By Amy Odell
When Alison Brod graduated from Tulane University in 1991, she thought she was a shoo-in for a job at an ad agency in New York that represented Ralph Lauren and Revlon. “The boss was my uncle’s close friend. I thought, of course they’re going to hire me to be this huge copywriter,” she says. And? “Not happening.” The job market then was tough. Brod gave herself 30 days to find an apartment and a job in New York, otherwise she’d move to Fort Lauderdale to live with her high school boyfriend and work at an ad agency there. She found both. Now 41 with two sons, Brod runs her own public-relations firm that employs about 50 people and represents almost 100 clients. She also has appeared on The City, clocks regular airtime on 24 Hour Restaurant Battle on the Food Network, and even turns down requests to be a regular on other reality shows. Though she’s famous for her love of all things pink, there’s much more to her and her brand than that. We sat down with Brod to talk about her plans to move into a less pink office, why she doesn’t want to be on reality television, the dress code for her all-female staff, and more.
How would you describe your mix of clients? I always say: from K-Mart to Mercedes, from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to Skyy vodka, from Lavo the nightclub to Urban Decay. Of course we love high-end glam, and everybody knows that’s the goal. But I really have my head held high walking around with a K-Mart account because it’s fun — that’s an ideal project for us, to think about how we want to market it. We also always represent some kind of lifestyle group, be it the newest restaurant or club.
How did you get into PR? I met a guy on my fourth day in New York — who I’ve been married to for eighteen years — and he invited me as his date to a benefit for the fashion industry. It was for Si Newhouse. We literally had the worst table in the entire place. I saw this woman from a fashion agency and walked up to her and gave that typical speech — “I’ll sweep the floors, I’ll do anything!” I got a call the next morning at 8:30, and she said, “You’re hired.” I always thought that I just impressed her at this event, but I found out — literally maybe five years ago — that this woman said to my aunt, “How did your niece get to this big black-tie thing for Si Newhouse?” And my aunt said, “Oh, her family’s really close with Si Newhouse” — which was a complete lie.
So how did you break out on your own? This woman ended up hating me, because I didn’t know anything, so I went to go work for Restaurant Associates because I love restaurants, and then I went to go work for a small PR agency. Then I met a man in an elevator who lived in my building, and I overheard him — he was launching a new fragrance. I had just launched one for my agency so I said, “Who are you? Do you know who I am?” And he said, “No, kid, I really don’t. But why don’t you give me your card?” A week later he called and said, “I’ve been thinking about my conversation in the elevator, and I’ve realized my publicist never calls me back. Would you want to meet?” So we met at Four Seasons, and two hours later, he said, “If you want to start your own business, I’ll be your first client.” And it was the relaunch of the Burberry brand, mostly on the fragrance side. He gave me an office and an assistant. That was fifteen years ago. I was 25.
How did pink become your thing? When I first started my business, my card and my logo were both navy. Because even though I do love pink, I don’t think it was as appropriate back then — there weren’t as many women with businesses, and I wasn’t ready to infuse personality because you had to be taken seriously. And I think when I got to a certain point where I felt confident, I switched it to a reddish-pink, and later on, I switched it to actually be more neon, because that was my true personality.
If you moved offices would you change aesthetics? Ideally, my next office would be more glass and wood with just accents of fuchsia. But my apartment — I want to talk about my house, I’m just so sick of talking about my pink wardrobe and my pink shoes — I think when people come to either my Manhattan apartment or my Hamptons house, they expect pink everywhere. But both of them are extremely masculine. There are woods, rosewood, mahogany, and glass, and stone. It’s very Frank Lloyd Wright, something really different from what is here.
How would you describe your personal style? Years ago, I used to buy things for the design. And I don’t do that as much anymore because I think as I’ve gotten older, I’m very conscious of what my body type is and who I am. Looking good is more important to me now than standing out through particular items.
Do you dress up every day? I don’t own any pairs of jeans — I haven’t worn jeans in twelve years. I always wear dresses.
Where do you like to shop in the city? I really do try to wear the brands I represent. For example, all my costume jewelry will always be Dannijo. If I’m not wearing my own clients, I love Kirna Zabete. For basics, honestly, I love American Apparel. I shop at YSL. I’m short and petite — I wear heels every single day. But now, I think maybe having children changed me a little bit. Everybody says having children changes your life so much, and other things become less important. I’m here to say, No, all those little things that used to make me crazy still do. Except for my feet, I refuse to walk around uncomfortable. And YSL platform heels are the most comfortable shoes.
So were you actually working with Whitney Port? Yes. And we were working with her before The City.
You and Kelly Cutrone were sort of portrayed as rivals. To be honest, I know Kelly, and I like who she is, she’s really funny. We did it because it was a fun thing to do. And Whitney was our client, so they wanted us to do it. I went into it playing up certain things. It was easy to do.
You’ve turned down opportunities to be regular characters on other reality shows. Why? What I love doing is being in bits and parts of them. People are interested in an office with 50 girls. There are a lot of stories here. It is kind of a crazy place. The idea of having cameras here 24 hours a day — it’s just, there’s no reason for me to do it. I really like being a publicist. So I’m not looking to be a TV star. I’m not looking to write a book right now.
What tips do you have for people wanting to break into the industry? What impresses you? I would say the thing that annoys me the most about the women who are coming in here — nobody reads anything. I literally said the first person who reads anything other than Us Weekly is getting the job, no matter what.
People just say they read Us Weekly? Well, that’s part of the job.
Yeah, but only? I would at least say the Times and Us Weekly. Another thing that’s been driving me crazy lately is that when people list their skills on their résumés, they don’t need to put Facebook. Somebody actually put Internet Explorer. And somebody put social media. We have a social-media division. When you work in PR, social media isn’t just a buzzword. You get paid to do this stuff. So I think a lot of people come in and they think if they throw Facebook at me, and Twitter, that I’m going to be so impressed, because I’m older. I say, “Have you developed strategies? And you’re analyzing how to use the Internet in the most successful way? Or does it just mean you have a Facebook account?” And they look at me and say, “No, it just means I have a Facebook account.” So I wish that people would do a little bit more research about what we do.
Do you have a dress code here? The dress code is, you can wear jeans, it’s just not my ideal. Using the word old-fashioned is going to make me seem old-fashioned, but that’s just the way it is. I’m formal. And I think that people hire us for a certain kind of image. And jeans to meetings is just not something I ever want someone to do. I just don’t think it’s appropriate. And somebody once said to me, “Well, our clients that we go see are wearing jeans.” And I said, “Well, they pay us not to.”
This post orginaly ran in http://nymag.com/daily/fashion/2011/07/alison_brod_got_her_first_clie.html 7/9/2011