Posted on January 21, 2014
A few weeks ago, someone asked me what posts I enjoy reading the most on other blogs and in magazines, and as much as I enjoy style posts and inspiration, I really love reading peoples stories, AKA, how they got to where they are. This inspired me to start a column, called How to Get Ahead, and features people in the industry that I admire and look to for advice.
For my first feature, I asked my friend and mentor, Whitney Read, to share some advice. Previously a PR maven for Skirt PR, she is now the restaurant public relations queen for Monika Dixon PR. Basically, she is someone we can all learn a lot from.
Hope you love it as much as I do,
My advice for students that are interested in going into Public Relations (or any field really!) is to take advantage of every opportunity that you can. Not only does experience look good on a resume, but finding a career that you love takes time and a lot of self exploration. Or in my case trial and error!
I stumbled across my first internship on Craigslist. Desperate for experience of any kind, I applied to at least twenty listings and only heard back from one. The company was very vague in the description, using their LLC name instead of the brand. It wasn’t until after they called to set up an interview that I realized the gravitas – the company happened to be the only internationally recognized designer jewelry brand based in Chicago at the time, Lana Jewelry.
I was in awe! A thirty-something designer, three twenty-something girls and the designer’s dad ran and international company. Who would have thought? They were savvy and extremely hard working – it was intimidating! I thought interns answered phones and got coffee, but I was doings things like calling buyers at boutiques across the country to set up meetings for our sales manager, and making sure our online orders were getting shipped on time.
When my three-month internship ended I asked if I could stay, and two months after that they offered me a part-time sales and marketing position. I started traveling and hosting trunk shows at our Neiman Marcus stores in the south.
I graduated the following spring and knew (thought) I wanted to go into fashion, but I also wanted to utilize my business degree. As time went on, while I loved the company and the brand, I realized I was miserable doing sales. I was absolutely torn about what to do. I didn’t want to work anywhere else but I couldn’t stand making another cold call.
I left Lana Jewelry to do “freelance consulting” as I explained to my dad. I worked with a former Lana Jewelry co-worker to help indie designers develop their branding while she helped them expand into retail boutiques.
Post-graduation bills started collecting and my dad told me to find a real job or move home. I found a salaried job – FAST! I took the first job offer I received and worked for a manufacturing company in the business district of a Chicago suburb. Talk about depressing. It was a far cry from my downtown office that adorned framed issues of magazines our jewelry was featured in in like Vogue, Elle and the New York Times, but the job description sounded exciting so I thought I could make it work.
The money wasn’t worth it – I called my mom dramatically sobbing almost every day. Everyone I followed on Facebook and Twitter seemed to have such glamorous jobs and lives while I was stuck in an office without windows, working with men my parents’ age to market the machinery we manufactured. All that I could think was, “This is not where I thought I would be a year ago.”
I knew (thought) I wanted to be back in fashion, no matter the position. I took a weekend job at the Tory Burch flagship store over to keep up with things in the fashion world while I hopelessly looked for another job. After six months and a hundred applications I got a Facebook message from the owner of Skirt PR, a fashion, beauty and lifestyle agency public relations agency asking if I ever considered a job in PR. Um, YES?! (I had no idea what a publicist did, but YES…)
That was when things changed forever. I was offered an entry-level assistant position and put on various teams for five-or-so different accounts. I had only worked in-house before that, so working with more than one brand was completely new for me. Not to mention, a marketing/sales “pitch” to me meant a PowerPoint presentation. A PR “pitch” means a quick email with an idea for a story. I was in way over my head, but I figured it out quick.
Working at an agency opened up my eyes to a lot different industries. While I love fashion, I realized that I enjoyed working with my bar and restaurant clients the most. I always loved getting dressed up and exploring the newest, hottest bars and restaurants with my friends. (I basically spent every dollar I ever made going out.) The hospitality industry is social, fashionable, trendy, young and very vibrant – everything I love.
A couple days after I left Skirt I emailed Monika from Monika Dixon PR – I recognized her from a Lana Jewelry luncheon at Neiman Marcus when I was interning there. While working at Skirt I wanted to stay up on others in the industry, so I followed them on Facebook/Twitter etc. Her agency and clients were always doing the most amazing things. I was so impressed and thought it couldn’t hurt to reach out, so I asked her to grab a coffee.
I recognized that she didn’t have any restaurant clients listed on her website, so I was hoping to talk to her about potentially growing that part of her agency. Not to my knowledge, my email was perfect timing because she was looking for someone with experience in hospitality PR. She had just signed several restaurant clients and was ready to expand her team. It honestly could not have been more perfect.
