Reasserting the Role of the Fashion Press

Some fashion PRs are trying to control media coverage more bluntly than ever, says BoF’s editor-in-chief Imran Amed.

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LONDON, United Kingdom — Last week, Bridget Foley wrote a column in Women’s Wear Daily that made me pause and think.

Ms Foley described how more and more fashion brands are trying to exert control over media coverage and concluded by saying: “We adhere to very strict standards of journalism. Those standards do not and cannot include allowing brands to dictate the terms of our reporting.”

I couldn’t agree more and now seemed like the right moment to sound a note of solidarity with Women’s Wear Daily on this important issue.

Of course, the function of public relations executives has always been to try to influence and shape media coverage to the benefit of their clients. We understand this and the role they play. But the tactics which some PR executives are now employing to try and control coverage have become borderline obstructionist and may well be undermining their own goals.

We regularly receive story pitches from PRs who ask us to conduct “email interviews” which often result in copy that has been worked and reworked by PR departments to the point where it lacks meaning. Others try to dictate what topics we should and should not discuss during our interviews, effectively curtailing us from asking the questions we need to ask in order to do our jobs. Under these kinds of blunt restrictions, how can we provide the analysis and insight our readers expect?

And then there are the brands that telephone, asking us to edit pieces we have published on BoF, not because they contain inaccurate reporting (which we will always correct), but because they want to contain or reshape the news. The line is usually something like: because we have a good relationship with you, we thought we would ask you to make this change, or not publish this news or not share this article in your Daily Digest.

All of this made me wonder: how did we end up in this situation in the first place?

It seems to me that if brands are repeatedly demanding this kind of control, then some media outlets must clearly be giving it to them. But as media professionals, if we don’t draw the line and stand our ground, then the PR machine will continue to try to exert control over our reporting and we will all begin to lose our original voices and sound like press release parrots, undermining the trust we have built with our readers.

The truth of the matter is that the brands that are most pleased with our articles are invariably the ones who let us do our jobs, providing us with the information and access we need to write insightful pieces and the freedom and respect to publish them as we see fit. Ultimately, we are storytellers and are committed to telling the important stories that impact our industry in a clear, fair and balanced way, free from brands who try and control our coverage.

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10 comments

  1. I absolutely agree that the creative integrity and impartiality of the journalist should never be compromised, and ideally the role of the Fashion PR should be to objectively provide members of press (across all platforms) access to the collections, the images, the pieces themselves, the thought process that has informed the collection via the design team- to enable them to empirically and intelligently review, report and analyse, however I am a partner in a label that has just recently launched and I was really dismayed at the lack of attention to detail, and downright laziness of some press who reviewed our collection. Choosing to copy and paste press releases instead of taking the time to view the collection and report with an informed perspective, throwing in the odd well versed fashion vernaculars, so it doesn’t read verbatim. Hard working brands, need hard working PRs who need hard working journalists, all towards the goal of sartorial utopia…

    Deirdre Hynds from Dublin, County Dublin, Ireland
  2. You’re all in their pockets anyway. That’s where the money is coming from.

    ver min from Netherlands
  3. You might have a little less trouble with authority on this topic if your site didn’t sell publishing space for money & post unidentified sponsored content.

    Seth Friedermann from Brooklyn, NY, United States
  4. Thank you all for your comments.

    To be clear, we take editorial integrity extremely seriously. BoF does not under any circumstances “sell publishing space for money & post unidentified sponsored content” as suggested by Seth Friedermann in his comment.

    Any content that is sponsored or supported by advertisers is always clearly labeled as such.

    Imran Amed from London, London, United Kingdom (post author)
  5. I am a veteran communications professional in the fashion industry (27 years in the business) and I have to agree with Imran 100%. My respect and trust of the press and its professionals have always helped me finding honest ways to shape the communications angle I was seeking for my brands/bosses; without imposing, correcting, changing or accusing. It is about a trust/trust relationship and about accepting a different point of view. I have always avoided to give a news to someone I did not respect or did not think would be serious or objective. I have always refused to attack, disinvite, accuse a journalist just because he
    /she did not like a collection but I have often been firm and tough with those who miscommunicated because of a lack of knowledge or attention. Certainly BoF cannot be accused of that!

