Fashion PR seems a lot of fun; the fancy parties, the flowing air-kisses and a crowd dressed in their best, what can be better than that? But a lot more goes into PR and best to sober us up to this fashion career path and what it takes to make the cut, is Jenna McArthur.
Jenna McArthur has built a strong fashion PR agency that’s won big names like Kluk CGDT and Maison Mara, and creates memorable exchanges through events and media. She points to her experience in fashion digitally and in print as a part contributor to the value of her business. As she sweeps through the importance of being professional, she also delves into the hectic schedule and responsibilities that accompanies being in PR. There are many up-sides to this fast-paced industry, but fancy parties are matched with hard work, and her team keeps winging it, with a dash of humour. Read on:
Tell us about your PR business and the principles it was founded on
I launched Jenna McArthur PR in 2013 after six years in the fashion and media industries.
From the outset, I have focused on establishing a bespoke communications agency that specialises in social media management, brand awareness and targeted media relations to build new relationships and foster established ones. This entails, for instance, conceptualising print campaigns to enhance online strategies and partnering with influencers (online and in print) to develop content, campaigns and projects that will work for the brand and sustain a conversations around it that goes beyond the product.
I am passionate about building communities around fashion, lifestyle and luxury brands. At the heart of our philosophy is personal communication based on curated, relevant and authentic brand content.
So what does PR entail?
Core to the job is excellent communication, believing in the brands we represent and delivering over and beyond what we promise. A typical day at the office includes writing copy, be it press releases or creative content for our clients or content for magazines, numerous flat whites, team brain-storming sessions and client meetings with a whole lot of social media in between. My work day begins at 8am and finishes long after I leave the office at 5pm. Having your own business means being hands on, dedicated and passionate.
You worked at a fashion magazine prior to PR. Did this somehow put you at a vantage point where you realized cracks when it comes to PR reaching editors or even irregular communication from brands?
Absolutely. My experience in print and online is invaluable. I was on the receiving end and often received content that lacked vision or authenticity, and which did not excite me about a brand. Now, being on the other end, I realise that editors are flooded with content every day and that you have to provide content that is original and, more importantly, that has substance to stand out. In the world of PR, providing every detail and providing a 360 degree approach in an efficient manner make the difference.
There are many international fashion brands represented in SA, but you choose to focus on local ones, why?
My team and I are passionate about the talent and the brands that are in South Africa and are proud and happy to represent them. That said, we want to work with brands that are authentic, deliver amazing work and have a story to tell. If we love it and feel that it is a mutual fit, we will proudly represent a brand, regardless of where it was born.
The PR service is usually in-house for most local fashion designers and even stores/boutiques. How have you ensured that they realise and trusted the value of outsourcing this service?
It is important for them to focus on what they do best. We can’t all be good at everything – we hope that brands see our work, our signature in what we do and understand the value of using a PR agency that understands their brand and their needs. PR representation is a long-term relationship but with the right fit, the brand will see results from the off-set.
How should brands choose a publicist?
First and foremost there should be an immediate click. A PR agency should understand the brand, its core values, where they have been and where they are going. If an agency doesn’t believe in your product or your brand, the relationship will be a short one. A brand should ask the necessary questions and get references from the publicists’ current client base but more important than that, it should look at the work the agency has delivered and how they communicate. This will tell them if it is a good fit.
How does your business decide which brands to represent?
Quite simply actually. We either connect with the people behind the brand, their product, their work ethos and values, or not.
You get to go to good parties with good food and ‘stuff’, some of which you have to organise. What is the sobering and challenging part about the work you do?
Each and every event we conceptualise and execute is hard work. The experience is what people take away from it and will remember. This is what ultimately shapes the experience of that brand so each and every event is sobering. It is our privilege to connect with people, inform them and make sure that they engage and believe in the brand. PR means long hours, tight deadlines and hard work. There is no 8 to 5 in this industry, which to many would be a challenge but for me, well, let’s just say I may be a workaholic.
Agency life is hectic, what do you and your team do to keep yourself together and on track?
We laugh a lot. I am honoured to work with an all-women team who are extremely hard-working, creative and very talented. Coffee keeps half our team on track and chocolate the other half. What I love about our team is the dynamic. Each person is good at different things and that’s how we allocate the work. Recognising what people love and what they are good at, means the work becomes something they love.
What does it take to cut it in PR?
To allow your business to grow, to allow the individuals that make the business opportunity to learn and grow, and, most importantly, to have a vision. Personally, the most important thing for me is to have mentors, to surround yourself with people who are intelligent, insightful and experienced. I listen to people I admire and respect and take their advice seriously.
Would you say personal style is important in your business?
Having pride in your appearance in any industry is important. Feeling good about yourself and being comfortable with who you are means that you walk a little taller and are confident in the way you interact and handle yourself.
Are air-kissing skills important?
Air-kissing has zero grounds to exist. People can tell when you are not being genuine. What is important, is to be professional at all times and genuine in what you say and how you treat people.
What are the rewards of your work?
Journeying with each and every client. It is an honour to serve others and see the results of your hard work. Other rewards are meeting inspiring people on a daily basis and allowing those encounters to inspire you.
What are you mostly mindful of when approaching editors or even reaching the public through social media?
Having worked in magazines, I know that editors’ time is precious. For starters, I try to preempt everything they could want, be it professional print-ready photographs (and that includes not sending low-res JPGs) and always treating them professionally. Knowing their deadlines, especially in online, I make sure to meet them, which means having an entire press kit waiting for them when they log on the morning after an event. Social media is less structured and formal but many of the same rules apply: be professional, be nice, check your facts and don't waffle. If it's a question you can't answer or feel your client should answer themselves, pass it on to them. And always, always, always check your spelling.
Twitter: @Jenna_McArthur, Instagram: @jennamcarthur