PR Plays a Key Role in Fashion Retail
As part of my PR degree at Leeds Metropolitan University my peers and I are encouraged to find part time placements to help gain invaluable experience in the industry.
Recently I was given the opportunity to start a part time placement at an international luxury lifestyle store, renowned both in the UK and internationally for the breadth and depth of its exclusive fashion merchandise… Where? Harvey Nichols of course! (Leeds based). Obviously I jumped at the chance, every girls dream right!? ‘Devil wears Prada, and all!
Most people’s impersonation of Public Relations within the fashion industry is glamorous and exciting. Walking down the high street with a Starbucks in one hand and bags labelled by renowned designers in the other! Oh and maybe a celebrity on the mobile somewhere in between that. I’m sorry to burst your thought bubble here but it’s never like it is in the movies, we all know that, right? Although there is plenty of opportunity to attend celebrity studded parties and rub shoulders with the rich and famous, behind the scenes it can be a different story.
FASHION. It’s not just a word it’s a lifestyle! For the rich and famous it’s all about style status. Whether we like it or not the world revolves around picture and image, in all essence, as in Public relations, what we look like and how we appear to the outside world seems to be of high importance.
Do you often judge by appearances? I’d be shocked if you answered no. As human beings we naturally judge by what we can see or touch, our first impressions. If we didn’t, why is the world of fashion and beauty such a booming industry? The world of fashion is all about the feel good experience and as some of us know it can be addictive.
Before starting my experience I had so many thoughts running through my head…what will I be asked to do? Will I meet anyone famous? But above all that, what was I going to wear!? I have never felt as stimulated with ideas and thoughts when starting at other work experience before, as I did when starting at Harvey Nichols. This just shows what a name/brand such as ‘Harvey Nichols’ can stand for or has to stand for in its competitive market.
In an albeit small office in the centre of Leeds sat myself, surrounded by goodie bags, boxes, piles of paper, you name it and it was there, almost falling on top of me!
Within retail it’s not what the store looks like from within its offices and storage rooms it’s what it looks like on the shop floor to its prospective customers. So for the time being I guess I just had to put up with the clutter.
PR plays such a key role in fashion retail, I mean who would want to buy your merchandise if no one has even heard of your brand. Whether it’s through word of mouth or the media, in order for someone to want to shop at your store they have to have reasons to. This is why at Harvey Nichols we look after our press sooooooo well! Our regional media and national press are listened to and so we have to be as flexible and accommodating as possible as these people sell the store and position Harvey Nichols in a certain way. If they think you are the best thing ever then their readers, listeners and viewers will.
The words of Harvey Nichols Press and Marketing Officer Leeds:
“Representing the store is a great honour and I still get a buzz out of saying – ‘Katherine Busby, Harvey Nichols’!”
In this line of work you have to keep on top of what celebrities are up to…Photos of celebrities sell magazines and also fashion. A lot of the designers dress the celebrities instead of advertising or to supplement advertising as it is more direct.
Say if a certain celebrity of the moment such as Kate moss, Nicole Richie, Posh Spice for instance, wears something great, journalists want to write about it. If we stock it, we want them to tell people, so we go to journalists with ideas of hot trends and tell them the celebs that have worn them. We get customers texting photos of celebs wearing things and anything in Grazia is always a hit! So now I have an excuse for reading those weekly glossies!
In general Harvey Nichols doesn’t work with many celebrities too often as they don’t want to be associated with specific ones, as any celebrities reputation can climb or plummet at any one time. However for big events such as the recent Harvey Nichols Leeds 10th party, we got Dita Von Teese to come as she ‘fits’ with the Harvey Nichols brand. The event was a huge success and it was great to be involved. Harvey Nichols wanted to put themselves back on the map as a leading fashion retailer. They wanted to be fashionable, edgy, and yet a little bit shocking. I think that this was greatly accomplished, with the expense of quite a few extra hours grafting mind you! The press coverage achieved included national coverage and TV, which in itself paid for the party.
The PR team at Harvey Nichols work closely together to come up with new ideas and every time try to go that little bit further to really wow the customers. Coming up with fresh ideas is what it’s all about. For a recent Dangerous Liaisons evening we sourced 18th century costumes, including powdered wigs for staff, had Opera North singing on the shop floor and various performers, including a fire eater, to entertain customers as they shopped. It was a great night and totally unique.
In store they have a lot of designers and make-up artists come in for specific events, which are always busy and exciting times. When it comes to celebrity visits, getting stuck in and helping out wherever possible is key. One thing I have found has come in handy is using my initiative! As I have been working with the Press and Marketing Officer it meant that my role at these events could be anything from looking after the media surrounding their visit, to making sure a room is the right temperature or clearing up at the end.
Something that stood out during my experience is how important communicating is. Communication is the key whether it’s with the press, customers or just your team. You have to know when is the right time to be friendly and accommodating or poised and assertive.
If you are thinking of going into this field of work make sure it is actually PR you like and not just fashion as some days it doesn’t matter if you are PR’ing a Dolce & Gabbana handbag or a can of beans, it is the same job. Whilst I can’t deny the perks are fab and make it all worth while I am constantly insinuated at by colleagues as to what time they have been up till the night before or have to listen to them reasoning with themselves about the crazy requests that ‘stars’ ask for. Also those charity requests and advertising calls… do they ever stop? Trust me in all essence this is no 9-5 job.
PR jobs within the fashion industry aren’t as well paid as other fields and there is more competition to get jobs. However, upon asking those with experience they say “it doesn’t matter they just love it!”
The great thing about working within PR in fashion retail is the knowledge you can gain about specific brands, the networking and even though this may sound a little strange, the times when there is often 20 things to do at once, it’s that overall ‘thrill’! For me the overall highlight of my experience at Harvey Nichols is meeting great people, celebrities and colleagues alike. I have loved every minute up to now and can’t express the amount I have learned in such a short period of time.
Working within fashion can be tough but the rewards, excitement and status it brings make up for the pitfalls, if any, along the way.
I can’t wait to add the name ‘Harvey Nichols’ to my CV.