Four Bad PR practices seen at NYFW and how to avoid them

New York Fashion Week may now be a memory as London takes center stage but its memories will live on, at least until February when they will become outdated and new runways, collections and faces will impress the fashion illuminati. I’m fortunate enough to return to Fashion Week for a third season as a production assistant. What do I do as a PA? I’m pretty much the glue that helps take a vision from idea to execution. That can be a variety of things from organizing seating, working with PR with marketing deliverables and buying lists, taming the zoo that is backstage and putting out any fires that may break out during the show. If I could only tell you about the shit show that Fashion Istanbul was this season. Seventeen models for five designers for a 20-minute show; bad idea. What am I saying? Terrible idea! Beyond terrible! That was like giving a squadron one 18th century pistol for everyone to share. In what mind does that make sense? Whose fault was that? A very bad PR agency whose name will not be named, unless you direct message me on Twitter @TheRunPublicist. I’ll give you the scoop there.

Seeing such a bad production made me think of what was the difference between great fashion PR and the ‘bad, please do not repeat ever again’ PR.

Mistake #1: Publishing guest names on seating cards


Photo courtesy of Framepool.

No! Why? What are you thinking? Never print a guest’s name on a seating card; this is a recipe for disaster! What if the guest does not show up? I worked a show for a new designer who clearly hired a rookie PR team; the mistakes were noticeable all over. The cheap white-cotton branded t-shirts they were wearing singled them out rather than made them approachable. PR should look elusive not like a promotions rep trying to sell you a sample of wine; that rant is for a different post. Getting back to their front row; seeing Trey Songz and Neil Patrick Harris on the seating cards caused quite a commotion among guests until the show began and neither appeared. In fact, front row looked a bit like benches with mangy alopecia. There were so many spots to fill that I ultimately ended up sitting in NPH’s seat. Winning a few Emmys was never so easy!

This is one reason why you do not print names; what if they do not show up? Several folks will be unimpressed and disappointed. On the reverse, if they do show up, everyone will know where they are sitting. Some public figures like to show up seconds before the show to avoid becoming targets of countless selfies and snaps. By letting everyone know where they are sitting you are setting up your guests for an impromptu photo and autograph session. Yes, even in fashion shows there are tasteless fanatics who will have stars in their eyes. This only delays the show from starting at a decent time. Let’s not forget that Fashion Week runs on a buyer and editor’s schedule. They have shows to catch and if yours is taking too long and they really can’t miss the next, they will without remorse say bye to yours and move on to the next. There was one show that began 45 minutes past its call time, although reasonably all shows begin 30 minutes behind schedule. Fifteen minutes was too much and the editor left at minute 40 as they were not risking the possibility of missing the next. Time is important, so don’t add to the madness by turning the pre-show into a celeb-sighting session.

Needless to say, this problem has an easy fix; don’t print names on seating cards. A good PR team will know their who’s who and know where they are sitting. If you have particular VIPs who require extra attention then they should be welcomed through PR anyways. Don’t even put “Reserved” on the sitting card. If it has a number on it, it is reserved. Why else would you put a number on it in the first place?

Mistake #2: Know your front row (or who should be in it).


Photo courtesy of Mirror UK.

This one sounds obvious but I cringed when I saw an art school seat Bibhu Mohapatra in the second row. With good reason he did not show up. The first mistake happened with doing the above; I should not have known where he was going to sit but once I did, how do you put a big name like him in the second row, especially if you are seating family members in the first. The front row are your most important peeps. Regardless of ego, your influencers, buyers, editors go here not behind them. Good for you, Bibhu. If I was him and would’ve seen my name in row two, I would’ve been a ‘no show’ as well. I know an art school isn’t perhaps the savviest about names but there are no excuses, especially when you hire a PR team to execute the show. Research, research, research! Even if you have to Goggle all of your guests, mis-seating a VIP is a faux pas regardless of any production.

Mistake #3: Cut out the corniness.


Photo courtesy of Neilson Barnard (gettyimages).

