With more than 15 years spent raising awareness for some of the biggest brands in the fashion, beauty, luxury, lifestyle, and celebrity industries, Gwen Wunderlich, Partner and President of respected PR firm Wunderlich Kaplan Communications, knows a thing or two about PR. With past corporate experience as the PR Director for Jordache, Account Director at Dan Klores Communication and the creation of three successful companies under her belt, Gwen is an expert at crafting messages that gain the attention of media, investors, and retailers. She is also a seasoned travel writer, forthcoming author, dog lover and interior design enthusiast.
How did you get started in PR?
In the mid-nineties, I scored an internship with the amazingly talented Patricia Field at her design house in New York City called House of Field. Back then she, her store and her designs were huge in the club and celebrity scenes. It was the time of Betsey Johnson, Michael Musto, Patrick Dandy, The Bowery Bar, and The Tunnel — it was fabulous. My favorite F.I.T. college professor Tanya Lowenstein, a crazy cat lady and wild story teller who knew Pat from her Limelight days, arranged my internship interview. The minute I walked off the elevator I knew I had hit the jackpot. With hot pinks walls, leopard rugs, and big shiny letters that spelled out “House of Field” I was in my element and I sold myself like a champ to secure that internship. In PR it’s all about making connections and networking and that connection got me started.
The manager of the company, Veronique Bywalski, became my new big sister and all around champion. She taught me the ropes, took me to trade shows, let me work with buyers and stylists. I was running fashion shows and went with her all around town to meetings, dinners, and celebrity parties. As you can imagine this was a huge deal for a girl from the burbs. She styled me out “city style” introduced me to fancy wine and unknown foods and best of all invited me to sleep over at her house every Thursday night with the rest of her friends where we would watch “90210” and order take-out (steamed chicken and broccoli, hold the rice of course!).
After three months the internship came to an end and I begged Pat for a job. You guessed it, she gave me one! She was a tough cookie but I had proven to her that I was willing to do anything and she knew it. I was also going to F.I.T. at the time so I was coming in before school, during class, and on my days off while working fashion shows and parties at night. Some nights we would be packing boxes to ship orders until 3 a.m. It was grueling but didn’t matter. I loved it and it taught me so many valuable lessons. I even “discovered” what PR was when one day at the office I had to work with Andre Leon Talley. ALT wanted to pull pieces for an upcoming photo shoot and I was the only one available to help him. Voila – from that day on a PR star was born.
Since I started my company in 2001, I have tried to care for every single woman who has worked for me like Veronique had treated me, as part of my family. I do everything possible to uplift and support them. Whether or not people agree with how close I am with my team, it works for me. It’s what I know and the way it feels right to me. Shout out to Veronique and Pat Field!
What is the mood like in the office? What are you working on right now?
Energetic and excited! The team is happy that fall is finally here. The leather jackets are out and the pumpkin spice candles are burning strong.
We just launched Naja’s new celebrity project with Golden Globe winner and star of “Jane The Virgin,” Gina Rodriguez. We scored press in WWD and Huffington Post, so we are feeling pretty good in the office. Let’s face it, it’s always a great day in the office when the media is on your side.
We had a great time at Bridal Fashion Week with our client Isabelle Armstrong. We had the NY Times, Grace Ormond, Glamour, The NY Post, and Brides in the front row. We are also about to rollout a campaign for our cashmere client Minnie Rose. We are very client-focused and are working closely with several of our brands handling conferences, television appearances, photo shoots, and campaign launches.
My business partner Dara Kaplan and I just made our long-term collaboration official launching as Wunderlich Kaplan Communications. We are excited to be working on our new website and plans for 2016. We also have a company called Girlfluence that we founded and are re-launching next year. It’s never a dull moment at WKC and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
What are three must-haves essential to your job?
1. My Samsung Galaxy – Let’s face it, where would we be without our smart phones these days?
2. My Amazing Team – A great team, that has each other’s backs and where everyone is willing to help pitch in and get the job done at all costs, is the most essential component any business can have.
3. New York Times – Say what you want about newspapers but at the end of the day it all comes back to everything the NY Times says or writes about. It can literally “make” a brand, a person, or place. Also, it’s like instant intelligence even if it’s only on a Sunday, after a quick read you are prepped for the week ahead! It’s like Cliffs Notes to everything going on in the world. Talk about the perfect conversation starter, “So, I was reading in the Times…” See, you already sound smarter and more connected!
What makes an ideal client?