    Mimma VIGLEZIO from London, London, United Kingdom
  6. A pointed analysis, as always, Imran.
    The fashion media is not exclusive in this behaviour, of course. You only have to look at the film world to witness Machiavellian examples of media control encroaching on the so-called editorial perspective. Don’t comply, and we pull the star from your shoot.
    It may seem that certain (not all) fashion PRs have adopted this approach. Couching their terms in casually amicable exchanges (“We enjoy our relationship with you,” etc; etc. The inference being: don’t mess that up, or suffer the consequences). And, like so much of the fashion industry, such gestures are sponsored by insecurities.
    Why do I say that?
    In my experience, when you reach that guy at the top (Tom Ford, Rick Owens, Yohji Yamamoto, et al); they are impeccably mannered and wonderfully generous with their information. Again, the film star analogy may be relevant here. It’s working your way through the legions of middle-strata personnel that often seems to be the real endurance test.
    I should reiterate once more – not all PRs are like this. I’d love to name the good ones; they deserve some recognition. But, just as professional courtesy eschews any ‘name n’ shame’ politics for bad behaviour, we’ll let their reputations flourish by word of mouth. One of the best endorsements any industry insider stands to benefit from.
    To offer another perspective… this type of manipulation often comes from the more corporate environment. I don’t see it so much from the independent, small-business agencies. Furthermore, it’s a bit like the bloated record company executives of the ’90s – most of whom either had to adapt or become extinct in light of a rapidly changing industry. These PRs are soon to be the dinosaurs of this world. The younger generation coming through aren’t interested in operating like this.

    [On a separate note, Imran - when will BoF do the exposé on publishing companies and high profile flagship titles that continue to pay nothing for the "privilege" of publishing a writer's work? Long overdue, and often discussed passionately in the industry. Greets from sunny Brighton/ I miss bumping into you at Ottolenghi]

    Paul Davies from Brighton, Brighton and Hove, United Kingdom
  7. The sad thing is that we revert to blogs to find genuine opinions on the brands we like but a lot of them are now paid by the brands themselves to write sponsored posts and most times they are not even open about it…

    Eyespectacle .com from London, London, United Kingdom
  8. Imran, what you said in response to my comment simply isn’t true. Here is proof from your own archives. On July 9th of 2013 in your Global Currents section you published the following piece written by Genevieve Flaven, http://www.businessoffashion.com/2013/07/from-cotton-fields-to-luxury-shirts-how-luthai-moved-up-the-value-chain.html Nowhere in or around this piece is Genevieve Flaven identified as anything other than, “Genevieve Flaven is CEO of Style-Vision Asia, a trend agency based in Shanghai.” Clicking through to her agency and simply looking on her list of clients one finds LUTHAI as a paying client. You let a company write an article for your magazine and in no way labeled it is an advertisement for the subject of that article. On that day your claims of objectivity died.

    I want to be very clear what my intent is, I do not wish you ill Imran. We’ve not met, I have no sense of you as a person. You might be, and most likely are, a decent person with worthy aims. Nor do I wish BOF any ill, I read it every day. In fact I asked every single member of Manufacture New York’s executive staff to read the piece that Vikram Alexi Kansara wrote this week because I thought it provided critical insight into our industry’s future. My job as the Director of Designer Relations for Manufacture New York is to help fashion designers. Whether that is aimed inward at helping them source fabric, find ways to keep production costs down, or merchandising a collection. Or if it is aimed outward at helping the fashion industry to be a healthy and more just place so talent wins over money. That is my goal here; to not let money win. Nobody should have the advantage of a free ad in a major publication.

    BOF can be whatever it wants, do whatever it wants, but I do ask that it do so honestly.

    Seth Friedermann from Northampton, PA, United States
  9. Hello Seth,

    As I mentioned, we take journalistic integrity seriously.

    Shortly after the post you mentioned was published, we discovered (through a tweet from you) that Genevieve Flaven, a freelance contributor who is not employed by BoF, did indeed have a client relationship with Luthai which had not been disclosed to us prior to publishing the article. As soon as we found out about this, we contacted her to investigate the details of this relationship and mutually agreed with her that in order to continue writing for BoF she must “avoid including companies in her articles that were current or former clients, as a matter of principle” to ensure against any conflict of interest, to which she agreed.

    What we did not do at the time, which we should have done, was to add an editors note to the article in question disclosing the above or to remove the article altogether. We have now added a note to her article to this effect.

    To be clear Ms Flaven was not paid by Luthai to write the article, and neither was BoF. And to reiterate, we do not take payment for editorial content, and any sponsored content would always be clearly labelled as such.

    Thank you for your sharing your feedback.

    Imran Amed from United Kingdom (post author)
  10. Thank you Imran, I think that was very well handled on your part and I want to again say that I do find BOF to be generally valuable to myself and I believe fashion as a whole and I will continue to read it daily and honestly would have regardless of anything that happened in regards to this issue.

    Seth Friedermann from Northampton, PA, United States