Making it to NYFW is a huge accomplishment for any designer and as such it should be experienced in all of its glory. It should come as no surprise that new names may try to squeeze out every second they can from the experience going so far to turning the show into a theatrical production, and not in a good way. There is one designer, whose name I will spare the shame, at least on here; tweet me if you must know. He always returns to Skylight at Clarkson and has actually improved each season so you can imagine how bad it must have been at a point in time. This season he returned and his clothing was polished, hems were finished, the fits were on point; his clothes delivered. Last season he put rhinestones on faces and flowers and feathers in hair; this time he tamed it and kept the hair clean and simple and only garnished faces with butterfly tattoos. That wasn’t the corny part; you could live with that. He decided to play a Parisian strolling song on loop; a track that you would never hear in Paris, only in a pseudo-wannabe Parisian café out in Kentucky. It was audial melatonin. The first model walks out and sits in an iron make-shift café scene and picks up an ultra-red rose, she looks at it, she smells it, she kisses it, she looks at it again and then places it in a vase and begins to walk. She walks to the end of the pretzel-style runway and poses for the cameras for ten long arduous seconds and slowly continues her course. Fashion is not slow; why pause it down?

Thirty-two looks have never taken so long. The show ran for 25 minutes; by far the longest fashion show of my life. Lela Rose is a great example of models who pose for the camera quickly and continue on. I get the whole pausing for the camera; you’re trying to give the photographers the money shot that will get the look in the next day’s WWD cover but if your models are walking slowly; trust that there is no need to prolong the torture of what is competing the world’s slowest fashion show. I will add that this anonymous designer has improved so much and I expect to see him at Moynihan’s The Dock venue next season. He upgraded his pr to the THINK PR agency and what a difference it makes. His show was jam-packed where standing room was full and the media riser was overflowing. Kudos, you know who, you’re on the right track but you’ll really make it big if you cut out the over-the-top theatrics and speed up your walk. I give props to THINK PR as I’m sure they tried to convince him of this but there are some battles that you simply cannot win or can they? I’d like to see KCD or Karla Otto take a stab at this designer.

Mistake #4: Gift bags should look like gift bags (or at least like neat deliverables).


Photo courtesy of Bryan Bedder (gettyimages).

Obvious but cannot go without saying. Gift bags should look like gift bags not like piles of miscellaneous merchandise. They should also make sense. I still don’t know why there was a CD to an up-and-coming artist at a show. One, who still plays cd’s; fashion crowds don’t. Two, at least play their music during the show or list them as a sponsor somewhere; make a connection for your guest to understand. The takeaway items tell just as much of a story as does the collection and the show. Post show I have googled to see the artist’s connection to the show and I still do not understand. It almost seemed as if PR was looking to give away as much as of what they could to their front row. Too much of anything can be a bad thing and this was definitely the case here. It looked sloppy, over bearing and ultimately, hardly anyone took the merchandise. If your guest do not want it, do not offer it. Know your guests, know your sponsors and know your story; make sure they all connect. The best example of connecting the dots was Marcel Ostertag. DHL was a sponsor of his collection therefore the two came up with a clever package for his look book and run of show. DHL provided custom envelopes that looked exactly like a DHL package would but they were customized for the Marcel experience. It was a very attractive and innovative way to merge the two and the story made perfect sense as seeing that the collection’s theme was air. The story between all pieces made sense and was in unison. The media loved it; the guests loved it; it without a doubt became my favorite show takeaway to date.

I understand that no show, person, designer or PR team is perfect but there are bad ones and then there are really unbelievably spectacular ones. The great ones went through all of the mistakes that the bad ones are making and learned from them. However, in a time where folks are more unforgiving than before, PR does not have the luxury to commit these publicity atrocities. There’s a reason why KCD and Karla Otto are at the top of their game. There’s a plethora of other great PR agencies, all of which fashion professionals and PR enthusiasts should take note from. Tyra always said it best with “take from the best and make it your own.”



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