At 28 years old Erica is living out her Samantha Jones dream (minus the Smith Jared) as the Vice President of Fashion for Brandlink Communications. The morning scene she describes below is something more or less from a movie. Not to be confused, hailing cabs to checking her blackberry to schmoozing with celebs isn’t quite as glamorous as it may sound especially when working 6 hours in heels. Ouch! If you haven’t noticed from previous interviews with PR proFASHIONals, working your way up in this industry requires some serious skills and a set amount of confidence.
Erica describes how she went from sorting samples is a small closet to delegating tasks and networking with her clients. She lays out simple career tips and key advice she wished she would have known at the beginning. So whether you’re contemplating a PR career or currently one of “those people” stuck in a small closet, let me introduce you to Erica…
ProFASHIONal: Erica Gianchetti – in black
Reality Chic – in pink
How did you first get your foot in the fashion/public relation’s door?
I started my career as an assistant in the PR Department of Victoria’s Secret Beauty. I was fortunate to work for some great people with whom I am still in contact to this day. The most important lesson I learned early in my career was how to act like a professional. I also considered myself lucky to have landed my first job at such a large corporation with such notable brand recognition.
Did you intern in the industry?
I did intern briefly, and most of my days were spent in showrooms and small fashion closets. It was not glamorous but I learned the business from the bottom floor and gradually climbed my way up the PR career ladder. My body now shudders whenever I’m in a small closet!
What are some lessons you wish someone would have told you when you first started working in the fashion/PR industry?
If someone had told me to cultivate a thick skin early on, I would have been saved some heartache. As I tell my assistants on intense days, “this is PR, not the ER.”
Another simple, yet critical facet of being a publicist is being social. There will be nights when you feel your body can’t handle going out after work and meeting people, but making contacts and getting face time with editors is a crucial part of being a successful publicist.
Can you explain what tasks may be involved in public relations, or what could be expected of a newbie when you first start out in your career?
Strong writing skills are essential for a blooming publicist. You will constantly be writing pitches, press releases, and emails with clients. Spelling and grammatical errors are seen as unprofessional, and conversely being articulate and creative is a great way for editors to remember your name.
Much of being a strong publicist goes beyond tasks, and into personality traits. Being aggressive and confident in pursuing media outlets and new clients is a must. Beyond that, you must constantly be thinking strategically and creatively. Remember, you are largely in control of a brand’s image and the context in which the public views it.
Brandlink Communications has so many hugely famous & well known clients what is it like to work with such well known brands, and how do you compare it working with lets say a “small brand or business”?
The primary difference between big brand names and lesser brand names comes in the public perception. Smaller brands are more like a ball of clay. You can literally plan out their entire press strategy and figure out when, where, and how the public will first come in contact with this brand. To be able to introduce a new brand to consumers and to be associated with launching that brand (especially when launching them in the US) is a truly rewarding experience.
With bigger clients, it’s more about thinking about potential events, partnerships, and maintaining the image that brand has already created.
I feel like there are so many girls who want to work in public relations. Can you give some advice or tips for those 20 somethings on how to get hired or stand out in today’s economy?
In a weak job market, interning either during, after, or even in lieu of college (though I would not recommend this) is more important than ever. Getting that bit of extra job experience that other applicants do not have is a great way to get a leg up. Always ask for business cards, send “great meeting you” type emails, and always send a thank you letter. Relationships can be forged and bridges can be burned even before you start your first day of work.
Do you have any suggestions for what skills people could be working on if they want to work in a fashion based PR firm?
Polish those writing skills! Once again, much of what it takes to become a successful publicist is inherent in one’s personality. Aggressiveness and confidence are key traits.
You should be passionate about what you do, whether it’s as an engineer or a publicist. I have always been passionate about fashion, and that’s why I’ve steered my career in that direction. Staring at that 10-pound Vogue September issue can be frightening, but it’s a lot easier to wade through for me because of my interest in fashion. You likely won’t be able to pick and choose your accounts as a junior employee, but still think about the types of businesses for which you have genuine passion.
Could you take us through one day of being Vice President and some of the tasks involved?
I typically start my day from bed on my Blackberry answering emails that came in while I was asleep. I arrive at the office by 10am with coffee in hand, reading my favorite blogs, websites newspapers, and magazines. I hail a cab answer another line of emails on my berry while en route to my building. To get to my office I walk through my showroom where I find interns on the floor organizing press samples (checking in and sending out), stuffing bags, rolling up their sleeves and basically getting dirty. The phones are ringing, someone’s ipod is playing in the background and interns are running around asking questions. This is when I realize my day has officially started.
For me, being a Vice President is mostly about delegation. There are too few hours in the day, and I must spend my time as efficiently as possible. I like to think I have a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of our employees, and can determine which person is best for each task. The rest of my time is largely spent in contact with the higher-ups of our company as well as our clients.
Can you give us some inside scoop on what it’s really like to work in fashion/PR in the heart of the Big Apple?
New York has built a reputation of having the hardest working and most competitive people anywhere, and while I obviously cannot say that definitively, I would not be surprised if that’s the case. There are so many brands and companies packed into a little island and the opportunities really are endless.
Part of being in New York is that the work day extends into the night life. A little tidbit for girls that live and work in the city: beware of the cobblestone in NYC’s Meatpacking district. Stick to cute wedges because heels just won’t work!
I’d love to hear your opinion of the changing media outlets, and if you think bloggers are now having an impact in fashion and with advertisers?
I have definitely googled “future of PR” many times! PR is here to stay and it’s all about keeping up-to-date and more importantly, staying ahead of the curve and discovering new avenues. Even 5 or 10 years ago, PR was all about getting clients in print. These days, with fewer publications in print, knowing about all the hot blogs and websites and the people behind them is absolutely essential.
Social networking is certainly another hugely important piece of the future of PR. As you alluded to, most of us cannot get enough of the intimate experience of communicating with our favorite celebrities as well as the brains behind our favorite brands.
Samantha Jones from Sex and the City,of course, makes working in public relations look insanely glamorous? First, Is it?
Well, we all wish we had a Smith Jared with sexy chizzled abs in our lives. Yes, this job is full of high heels, miniskirts, fashion freebies, event gift bags and red carpets, but there’s a lot that goes on behind those PR curtains. There are lots of late nights, weekend work, travel and the occasional fire to blow out here and there.
Second, what’s the least glamorous part of your job?
STUFFING 100’s of gift bags at 1AM, running up and down a 60 foot carpet for 6 hours in high heels, working late nights and watching your eyeliner run down your face while you try and make your last deadline because an editor is closing her page and you just have to get your client in there!!! Oh and not being able to sleep, not so cute!!
For bloggers or entrepreneurs wanting to get a product or service on a television segment or in a magazine, what is your best advice to go about doing that especially for those who maybe can’t afford a PR firm?
ALWAYS know the columns you are pitching, reference past articles the editor you are pitching wrote. Be strategic in your approach. Show that editor that you are well educated on the product or service you are pitching. Do the job for the editor and follow their writing format when creating a pitch for them. Be convincing and let your confidence seep through!!
What do you love most about your career/position?
I love the people I come in contact with each day, everyone has a high level of energy and enthusiasm. I love to flip through magazines and see my clients featured and see the work I produced. I love to see celebrities wear the brands I represent and know that I played an influential role on a brand’s success.
Last but not least, are there any new projects you’re currently working on that you’d like to share?
I just wrapped up NYC Fashion Week and now my brain is in Spring 2012 when the rest of New York City is getting their wardrobes ready for FALL!!!
Erin Flynn is the creator of the fabulous blog www.realitychicblog.com . If your a true fashionista be sure you check her out.