The PR Adviser: Dear Lilian… Is Paying $2,000+ for a Press Preview Event Worth It or Is There a Better Way?

Dear Lilian,

Is it best to participate in press preview days, usually with a cost of $2,000 and up, or better to try and get desk-side appointments?

Jodi Goldsmith
New York, NY

Hi Jodi,

My, what controversy you’re trying to cause me!

I have my own opinions about press preview days that agencies that organize these are not going to like–not because I don’t think they’re a good idea. They are–in theory. But compared to the one-on-one of a desk-side appointment, I suggest you save your money and build your own relationships with press.

For those unfamiliar with press preview days, it’s an event, usually organized by a PR agency, where multiple brands are assembled in one spacious location in hopes of meeting the editors of Vogue, O, The Oprah Magazine, Elle and all other publications everyone wants to be in.

Think of it like speed dating, except instead of meeting a bunch of people you may or may not ever want to see again, you’re meeting with a bunch of different editors, whom you really, really, really want to like you.

If you’re a company that’s having a hard time getting editors’ attention, then a preview day may be a good thing for you. You’ll have an opportunity to meet with different editors and can point-blank ask them why the heck they’re not returning your emails.

Or better yet, ask them what they think of your collection, what stories they’re working on, and what they need from you to be considered for inclusion in a future issue.

After the event, you need to make sure you follow up with them because whatever they tell you, they’re probably telling others at the preview the same. They’re only going to remember the company that follows up with them.

This is the best case scenario of a well-organized press preview day.

The worst case scenario is that the preview day is full of people without the influence to give you the type of editorial coverage that makes American Express busy billing their customers for their latest Gumuchian purchase.

Editors are busy, extremely busy.

It was one thing when the Internet became a true media portal, where magazines came to realize they needed both an online and print version to survive. This doubled the work of editors, who now were required to produce content for both off- and online publication. But now there’s Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, YouTube and about 90 other social sites that editors must have a pulse on and for which they must produce even more original content.

They don’t have time to spend an afternoon at a preview day, where they may or may not meet companies that fit what they’re looking for, especially since they already have other companies emailing them regularly with information. Why leave their desks to discover a new company when they just need to sift through their emails?

Hence my preference for desksides.

To the uninitiated, desksides are when you meet an editor at their office (or at the side of their desks) to showcase your jewelry. It’s like a job interview where your job is to convince the editor in the 15 to 20 minutes she’s allotted you why your jewelry deserve to be in her magazine.

Desksides can be daunting. My first one was at W Magazine about 10 years ago. The editor sat across from me, completely expressionless as I tried to delight her in the 80-year history of my client, Mathon Paris. For every smile, joke, eye wink and other effort I made to try to charm her, she just stared at me blankly, giving no hint as to whether or not she cared that Mathon custom made jewelry for both Elizabeth Taylor and Princess Diana.

I left the appointment feeling defeated–until that same editor emailed me three months later because she was working on a story where what I told her about Mathon fit her narrative. She wanted some product images to accent the article. I quickly got her what she was looking for and we’ve worked together since. She and I are now good friends.

And that’s the real value of a deskside: You’re getting an opportunity to sit across from an editor and personally getting to know her likes, dislikes and what you need to send her to be considered for future editorial opportunities. And when you give her exactly what she asks when she asks for it, you’ll become one of her favorite people she contacts regularly when she needs products for her article.

Unlike press preview days, where you may only have five minutes with an editor, a deskside allows you 15 to 20 minutes to really build a connection. And in those 20 minutes, you can get honest feedback about your collection to use for your future PR strategy.

Having said all of this, desksides are not easy to confirm.

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The PR Adviser: Dear Lilian…Why Am I Not Getting Publicity for My In-Store Event?

Dear Lilian,
We are doing a “Golden Lawn” contest, where people who don’t water their lawns are entered to win a $1,000 shopping spree from Fox Fine Jewelry. They pick up a lawn sign, put it in their Golden Lawn, and post a picture on social media. There will also be a closing Conservation Expo on Aug. 29, with a live remote, 30 vendors, food, complimentary wine and beer tasting, and many more prizes. We are doing this in conjunction with a radio station (which is playing announcements that haven’t brought anyone in yet) and the Downtown Association.

It’s been very hard to get traction and press. I’ve had a little bit, but not much. I’ve done PR Newswire twice before and gotten nothing from it. My experience in the past is that you just have to find the one person who will pick it up, and the rest follows. Or, the story isn’t that interesting. In this case, I’m not sure which one it is.

I would love your ideas, or your advice if you believe this doesn’t have legs.

