Fashion PR is not the same as it used to be, and it hasn’t been for a while. The PR landscape has changed just as radically as the wider business of fashion itself. As the rise of the internet has transformed media, it has not only impacted how fashion is consumed but also how its crafted and presented so collections are put together keeping in mind how they will appear digitally. This has raised existential questions for some in the media chain, whose powers have been diminished by the more digital savvy. PR agencies have been forced to reimagine their strategies, their reach and sometimes the very essence of the services they offer.
Instep speaks to some of the most prominent publicists of the country about the shifts in the business of fashion PR and what they’re doing to adapt.
Selina Rashid, CEO of Lotus PR, someone who formalized fashion PR in Pakistan more than a decade ago, and today has The House of Kamiar Rokni, HSY, Sania Maskatiya and Mahgul on board as clients, is in a good position to share how PR in Pakistan has evolved over the years.
"It’s changed dramatically since Lotus started 12 years ago, when it was only about the realm of print and television wasn’t as relevant. There were more high fashion brands, barely any fast fashion and even within print there were 3-4 publications covering it daily and the magazines were long lead so the consumption of fashion was slower – not on a daily, hourly basis. This meant that the gravity of what was said was much more especially because it was a lot harder to have designers featured. As a publicist, one had the uphill task of bridging a gap between a journalist and a designer. When digital came, especially Facebook designers realized they could self-promote with influence and not necessarily with judgement of reviewers but with their own clients. That changed the dynamic a bit and then Instagram came and that further changed the environment because there was new media available and a birth of bloggers and influencers, which empowered people to be able to have a stake in fashion."
How publicists have tackled this change from traditional PR on to new media realms, is something of interest.
Developing a brand story
In the past, brands would come to a publicist with a product they needed to push or a new collection and entrust the publicist to pitch that product as information of interest to a journalist. Today, since consumers are exposed to new things several times a day, for that product to stick with the audience, the brand and publicist need to work together to come up with a legitimate reason for a consumer to pay attention.
Shireen Rehman, who started her career at Lotus ten years ago has since been working freelance with brands including Cross Stitch, Sadaf Fawad Khan and Farah Talib Aziz.
"Many brands just want their name out there and their collection to do well," Shireen feels. "They do not understand the need for a cohesive long term strategic approach, which is required to create market value and build a reputation which is a representation of your brand ethos. It is imperative for brands to understand this and create long term goals, not short term bursts of PR."
Therefore a contribution to the cultural conversation always attracts press naturally, like Generation, who do their PR in-house, with their long time work with their campaigns and systemic effort to reply to those who discuss what they’re propagating on their Instagram.
Tapping into the ‘right range’ o people
Maida Azmat, who heads Mint PR, works with brands including Ali Xeeshan, Fahad Hussayn, Gul Ahmed and Nickie Nina.
"We always tell our clients that it is highly important to pick and choose the right team of professionals for projects/campaigns that are hardworking and dedicated so that they can effusively highlight the true idea behind the brand ideology and communicate it using the right concepts," she says. "From brand ambassadors to makeup artists and photographers, it is crucial to engage with the right people despite how old or new they are in the business."
What now works effectively is a broader strategy that is not solely focused on celebrity glossy covers or one time appearances but a range of influencers that help create a brand identity in the eyes of the consumer. If riding on celebrity power is what a brand wants to do, it should be for long enough, like Cross Stitch teamed up with Syra Shahroz for over a year, which was enough to build a connection as one glossy cover rarely has the impact it used to. Sapphire, a mass market brand did their recent campaign with Sanam Saeed but also collaborates with influencers regularly as the head of their in-house PR Sualiha Nazar, believes it’s the best way to create relatability and a following.
Taking control of the conversation
Today, a designer profile rarely attracts the attention it once did unless the designer is already a celebrity and says something outrageous. Instead, designers are better off building online personas of their own and interacting with the consumer directly. Just like actors and musicians, designers are skipping magazine pieces and talking to their fans directly via social media, where they can better control the narrative and interact. It appears that the more personal your brand is, the more successful your brand is. Khadijah Shah and Zara Shahjahan, designers have made a point of using their own platforms to help illustrate their thoughts about their brands and comment on the industry in general. It doesn’t necessarily result in direct sales conversions but it does keep them in the conversation. The designers may or may not consult their publicists before having ‘personal’ conversations on their social media platforms.
Parting notes about print
"Digital is instant and it’s easy to measure the response and reactions but I will still say when you’re looking for gravitas nothing beats the importance of print because of its legacy," Selina Rashid says.
Shireen Rehman echoes her thoughts in that traditional PR has its advantages because of the credibility and value it commands and it cannot be equated with social media.
"It has a longer shelf life, for example you can always put a magazine and newspaper on your desk and it will sit there for a while. However social media is fast and the results are instantaneous in terms of sales and feedback for fashion brands. Thus, both go hand and in hand for long term planning and execution depending on the requirements of the brand."
In a constantly evolving world of fashion, PR is one of the most dynamic aspects so it’s important to consistently keep innovating as a publicist. No two brands will have the same strategy and with call out culture on the rise, it’s best to never copy another brands PR strategy, just as you wouldn’t copy their fashion.