CocoPR is a New Zealand Fashion PR agency and showroom owned and operated by Miranda Likeman and Shideh Olafsson. They dish the dirt on what the industry and media are like in the land of the long white cloud…
Does a career in Fashion PR have credibility in the NZ? Within the fashion industry? Within PR at-large?
ML: There are only two other companies that offer what we do in New Zealand. But our fashion industry is a thriving one and labels are starting to see the benefits of having a PR company on board, so there is plenty of work for all of us – and we work quite closely together, especially for an event like Air New Zealand Fashion Week. The advantage that CocoPR has over the other companies is that we have been on the other side – I am an ex-magazine Editor and journalist, Shideh is an ex-stylist and Fashion Editor. We know what people in the fashion media want, and most of them are our friends and people we have worked closely with. As for PR companies at large, it is all pretty friendly – again, most of the companies are friends of ours. I am sure that they don’t really get what we do, but they certainly respect us, which is quite an achievement having only been in business for 8 months!
SO: I agree and I think PR is now becoming a very essential part of any business. Employing a PR company is almost like getting an accountant or lawyer when you start your business. It should definitely be on the first list of things to do.
What are most New Zealand labels looking for from a Fashion PR company?
ML: They want to raise the profile of their brand through editorial placements and have the marketing of their label taken off their shoulders, so they can focus on designing great clothes! CocoPR really likes to be like a big family and treat our clients as friends. They consider us friends too, and that makes our job worthwhile.
SO: I think they’re looking for peace of mind. If you ask a designer where they’d start their marketing, they would freak out. It’s not their job to know marketing – it’s their job to design clothes. They employ us to answer the never-ending emails, take care of advertising and do all the schmoozing that they don’t have time for. PR is a constant feeding machine and if you let someone slip off the radar, it’s hard to get them back on side.
What are 3 tips for running a successful Fashion PR business?
SO: 1. Clients come first – no matter how outrageous their demands… nod and smile!
2. No backstabbing or negative talking behind anyone’s back – you don’t know when you’ll need them.
3. Always RSVP, always turn up, always look fabulous, even if it’s not at your own event!
ML: I’m with her.
Do you work strategically? What does the idea of working strategically mean to you?
ML: In our business there are obvious frameworks to adhere to and times that things need to be done by, seasons come to mind (in New Zealand labels tend to stick to Summer and Winter collections only). But our most strategic actions are a result of working with our clients to create a wish-list of things they want to achieve in a certain time period, and then accomplishing them.
SO: Yes, remembering that in this industry most things often don’t go to plan.
What are the connections between fashion styling and PR – can you give an example of how your skills in both areas worked together successfully for a client?
ML: Shideh’s styling experience has proven invaluable to our business in many ways. It means we are able to assist our clients on all fronts – which can be invaluable for them, especially if they are an emerging label. We have seen some of our clients make great strides in the development of their look books, fashion shows and websites, all because of her styling experience. That has made it easier for us to promote them.
SO: Fashion styling and fashion PR are pretty much the same. They are both for selling the brand in the best way possible. The garment must be great, but the styling must be AMAZING! That is how the public will make judgment on the product – the way it’s marketed and displayed.
What strategies have proven the most effective for promoting CocoPR?
ML: The building of relationships, always being reliable. They don’t sound like business strategies as such, but the New Zealand fashion industry is so small, they are key to the success of our business. Oh, and easy parking – it makes all the difference to stylists if it is easy to drop in anytime.
SO: I agree – reputation is the best form of marketing. We stick to deadlines, write comprehensive press releases and stories, we display all samples in our showroom for easy picking up/dropping off and we’re always on call! Starting with one label in January 07 and now having 13 proves that our marketing strategies are working!
What inspired the desire to launch a showroom?
ML: My business partner and I met while she was the Fashion Editor and I was Deputy Editor of a magazine. We found dealing with other companies difficult, time consuming and at times, frustrating. One day she said to me ‘Why don’t we start our own Showroom and PR agency?’ Two months later we opened our doors.
SO: The main reason we started a showroom was that there was a lack of places to go for stylists and editors to get everything they wanted. We have clothing, accessories, jewellery and we’re able to write up anything to suit anyone at short notice. Life has never been so easy for the NZ media!
