DKNY PR Girl, ALIZA LICHT, on her first book “Leave Your Mark”
BY KENNETH RICHARD | The Impressionist
The fashion world may all know Aliza Licht as the social media trailblazer who brought DKNY PR GIRL to life, earning the company half-a-million-plus followers as well as industry awards and accolades along the way. But there is more to the persona of Licht than wit, fashion gossip and a fiery shade of lipstick as she draws from her life experiences to share a healthy dose of real talk in her first book LEAVE YOUR MARK: Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media.
The book is drawn from Licht’s life experiences, which include changing career direction mid way through pre-med school, cracking New York’s difficult to get into fashion publishing industry, swimming professional waters with sharks, and ultimately navigating the era of social media. She takes readers through the complete story of how DKNY PR GIRL came to be and shares tips for authentically engaging online, being socially savvy, the importance of being your own publicist, and managing a social media crisis.
The result is a must-read for those entering the workforce – be it fashion or something else – as well as a guide for professionals and brands alike. The Impression sat with Licht to chat about how the book came about, who it helps, social media, how to properly spell Donna Karan, her love of fonts, her husband’s spreadsheets, and the art of mentoring.
Aliza, congratulations on the new Leave Your Mark book. It’s a pretty powerful tool for people at all stages of their career. What inspired you to write the book?
Almost two years ago, an editor from Grand Central Publishing who was following DKNY PR GIRL’s Twitter and blog called and said “I think there’s a book in here somewhere.” Of course I was flattered, but I was also intimated by the idea because I had that initial: How? When? About what? I was very hesitant but she was really good at her job and every few weeks she would call me again and ask, “Have you put any more thought into writing a book? You can just put just some thoughts down on paper, write a short proposal.” I said, “Yes I’m thinking about it but I just don’t know what I would want to write about.” That went on for months. I have to feel passion for a concept in order to consider doing it. Even in social media, I don’t use content calendars, I post off the cuff. I also can’t do things out of obligation, I have to feel something for a project and I just needed to feel the book.
It absolutely had to have a purpose and I didn’t say yes until I figured what that purpose was. I realized that I wanted to mentor. I started giving out advice on Twitter years ago with the hashtag #PR101. Every time I did that people would tweet back “that’s life 101.” So slowly but surely people would say, “Hey can I send you my resumé? Can you review my cover letter? I’m going on an interview; what tips would you give me?” So I would blog about all these kinds of topics and/or tweet back advice. Inevitably a few weeks later someone would tweet back and say “Hey, I went on that interview and I got the job. Thank you so much!” It was really gratifying to see how people came back around to tell me how my tips worked.
When I started to contemplate this book; I started to think about how many times someone has reached out and said, “I would love to grab a coffee and pick your brain about my career.” I started think about how work and coffee go hand-in-hand and how I start every morning with a red lipstick stain on my cup. Then it hit me. LEAVE YOUR MARK can be my way of grabbing coffee with everyone. I could be a virtual mentor.
With regard to the actual writing, everyone always recommends that you write an outline first. I can’t write like that. I have to just put it all down on paper. I have to let the story take me where it wants to go. They gave me six months to write the book and I wrote it in three. But then I spent the next three months editing and organizing the content!
The book is tremendously inspiring. For not doing an outline you really do have four very synced structural sections to the book.
That is a result of editing, not pre-planning. I had to go back and do that. It didn’t start out that way.
Well for the first section I think that this book should be served to every freshman in college.
Oh I wish that would be true, but thank you.
I was taken with how well you outlined the simple steps, the professionalism, and the due diligence that is necessary to go out and obtain a job that you are passionate about. When people think DKNY PR GIRL, they are likely to think of social media, which you speak to in your third section rather than landing a job. Why did you decide to start there?
When I thought about giving advice, I didn’t want it to only be “do this and don’t do that.” I wanted to tell a story. I thought that people could really benefit from knowing how I picked the wrong major in college, had to ditch a goal that I had committed to and start over at a time when there was no LinkedIn or Google.” I thought it would be helpful to let people know a little more about me so they could absorb the advice in a different way. In publishing, they call it a “narrative prescriptive.” The reader gets to go on my career journey and learn from where I failed and where I succeeded.
You do talk about successes but failures as well within your particular career and I thought that was very admirable. The demographic you went after was three-fold; can you tell us whom you were writing for?
The first group in my mind was young, aspiring professionals, whether in college or people just starting out in the first few years of their jobs.
The other group is people five to ten years into their careers, who all of a sudden decide that there might be something else out there for them. They’re going through the motions of a job, but they’re not really happy. I don’t believe that people should ignore that nagging feeling of mediocrity. I want to empower people to think, “You know what, maybe I can do something else”. For me, even though that happened at a younger stage in my life, I felt like it was a very big decision and a very daunting decision. I wanted to inspire people to have that conversation with themselves and have it honestly. That’s why I made the whole “take a selfie” non-scientific quiz – because I feel we are all so busy and never have time to reflect. Maybe if people did, they would be inspired to start a new career. In fact, one of my friends from high school works in finance and loves photography. He read the book early and said, “I’m going to do this. I’m going to be a photographer.” He said he would never even have thought to pursue it if he hadn’t read it. That’s the purpose of self-reflection and honesty. That’s why I would have never put my image on that book cover – because I want it to be about the reader’s experience. I want them to think about themselves as they read it, not me.
