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DIGITAL PR’S: THE NEW FASHION PUBLIC RELATIONS LANDSCAPE

On nostalgic days I imagine the diary of a traditional fashion PR person to read a bit like ‘Bridget Jones’  diary. You know the format:

Monday

Clothes worn:                    Chose the Chanel

Glasses of wine:                Too many – should have stuck to three but managed to snag a new client so worth the indulgence

Cigarettes:                          Only two. Well done.

People seen:                       Everyone who is anyone was there today.  Good PR hunting territory

Reports written:              None – problem of too many wines

Achievements:                   Managed not to spill anything on the Chanel

 It must have been great fun to be a fashion PR identity before the digital age got into full swing.  Before internet technologies came along and disrupted the charmed life of the  top fashion PR reps.  Off to lunch with fashion editors, swanning around at all the top fashion events, mixing with the glitterati, access to all the top fashion influencers – part of a small elite group of insiders. What a life. And to think it was thought of as life in the fast lane.

But that was before the fast lane really became fast. Before the ‘social buzz’ of a constant information stream,  twenty four hours a day, the invasion of the masses:  Bloggers, Facebookers, Twitterer’s,  lots of them – some boring, but many  offering fresh quirky innovative takes on fashion trends often irreverent,  but most of all pervasive – there are millions out there. The digital revolution has given a huge, more diverse group  an influential voice in what was once a closed shop industry.  Consumers and the public at large now have a voice  in the industry along with the ever increasing numbers of fashion bloggers.

A Tweet from ‘Oscar PR Girl’  in an article  ‘How the Internet has Changed Fashion PR’  published in on-line fashion magazine ‘the high low’,  sets out the story  of the changing landscape.  Oscar PR girl points out that ‘the internet has cracked open the door of a very exclusive club’ .   As little as five years ago,  she says, PR companies operated very differently. Oscar girl makes the point that in the past the only people who mattered were magazine editors who held the invites to parties and events, and who in return were entertained lavishly around the clock.

But the  days  of the traditional PR’s are over.   Now the ‘engagement’ calendar of a successful fashion  publicist is likely to be an engagement with a  social media expert.  The digital age has ushered in a new era in fashion public relations. The landscape has changed. And it is not nearly as pretty.  It is now all about helping clients to maximize and manage their presence in the constantly changing,  rapidly evolving digital fashion communications  world.  The digital PR has replaced the  handy little ‘black book’  with an ipad loaded with all the social media apps.

Yesterday it was lunch in the fast lane. Today  in the digital age it is speed learning on how to master the social buzz , the twenty four hour information stream.  Lunch with the Anna Wintour’s of this world  is now more likely to be sharing a sandwich hunched  over a Mac with a technology whiz boning up on social media expertise. Even the guest lists to fashion events are likely to be digital – a name on an ipad.  Well, it’s  not quite the same is it?

Brain Phillips, CEO of Black Frame, which represents top fashion labels like Nike and Rodarte,  says that the PR’ s job is now ‘24/7’. He points out that  timeline boundaries on news no longer exist because of the availability to feed and fill websites, blogs and Twitter at all times. According to Phillips, platforms like Facebook and Twitter have democratized fashion and have become accepted as ‘legitimate PR value’.

High profile PR man Daniel Marks, director of London based The Communications Store, which represents clients who works with high profile clients  like Net-a-Porter,  is a prolific Tweeter using Twitter for PR purposes extensively. In his view the digital revolution  has created  extraordinary resources for Public Relations.

And then there is the traditional  role of the PR expert in damage control or reputation management being turned into a pressure cooker environment.   In the pre-internet public relations world protecting a client  was always of matter requiring urgent attention.  But there is urgency and there is urgency.

Damage control was traditionally   played out against a backdrop of traditional news  and magazine outlets. Phoning around to media contacts to try to stem the flow or reframe the problem is one thing.  Managing the  digital world of today’s public media is another.

A good PR expert now has to put on the brakes or reframe the problem against the background of an always-on communications cycle.   The problem of rapid response reputation management has taken on new dimensions. Part of the standard PR  job description  now includes as an essential skill, mastery of the digital media.

A recent example which demonstrates how fashion public relations firms have been especially challenged, as they try to manage the flow of information response  in the current technology charged communications cyber world concerns  the high profile fashion house of Dior.

When the rumor machine at Dior, fuelled initially by little more than gossip, but  turbo- charged by social media, about who would take over from  John Galliano as creative director,  Dior’s publicists  had to swing into immediate action working in a pressure cooker environment.

Who knows what the next ‘big thing’ in  fashion  PR land will be. Whatever the digital future brings one thing is certain. The good old PR days are gone forever.  It remains to be seen how fashion public relations firms will step up to meet the challenge as they try to manage the flow of information in the increasingly complex technological digital age world.