Are New Zealand fashion editors receptive to Fashion PR pitches, or is this a challenging aspect of the job? Are you most successful using traditional methods (press kit, samples), email pitching, or a combination of both?
ML: Pitches and ideas are actually what Coco PR do best – and the Fashion Editors love it! Being a journalist I can always think of a new and interesting angle on current and future trends. Of course we still have the press releases, look books, imagery etc – but these are tools that help us build new relationships with the media. After they learn what we can do, they rely heavily on us because they know we will provide whatever they want and need – tailored especially for them.
SO: And CocoPR doesn’t kiss ass! We treat everyone with respect and fuel our relationships heavily, but we don’t cross the line. True PR cannot be bought – it should be gifted.
What particular skills do you need to throw a successful PR event?
ML: The ability to think laterally and on your feet, good contacts, a reputation for great goodie bags and a large bar tab!
SO: And a trust-worthy team who don’t make excuses and get on with it. But definitely a large bar tab!
What are some common misconceptions students have about the profession?ML: Since we started our business we have been approached by any number of PR students offering their services, thinking that what we do is glamorous – all parties and sipping champagne at Fashion Events. We told them we would be happy for them to intern with us for a week, during which they quickly realize it is a lot of hard work – just hard work in stylish clothes.
SO: A lot of young people think just because they want something bad that they should have it straight away! They don’t realize that they need to pay their dues, do the time and make the contacts before being taken seriously. As Miranda said, once they do this work for a week, they realize they can’t do what we do until they have been through what we have.
Do you work with international media at all? If so, what has been your experience compared to NZ media?
ML: We often work with Australian media – as that is the next logical market for any New Zealand label to enter. Occasionally we work with UK media, as there are a lot of ex-pats there, and they can be very loyal to their roots. Again, the success of obtaining placements with overseas media has everything to do with relationships – something that is usually easier to do locally!
SO: New Zealand media is all about who you know whereas international media is about what you know. We’re confident with both, so bring it on!
Part of the mission of PR Couture is to encourage dialogue around the legitimacy of the Fashion PR specialty, do you have any thoughts on this mission, personal experiences?
ML: Sometimes it can be frustrating explaining to people out of the industry what it is you actually do. But as I said earlier, fashion labels in this country are clear about Fashion PR and how necessary it is to the growth of their businesses.
Is it still possible for unknown designers to get their name out there? How do you coach a new designer just starting to think about PR?
ML: In New Zealand, unknown designers can definitely get their name out there – with the help of a Fashion PR agency! One of our clients has a design company that is only 3 months old, but he has already secured nationwide stockists and a sales agent in Australia. Clients come to us because they want to take their label to the next level, and we take them through the process of how best to do that. This means something different to each client – maybe improving their look books, updating their logo, suggesting what direction they take their collections in. There is so much to think about when you are an emerging designer – you need people who are experts in getting your label out there so you can focus on everything else it takes to establish a label.
SO: We are very realistic in what is and isn’t possible. Both having media backgrounds, we know that editors can change their minds at the last minute, shoots can be pulled without notice and write up can get cut very short. All of our clients are also aware of this because we make it stick. The best advice we give our emerging labels is to let go of that side and have faith in us. This is our full time job – not theirs. We tell them simply to let us make their brand bigger the best way we know how while keeping to their briefs. The other advice we give – have patience – like one very intelligent famous Kiwi once said, “It won’t happen over night, but it WILL happen”!
How have fashion blogs changed Fashion PR in NZ?
ML: Fashion Blogs are an emerging trend in New Zealand – the most established one is mine (http://blog.fashionz.co.nz/) and it isn’t a constant thing. I only write it during Air New Zealand Fashion Week, Australian Fashion Week and fashion events I attend around the country, like the Hokonui Fashion Awards, id Dunedin Fashion Week and Style Christchurch. But fashion websites have definitely changed Fashion PR – we find that the quickest, best and most trackable way of promoting a label is through a website like www.fashionz.co.nz.
SO: We also realize how much impact our site has on the industry. Stylists no longer have to sit in traffic or find parking to source for their shoots. We have a website loaded with 12 in-season lookbooks which media flip through and order what they want from. Makes life easier for everyone. What good is technology if it is not making us humans lazier?!