NEW YORK, United States — Attention, brands: fashion editors and stylists still need your pitches. But in the age of Covid-19, your pitches require significantly more finesse.
“It's just not enough to send an email with a preamble about ‘challenging times,’ and then ask us if we can include a pair of shoes in a shopping gallery,” said Emma Hope Allwood, head of fashion at Dazed Digital.
The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown has disrupted the usual order of business between brands and editors, who, even in the era of peak influencer still wield power in choosing which items make it into magazine spreads and “must buy” lists online. Photoshoots have been replaced by model selfies and lunch meetings take place on Zoom rather than trendy restaurants. Editors who once welcomed free samples by the truckload are now wary of receiving non-essential packages in the mail.
Still, fashion media continues to churn out content, and publications can’t fill the void entirely with first-person quarantine essays and tales of heroic nurses. Many of the old rules still apply: it’s still true that brands need to tailor a product and a pitch to the outlet, and spell the editor’s name correctly.
But there are some new rules, too.
For starters, editors are as busy as ever, but they’re also stuck alone at home with their laptops. Many are struggling to figure out how to write about fashion in a changed world. At the same time, brands are working out how to approach their marketing. That mutual confusion can work to both sides’ advantage.
Tip 1: Showing Genuine Interest Has Never Been More Important
“Some [publicists] have just straight-up asked how I'd like to receive pitches going forward and how I'm approaching stories now, which I find helpful as a conversation starter,” said Emilia Petrarca, fashion news writer at New York magazine’s The Cut.
“Normally, I don't respond to general ‘what are you working on’ subject lines, but I think it's good to share information with each other right now, because it's obviously not business as usual, and I've got a little more time.”
Tip 2: Get to Know the Editor
“Openness and honesty are not something the fashion industry is used to — appearing vulnerable is maybe not good for business — but I think now could be the time to really pull back the curtain and talk about the reality of the situation,” Petrarca added. “It's a business, yes, but it's also about creativity.”
It's obviously not business as usual, and I've got a little more time.
For instance, writers and editors from junior to senior positions are sharing their own personal accounts from social isolation. Refinery29’s Christine Barberich penned a piece called, “F--k It, I’m Just Going To Wear A House Dress Until Further Notice,” while Man Repeller founder Leandra Medine has published regular “Dispatches from Quarantine,” chronicling what it’s like to wear three outfits, including the pyjamas in which she awoke, before noon.
Although first-person accounts usually come from the writer themselves rather than a brand’s public relations team, they still present the opportunity for brands to be included in a story.
Tip 3: Product Is Still King
As fashion settles into a new normal, titles are experimenting with different kinds of content, creating new opportunities for brands. In other words, though the mix of editorial features has changed, the need for products to recommend hasn’t.
Self, a Condé Nast title that publishes stories about fashion through a health lens, launched a new digital series, The Wellness Forecast, in April where editors curate wellness, beauty, and tech products in a shoppable list. The first entry includes items ranging from a Casper mattress to cactus collection from Bloomscape.
Tip 4: Being Real Matters
Tiffany Dodson, who wrote the list, said one featured item made the cut in part because the publicist’s pitch conveyed a “genuine concern for my well-being.”
“It helped the pitch stand out next to a number of other athleisure pitches in my inbox,” Dodson said. “The publicist’s authentic, conversational tone made me feel that the person truly valued my perspective and wasn’t just crossing my name off a media list.”
Personalised pitches — or at least, those that seem crafted for an individual editor — are more important than ever. Many editors are juggling work and family responsibilities simultaneously. With limited attention spans, generic emails might not fly, but a thoughtful note about some recent story a writer or editor published, will.
“[Editors are] working so hard that anything they’re receiving that is a mass pitch is going to be less prioritised than usual,” said Hillary Kerr, co-founder and chief content officer of WhoWhatWear.
Tip 5: Long-Term Relationships Make All the Difference
Of course, relationships forged before Covid-19 matter even more now. When Cartier pitched WhoWhatWear's editorial team, which operates separately from its sales division, on its Women’s Initiative, which awards $1 million to women-run businesses, Kerr said it “felt like a bright spot in a difficult time,” from a brand her site had worked with before and knew well. Their story ran on April 1.
“[It’s] just another reminder that this is a key time to utilise your existing contacts,” Kerr said.
Tip 6: Figure Out What’s Working and What’s Not
Publicists also need to be highly attuned to what kind of content readers are looking for — and editors are publishing. The straightforward “market” story — where an editor recommends products to readers — continues to perform. These lists of the best cosy slippers or coolest restaurant merch not only drive clicks, but they also make publishers direct revenue through affiliate links. (Publishers often get a commission on items sold through their site.) At Esquire, Editor-In-Chief Michael Sebastian said web traffic was up 27 percent in March, while e-commerce revenue through affiliate links was up 54 percent.
The biggest difference in the market stories that are running now is that they are more forward-looking, less urgent, than in the past. For instance, Vogue Market Editor Madeline Fass’ “A Love Letter To the Spring Bags I Hope To Wear Soon,” featured products from The Row, Coperni and other brands. As Fass put it in the piece, the pandemic had transformed the bags “from being practical objects to decor.” A dream more than a reality.
Tip 7: It Doesn’t All Have to be About the Pandemic
To be sure, brands should also lean into escapism; plenty of readers turn to fashion titles to avoid coronavirus news.
We can still offer them a serviceable or creative escape.
“As we begin to settle into a level of ‘acceptance’ for this new normal, our core shopping content is starting to gain more attention,” said Lauren Caruso, site director for The Zoe Report. The site has paused content related to travel, entertaining and weddings, but other high-performing pieces, such as a recent item on square-toe shoes, could just as easily have run before the pandemic, Caruso said.
“TZR does not operate as a news site,” Caruso said. “We've never tried to serve our reader in that way, but we can still offer them a serviceable or creative escape.”
At Dazed, DIY beauty and video tutorials have performed well, said Allwood. Meanwhile, The Zoe Report is launching a new social series called “Styled Inside,” and will feature editors and influencers in their homes sharing their favourite pieces and how to style them. Marie Claire has adapted its successful series “What I Wear to Work” to “The WFH Diaries.” At Self, the publication is producing weekly Instagram Live events that offer “a lot of opportunities for brands or product integration,” said Dodson.
Tip 8: Amp Up Access
Ultimately, brands and their publicists may have to think differently about how they’re making themselves available to journalists. Offering deeper access may hold the key to making it into a publication.
“Understanding what people are engaging with is key: rather than trying to push stories that just don't make sense right now, brands and publicists should work with publishers to create content that will resonate meaningfully,” said Dazed’s Allwood.
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