Debbie Fox
Fox Fine Jewelry
Ventura, Calif.

Dear Debbie,

Let’s work backward with your question. “Does this idea have legs?” Absolutely! It has long, sexy, supermodel-strutting-the-catwalk legs.

I’m an East Coast girl. I’ve only been to California three times in my entire life, and even I know about how big a deal it is to not water your lawn because of the drought (thanks, Bill Maher.)

When it comes to press outreach, there are a few questions you need to ask yourself before sending off a press release.  I’ll be addressing some of these questions in every column, but in your case in particular, you’ve hit on three big ones:
1) Is this an original idea?
2) Does this follow a current, newsworthy trend?
3) Why would anyone care?

Now, let’s answer these questions in relation to what you’re doing.
Is it an original idea?
Absolutely. No one is thinking about promoting the fact that they’ve let their yard go brown.

Does this follow a current, newsworthy trend?
Yes. A quick Google search shows the California drought is a regularly being covered by press in your region.

Why would anyone care?
Because the California drought is everyone’s business and everyone needs to do their part. Rewarding people for doing their part celebrates their consideration. Everyone likes to be acknowledged for helping.

In addition to being able to positively answer these three questions, you’ve also tied your promotion with a major event and have radio partnership.  You’ve got things in place to make this a fantastic press-worthy endeavor.

So, why are you not getting any traction?

In any PR campaign, you must consider the general behavior of your target audience in your planning. And whatever your plans, you must make it easy for your audience to take action. Let’s look at the step you missed:

In order to participate in your event, people must drive to your jewelry store to pick up a sign. Yes, the reward of $1,000 in jewelry is tempting, but it’s a contest, and what’s the likelihood that I, the potential customer you want to drive to your store to pick up a sign, will win? Is that likelihood compelling enough for me to take time out of my day to drive to your store and pick up a sign? If this particular customer is like most people, the answer is no.

Sure, if the store is within her general everyday route, she may consider stopping by. But to make a special effort? Well, she’s thinking she’s probably not going to win anyway, so why bother? Her lawn’s going brown with or without the possibility of winning jewelry.

Now, before you give up hope, remember, your idea has long, Cindy Crawford-fabulous legs.
You just have to use them.

You have an original, trendy newsworthy idea and have the support of a radio station. You only need some partners to get those legs moving.

Look at your city. What neighborhoods have the type of customers you want coming to Fox Fine Jewelry for their jewelry buying needs? Now, find other retailers in those neighborhoods (obviously not competing jewelry retailers) that you can bring into the fold.

You’re going to tell them about this wonderful, brilliant, buzzworthy idea of yours and tell them there’s already a radio station involved who will happily mention on air that their store is part of these promotions. Then you’re going to ask if it’s OK for you to leave some signs at their store because your partner radio station will be telling everyone to go to their location to pick up a sign.

“And you never know,” you’ll tell the retailer. “Perhaps when these people stop by your hardware store to pick up a sign, Mr. Hardware Store Owner, they may remember that they need to pick up a new tool set as well.”

You’ll do this as many times as necessary until your entire city is blanketed with locations to pick up signs. Then and only then will news outlets be ready and willing to hear your story.

Here’s the fundamental thing you need to understand about the press: Unless you’re the only store in the entire world that carries a mystical line of jewelry known to cure cancer, they don’t like stories where you’re the only star.

If an editor printed a story praising you and your efforts without mention of anyone else doing something similar, the story would read like advertising. That editor’s boss wants you to pay for advertising.

And herein lies the difference between PR and advertising: advertising you pay for, PR you pray for.  Of course, your prayers are more likely to be answered if you plan correctly.

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Alexis Bittar: Street Merchant Turned Global Giant

A quick Internet search will reveal just about every detail of Alexis Bittar’s reign as the “Lucite King,” as hailed by Dawn Mello, former Bergdorf Goodman president, in a 2012 New York Timesarticle.

So when I sat down to interview Bittar, I insisted he tell me something that hasn’t already been covered.

“Janet Goldman was my first order,” he said.

Really? Fragments’ Janet Goldman?

“Yes. For 15 years, I had an antique quilt that I would lay out on the street in SoHo, selling my handmade jewelry. This was in the early ‘80s, back before what you see now in SoHo. No one else was doing it at that time–it was just me and two other vendors,” Bittar recalled.

“I used to set up the quilt on the corner of Prince and Greene [in front of the original Fragments location].  I wasn’t sure if I wanted to sell to stores at that time. But one day, I decided to show Janet and Jimmy (Moore, Goldman’s longtime business partner who died in 2009) my collection. They bought on the spot. Janet was my first order and she put my pieces in (Henri) Bendel.”

