We’ve been publishing profiles from our Women Leaders in PR series on Wednesdays. But we thought it only fitting that this week, we add our latest installment on International Women’s Day. Happy happy everyone!
Today, we profile Liz Kaplow, CEO and president of Kaplow PR. With 65 staffers and two offices (New York and San Francisco), Kaplow is not the biggest firm on the block. But the company has worked with some big names across beauty, fashion, and consumer PR like Target, Skype, Laura Mercier, and St. Ives.
We talked with Kaplow about storytelling, how to build a career, and how to deal with the occasional — and inevitable — obstacle.
Liz Kaplow, Kaplow PR
Early in our interview with Liz Kaplow, she told us a story about one of her first clients, the lingerie and accessories company Wolford. She described a meeting with the man who brought Wolford to the U.S. from Europe (the company started in Vienna): “He’s going on about how legwear is constructed and I remember thinking, ‘There’s got to be a way to get that magic out,'” Kaplow told us.
With this “new category of legwear” and the “experience of the brand,” she thought it would be best to focus on those attributes rather than price point. Right now, you can find $240 cashmere and silk tights on the website. The brand has always charged a premium.
In the end, it was storytelling that made the Kaplow’s work on the Wolford account a success. And it’s one of the qualities that the firm is built on.
“The firm was founded on this idea of storytelling, of helping clients get their idea out,” says Kaplow. (The firm no longer works with Wolford.) “As much as the industry has changed, the thing that I’ve always loved is storytelling and creating an emotional connection with the brand.”
Kaplow, the agency, was launched in 1991. Kaplow, the woman, had already had a long career working in beauty, fashion, lifestyle, and consumer health PR. At the time, she says, storytelling was not a focus for many entrepreneurs.
Kaplow also had experience working with fashion shows (“before they were under the tents”), and the “drama and imagery of fashion” and the excitement that spectacle created with consumers demonstrated this need to connect with people.
Nowadays, with so much emphasis placed on digital, this need to engage and tell a good story is greater than ever.
“We’ve worked with the media and continue to do so in a straightforward way,” says Kaplow. “But there are parallel tracks where you’re working with the media and the consumer. We’ve grown with all these new and different ways of creating and curating content, acting in some ways as customer service, being on the front lines of communities. It’s a dramatic shift in the ways firms work today to tell a fun story.”
According to Kaplow, beauty consumers were ahead of the digital curve. The beauty blogger has been around for a while now, and the beauty consumer wants to get information from the Web.
Today, when she describes a beauty program, Kaplow talks about launching the product, bringing out the beauty director who creates experiential opportunities for consumers, creating material, and direct engagement with shoppers about the product.
“You want to make sure that what you’re creating is interesting and goes back to their story,” she says.
An important part of her role as a business owner is developing the careers of others. For that, Kaplow has some clear tips.
First, be entrepreneurial. “I think employers prize those that come in with a way that’s true and individual,” she says.
Next, “learn in a 360 way.”
“We get so hyper-focused on our own area, but it’s important for people to look around them, understand what’s happening on the street, what’s happening when they travel, and bring that back,” she says.
Third, look for an “unlikely mentor.” Kaplow says she still turns to those younger staff members for help keeping on top of social media. It’s important to have someone that is comfortable in an area that you are less comfortable with.
Number four, “be generous and collaborative,” which can ultimately help you advance because you’re great to work with.
And finally, take ownership for all that you do. Not just the good stuff.
With that in mind, Kaplow reminded us that not everything is success and rainbows and blueberry pie.
“Failing is one of the most important things we’re going to do,” she says. “Anyone who is going to have a long and rich career will need coping skills and the ability to be a leader and inspire others. Failure and going through issues is one of those things that only makes a company or a person stronger.”
All that said, Kaplow is hopeful about the future of PR pros and this industry. New technologies are making it easier not just to reach audiences, but for PRs to work and “have a 360 life.”
“The signs are here that we’re able to move forward and have working moms and working dads,” she says.