The third category of people really goes under creating the brand of you and personal branding. This is the fourth part of the book and this concept really applies to anyone at any age. I gave the book to some older people who are in their fifties and sixties, with the caveat, “This book is not really for you, but maybe you can get something out of it”. The amount of people who said, “What do you mean? This is totally for me” was amazing. People can take from it the nuggets that they want to.
Regarding your first section, do you find young people entering the industry need a lot of guidance?
Yes, I do. I find people all the time reaching out via social media asking career-related questions. It seems that too many people don’t have people to lean on with regard to their professional questions. That’s why I made the “Ask Aliza” tab on my website alizalicht.com. I’m getting questions from all over the world: A girl from South Africa who has a bully boss situation or someone in Atlanta, Georgia who will say, “I really want this promotion, I think I’m ready. Can you tell me what you think?” It’s really interesting to see the common denominator of work problems because it doesn’t matter where you live, people have the same professional issues.
I thought you addressed some very interesting points between social and professional. I was surprised you even addressed issues such as fonts. Who knew you were a Century Gothic fan?
(Laughs) Yes! Well, you must be a font person, too, because your site has the best font.
Thank you. It’s true. I’m a bit of a font fanatic.
See, I knew that about you!
Why was that important for you to share?
I think people don’t always consider visual communication. The way you present is really important. Understanding the image you’re portraying for the job that you want in a specific company. That resumé is the only thing between you and that interview.
There are so many variations on the resumé and the most glaring mistake that I see is lots of words with no stats to back them up. It all begins to blur together. It becomes impossible to absorb. There are other blunders, too. I interviewed someone for a project the other day and she is someone who works very closely with some major digital people in the industry. She is really sweet and it seems like she made a good impression on them. In fact, one of her bosses emailed me saying, “Oh I heard you met so and so, she’s amazing.” Two days later I get a thank you letter from her… but Donna Karan was spelled with an “e.” I just sat there and thought, “Really…?!” It’s just such an unnecessary mistake and it tarnishes everything else, every other good thing. We all mess up and I have done many things wrong, but it’s just about training yourself to be hyper aware of how you present.
Let’s flip over to the third section of book, where you speak about rocking social media. Can you share how that speaks to brands?
Through my experience building DKNY PR GIRL, later establishing my own social presence, and now making a social presence for the book, the skills I have honed in building social identities can really help brands of any size. It’s also important for people to manage their own personal brands and their online reputation, no matter what you do. So I try to lead people through everything that I’ve learned in that area. How to start it, build it, what kind of filters to create for yourself and how it all affects your day job, because it does. We see too many examples of people ruining their careers because of something they did online. I don’t want people to make mistakes like that anymore.
What can other brands – whether they are Coca-Cola or Colgate – take away from your book?
The social media crisis management section is really an important one. I know that the bigger companies have their own ways to handle a crisis, but I believe that I have a lot of value to add. Crisis management is one thing, but the other thing is how to build a social presence and engage people. Just because you’re pushing out content doesn’t mean anyone cares. I also think most brands don’t understand how to strategize content. The other day I saw a major jewelry brand doing promoted tweets and I was looking at the timeline and was shocked to see that they were tweeting similar content over and over again, with each post about one minute apart. I was floored and thought, “You’re paying for these tweets – who is advising you?!” I feel like brands still struggle with social identity and building that brand social filter. I’m trying to impart knowledge to make things a little easier or clearer for those people who still have trouble getting it. Of course there are brands that do amazingly well socially, but for the most part, people struggle with their voice and consistency. It all comes down to the brand and the brand filter and sticking with it.
You have a very endearing foreword. How did that come about?
I have worked for Donna Karan for seventeen years, I am very grateful to her. I grew up here and there’s something very special about that. It’s a very inspiring place to work.
That is quite a foreword for your first book, I must say. And I do say, because I have a feeling that there’s more to come.
Well, I can tell you I don’t think that’s true because I don’t know if I can do this again!
Okay, let’s talk about moving from 140 characters to… how many pages is this book?
It’s 288 pages. They asked for 75,000 words.
That’s a lot of words, and you also make up on your own, like (*S).
Actually, I found it really easy because I was inspired. The words just flowed. It was much more challenging to edit and put it into a structure. By the way, I only wrote the book at night between 9:30pm and 1:30am.
For 3 months in a row?
Yes. My husband is really good at spreadsheets so I said asked him, “Okay. 75,000 words in 6 months, what does that look like?” I need a schedule to know if I’m doing a good job or not. I really like report cards.
So he made a spreadsheet and we took a few weeks out for fashion week craziness, two weeks for Christmas break, assuming I wanted to just chill, and Thursday nights knowing I would live tweet “Scandal” because I couldn’t miss that. So it ended up being 596 words a day. Every time I wrote something I couldn’t wait to log into that excel sheet and type in that number. If I was lucky enough to write above my quota, I was like, “Oh my god, I get tomorrow night off, how amazing!”
I thought the structure was quite sound, by the way.
Thank you. I had a lot of great advisers for that. It’s important to have fresh eyes look at something.
So your next book is already outlined for you. It’s “How to write a book!”
We are going to be buying a multiple copies of Leave Your Mark. We have many interns here at The Impression and I am very grateful for every one of them, and now grateful we have something to pass along to them to help. Congratulations again and thanks for chatting.
Kenneth, that makes me so happy. Thank you!
LEAVE YOUR MARK
Land Your Dream Job. Kill It in Your Career. Rock Social Media.
By Aliza Licht
Grand Central Publishing