It’s an amazing feeling when you love going to work everyday and I wouldn’t change a single thing that got me here. Through it all I have met the right people, learned something and come closer to finding what’s right for me. Every horrible job leading up to this point in my career has made me appreciate what I have even more, and it makes me want to work hard to keep it. “Bad days” don’t even seem that horrible anymore because I’ve had much worse. When I’m working 14 hour days or on weekends, when a client is difficult or an editor blows me off it’s not the end of the world. I feel lucky to have those struggles because they are the nature of the job that I love.
Posted on April 24, 2013
Have you ever wondered what the life of a public relations maven is like? What words of wisdom she would have to offer? Lucky for us, Lauren Berg, the Vice President of Skirt PR, sat down with us a few weeks ago to share some of her past experiences, words to live by, and what it’s like to go head to head with Kris Jenner. Personally, I really admire Lauren for all her work in the industry. It’s not everyday we get to sit down with who we want to be when we grow up.
ALEX: So how did you get your start in PR? Was this always where you wanted to end up or did you go through a few major changes in college?
LAUREN: Well, I went to Northwestern and I was a history major, completely unrelated. I knew I wanted to go to law school, so I interned at a law firm the summer going into my Junior year, and I realized that it wasn’t for me. It was all working with paper, and I wanted to work with people. It was a little too late to change my major at that time, but I did not know what I wanted to do. I had to do some soul searching and figure out what I really wanted to do, and I realized I loved to read magazines and consume media of all forms, interact with people, and be a planner. I had a few friends in the Journalism school at Northwestern, and I knew I didn’t want to be a writer, but I started to explore being a publicist. From there I dove into researching PR and what it’s all about. I read an article about Skirt in CS Magazine, which is funny because that’s essentially what I do now. I get people to read articles about my clients so they contact them. So I contacted Adrienne [President of Skirt PR] and thankfully, landed as internship here. That was five years ago, and I simultaneously interned on the Obama campaign, which were two totally different experiences, and I absolutely loved it. I really fell in love with Skirt and the clients here, and my coworkers, and the over all environment. Luckily, there was a position that opened up a few months into working here, I was offered the job, and the rest is history.
ALEX: That is so cool, things just fell into place.
LAUREN: It’s just crazy to think about, that it’s been five years since then. I always tell people that your major is important, but for me, in college, it’s about learning how to write, how to organize, how to communicate effectively and multitask, and hit dead lines. If you learn those skills, they are transferable to anything you want to do.
ALEX: Would you say it’s more about the skills one possesses then about the actual degree?
LAUREN: It totally varies by major and what you are looking to do, but I did not feel that I was behind anyone who did study PR when I first started here because you really have to learn everything the way your company does it. For me, it was about applying the skills that I had learned to the tasks at hand.
ALEX: What’s it like day to day working at Skirt and PR in general? Does it change?
LAUREN: I would say that the one thing that is the same, is that no day is alike. There are constantly different, crazy things coming up all the time. If you like that, then PR is a really good fit for you. I like the challenges that arise from having a schedule that does not look the same everyday. At any given day, I could be sitting at my desk writing pitches and sending out emails, to going to client meetings, to running errands for a TV segment, or in New York. It really runs quickly, but I love that fast paced environment. I’s really not a 9-5 job. We are all about networking and sitting down with editors and bloggers and going to events. It’s much more of a career then just a 9-5 desk job.
ALEX: I don’t think other people our age truly understand how important networking is. Instead of going to house parties, we [Joseph and I] go to events all the time, and it’s always fun meeting new people. You never know what connections you’re going to make.
LAUREN: If you want to be in PR, that [networking] is such an important part of it. I have really learned in these last five years that your connections and relationships are everything. Everyone has to start somewhere, but they really allow you to advance in your career. You can’t come in at an entry level position and know everyone and everything but you can work on building those contacts. It can be as easy as sending an email to the person you had coffee with a few weeks ago and saying hey. Having face time with people really helps in the long run.
ALEX: If you could look back and give yourself some advice when you were first starting out, what would you have said to yourself?
LAUREN: I think I would say to remember to take in the moment, and appreciate how amazing this job is and not to be so hard on myself and realize that I was doing a good job. If you give something your all, good things will come to you. If I was looking back to college, I would say don’t be scared, and have more fun. Because you will miss college so much when you’re done. You learn so much about yourself.
JOSEPH: What advice do you have for people that are interested in getting into PR?
ALEX: And what stands out to you when looking to hire or bring interns onto the team?
