Don’t be afraid to change your strategy. On many occasions, you have to take a step back and reconsider the entire strategy, even if that means adding working hours to your initial plan and deviating from your traditional structure. Asking yourself:” Why is it not working?” is always the best thing to do; probably you haven’t considered some key elements or you have skipped one important step. Whatever the answer, stubbornly clinging to your original plan will not give you any benefitsand, most of all, won’t give you the expected results. Going back to the turning point is always the best thing to do.
As a part of my series about the things you need to know to excel in the modern PR industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Francesca Venturi. She is an Italian PR and Communications professional with over 15 years of experience in the fashion and luxury goods industry acquired across Europe and the Middle East. Her strategic vision along with her profound understanding of the fashion industry have successfully shaped the image and desirability of brands such as Karl Lagerfeld and Valentino.
Following an in-house career as PR Director, Francesca founded 2018 Elevate PR and Communications, a PR consultancy service to international fashion and lifestyle companies aiming to increase product visibility and to build brand recognition multinationally.
Based in Italy, but connected with the international press, Francesca is a reference point for large and small businesses seeking strategic direction.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I was born and raised in Rome, Italy, and since I can remember I have always been attracted by advertising and TV commercials. As a kid, I spent more hours than I should have in front of the television. It didn’t take long since I could memorize the jingles, the dialogues and the end quote and rehearse it in front of the mirror. I found that world so much fun!
Later I started to consume a different type of media: fashion magazines. I remember flipping through the pages of the likes of Elle and Marie Claire and daydreaming while looking at the latest catwalks and the exotic photoshoots. Fashion was a very attractive world to me and, as I have always been naturally tall and slender, I started modelling in Milan while paying for my studies. In 2004 I earned my degree at Sapienza University in Rome with a major in Cultural Anthropology followed by a post-graduate program in Fashion and Communications at Roma Tre University. At that time, I knew I wanted to work in fashion, but I wasn’t yet sure which career path to take. It’s only when I started to work for Prada, in the famous boutique near the Spanish Steps, that I found out my talent for communications. In fact, I was particularly skilled at presenting the new collections to clients and journalists; public relations were somehow in my blood, and it became clear I wanted to pursue a career in PR.
In 2008 I moved to Holland and I was lucky enough to work as a PR Manager for Karl Lagerfeld in his office in Amsterdam. That’s where I learned most of what I know in PR and Communications: from fashion shows set-up, to press days; from press release writing to communications strategies. From there, my career took off and brought me to the Middle East where I spent about 7 years. Thanks to my experience in this part of the world, paired with my understanding of the luxury business, I was later appointed PR Director for the Middle East and Africa markets at Valentino, being based at the Dubai headquarters.
In 2018 I decided it was time to return to my home country and I founded my own PR consultancy, Elevate PR and Communications. A natural step in my career after many years in Communications and an opportunity to further grow in my field.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Since I started my PR firm, I opened an Instagram account where I usually post anything related to my work and my achievements as an agency, but I never thought it would become a bridge to connect with other like-minded people in my industry and build a community with, share the best practices of the publicist work and ultimately receive valuable advice.
Since the pandemic hit, I have been delighted to discover so many publicists who have recently opened their own PR firm and, while they may work in a different industry, they have a lot in common with my story. Some have taken the leap to entrepreneurship after spending many years in corporate roles or in PR agencies, others out of necessity following the pandemic, but all have a desire to build a community of professionals to rely on in times of social distancing. We periodically get together on Zoom calls to discuss specific topics related to running the business. It is very nice to see that agencies supposedly in competition with each other have chosen instead to support each other as businesses and give help whenever needed.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
It was in Amsterdam. I was holding a media event for the first time in a foreign country; I barely knew the reporters attending. I was responsible for the set up and the collection walk-through.
Saying I was nervous is an understatement. The night before I rehearsed the entire collection trying to remember the details of each garment and visually memorized the faces and the names of each journalist attending the next day. Needless to say, the Press Day did not go as I expected. Editors came over with their assistants, while editors in chiefs with their publishers; all knew each other and easily comingled together. Pretty soon the shoowroom turned into a cheerful cocktail party. The collection presentation I initially rehearsed became a very casual conversation while sipping Prosecco and pulling clothes off the rack. Time flew away. By the end of the day, I had met all my press, got all their feedback on the collection and scheduled lunch meetings with the main publications. I was so relieved!
From that Press Day I learned two things: no matter how much you prepare, in PR there is always an unexpected element you can’t predict. Just embrace it with positivity and be yourself, when you are genuine to people everything will be all right.
The second thing is that reporters are just like you, working professionals who share the same passion for storytelling and excitement for a new collection launch so you might as well enjoy the moment with them.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
Every project I take on, large or small, is exciting in its own way. Currently I am positioning less known fashion weeks, from Tbilisi to Taiwan, in the global fashion map. I help both the event and the designers to obtain the multinational coverage they deserve while building their reputation next to more established fashion cities like Paris, Milan and New York.