Our ideal client has passion and a real purpose. We are passionate to our core about PR and about our lives so we want to work with clients who are excited, interesting and inviting people by nature. An ideal client understands that it takes time to build a brand and that you need to invest in it time and money. While our expertise lies in fashion, lifestyle, and pop culture we are mainly focused on women-targeted companies with a focus on the greater good.
We are passionate to our core about PR and about our lives so we want to work with clients who are excited, interesting and inviting people by nature.
What is a recent success story that makes you especially proud?
I am really proud of our Naja and Gina Rodriguez launch. We were able to secure so many top outlets in a week’s worth of time.
I’m also proud of Chef Carla Hall, of Top Chef and The Chew, and her Kickstarter campaign to raise money for her new restaurant Carla’s Southern Kitchen. We signed an agreement with her restaurant group on a Monday morning and by Wednesday at noon we launched a full scale campaign that garnered over 375 million media impressions and $250,000 in funds in just 30 days, far surpassing our goal. With that money and several other investors, just a few months later Carla’s Hall’s Southern Kitchen will be officially opening in Brooklyn this fall. We can’t wait to get our southern fried chicken on!
Client Carla Hall and her Southern Kitchen Cooking
What are you really good at?
Storytelling and selling. I knew those long tales I sold my parents to get my way would pay off someday.
What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since you started working in PR?
Find the story and make it happen. I have found throughout the years that media want you to make them want the story. That it’s up to you to sell it the right way, to spin it the right way, and to make it so irresistible to them that they have write about or feature the client. I don’t accept “they weren’t interested” from my team. It’s our job to make the media interested and until I hear a “no” with a good reason we don’t stop. We are storytellers foremost and, when there is a will, there is always a way.
How do you get the word out about your agency?
For years it’s been referrals. We have a few great cheerleaders out there that send business our way and for that we are very appreciative. Also, showcasing our press hits on our social media outlets has helped us garner interest and score new clients. Heading into the fourth quarter we are launching our new website and will be focusing on SEO and a heavy social media push for our company. For 2016, I have been booked to speak at a few things, so that will be a great way to get the word out!
What type of person thrives at your agency?
Bursting with energy, highly intelligent, a winner with an “I can do anything” attitude.
What excites you about PR these days?
It’s a very exciting time in the world of PR. Things are changing very rapidly and it’s interesting to see the changing landscape. There are so many new opportunities every day. PR opens doors to so many people, places and experiences. It’s ever-changing and always exciting.
There are so many new opportunities every day. PR opens doors to so many people, places, and experiences. It’s ever changing and always exciting.
Most glamorous moment in your career thus far:
Taking a new business meeting at a gorgeous Chateau in Paris with a very debonair hotelier, sitting front row at Fashion Week, riding in a limo with Madonna and her dancers, closing a new deal with a bottle of Dom P. under the palm trees in Maui at the Grand Wailea, throwing a huge star-studded charity event at Cipriani Wall street where Circus Soliel performed and the Dutchess hosted. That was just a few, when I threw a private editor dinner at Le Grenioulle and then partied the night away with clients at the Waldorf or maybe it was the time I was invited and attended a party hosted by Michelle Obama at the White House. But truthfully, it was probably the day I threw a party for Mary J. Blige at a lavish mansion in Hollywood Hills and I met my husband. It was Valentine’s Day, there was champagne and an indecent and decent proposal, so that was pretty glamourous.
Gwen and Wunderlich Kaplan Communications Partner Dara Kaplan
Least glamorous moment in your career thus far?
There are so many. Setting up for events and schlepping boxes and bags and deliveries are late, celebrities cancel, the rain is pouring down. That’s always fun.
PR can be stressful and full of rejection – how do you deal?
Yes it can be extremely stressful. You have to have really thick skin but confidence is king. I’ve never taken no for an answer so I don’t intend to start now. Plus, Soul Cycle after work, cocktails and a sense of what’s really important of life helps me through. I have the ability to switch gears really quick so I never stay in a bad mood for long. I also travel a ton so I’m always looking forward to the next great adventure. This is happiness!
What’s the biggest challenge facing fashion communicators right now?
There are too many messages every day and only the ones with a tech, charitable and new wave approach will survive. We are moving faster than ever and it’s hard for brands to keep up, especially those smaller brands set in their ways.
We are moving faster than ever and it’s hard for brands to keep up, especially those smaller brands set in their ways.
How do you stay on top of industry trends?
Reading (PR COUTURE of course), attending conferences and events and keeping young people around me. I also have a great set of peers and industry friends, and we fill each other in about the latest and greatest new and happenings.
What would you tell someone who wants to be you when they grow up?
Good luck kid.