NEW YORK, United States — Drew Elliott’s career at Paper Communications has seen him transition from intern to co-owner and creative director of the renowned New York publishing and marketing company. Here, he shares his exclusive insights on how he tailored his work experience to master a career in digital marketing.
How did you gain work experience in fashion?
When I landed in New York City aged 18, I wanted to have an internship. I really started focusing on the things that I loved. It just popped in my mind one day — why don't I intern at Paper because I love the world of Paper — and that's how I got to know New York City. I just found a telephone number and I reached out to Diane Drennan, who is still at Paper, and had an interview with her. She hired me on the spot to work as a general intern. My duties were going to be moving garment bags, moving issues, assisting on photo shoots and basically all of the grunt work of the magazine. I could not have been more thrilled.
How did you fund an internship while starting out?
New York is so expensive and so in order to live my life and be able to do all of these things, I also had to take on a job. I was paid to be a host and a promoter for parties in New York. For almost 15 years, I created some of the biggest parties and events that happened in gay culture and New York nightclub fashion. Interestingly, it also mixed with what I was doing. My coursework was really giving me an understanding of pop culture. Paper was giving me real-life experience. Nightclubs were introducing me to the amazing characters, the creativity, the celebrities and just that whole lifestyle. Really, it became a whole environment.
When did you get your first salaried role?
At the age of 20, even before I was allowed to drink alcohol, I became the marketing director at Paper. I was in charge of all of the events, the promotions, the advertiser deliverables and creating ideas for brands that they could integrate, so they would buy pages in the magazine or advertising on our website. After 7 years at Paper, my next job was at Ketchum, a big public relations firm. It was a global business and I came on board to work on their experiential offerings. I wanted to go in and help them, enhance them and make them very different.
What was the appeal of digital communications?
I really got into social when I went to theAudience, because it was the only publishing structure that we really worked on at the company. We didn't really work inside digital per se, in the traditional ways that we think about it — websites, the mechanics of how to create those back-end tools. It was more about using the platforms and populating them with great content. I mean Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube. It ran the full gamut. Oliver Luckett, who was the founder of theAudience, really treated social like biology: thinking about how things are whole systems, how they work together, how they are more like cells, how they are living and breathing and how they mature and evolve.
Being in this digital world and working and doing what I do is so fun and dynamic. I went and I learned digital. I went and I learned experiential, and I brought all those things back to my role at Paper. The thing I love about digital and social is that you can do all the amazing things that you can do with editorial and bringing a full fantasy to life, but you have the scale of the entire globe. In a moment's notice, you can be in all of their screens across the entire planet.
What defines your approach to marketing today?
Coming back to Paper, I really wanted to start putting together all the things that I knew. The publishing, the full fantasy, the editorial, the brilliant pictures. I wanted to add in all of the nightclub work. How can I popularise and turn things into events? I wanted to include the agency work and really understand how I can work with big brands to bring scale to the company and bring in the sponsorship dollars that I need. And then on the social media and digital side, how I can take all of those amazing pieces and turn it into popular content that could reach large audiences for zero dollars. I see content like tofu. It can be anything you want it to be. It just depends on what spices you put into it and how you serve it. It can replace advertising. It can turn editorial into something that is exciting, popularise a fashion show… Anything.
I started as an intern. Now, I'm a co-owner of my company Paper Communications, and that is so rewarding – to really work hard, put in the rigor – and the pay-off is you get to own the thing you love.
In BoF’s online course Digital Marketing with Drew Elliott, the marketeer shares more of his knowledge and experience.