Do Fashion Publicists Give The PR Industry A Bad Name?

“I would never rep Versace. I can’t stand her. I think she makes disgusting clothes. Calvin [Klein] is like, snore! Who wears Calvin Klein? I’m not dissing him. I think he’s built an amazing, respectable business, but I would never want to work for Calvin Klein, ever.”-Kelly Cutrone

A few months back I wrote an article called “Are Women In PR Just Grown Up Mean Girls?” As you can imagine, it got quite a lot of attention from people who work in that industry, either rushing to defend themselves and their colleagues or agreeing with the mean girl assessment. But the overwhelming consensus from PR professionals seemed to be that it was the people that worked in fashion PR that were creating this not so positive impression of the industry as a whole. For example, Silvia Cadori commented:

“Having been in “the business” for many, many years, I know how we PR women got this reputation. I have dealt with many women from many different walks of life but the women in this business are the most ruthless, unethical people I have ever met. (Yes, even worse that lawyers.) I know of several that have started their own PR business by stealing their previous employers’ client lists. That’s not only morally wrong but also very unprofessional. Until the women in this business start treating each other with respect, the well-earned reputation for being “catty” will not go away.”

Most people admit a lot of the reputation has been created by inaccurate media portrayals in film and television, but the finger was definitely being pointed at the fashion industry. We decided to talk to fashion publicists to get their side of the story and see if the fingers should really be pointed.

Jessica Lieu, Account Supervisor  for Tyler Barnett PR told The Grindstone:

“Having discussed the piece [the "Are Women In PR Just Grown Up Mean Girls?" post]  in great detail with fellow publicists, I do think the media’s portrayal of fashion publicists has generalized the public’s view of the PR industry — that women who work in PR are glamorous, party-going, guest list-wielding gatekeepers who have a bad case of “mean girl syndrome.”

While the PR industry is incredibly competitive and not for the weak-hearted, the media tends to gloss over the fact that much of the work in public relations is often collaborative. While the dynamics of fashion PR are vastly different from those of, say, corporate communications, at the end of the day our job is to build relationships and create new opportunities for the clients or organizations we represent. Yes, catty tendencies exist, but they are not rewarded in the long run. Respect, professionalism, confidentiality and providing journalists and consumers with accurate information are what separates the good PR professionals from the “spin doctors,” and these are qualities that triumph at the end of the day.

While screaming at a PR intern makes for juicy reality TV, being a “mean girl” in PR will set you back more than it will help you advance. That’s not to say office meltdowns don’t exist. I hear we have the seventh most stressful job in America after all.”

But maybe it is just the nature of the industry that has caused this reputation to form? Fashion is very different than most other businesses.

Phillip Chang runs a PR firm for Talent. He told The Grindstone:

“Many PR professionals have a difficult time understanding fashion publicists. This is because the business of fashion is very different from other enterprises. What this means is domain knowledge is very important, more important than having a traditional PR background. In other words, if you want to work in fashion, a degree from Parsons is more relevant than a traditional college education. Also, part of the publicity business is providing expert counsel. So, there’s a general tendency to annihilate opinions which are different from our own. We have to believe in our own opinion, because bad counsel can be dangerous to clients. But, not knowing what you’re talking about is even worse.

That difference can make it challenging for people to understand what fashion publicists do, because they don’t understand the ‘why.’ I’ve found that most of the time, this kind of conflict is really about not understanding enough about what things are like from the other side. So – Fashion publicists do not give PR and fashion a bad name. People give people a bad name.”

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