FGI Panel: Content, Fashion PR, Digital Marketing & Customer Service Recipe for Business Success


Written By:

Guest Author


Image Credit:

Attendees, FGISD Trend Report

[This is a guest post co-written by THREAD Show Exhibitor Relations Manger, Lizzy Elmer and Elle Communications Publicist, Dara Bu]

Members of the San Diego Fashion Group International (FGI), students and fashion industry professionals gathered together in late May for a panel discussion about the role of social media and PR in business. Led by San Diego-based designer Malgorzata Slocumb, other panelists included Rebekah Sager, Fashion Editor at San Diego Magazine, Danielle Gano, CEO of Elle Communications, Email and social marketing consultant Michael Benninger, and retail expert Susan Robles from Nordstrom.

Below is a thorough recap of the event, organized via speaker.

[We still need to] reach beyond the computer and explore the industry in our own back yard”

Rebekah Sager | Fashion Editor, San Diego Magazine, San Diego freelance writer and blogger

Rebekah is one of San Diego’s top fashion writers and currently the fashion editor for San Diego Magazine. Additionally, she holds a weekly fashion column on SanDiego.com as well as writes articles and blogs as a freelance author for her own website, ShoplocalSD.com. ShoplocalSD.com provides readers with tips to finding the best local boutiques that specialize in fashion, art, and beauty and highlights trends seen on San Diego’s most fashionable locals. Rebekah has also been featured in publications including: Where, Pacific San Diego, and WordsEtc.

How do you find the brands that you feature on your site?

Rebekah seeks trend information from Twitter and personal contacts, and stays up to date with fashion blogs, local and national media, and even the competition. Social media allows Rebekah to reach out to resources without geographic boundaries but she also noted the need to be in the field to explore what is out there. As an example, when traveling, Rebekah will drive through small towns and peruse the local boutiques.

“It’s absolutely critical that brands research the editors they’re pitching to ensure they’d be interested in telling their story.”

Danielle Gano | CEO of Elle Communications

Danielle is the founder and CEO of Elle Communications, a full-service PR, marketing and event planning firm that specializes in elevating the exposure of individuals and organizations in the fashion and lifestyle industries. Elle Communications offers a full-service approach for clients including media relations, online publicity, community relations, social media, graphic and web design, event planning, product placements and celebrity endorsements.

What should brands do when handling their own PR?

When emerging brands implement their own public relations outreach, it’s important to be methodical and strategic. Danielle encourages brands  to map out a 12-month plan with actionable PR and marketing initiatives for each month. It’s also vital that brands conduct research to determine what media outlets most likely to be interested in telling the brand story. For instance, brands can be relevant to publications based on either their geographical proximity to a media outlet or based on a similarity in style of the brand to a media outlet. In other words, a San Diego-based publication will be more interested in a San Diego designer than one from Los Angeles. Similarly, a luxury magazine is more likely to feature a high-end dress designer than a casual t-shirt company. In addition, brands can be proactive by pulling online editorial calendars and finding out where and when their brand could fit into a story for that particular media outlet. Moreover, if a brand wants to get into a glossy, national magazine, they must be pitching stories four months in advance. Overall, brands need to put forth the effort into piecing together why they should receive coverage. It’s absolutely critical that brands research the editors they’re pitching to ensure they’d be interested in telling their story.

When are brands ready to hire a PR firm?

First off, brands must be able to afford to pay for a PR firm. Brands must also be prepared to sustain product to meet the bump in business that results from increased publicity.  In addition to targeting fashion outlets, PR firms often work with multiple media outlets and are able to craft intriguing stories that go beyond the obvious product and trend angles. For instance, PR firms may work with business publications to land profile stories on the client and brand, which can be used as a critical selling point for signing on potential investors. Therefore, brands need to be at a point where they’re ready and eager to grow their business.

How much does it cost to hire a PR firm?

Danielle explains that the cost of hiring a PR firm varies based on the requested scope of work along with the size of PR firm. Generally speaking, PR firms operate on a retainer basis. The price is determined by an outline of the scope of work and what it takes to achieve the desired results. This could range anywhere between 2,000 to 15,000 dollars a month. Brands should take time to interview multiple PR firms to find a firm and budget that is right for them.

People are more likely to discover your brand when searching for content.”

Michael Benninger | Constant Contact Business Partner, Email & Social Marketing Consultant

Michael Benninger is a San Diego-based marketing consultant specializing in helping small businesses succeed and grow through email newsletters and social media marketing. With over 6 years of experience working with small businesses, nonprofits, and independent professions, Email Marketing Mike has helped businesses in various industries including retail, restaurants, entertainment, health, and tourism.

What social media tools are necessary to promote a business?

Brands must engage on all online platforms from email marketing, blogs, Twitter to Facebook. If brands have a physical location, they should create a Yelp and Foursquare business page. With the inundation of all these social media platforms, there are various tools to consolidate these social media outlets in one place.  A software like Tweet Deck connects Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare and various social media accounts into one platform and allows users to post to multiple accounts at once, pre-schedule social media content and more.

While websites are essential for any brand, Michael believes that blogs are becoming increasing important because people are more likely to discover your brand when searching for content. Moreover, blogs serve as a radio tower to broadcasts messages that can then be promoted through Facebook and Twitter. Email marketing continues to be a powerful tool to proactively reach people in their inboxes. Services like Constant Contact make it incredibly easy to build an engaging email in 30 minutes or so. Businesses can also subscribe to services like Nutshell Email that track a brand’s social media activity and delivers an email summary.

Make sure [your employees are] team players and enthusiastic about the brand as well as assisting others.”

Susan Robles | Nordstrom Representative

With over 24 years of experience in the retail field at Nordstrom, Susan Robles is more than qualified to give advice on how the use effective customer service will aid in a business’s growth. Following the mantra, “Give the customer great quality and service,” Nordstrom has successfully built a reputation around excellent customer service, creating an oasis of shopping with all of the needed aspects to make a customer’s experience perfect. This includes anything from their incredible return policy to the customers’ opportunity to feel “heard” in the store and out through branded social media channels.

What are the characteristics of customer service needed in a business?

Susan works hard each day in the store in order to support the Nordstrom’s customer service goals and understands how crucial customer services is for brand building. She suggests the following:

  • “Hire people who like to be around people.” – A simple concept, yes, but often overlooked. These employees are the direct contact to your customers. Make sure that they are team players and enthusiastic about the brand as well as assisting others.
  • “Use your best judgment.” – Empowering employees is another effective form of customer service. When employers train their staff to feel empowered to make positive, brand supporting decisions, they eliminate the “middle man”.
  • “Make sure your employees have all of the proper tools.” If employers want to make their employees feel empowered, they need to make sure these people have all of the tools and training. This includes their basic on-the-job and classroom training, product knowledge, and making sure they don’t necessarily know all the answers, but how to find them.
  • “Listen to your customers.” – Interaction and active communication with customers is the most effective form of customer service. This is relatively new concept and was born from the growth of social media. Now, customers feel that they have more of a voice when dealing with large and small companies, and the businesses that fall behind are the ones who aren’t listening.


While the panelists represent various segments of the industry, they all emphasize how important it is for boutique owners and independent fashion brands to take initiative in growing their own business. By following the panelist’s tips, businesses are empowered to implement targeted PR initiatives, efficient social media campaigns, and reach stellar customer service goals. The combined tactics could leverage brands to be discovered by key fashion editors, investors and loyal consumers.