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Courtney Blackman of Forward PR and FBC
Freitag, Nov. 26, 2010, 13:56
Courtney Blackman, Managing Director of Forward PR, Co-Founder & Co-Chairman of Fashion Business Club (FBC), and Ethical Fashion Forum board member, describes herself as “über-digital”. A maven and expert navigator of social media, Courtney first caught TribaSpace’s attention with her sense of humour, approachable disposition, and savvy with Twitpic. Both on and off her BlackBerry, the Denver, Colorado native is an absolute powerhouse on the London PR scene, and a well-loved pioneer of new talent in the fashion industry.
TribaSpace: What does it take to be a great publicist?
Courtney Blackman: You have to be passionate about the brand that you’re publicising and know everything there is to know about them – where the inspiration stems from, what materials are used, where they’re sourced from, how they’re made, who makes them, where they’re sold, pricing. Everything! The job of a good publicist is to communicate the label and sell the story to the media and down the chain to consumers. A great publicist will also understand the brand on a deep level, know where it sits in the grand scheme of things. And of course it helps if a publicist is well-connected with editors and stylists, and is organised, efficient, a little bit silly and above anything else, gracious.
How did you end up doing what you do? Which came first, Forward PR or FBC?
I launched Forward PR in 2004 after working as the in-house PR and marketing director for a British designer who relocated to Tokyo. My initial clients were jewellery and accessory designers and in the last couple of years we’ve taken on a variety of clients – all in fashion – ranging from fashion designers, jewellery designers, luxury lingerie designers, a model agency, a handbag label, to big events including the Ford Models Supermodel of the World UK Search and the Fashion Summit.
FBC was launched 4 years ago, after springing to life on the social networking site ASMALLWORLD. I had forwarded a Stella McCartney sample sale invite, which eventually made its way to my [now] business partner Alison Whelan. Alison’s creative vision inspired her to start a club for the fashion industry. Our first meeting was in January of 2006 and 75 people turned up, so we knew we were on to something. Our venues have changed throughout the years and so has the calibre of our speakers. We’re really happy to now have Swarovski CRYSTALLIZED™ as our venue partner and a list of speakers that reads like a who’s who of the industry. Vogue.com is our official media partner this year, bringing Dolly Jones and designer/illustrator/author, Daisy de Villeneuve in as valued board members.
On FBCtv, which is a year-old, Alison and I both act as executive producers. Alison is involved in the production and editing, while I’m normally in front of the camera getting sound bites. Sometimes I feel like I’m so close to [FBC] that I don’t realise just how big it’s become. I love FBC and so does Alison. She’s an amazing creative and has always held the vision and I’ve always acted as managing director – the business model works fantastically and we have some big plans in the works for 2010 and beyond!
What’s Forward PR’s philosophy, in terms of what brands you take on and why? Do you aim to diversify your client base or work within a theme?
Forward PR’s philosophy is to always be professional, courteous, gracious and nice – you would be surprised how many people forget the basics. As far as clients, I definitely think it is important to diversify the portfolio. PR is by nature competitive, so I would deem it unfair for clients to be competing with each other within an agency. I would never take on two shoe labels, or two milliners. When signing a new client, I have to feel a connection to the brand and the designer behind it, and the client has to bring something to the table in terms of quality, uniqueness and marketability. They have to understand the commitment that PR requires from both them and us. A lot of times brands want to engage in a PR campaign, but they’re just not ready. I would never sign someone who isn’t. It would be a waste of their money and everyone’s time and effort.
Tell us about one or two new projects or brands at Forward PR you’re really excited about.
We’ve just taken on Magenta 8. I love the brand! Everything is made from baby alpaca wool, which is considered ‘the fibre of the gods.’ It comes from a very cute Andean sheep-like animal, which is bred exclusively for its wool. It’s stronger than merino and lighter, but warmer than cashmere. It is quite pricey, but so luxurious and hypo-allergenic. This is what I love about what I do – learning about all sorts of unique materials and the brands that make incredibly beautiful products from them, and then letting everyone know about them.
We’ve also recently taken on Sapphires Model Management, co-owned by Neely Reyes and Ian Warren. It’s an amazing agency and one of the only agencies that marks itself as ‘ethical,’ meaning they really focus on the well-being of their models. We’re just in the works of putting together a model search.
I’ve also just started representing S.C. Vizcarra handbags, an 85-year-old Manila-based company specialised in hand-woven bags. Some of their designs take 7 days to make, they’re so complex. A little something new for Forward PR, we’ll be looking after both the PR and sales.
What actions should brands be taking to adapt to fluctuating market conditions?
Brands are individual entities, so there is no one ‘prescription.’ Luckily for smaller labels, they can react quickly to change. I would say for small brands: keep fixed costs to a minimum, don’t invest in studios, wait until things pick up to make big capital investments. As far as PR goes, I think the worst thing a small label can do is to cut back. Maintaining a profile and market presence is so important in riding out fluctuations and coming out on top on the other side. For sales, shifting focus or concentrating on emerging markets that are stronger and capable of generating growth should be precision targeted; and within those markets, brands should be very deliberate about what segment they’re aiming for, be it mainstream or luxury.
How have you found social media and new technological developments beneficial (or not) to your business and its ability to grow in conventional and unconventional ways?
I’ve been accused of, and probably rightfully so, being addicted to Twitter. I have a personal Twitter account, and we have an account for Forward PR and Fashion Business Club (FBC). I like having my own Twitter page too, so I’m not so connected to the businesses. They’re there own separate entities, as am I. For FBC, we have a Facebook page, which has a large membership base. I never wanted a Facebook page for Forward PR – I know a lot of PR companies have them, but I’ve always thought being a fan of a PR page felt a bit cheesy (sorry!). I find Twitter more functional as a PR tool. I think technology is brilliant for growing a business in that information can be shared quickly and inexpensively. If you’re not using social media to engage clients, potential clients, colleagues and consumers, you’re kind of missing the boat.
Catherine Wheel Yard
London SW1A 1DR
T: 44(0)207 495 3390
F: 44(0)207 409 2272
Samantha Garfield | TribaSpace
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