LAUREN: Definitely be a sponge to the industry. If you want to be in PR, then dive right in. Immerse yourself in the media landscape because that’s really the key to what we do. You really need to understand all of the different media outlets, and the people that write for those outlets because we pitch to all of those people. When someone comes to an interview for an internship or an entry level position and they are an avid consumer of the media landscape, then I know it’s something that comes naturally to them and something that they are naturally interested in, and that will translate into their work. I also think that for me, because of the fact that I wasn’t a PR major and I didn’t have any PR internships before I started here, while experience does stand out on a resume, I personally feel that it’s more about our one on one personal connection, and the general demeanor and attitude of the potential intern. We love interns here that will go above and beyond with a smile on their face.
ALEX: People don’t always realize coming into the industry how much hard work it is.
LAUREN: What a lot of people don’t realize is that while it may seem glamorous from the outside, it is so much hard work when you’re in it. It’s a lot of stuffing gift bags and hauling things around…like I have flower flats in my office and in my car and I’m always running up and down stairs . All of that stuff that’s not so fun, is a big part of this job and if an intern can handle all of those menial tasks with a smile on their face then that will come across in everything else they do.
ALEX: So do you think that is the difference between you hiring an intern vs not hiring an intern in the long run?
LAUREN: We will always try to carve out positions for those interns who prove to be indispensable. If you can make my life easier, then I will remember you. If I can give you a task and you can not just complete that task but blow it out of the water, or take it to a new level, or come back to me with an even better idea, then that will really stand out to me. If you can make your employers life or job easier, then that is really what they are looking for in an intern. At places that are so small, like Skirt, it’s kind of a sink or swim environment, so you really have to dive in and take a lot being thrown at you. If an intern can do that, then I know they can do that in a full time position as well.
ALEX: In a boutique firm, everyone is so valuable because there aren’t hundreds and hundreds of people getting things done, so I’m sure interns are truly put to work beyond just getting coffee.
LAUREN: We really rely on our interns a lot to do many things. One of our interns is helping out with a large event tonight and is doing a great job. So when one of our interns proves herself, we are willing to give them more and more tasks to work on because we need the help to ensure that things are running smoothly.
ALEX: What is the craziest thing you ever had to do for your job? You mentioned that you do a lot of things that people wouldn’t necessarily expect.
LAUREN: Hmm, craziest thing I ever had to do…I’m trying to think. We did an event with Kim Kardashian in Miami and it was me, and two other girls, so we were a young bunch running this huge event with a major celebrity. She decided not to get on the plane that we booked for her, and the driver that we sent called and told us that she wasn’t there when the plane landed. The cell phone number that we were given for her manager, which is her mom, Kris, wasn’t working, and we had to go through all of these different avenues to track them down. It turned out that they took a private plane, so that was very stressful. I had to then go over to Kris Jenners hotel room and bring the clothes that Kim was supposed to wear because it was a retail opening. Kris told me Kim wasn’t going to want to wear them, and I had to tell her that it was in her contract and definitely going head to head with Kris Jenner was a pretty crazy moment in my career. In the end, it all worked out. The road to getting there was a little rocky, but it was rewarding at the end. Other crazniess…I’ve stayed up for 24 hours for a client when we had to do an event. That kind of stuff is crazy and unpredictable. At the end of the day, I would rather have those stories to tell and that craziness then be sitting at my desk from 9 to 5 twiddling my thumbs.
JOSEPH: What would you say is the most rewarding part of working in PR? After staying up for 24 hours for a client, what makes you feel good?
LAUREN: There are a few different parts that are really rewarding. The core of our job is media relations and scoring amazing placement for our clients, like Blowtique in Vogue. The work that goes into getting a placement like that is way more then anyone realizes that isn’t in the industry. Not taking no for an answer, figuring out different angles to pitch a story, and then having them finally say yes, and then having that placement come out and in turn helping the client grow their business is very rewarding. A lot of this job is about rejection and being able to handle rejection. If we sent out a pitch to 100 people and hear back from one, then that is great. That one yes can be so exciting. As I’ve grown in my career, and as my roles have shifted and changed, I’ve spent the last year and a half working with our team internally and making sure that people are advancing in their careers and fulfilled, and learning and growing, and that for me in very fulfilling too…to watch people evolve and become amazing publicists and thrive here.
ALEX: It feels like family here, not just a work space.
