How the Coronavirus Pandemic Has Forced Fashion PR Firms to Shift Their Tone and Strategy

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to shake the fashion industry to its core in myriad ways, its PR system is faced with the challenge of a complete disruption of its messaging and how those messages will be dispersed now that a global health crisis has taken precedence over everything else.

“Hi! Hope you are having a lovely week!” has quickly been replaced with “Hope you’re staying safe and healthy,” in standard PR email lingo. Events for brand launches are also a thing of the past for now, and so is sample trafficking, for the most part. Many publicists have been reaching out to individual editors to assess how their publications are pivoting in tone and types of coverage at a time when more traditional coverage, such as red carpet placements and fashion shoots, could be considered tone-deaf.

“When the COVID-19 news broke, we realized we had to pivot quickly,” said Jaqui Lividini, the founder and CEO of New York-based PR firm Lividini & Co., whose clients include Sperry, MCM, QVC and HSN.

In the wake of the coronavirus crisis, Lividini’s firm quickly started to work on a new business model for its clients. “This included a phased plan that detailed how our clients could move forward in light of such dire circumstances,” said Lividini.

In addition to new plans and reworking creative content, the agency reached out to editors, journalists and writers to figure out the type of news that’s appropriate now. “We found across the board that although media is conducting business per usual, they would prefer that we acknowledge the situation and be sensitive to their readers,” said Lividini.

PR maven Linda Gaunt said that her New York firm, Linda Gaunt Communications, is working on a shift of tone for her agency and its clients, which include New Balance, Hunter and Eileen Fisher.

“The tone of this pandemic is changing daily — if not more frequently, and we are adjusting ours alongside it,” said Gaunt. “There needs to be a sensitivity to the stress and sense of disorder everyone is experiencing. We can’t pretend it’s not happening.”

Gaunt added that the pandemic has caused delays in announcements and a pause on how to rework strategies. She noted that LGC is focusing on highlighting clients that are incorporating sustainability into their practice. “Several of our clients are at the forefront of climate-change efforts, for example, and while the planet is getting a slight reprieve from the global industrial impact, we feel innovations and awareness in this space remain important,” said the publicist.

Gaunt also emphasized a shift in relying heavily on digital strategy to continue the momentum of their brands. “As physical events and interactions wane, this is an important time for businesses to engage customers through their e-commerce and social platforms and to think through new, creative ways to bring a personalized experience online,” she said.

Andrew Lister, the executive vice president of Purple PR, which represents, BCBG, Kappa and L’Agence, said his New York-based firm is also turning to digital means in the wake of the pandemic to continue to market brands. “We are very much proactively pitching our clients as usual and have found that everyone is very receptive to pitches for both online and print editorials, [because] everyone is focused on their screens, rather than running around at this time,” said Lister.

The firm is specifically turning to apps such as Zoom and live face-to-face channels to facilitate a virtual showroom atmosphere while working remotely. It is also relying on the cloud storage app Dropbox to display the latest collections from the firm’s clients and will be continuing to coordinate international and national photoshoots for now.

Other PR companies have ceased sample trafficking altogether. Nate Hinton, the founder of the Hinton Group, said his firm will not be handling samples for the time being. Rather, the group is working on ways to address clients’ needs as well as sharing tips on ways to find mental escapes while practicing social distancing with editors and writers. He also has the task of spreading the word on his clients’ charitable actions, like last week’s announcement that Kerby Jean-Raymond would convert his New York office into a medical supply donation center.

“The bottom line right now isn’t pushing product, it’s caring for one another and flattening the curve. We have that at the forefront of our minds,” said Hinton.

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