BY KENNETH RICHARD
While many of us like to think of fashion as being forward, its marketing tends to take a wait-and-see approach to new technologies jumping in once everything has been proven. In 2009 when social media was relatively new, Donna Karan International’s SVP of Global Communications, Aliza Licht, held hands with her company to launch DKNY PR Girl socially and took one small step for their brand and one giant leap for the fashion industry.
That leap was a fashion first, not because the firm decided to get involved in social media, but because it presented a voice from an international designer brand that wasn’t directly the designer. DKNY PR Girl offered fans an insider view of the pr happenings of the notable firm from the trials and tribulations of celebrity dressing to the daily grid of producing fashion shows, resulting today in over 515,000 Twitter followers. From the onset Licht has been the singular voice of DKNY PR Girl, operating with anonymity at first behind the veil of an illustrated characterization, then in 2011 coming out from behind the character, showing the fans and industry just how animated she is.
Licht has gone on to be a four time #Fashion 2.0 award winner for Best Fashion Twitter, an inaugural TedX Times Square Speaker, named one of Time Magazine’s Style & Design’s “Six Women Who Rule the Fashion World” and was #30 in The New York Daily News 2014 “Top 50 Most Powerful Women in New York.” The Impression sat down with this industry pioneer to talk about her story, her thoughts on the role of pr in this digital age, and what’s next.
Thanks for chatting with us. DKNY PR Girl was a little ahead of the curve in terms of creating a voice for the brand that wasn’t just from the designer. How did that come about and how did the company support you during that time?
When we embarked on social media in 2009, we were one of the only fashion brands in the space. We knew Facebook was going to boast the brand voices for Donna Karan New York and DKNY respectively, but Twitter as we understood it, was more of a conversation. Deciding who would be the voice was uncertain, but we were sure that we didn’t want to dupe people into thinking it was Donna Karan herself, because that would have been disingenuous. I instinctively felt that public relations was the perfect lens to socially filter the world of Donna Karan through- between fashion shows, celebrity dressing and everything in between, we had a ton of content to draw from. At the time, I was obsessed with Gossip Girl and I immediately thought, “What if we take the idea of an anonymous blogger like Gossip Girl and make her a publicist?” DKNY PR GIRL was the perfect answer- a seamless combination of PR person and Gossip Girl all rolled into one persona. No one had to know who she was as she would be represented by a fashion sketch. So that’s how I began. I tweeted anonymously until 2011, at which time we made a decision to reveal the person behind the Twitter handle.
One of the most important ingredients to the success of DKNY PR GIRL was management support. It became evident soon after I started tweeting that I needed to be nimble and responsive in real time. That meant no pre-approvals and no scheduled posts. Without my boss & mentor Patti Cohen and the executive team trusting me to create content on the fly and post responsibly, the account would have never been the same. That’s not an easy ask from a company, I’m very fortunate that they allowed me the opportunity to create something from scratch on behalf of the company. Our management has been very forward thinking about the power of digital and social media overall.
Wow, not even the Oscars or the NFL halftime show operate without a tape delay, that’s a lot of trust.
I guess you missed that time last year when my Donna Karan Atelier gowns went missing at LAX? (laughs) I freaked out about it on Twitter and that episode ended up on Page Six! No, I’m totally off the cuff. But to be clear, I think before I tweet- that’s the benefit of being a seasoned PR executive– but I don’t script, I don’t schedule. What you read is real and in the moment. I can’t do it any other way. To me, true engagement is king.
You’ve successfully navigated the transition from the era of pr being focused 100% on magazine editorial to the social age. What do you see as the role of pr today versus yesterday?
On one hand, social media has made PR very difficult. Back in the day, we never had issues with hot content getting leaked onto the internet. Now sometimes the best laid PR plans get foiled because it’s hard to control a message.
But on the other hand, social media has forced public relations to evolve at a remarkably fast pace. The ability to build a community and service your own news to your own social changes has turned traditional public relations on its head for the better. It’s incredibly exciting to be able to make your own news when you want to. But no matter how many social impressions one might generate, the credibility of real news media is still king. Once a PR girl, always a PR girl.
You came out from the behind the character and unveiled yourself, how did that come about and what happened afterward?
The anonymity was never a real intention. Originally, the idea was that DKNY PR GIRL was a “character”, hence the sketch. But as soon as I started tweeting, I realized that Twitter was a conversation and the voice needed to be consistent. Naturally, people started to realize DKNY PR GIRL was in fact, one girl, but yet it never really mattered “whom” the person was- it was the personality and content that mattered. After two years of anonymity though, it started to feel like the right time to pull back the veil. It was getting harder and harder to keep the secret and it seemed like the anonymity didn’t serve a real purpose anymore. The @dkny community knew me. They might have not known my name or my face, but they knew my personality backwards and forewords. We shot a behind the scenes of fashion week video that ended up introducing me as “the real DKNY PR GIRL” and the rest is sort of history!
The industry has seen you as hardworking and inspirational to a large number of pr professionals and aspirationals, what are the characteristics that you look for in people when building your team?
What gets you excited today?
As much as I might vent while I am going through awards season, nothing and I mean nothing, gets me more excited than seeing our gorgeous Donna Karan Atelier gowns on the red carpet. It’s pure magic and the team works incredibly hard to make that magic happen. Sometimes you fail, but when you win, there is nothing better.
We know you wrote a book that’s due out in 2015. Tell us about it.
I wrote a book called LEAVE YOUR MARK, which is a mentorship in 288 pages. Using my own career as the narrative, the book is filled with insider secrets on how to “Land your dream job”, “Kill it in your career”, “Rock social media” and “Create the brand of you.” It’s due out May 5th and is available for preorder now. I truly hope it becomes a bible to young professionals and people who are looking to improve the way they communicate their personal brand.
Looking forward to reading and know a lot of aspiring fans are too. Thanks for taking the time.
Thank you for great questions! I can’t wait to see what you have to ask me after you read LEAVE YOUR MARK!
Leave Your Mark is available now.