It was a full house at the Donghia showroom in the D&D Building earlier this month as designers arrived eager to glean trade secrets from public relations veterans Christina Juarez, Elizabeth Blitzer and Michael McGraw.
Moderated by the Editor at Large’s Samantha Snowden, who asked everything from when is the right time to hire a publicist to how much a designer can expect to pay them, the group shared valuable information for both new and established designers.
Samantha Snowden, Elizabeth Blitzer, Michael McGraw and Christina Juarez
The discussion, “Demystifying PR: It’s Not All About Getting Published,” revealed just that. The group agreed that there is so much more to PR than just getting placed in magazines. There are many often less expensive avenues to build awareness that designers can do on their own.
“PR is a very expensive commodity and I don’t recommend it for every single designer across the board,” said Juarez. “There are many things that you can do on your own in the beginning to plant the seeds that will eventually grow and create awareness for your brand.”
This led the discussion to the topic of photography, which panelists agreed is of the upmost importance. The first step for any designer looking for publicity is to get photographs of everything—ideally, entire finished projects.
“We all hear from a lot of designers who are interested in pursuing PR for the first time, and one of the first questions we all ask is ‘Do you have photography?’” said McGraw. “They may have five or six projects and so often they don’t photograph them. It doesn’t have to be an expensive project or a process, but it’s so important to get good photography of a finished project.”
“For the purposes of editorial, you need scouting shots, which are very specific. Stand in the back of the room and take the full scope of the room,” said Blitzer. “If you only show show close-ups the editor will think the whole room must be not up to standard.”
Even after photographing a project and pitching it to a shelter publication, the turnaround can take a very long time.
So, what if you don’t get the response you wanted? “You need to be willing to be flexible. Obviously there are top tier magazines but there are a lot of other opportunities out there,” said McGraw.
Blitzer explained that every designer should reach out to regional and local magazines as well as newspapers. But also, self-promote through social media and your own website.
However, the panelists all agreed that posting project photos on social media is a no-no if a magazine is considering your project. “Everyone in this room is very visual and certainly social media is invaluable for helping to define your brand,” said McGraw. “But don’t post pictures of your projects—the occasional detail is okay once in a while—but magazines are very competitive, and everybody wants everything exclusively.”
This includes posting your work on your website. “It’s such a catch-22, because you want to put those new finished projects online to attract clients, but the first thing an editor will do when they accept a project is request that you take it down from your website,” said Juarez.
So, how do you promote work without posting photos?
“Do an entertaining story,” said Juarez. “You can do lifestyle stories and Q&As on blogs that magazines won’t do. There are great bloggers, and it’s a very great way to get your work seen and to get your story told. It’s a way to get your style, your brand and your name out there, without even giving away project pictures and having to worry about exclusivity.”
Hiring a publicist, once you are ready, can help you with all of the above. The panelists discussed that when you hire them, you are paying for their expertise, their years in the business and their contacts. They have built deep relationships over the years that will help create opportunities for you.
Snowden asked each of the panelists to give a ball-park figure of what they charge. “I know that amongst the three of us, there are people who have paid $15,000 a month or as little as $2,500 a month,” said Blitzer. “It’s all relative.”
So, what can a designer expect from a publicist?
Aside from raising your brand’s profile, these publicists also serve as what Juarez referred to as your “Senior VP of marketing.” As are part of your team, they not only help with editorial, but they plan events and help with books, product collections, show houses and anything else you have going on. “It’s a true relationship and partnership,” said Juarez.
“There’s a misconception,” said Juarez. “People come to us and they’ll say ‘Oh my goodness, your fees are the same or higher than an agency’s fees,’ and what we will tell them is that in an agency, the principal of that agency will meet with you, and then your account is turned over to an account executive. How much experience they have, I don’t know. With us, you get us, and I think all of us have relatively the same business model. We have a small group of clients. We are the face and the ambassadors for your brand and you don’t have to worry about it. We are out there representing you, so what you see is what you get.”
To end the discussion, Snowden asked the panelists to share one key final piece of advice with the audience.
“My best advice, whether you’re working with a PR person or doing it on your own, is to have patience and know that Rome wasn’t built in a day. It can take a lot of time and you have to be prepared to fail and get back up,” said McGraw.
“Know the outlets,” said Blitzer. “So if they’re magazines, study them and know exactly what kind of pieces they’re doing so that you know if you fit into it.”
“Plant the seeds and they will grow,” said Juarez.
Some other key takeaways and highlights from the discussion included:
- When submitting a project to an editor, the normal wait time is about six months to hear back. If you decide to wait longer, decide if it's worth it. That same project can get great exposure somewhere else.
- Magazines are adamant about wanting exclusivity. Never pitch to more than one magazine at a time.
- It’s okay to reach out to editors and pitch your own stories. You don't need a publicist to do that.
- Do a show house. Although it’s an expense, it will get your business great exposure, and a show house is one of the key ways to get new clients.
- Keep in mind other charitable events like Design on a Dime or Rooms with A View. These are smaller projects but still get attention from magazines and bloggers.
- Go to events, network, have a strong social media presence, start a blog, be involved in the industry—this will all help you get noticed.
- Do not have your business social media overlap with your personal life. Have a separate business and personal page.
- Do your research and hire the right PR person for you. A small boutique firm works very differently than a large firm. It’s personal attention versus status reports. Just like you interview your clients and some aren’t right for you, your PR person has to be a good fit.
- Don’t hire a publicist before you are ready. It will be a waste of your money and resources.
- Just because you hire a publicist doesn’t mean you’ll get published. In the end, it’s all up to the editors.