meyrowitz in November, 2006. I was introducted to Janna Meyrowitz through Julie at Coutorture, who gave her a rave review!
I am sure glad she did – Janna’s responses to the following Fashion PR questions are passionate, smart, and right on point.
Tell me a little about your company, Style House PR.
Style House PR is a boutique PR, marketing and event company and we specialize in luxury fashion and lifestyle brands. The majority of our work is media outreach on behalf of our clients which also includes celebrity dressing, and then we also do a lot of events for both the press and consumers (retail openings, shopping events etc.). We do projects for various retail clients and other brands, but our full-time clients now include:
Toggery by Kate D’Arcy (a contemporary women’s eco-friendly line)
Love Rocks NY (a fine jewelry collection)
Davek NY (a high-end men’s umbrella line)
Kaia Peterka (a luxury handbag collection)
Moë Bags (a young designer handbag line)
Linea O (young designer women’s collection)
Eva Franco (contemporary women’s collection)
Signette (young designer women’s dress collection)
Anoname Jeans (young contemporary denim)
You’ve achieved substantial career success in a very short period of time, what makes you great at what you do?
To say that I’m a “people person” sounds very cliché, but I have just always felt very comfortable around people. I can find something interesting to discuss with almost anyone. I’m like a sponge – I consume media all day long, I talk to people and really listen to what they have to say because I love learning new things. I come from a very strong academic background, and I mean beyond just going to a great liberal arts school – Brandeis University — where I studied American Studies and Journalism. Both of my parents are academics in media/communications and sociology related fields so an awareness of the media and its role in society was instilled in me at a very young age. For as long as I can remember, my parents have always spoken to me as if I was an adult, which I think has made me mature for my age and over time has given me a lot of confidence in my ideas and abilities.
Being resourceful has gotten me very far in this industry, and I don’t mean resourceful like milking contacts for help and favors etc., I mean the exact opposite. PR is a science, but it’s not brain surgery. If you have a product you are passionate about and you know enough about the media to know which publications/TV programs/blogs would be interested in hearing about it, you just figure out how to reach out to them! There are so many wonderful resources out there for contacting people who will be receptive to your ideas. When we do events and are trying to secure cool things for gift bags or sponsors etc, all it takes is the desire to make it happen, and great communication skills, and I really believe you can really make it come together.
How many clients do you take on at a time? What strategies have you developed for managing several accounts at once?
Time management is the most important thing in every job, but especially in PR when you are working with many clients at once. First of all, I never take on a line I don’t believe in just to make more money for the company. That’s a great way to cannibalize your business because you won’t do a good job for something or someone you aren’t passionate about.
For me it’s less about how many clients and more about how they merchandise together. Think of it like a store – you can go into Banana Republic and the product tells a lifestyle story but it’s all one brand. Scoop carries many brands but, merchandised together, they tell a story as well because the different brands complement each other and again speak to a lifestyle. For the most part, all of our clients are targeting the same kind of consumer so they actually benefit a lot from sharing our services because we are a great resource for the media on general trends and ideas in fashion.
Securing media coverage is often top priority for clients, how have you been able to succeed in this area?
Knowing the publications, knowing your clients, seeing opportunities, and being easy to work with – making the editors jobs easier. I have gotten my clients into some great publications over the years and I attribute it completely to these things above. Follow-up is one of the most important things in PR, regardless of industry, because editors are inundated with people trying to get their attention. The bigger the publication the more phone calls and emails they are getting on a daily basis. Breaking through the muck with targeted, intelligently written pitches will get you very far, and a nice quick follow-up will get you even farther.
How has your approach toward media changed with the emergence of fashion blogs?
Blogs have obviously become such an important way to build buzz and a fan-base for new products. In PR you are constantly trying to quantify your efforts for your clients so there’s nothing better than getting a great write-up/product placement online and then seeing their web site traffic (or even better, sales!) increase. Interestingly I also find the online sphere a great way to get feedback on new products and designs because everyone is really eager to share their opinion – for better or for worse! Overall I really think the emergence of fashion blogs has created a great balance in the fashion media, meaning consumers aren’t getting their information from ten major voices, but rather tens of millions of voices, and it gives people a kind of affirmation that whatever their personal style is there is probably someone out there who thinks it rocks. As far as how it has changed my approach – now fashion blogs are a whole separate tab on my media list! They are the shortest lead publications with the potential to have the most effect on consumer consciousness.
In addition to media relations/publicity, what other services do you provide your clients?
We also do celebrity outreach and of course the subsequent leveraging of that back into the media. Lately we’ve been doing a lot of consumer events, which I love. I see the editors’ reactions to our clients all the time but seeing consumer reactions is invaluable as well. I never want to get so deep into the industry that I lose touch with what the consumers get excited about because that’s what’s most important about building a brand. Trunk shows are a part of this as well and now that we have some retail clients it’s been really great to create relationships between our clients and have everything come together for a mutually benefitting and fabulous event.