Never in a million years could one imagine that any of the jewelry vendors selling their wares along the Lower Manhattan streets of SoHo on any given Sunday would one day build an empire as vast as Bittar’s.  But that’s exactly what’s happened.

With presence in all major U.S. department stores, including Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Saks Fifth Avenue, as well as hundreds of independent retailers across 40 countries in five continents–not to mention his 13 Alexis Bittar boutiques up and down both coasts–Bittar is living a dream.

“I never went to fashion school, never learned the traditional ways of building a business. I never even had a real job before. I went from selling on the street to opening my company.”

And the rest, as they say, is history, which is fitting really, as Bittar has a profound love of history, and particularly, jewelry with its own history.

Introduced to antiques by his dealer parents, Bittar’s first bauble love came from sifting through a pile of antique jewelry at age 11. He was mesmerized by the detailed, sculptural eloquence of vintage craftsmanship, something rarely seen in today’s modern jewelry. An exploration of the use of Bakelite in jewelry design in 1930s lead him to his signature material, Lucite.

Inspired by Bakelite’s transformation from an industrial product to a fashion accessory, Bittar similarly restyled Lucite, applying French designer Rene Lalique’s technique of carving and fusing glass to the industrial plastic. Twenty-five years later, he remains obsessed with the versatile material, finding new dimensions for sculpting and manipulating its vast potential for optical color play.

Beyond craftsmanship, however, Bittar admitted the legacy of a vintage piece is often a bigger appeal for him.

“Whether it’s Georgian or Victorian, or 1700s or 1960s, there’s so much history in these little miniscule sculptures that I find intriguing. Not only in how they were created, but how they get passed from person to person.  There’s so much transferred history,” Bittar said. “When you’re holding an antique piece of jewelry and it’s 150 years old, there’s a feeling of wanting to cherish it. You become amazed at how it’s made it through all of these years to now be in your hand.”

Bittar’s profound respect for legacy is, perhaps, behind his fondness for using older models in advertising campaigns.

“In the years I’ve spent in this business, doing 15 personal appointments per year and meeting thousands of women, I realized most women have a real shade about their age. This is really being compounded and driven home by advertising and images in the media. I started getting very political about showing more mature women in advertising.”

Six years ago, the legendary Joan Collins became his first mature muse, followed by original supermodel, Lauren Hutton.  Up next were Jennifer Saunders and Joanna Lumley, the iconic stars of the British sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.

“I want to fight the message of looking at a 20-year-old model–whose images have been retouched–and having all women look at that one age like, ‘this is what we all need to look like.’ Yes, the 20-year-old is beautiful, and so is the 28-year-old and so is the 35-year-old, and the 48-year-old and 55-year-old.  It’s just a horrific thing to watch the world forget women 35 to 95,” Bittar said.

His latest advertising campaign pairs youth with experience, bringing together wunderkind Tavi Gavinson with the queen mother of fashion, Iris Apfel. With this campaign, Bittar wanted to show a 19-year-old still at the beginning of an already notable career alongside an illustrious, galvanizing 93-year-old woman whose own career doesn’t look to be ending any time soon.

“I wanted to show the breadth of age,” Bittar explained. “To look at age as something to celebrate; that what a person accomplishes in their lifetime is much sexier than trying to force yourself to fit into a box to look younger and younger, and to really look at having a full life … whether running for politics or having an amazing family, whatever that accomplishment means to you.”

Regarding his own accomplishment, from literally selling on Manhattan’s streets on an antique quilt to having both the First Lady and Lady Gaga as loyal customers, Bittar doesn’t hide the challenges it took to get to where he is now.

Amongst pushing past an insecurity surrounding his unconventional start and having to learn to trust his own instincts regarding his designs, Bittar also struggled with his lack of formal business training.

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Southern Hospitality at Its Finest (Jewelry)

Atlanta is legendary for two things: its fondness for everything peach (there are more than two dozen streets named “Peachtree”) and its Southern hospitality.

While there weren’t any peaches on display at the Atlanta Jewelry Show, there certainly was more than enough Southern hospitality to make up for it.  It is, in fact, this legendary hospitality that many vendors and retailers say is their main reason for continuing to come back to the show.

Now in its 64th year, the Atlanta Jewelry Show has become an important trade show for many Southeastern vendors and retailers, some of whom only exhibit here and, in the case of retailers, only attend this trade show, even foregoing the Las Vegas shows.