LAUREN: Absolutely. With the set up being so open, and lofty, and the office is so fun…then who doesn’t want to come to work? The team here is amazing, and everyone that works here is so dedicated and so hard working. I really feel that we have the hardest working office, and everyone here really works to succeed for themselves, and for our clients. Our clients are amazing and getting that placement is not only thrilling for yourself, but watching how a small company [a client] can be so successful with business because of something you helped achieve is so amazing. I think that what is also so amazing about Skirt is just the Skirt brand itself, and what Adrienne has been able to build. We are very proud of the clients we’ve been able to represent and everyone that works here. We have spent a lot of time building that up [our brand] and we use it almost as a case study for our clients, like ‘hey, this is what we can do for you,’ especially on social media. Each and every one of us that works here is just so proud to be a Skirt girl.
ALEX: Where do you see public relations heading in the future?
LAUREN: That is a good question. It is an ever evolving industry. One of my first tasks here as an intern was to build a blog list, because we didn’t have any yet, because blogging was so new. It was a whole new world that was slowly building up to what it is now…taking over the world. There are so many instances of that since I’ve been working here. So many magazine have folded, the market crashed, and the internet is booming, and everyone is asking ‘what is going to happen to print magazine?’ But I truly believe that in my heart of hearts that there will always be people like me who like nothing more then to sit down on the couch with a cup of coffee and a newspaper or a magazine and rip out pages and put them on a bulletin board and I think that there will always be a place for that, because there is still a large magazine market. The PR industry is going to become more and more important. It’s interesting how in the last five years bloggers have kind of become celebrities. Clients use to come to us and say ‘I want to do all the celebrity outreach,’ but now they come to us and they’re like ‘I want bloggers wearing my stuff and talking about my products.’ That is going to continue to grow, and it’s so important for up and coming publicists to have their finger on the pulse of the social media industry. People who we hire at an entry level position, I expect them to have an innate understanding of social media. That is something that will only continue to be more and more important.
ALEX: I just took ‘Writing for PR’ and one thing that was emphasized was that social media is always changing. Is that hard to deal with?
LAUREN: When Facebook first launched, there were no pictures, and it was only for colleges. I remember when pictures launched and it was a huge deal. I remember when Twitter first launched, and it was right after I started here at Skirt, and it was such a weird concept. It looks confusing, so when people would say “tweet me” I would be like “what is Twitter?” That was only three or four years ago, and now it’s just exploded. Adapting to all of the different networks as they come out is a challenge, like Vine, is that going to be the next Twitter? So many of these sites pop up that it’s hard to know what is going to stick.
ALEX: I keep hearing people say that Vine is the new Instagram, but not very many people are on Vine yet.
LAUREN: Well with Instagram, anyone can take quality photos. I recently saw a food magazine doing six minute breakfasts on Vine, which was extremely clever. I haven’t really seen people use it in that clever of a way yet.
ALEX: Where can we find you shopping in Chicago?
LAUREN: I love J Crew…big, big, big J Crew person. I probably wear it two or three times a week head to toe which is kind of embarrassing but oh well. I love Zara also. Locally I love Roslyn Boutique, she’s been around forever and has a very cool collection of stuff. P45, again been around forever, very cool clothing. I like Perchance too.
ALEX: There are a lot of cool little shops right around here [wicker park.]
LAUREN: I feel like this was the up and coming neighborhood when I first started here [at Skirt] and now it’s having a resurgence.
ALEX: What is your favorite thing that you have gotten to do so far at Skirt?
LAUREN: I feel like great moments here happen so frequently! I think that sometimes, this happens to everyone, you get so caught up in the day to day work that we forget to stop and realize how amazing an experience is that you’re taking in at that moment. We did three different events for Alicia Silverstone for Eco Tools and with the team we executed them from start to finish and Alicia is such a nice person. The travel I have been able to do has been great, going to LA and Miami, is an added bonus because I love those places and seeing those cities. That is always a fun part of it. Even just being able to work with this team here, and after that event in Miami. The three of us could sit back and say ‘wow we just executed a huge budget event with a huge celebrity and it still worked out.’ Being able to do that together and still have both of the girls be here is so cool.
ALEX: Any parting words for our readers?
LAUREN: I would say, don’t be scared to do what you love. Tap into what you are really interested in and find a career that aligns with that. I had always envisioned going to law school, that was my plan for myself and I am a very plan oriented person, so when I was so unhappy interning in Law, and coming to the realization that I didn’t think I wanted to do that as a career…that was a very scary thought. But if you have those plans and they turn out to not be what is most interesting to you, then don’t be afraid to find out what is interesting for you and follow that path because you never know where it will lead you. If you have enough will and determination to find out what it is [your passion] then you can make that happen for yourself. A career is a career, and it’s never going to be rainbows and sunshine all the time, and people get disappointed that they follow their dream, and then find out it’s actually a lot of hard work, but that’s just part of it. The good is going to out-way the bad if you ultimately love what you do.
*Photos by Joseph Kerins