Since we are very hands-on with everything that goes on with our clients’ brands, we end up serving as general consultants for things that indirectly involve PR, or sometimes not at all. It’s really important to us that we have close relationships with our clients so that there is a great interplay of ideas.
I’m also sometimes a fit model when production comes in, haha!
Any tips for managing client expectations?
Managing client expectations is very important. We always think big, and are optimistic about every goal and opportunity, but sometimes it’s important to play this down on the client side because nothing happens overnight, especially in PR. It’s about understanding what your client’s goals are and the timeframe they have in their head, and being confident but realistic about what you expect to happen in a given amount of time. Communication is key. I sometimes have clients come to me like wounded children, badly burned or jaded by past PR people who they wrote checks to every month but heard from once in awhile when they ran out of samples and needed more to send out. We are in constant contact with our clients so they always know what we are up to and I think that makes a big difference to them.
How do you demonstrate results for your clients?
I always say that it’s very hard to quantify PR. A line can do 1 million in sales in a year but how do you know how much you did in PR? As I said before, there are some ways. Having a write-up in a great online newsletter for instance, and selling 300 units online that day, but that’s not every day. When we work with the magazines we try really hard to credit our placements in a way that the client will see the most direct result — a web site or a specialty store that they work with closely. Crediting department stores can help bring prestige to certain collections, but it’s often really hard to see the direct result of it because the buyer who my client works with is typically not also interacting with the customers and talking about what influences their buying decisions.
What part of your job do you find the most challenging?
Patience, and instilling patience in my clients, as I discussed above about managing client expectations. Brands don’t become overnight successes and you can’t let that frustrate you, you have to let it just make you work harder!
Another difficult thing is the feeling that there’s always another editor, writer, stylist, blogger etc that you should be calling so how do you decide when the day ends? The day ends of course when you leave the office, but also you are working when you walk by a newsstand and see a new magazine and you are mad at yourself that you haven’t gotten to reach out to them yet. So I guess one of the challenges, when you love your work and when you do something that you are passionate about, is drawing the line and knowing when to stop working and relax so you will do a better job when you start up again.
How has your experience in sales enhanced your PR abilities?
Sales is an invaluable experience no matter what you want to do, but having done sales within the fashion industry – working with wholesale buyers to get the line into their stores has made me a much better fashion publicist. At the time I was doing sales I was also doing in-house PR. I always knew that PR could affect sales but when I was doing both at the same time for the same line, it made me see the relationship even clearer. I would get something into a great magazine and then shoot out an email to all of my buyers announcing it and they would literally place wholesale orders on that item or something similar if it was available. We’d send them out the press clipping to they could hang it in their store and it was a really great feeling to be seeing the whole system at the same time. I think having done sales makes me more aware of how my PR efforts have the ability to, and need to, increase my clients’ bottom line.
Do you consider your job to be a glamour profession?
To everyone outside of the industry there’s this “glow” that surrounds fashion that people think is really glamorous, and of course there are many aspects of it that are, but on a day-to-day basis my life is not very glamorous. I am on the phone, on my email, packing up samples, tracking things going back and forth, following up with voicemails (that might never get returned!) and just doing everything I can to get the word out about my clients. Of course I feel glamorous when I work with certain editors or celebrities, or when I go out at night and I’m all dressed up wearing my clients products from head to toe, but I think that part of what makes people successful in this industry is not getting caught up in everything. At the end of the day, people in this industry appreciate most when someone is grounded and sees a world beyond fashion, but at the same time knows what an important role it plays in the larger picture.
How do you successfully cultivate and maintain relationships with the media, including fashion bloggers?
Cultivating and maintaining relationships with the media is the most important thing in my job. It’s crucial to have a warm personality and to be someone that editors enjoy talking to because you say interesting things. Having strong interpersonal skills is vital. Beyond that it is important to know everything about your clients’ line as if it was your own company. Editors love when I have knowledge of a product, even beyond things they may actually need to know about it for their purposes, but it makes them realize what a great resource I am and how passionate I am about the brand. I couldn’t do PR well for a brand I wasn’t passionate about.
Additionally it’s really important to understand the editors’ needs and be easy to work with. If an editor sends me a sample request and we have absolutely nothing for them (unfortunately!) I always let them know right away so they can plan accordingly and try to find it somewhere else because I know they are on deadline. Vice versa, if we have something for them then I get them all the info/images etc they need to plan, and of course get them the product/samples as soon as possible based on their timeframe. These little things add up each time you work with them and if you make their jobs easier then you will have a good relationship with them.
How much of your work is conducted via email, versus over the phone? Do you use the traditional press release format, or focus more on email pitches?