Up 10 percent in attendance since last year and 5 percent from the May 2014 edition, 40 new exhibitors joined longtime show veterans Vahan, Frederic Duclos and Pink Diamonds. New exhibitors were added to the recently created “Point of View: A Designer Gallery” promenade, with six handcrafted jewelry artisans premiering in the “Handcrafted Studio” space.

Busy all three days, the show offered Southeastern retailers a wide-ranging assortment of designer jewelry, costume jewelry, diamonds, pearls, gold, silver, estate jewelry, gem merchants, packaging companies, gift items and more.

“This is one of the reasons we love this show,” said Flower Gattone of Fountain City Jewelers in Knoxville, Tenn. “It’s small enough to do over a weekend, yet you can still get everything you need:  higher-end bridal, unique designers and smaller fill-in items from sterling vendors. Plus, it’s a busy show, but not so busy I can’t get a vendor to speak to me at length.”

I asked Gattone what designers she recommended, and, in the spirit of true Southern hospitality, she walked me to Bora Jewelry and personally introduced me to the designer. She pointed out her favorites as his various Byzantine-inspired locks, all done in oxidized silver, with variations studded in black spinel, multiple colored gemstones, or simply with a gold embossed fleur-de-lis.

“Another reason we come to the show,” Gattone added, “is to find something unique and different. Our customers really look to us to find something they can’t see everywhere.”

On that note, she left me with Bora, but only after insisting that afterward I stop by Nina Nguyen.

At Nina Nguyen’s booth, I found a common theme for my remaining show journey: druzy.

Whether it was in the multi-colored druzy geometric designs from Nguyen or the array of druzy pendants, earrings and bracelets from Frederic Duclos (another Gattone recommendation) or the pops of druzy here and there in the handcrafted jewelry of Susan Saul, druzy’s glittering effect was on trend for the Southeast.

Also on trend: diamonds. And not just white diamonds–any color diamond will do for the Southeastern customer, as long as they’re diamonds.

“My customers don’t want sapphires or rubies,” said Len Pickett of Pickett Brothers Jewelry in Jacksonville, Fla. “But they’ll happily take a yellow, brown or pink diamond.”

“White gold is also in demand,” added Steven Gilbert of Gold Hills Jewelry, another Jacksonville-based retailer. “Yellow may be coming back, but white gold is still very strong for us. Halo pieces likewise are still very popular for our customers.”

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In Hermes Cultural Fight, Insight On Building A Valuable Brand

I recently received an invitation to preview the Hermès film “Hearts and Crafts” on their website. The film tells the story of themany who work hard to manufacture the beloved Hermès products that the well-heeled eagerly wait years to acquire. After viewing this film, Hermès has now, for me, become the epitome of a great brand to which all others should aspire.

I can already hear a million declarations around the world of “mais bien sûr!” upon reading that last sentence. I am certainly well aware of Hermès’ battle with Bernard Arnault, CEO of LVMH, in his attempts to takeover (or as he sees it – being a “friendly” long-term shareholder of) the Hermès family business. In its presentation of the Hermès manufacturing family, this film clearly shows why Mr. Arnault should want to acquire such a distinguished company. At the same time, the film also demonstrates why Hermès must remain independent.

No conglomerate can sustain the type of employee morale that Hermès clearly has with its manufacturing team – a morale that is the very foundation of its greatness. And despite Mr. Arnault’s position that “LVMH is aiming to be a supportive long-term shareholder of Hermès, and wants to contribute to the preservation of the group’s Frenchness and its family-firm attributes,” the road to corporate greed in the form of profits over heritage is paved with similar promises from corporations who aggressively take over unwilling family businesses. And quite frankly, Mr. Arnault’s reputation precedes him.

In his long history of aggressive takeovers, including that of his prized trophy LVMH, Mr. Arnault never hesitates to fire entire teams that have been with the acquired company for years. These actions, although often profitable, also meant fine details in production and packaging that earned once family-owned businesses devotion from discriminating customers becomes abolished with the original team’s departure. Meticulous handcraftsmanship by artisans who cut their teeth through years within the company are replaced by highly automated factories, run by managers with career backgrounds ranging from tire making to cell phone manufacturing.

For Hermès, this is not the way to do business. As affirmed by Hermès CEO Patrick Thomas in the beginning of this battle:

“There is a part of our world that is playing on abundance, on glitz and glamour. And there is another part that is concentrated on refinement, and basically making beautiful objects. We don’t want to be a part of this financial world which is ruining companies and dealing with people like they are goods or raw materials. It’s not a financial fight, because we would lose that. It’s a cultural fight.”

And it is, in fact, this cultural fight embodied in the hearts of the Hermès team that makes Hermès’ 37% increase in profits for the first half of 2011 attributable to its culture and its employees.