I am also working with more established brands entering a new market for the first time and with niche brands increasing their visibility globally. I very much enjoy the diversity of the projects I took on and the unique challenges they present. It makes my days interesting and varied.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why.
1.Plan Ahead. Whether you plan for the year, next week or tomorrow, having an action plan allows you to work better and smarter. Prepare your media list ahead of time, check that the reporters’ email addresses are correct, draft three different media pitches (for consumer, trade and business outlets) and set your goals for the day.
Most importantly, have your media pack ready. There is nothing worse than to reach out to a reporter being unable to send the full set of images, product cuts-outs and brand information once asked. I like to create a to-do list the day before; it helps me structure my work the next morning without scrambling around different tasks.
2. Don’t be afraid to change your strategy. On many occasions, you have to take a step back and reconsider the entire strategy, even if that means adding working hours to your initial plan and deviating from your traditional structure. Asking yourself:” Why is it not working?” is always the best thing to do; probably you haven’t considered some key elements or you have skipped one important step. Whatever the answer, stubbornly clinging to your original plan will not give you any benefitsand, most of all, won’t give you the expected results. Going back to the turning point is always the best thing to do.
3. Know your value. Often executives don’t know exactly what PR can do for them and they don’t believe it can enhance their business, consequently, they place low value on the publicist’s potential ability to boost their bottom line. This happens more often than one may think, therefore it is very important to explain your role clearly and describe how a well-rounded communications strategy can add value and bring results in the long run. If you explain clearly how their money is invested (and your time used) chances are they will have a clearer idea of the work involved and will value your time and knowledge accordingly. This brings me to my 4th point.
4.If someone can’t afford you, just move on. At one point or another you will meet that client. He wants coverage immediately and possibly on the most prominent media outlet. Often his plans are grand and exciting, but his budget doesn’t match up. My advice is to avoidburning your energy on trying to make something unworkable work. Never negotiate your time for the benefit of the project unless it’s fairly compensated; if you do so you will soon burnout and leave little time for your other projects damaging relations with your existing clients.
5.Brace yourself. Starting your own PR firm isn’t exactly a stroll in the park, but rather a journey filled with forks and unexpected detours. Being a good publicist is key to be successful, but just not enough. You are a business owner first of all and, as a leader, you cannot afford to be affected by the bumps on your path, but rather face every challenge with an entrepreneurial spirit. Every problem solved with a positive attitude will help you build your confidence and establish your business.
You are known as a master networker. Can you share some tips on great networking?
I believe quality trumps quantity when it comes to relations. Nowadays with social media there is an urge to get more followers and connections in order to build a strong network, but in reality, only a few really matter the most: those whose connection is valuable on a professional and personal level.
My advice is to build genuine relationships moved by curiosity and a desire of sharing, not the bare need. Offer your help without thinking about your benefit. A generous spirit goes a long way especially in public relations. In my experience when you genuinely offer your help, people will gladly do their best to help you back if you ever need their support.
Lead generation is one of the most important aspects of any business. Can you share some of the strategies you use to generate good, qualified leads?
The best way is to keep yourself informed by reading relevant news in your industry, especially those related to companies’ acquisition, brand collaborations, latest financial investments. Corporate changes always bring potential opportunities for PR and Communications worth exploring.
It’s crucial to be updated on the latest news and check where the conversation is going to see where you can contribute communications wise.
Ultimately, word of mouth and reputation are the key elements to reach new leads and increase your clients’ portfolio. Nothing beats the power of a positive referral on the quality of your services.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
In my early days as a PR in Amsterdam I remember finding in the city library an old edition of a book on Public Relations,I can neither remember the title nor the author, but at that time there was almost nothing on the subject. It was a guide for PRs with all the tips and the tricks of this profession such as the best time to call a reporter and samples of well written press releases. It was such a great finding!
Another tool that helped me in my career is PR Couture, an online platform for communication professionals founded by PR guru Crosby Noricks. It offers plenty of helpful articles, tactical training and advice to grow your career as a publicist and as an entrepreneur. It’s always a pleasure to read the stories of other publicists who have founded their own PR firm before me and listen to their perspective on various possible PR scenarios. That’s a fantastic resource for whoever wants to start their business or get acquainted to the PR profession.
Because of the role you play, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
In Italy, the country where I am from, education is excellent and most of all it is accessible for everyone and entirely free. This makes knowledge a right for all and not a privilege of the few. Sadly, university departments generally lack connection channels with national and international companies, therefore freshly graduate students possess very strong theory, but lack hands-on experience, making their official entry in the work environment very difficult. I would like to facilitate the relationship between universities and companies to offer all students the opportunity to have work experience prior their degree and putting into practice what they have learned.
Francesca can be followed on Instagram @elevate_pr_communications
This was really meaningful! Thank you so much for your time.