This is an evolving science, and I honestly change my opinion on it every day. As technology evolves, reverting to the former medium is often more meaningful. Like today, sending a hand-written note through snail mail means so much because everyone knows you could very easily send an email. So when its important things like thank-you notes I always send through the mail because it shows that it’s worth the extra effort to me and I know it will mean more to whoever is receiving it.
As far as day-to-day outreach work is concerned I do try to keep a good balance of phoning and emailing because, as I’ve said before, you don’t want to lose that personal aspect of the relationship with the media. If I’m calling to schedule an appointment with a market editor I really prefer calling, and if I don’t get them then I follow up with an email. For pitching more in-depth things I usually email – it’s just smarter. They get to take it in when they have time, versus calling them and perhaps getting them on deadline, or when they are just about to run to a meeting, or when they have to go to the bathroom, who knows! I’d rather let them delve into it when I have their optimized attention and email is great for that.
I still do press releases, of course, but I try to limit them to only very important news. I distribute them via email so if you send out too many “fluff” releases then people start not paying attention and deleting things from you, so I keep them very focused and to the point. There are so many other fun ways to reach out today that you don’t need to make up fake news so you can make a release. I love emailing out trend reports or teasers that involve my clothing and accessories lines because it’s kind of like playing editor for a day – looking at the collections and finding a trend and highlighting it. I love seeing a trend story in a magazine that I conceptualized and an editor picked up on, it means a lot and appeals to the inner journalist in me.
What industry/trade/fashion publications are must-reads for you?
Everything! You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. Any publication that I am pitching should, in theory, be a must-read for me. I am so much more confident calling an editor when I know their publication through and through. Obviously this isn’t always possible but I subscribe to almost every major consumer fashion/lifestyle publication and the rest of them I read online if I can. I don’t read them like everyone else does – I actually miss innocently just hanging out and delving into a good magazine! I study the masthead, I look at who is writing about what and which kinds of products are being featured the most. I try to figure out the editors’ personal styles so I know the kinds of things they will like and those that they won’t so I don’t waste their time.
What are your top 3 must-check websites in the morning?
Weather.com – gotta dress appropriately! Newyorktimes.com for the headlines, and The Daily because I love the way they celebrate the nuances of our industry. WWD and the New York Post are also morning essentials for me.
What professional organizations, networking groups if any, do you belong to?
None, but it’s really because I’m too busy, which is a really horrible excuse. That will be my resolution for 2008!
What has been your experience regarding the perceptions about fashion public relations practitioners within the fashion industry?
There’s an element to PR that is essentially sales and there is definitely a stigma about sales people in general, so I try really hard to never be too sales-y. The problem is that if you are a publicist within an agency and you are given a set of clients, you may not personally love them all. I think what happens is that you have some great publicists out there trying to get excited about things they aren’t genuinely passionate about and maybe that has created this perception in the industry that its fake and pushy etc. As the president of my company, I obviously choose who we work with and who we don’t and I personally love our clients products so much that I doubt (hope!) I ever come off as obnoxiously sales-y. I talk to my staff all the time too and I say, “Do you love it?” I need them to love what they are talking about, and if not I would much rather have them work on something else because in the long run it will be so much better.
I think another common perception is that we all secretly wish we were fashion editors – but we don’t.
I get a lot of mail from young women interested in a fashion pr career, but unsure how to start. What would you recommend to a senior in college or recent college graduate to help kick-start their career?
JM: My advice would be to try to get experience at a SMALL company, meaning 5 people or less because you will get the most hands-on experience and I believe that’s worth more than working for a big name company. I know this is easier said than done. When I was looking for jobs I essentially did PR for myself. I did some research (which could easily be done online now) about which companies had the kinds of clients that I thought I could do a good job for and I just sent a well-written letter along with my resume. Just as for publicists it’s so important to read the magazines before you pitch, it’s also good to research companies before you apply to jobs. When I get a cover letter that shows that the individual looked into what Style House PR does, I immediately gain so much respect for them. Also remember that everything you write from a simple email to a cover letter is a writing sample and will be judged as such.
I also knew that I specifically wanted to do fashion PR because I had done research on the field. KNOW about the industry and KNOW why you would be good at it. I get people saying they really want to “get into the fashion industry” but they come off as starry-eyed because they haven’t done their research on the many million roles that they could play within the industry and they just think that PR sounds cool so they apply.
I always say that everything I have ever done is part of the Janna Meyrowitz brand and I think people who have that mentality, from internship to executive, will do really well in the industry because it boils down to taking pride in your work and wanting to “wow” people.
Last but not least, if you are applying to jobs, DON’T post public pictures on The Facebook, MySpace etc. with you chugging Vodka straight from the bottle…we look you up before we interview you ☺