Throughout the film, we’re introduced to several team members, some just starting and some who’ve been with the company for decades.  We meet Michaël, the former soprano who now conducts a symphony with the Hermès leather he cuts and crafts;  Michel, the jeweler who doubles as an artist, with precious metals as his brush and a regard for the desires of the Hermès customer as his metaphorical canvas; Ali, the hearing impaired polisher whose celebrated triumph against multiple obstacles is reflected back to him in the metals he joyfully polishes; and Delphine, granddaughter of a silk painter, who follows her family heritage by designing the colorful Hermès scarves that add a finishing touch to the immaculately dressed woman.

Of the many we meet through this journey, one unnamed member stood out most with a simple and pure confession that speaks to Hermès’ most important asset.

“I do my best from start to finish.  I’ve learned a lot and still do.  I’m still learning after 40 years.  I’m 58. I get up every morning.  I don’t like having to do it, but I do love going to work.  Here in the workshop, I think we all agree that we love our jobs and try to do our very best.”

Take a moment to consider this statement.  But first, consider those who would rather stay up late than arise early to begin work; those who would rather daydream about working at a different company than focus on the task before them; and those who discreetly sabotage their present employer because they’re afraid to pursue their preferred career. Now consider those who say, “I really hate waking up early in the morning, but I love going to work,” and think about how this love is expressed in their work.

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Only When Passion is Created is Luxury Worth the Price Tag

I recently read the New York Times restaurant review for Masa, arguably one of the best Japanese restaurants in New York City. The article caught my eye as Masa made our short list when my company was tasked with putting together a press dinner for S.T. Dupont. As the CEO of the 112 year old French company was flying in from Paris to attend this affair, we were determined to have the dinner at one of New York’s finest.

But Masa’s $40,000 demand for a dinner that would serve just 15 people put it out of the running as other 2 and 3 Michelin-rated restaurants Per Se, Jean George, Le Bernadin and Gordon Ramsay at The London Hotel came closer to our budget. Anyway, this was my first experience with Masa, and I haven’t since forgotten it. So when I ran across this review where Masa lost one of its four prized stars, I paid close attention.

Apparently, Masa had earned the four stars in its first year of business. The reviewer Sam Sifton never questions the quality his meal, describing his dining as one spent “in a fog of pleasure, sitting dumbfounded on the shores of excess”. What cost Masa one of its stars was the experiences Mr. Sifton encountered over multiple meals in a 12 month span. The service received, he suggests, was not befitting of a $1,500 dinner for two, despite the flawlessness of the meal itself.

To quote, “Bruised by recession, wizened by experience, gun-shy about the future, New York City now demands of its four-star restaurants an understanding that culture at its highest must never feel transactional, whatever its cost. We ascend to these heavens for total respite from the world below, for extraordinary service and luxuriant atmosphere as much as for the quality of the food prepared.” Thus begs the questions: when is luxury worth it?

To be sure, owning a Master Complication from a timepiece manufacturer such as Jaeger LeCoultre, with its many intricacies and dizzying display of horlogerie know-how is enough to make a salivating timepiece aficionado spend in excess to acquire such a masterpiece. But if this same aficionado visits a Jaeger LeCoultre salon only to be mistreated by the staff, say because he was ill dressed, would that not change his perception of the brand and make him reconsider spending his money elsewhere?

Having worked in luxury retail before, this hypothesis is one of frequent discussion. The most loyal customers were won to sales associates who choose not to judge a book by its cover, and instead offer the same level of service often reserved for the obviously wealthy to everyone encountered. And often, the story shared by the particular customer is how he’s frequently mistreated by other luxury sales associates because he didn’t dress the part. The sales associate who looked beyond this to treat him exceptionally well now has the loyalty of a very wealthy benefactor.
Times have changed considerably. It no longer behooves anyone to maintain an attitude of snobbery and exclusion when selling luxury products. That luxury will forever be defined by exclusivity is a given, yet luxury brands must also embrace a new E-word: experience.

In its own way, the recession ensured only the strongest luxury brands survived after an era of bastardized concepts of luxury and designer branded luxury toilet paper; yet companies remaining need to take Mr. Sifton’s review as a note of caution.

Positive buying experiences will always trump any misstep by a company. Positive buying experiences always make spending just a little more money worth it. In my retail experience, I was often told by my luxury clients that they hadn’t initially intended on spending as much as they did; but I somehow made them feel comfortable enough to trust my lead and accept my recommendation that perhaps the wife would prefer a Cartier Tank American in pink gold to the stainless steel Tank Francais.

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