Behind the Headlines with Crosby Noricks

Crosby Noricks is the founder and director of PR Couture, the leading source for fashion and lifestyle communicators and the author of Ready to Launch: The PR Couture Guide to Breaking into Fashion PR. Further, just last month, in light of their 10-year anniversary, PR Couture announced  the creation of their very first inaugural award program, the 2017 Bespoke Communication Awards (the BCAs), to celebrate excellence among those working in fashion and lifestyle communications.

This week, Crosby sat down with me to discuss celebrating greatness in a difficult industry, separating your work from your personal value, and staying top of mind by doing things worth talking about.

What drew you to the field of Fashion PR and led you to launch PR Couture 10 years ago?

I discovered public relations while pursuing my master’s degree in Communication (spurred by my undergrad focus in Media Studies). I instantly appreciated the mix of business strategy, creative ideation and writing that made up those classes; they were theoretical and practical. At the same time, I had been hired to write copy for a jewelry company, which had quickly turned into running PR and marketing, followed by eventually  managing a small team. I made the connection that through a career in fashion public relations, I could combine my skills and interests to help designers and other creative minds build and maintain successful businesses.

In doing more research however, information about the role of public relations in the fashion industry was practically non-existent at the time in either academic or trade journals, or online.There appeared to be an assumption that because the work was product-focused, and that product is worn superficially on the body, that those involved in the space by extension must also be superficial. It’s a stereotype that plagues anyone working in the so-called glamour industries- fashion, lifestyle, entertainment.

I set out to combat the idea that fashion public relations wasn’t a strategic form of PR by writing my master’s thesis (the first of its kind) on the subject. In my interviews with PR professionals in New York and Los Angeles I found the opposite to be true, and was inspired by how thoughtful and strategic many of the people I interviewed were about their jobs. Upon graduating, I wanted to share what I had learned, assuming if I was interested, others must be too. I wanted a means to continue the relationships I had built while learning more about the profession by interviewing practitioners. Simultaneously,  I was devouring fashion blogs, particularly those that had an intelligent point of view and strong voice. I decided to throw my hat into the ring, but instead of outfit posts, I wanted to focus on the people behind the brands, the behind-the-scenes brand development and PR strategies whose messaging created customer loyalty and demand.

Thus, I taught myself the basics, enlisted a friend who was an illustrator to create a logo, and in December, 2006, wrote my first post, “Is Fashion PR Paying Enough Attention to Bloggers?” 10 years later, the answer is a definitive yes!

What is the biggest PR lesson you’ve learned throughout your career?

PR is a bit like running in a marathon, except the sidelines are empty, and there’s no one there to celebrate your accomplishments with you as you pass the finish line. Wins are hard to get, come with a short shelf life and clients always want more — it’s the nature of the work.

This is a big part of why we launched the Bespoke Communication Awards – a brand new global online award program for those in fashion and  lifestyle communication. My mission is to always ensure that  PR Couture, and now the BCAs, are places where hard work in a very competitive industry is recognized and celebrated.  

What are some of the biggest PR challenges fashion brands face? How can they overcome them?

A big challenge right now is keeping pace with all the available platforms with which to engage your audience! This makes really knowing your audience, and by extension, having a crystal-clear brand identity, even more important. Another challenge is the importance of a visual communication strategy through Instagram — there is a greater need for brand photography than ever before. Finally, we are moving toward an increasingly paid model when it comes to both media and influencer opportunities, which requires budgeting accordingly and educating clients on the shift and roles each channel plays.

What advice do you have for fashion brands looking to improve their communication and better connect with consumers?

I would love to see more brands willing to take a stand — whether with a bold point-of-view, participation in a larger movement, social responsibility, or even politically. Too many brands think they are missing out on sales by not trying to appeal to a wide audience, when in truth, this just dilutes the brand’s promise and power. Cliche marketing messaging, or empowertising, rarely feels authentic; we need to push ourselves to develop messaging, consumer opportunities and engaging stories that go beyond the “look great, feel great” mantra.

It is increasingly important to be able to strategically utilize paid, owned, and earned media. How do you leverage each differently? Do you find one holds more value than the others? What advice do you have for approaching these different types of media strategically?

The traditional concept of third-party credibility with media as gatekeeper has shifted, and in many ways, this has been a great boon to brands who now have owned media’s direct-to-consumer connection. However, when the stars align and a brand gets the magazine cover, the celebrity shot or the editor’s pick, press still has the power to drive immediate demand and awareness. It’s important for brands to also invest in strategies that offer a measure of a guarantee — which is where paid media can offer immense value. In terms of the proper approach, it has everything to do with the brand’s target audience, budget and comfort level with trackable, measurable investments and those, like earned media, that can have a big payoff, but it is never a sure thing.

The communication and PR industry is constantly evolving. How can fashion brands keep up?

While it’s important to pay attention to how your audience is getting their information, what new modes of communication are being used, and the latest cultural trends, the best way I know of to stay relevant, top of mind, and in the press, is to do things worth talking about. And that starts with an extremely strong brand identity and a willingness to take risks.

As a successful woman, what advice do you have for young woman trying to make it in the field of PR — specifically fashion PR? Have there been any particular struggles or obstacles you’ve encountered as a successful woman? Do you have advice on how you overcame them?

I help aspiring fashion PR professionals develop their personal brands, enhance their PR skills and support them in achieving their career goals through a virtual course I developed, called PRISM. Overwhelmingly, these young women say that they are their biggest obstacle to success. They see it as a personal confidence issue, but I see it as systemic.

The irony is that as a “successful woman,” which I have to put in quotes, I struggle with the exact same thing, I just have a bit more experience and I’ve learned strategies that allow me to show up and do the work anyway. My awareness of the personal and professional challenges facing women means that I am very focused around minimizing experiences of disconnection and lack of support for my audience.

As an entrepreneur and primary earner, there is immense pressure (often self-inflicted) to be doing more, to be doing better, to make the right choices, to find the right lighting for that Instagram shot that will somehow prove that I look “right,” that my life is “right” …it really can get a bit absurd (and women break about 100 unspoken rules anytime we talk about this). It’s a constant challenge to separate my work from my value, but these days I’m focusing on keeping my confidence and my self-belief up, and making sure I am enjoying my life, whether or not my ideas, skills and offerings are being validated by someone else.

Rapid Fire Round: 

  1. What’s your favorite holiday and why? Halloween because of all the dressing up!
  2. My daily news source is… the Skimm
  3.  My favorite family tradition is…Anytime one of us travels somewhere, we make it a point to come home with a bag of coffee from a local shop. It’s a great way to stay connected to home while in a new place, and there’s nothing better than hearing all about someone’s latest adventure over a delicious cup of slightly-different-from-the-usual-tasting beans.
  4. If I was a superhero, my powers would…include being able to instantly change my appearance and to dress myself and others in anything I saw or could dream up, the ability to teleport, and the ability to create that kind of incredible feel-good shared-laughter where your stomach hurts and tears are streaming down your face. My name would be….  Dame SartorialSparkle LaughingPants
  5. When I was young I wanted to be….A choreographer (for Janet Jackson, specifically), a boutique owner, fashion writer and actress, preferably all at the same time.
  6. My hobbies outside of work include… To be perfectly honest, as a work from home mom with a baby, taking a daily walk around the neighborhood is pretty much my singular hobby, if you can call it that! But I do love traveling and exploring a new place, even if it’s just a new neighborhood or a day-trip.