Just two short weeks ago, the fashion industry buzzed with major news. Aliza Licht, SVP of global communications at DKNY, or better known as @DKNYPRGIRL, announced that she would be leaving her position at Donna Karan International. Just days later, Erika Bearman, similarly known as @OscarPRGirl, also announced that she would be leaving her full time position as SVP of global communications at Oscar de la Renta. Coincidence? That is what I am trying to figure out.
Licht recently published her first book, Leave Your Mark, that she calls “a mentorship in 288 pages”. (Sidenote: I am in the middle of reading it now and each page is already filled with underlines, stars, post-its and “LOL” annotations in the margins. I will definitely be posting a review of some sorts once I finish it). It is not uncommon for successful business-people to simultaneously write and publish a book while balancing a career, though. So when she announced that she would be leaving her position at DKNY to pursue book related endeavors, it was surprising but it made sense. What I found most interesting is that DKNY wiped the Twitter account clean of all tweets from 2009-present, which is exactly Licht’s timeframe of creating the DKNY online persona before she announced her departure. The Twitter handle, @DKNYPRGIRL no longer exists (and neither does the DKNY PR girl Tumblr). Licht will continue to tweet from her personal account (thank goodness we don’t have to say goodbye to her Scandal live tweets!). Even though Licht is leaving the company, couldn’t a new SVP of global communications, or really just someone else in PR or social media step in and take over the account?
DKNY has been going through some major changes in the past few months. Donna Karan herself is stepping down from DKNY as well as her right-hand woman and chief of marketing and PR, Patti Cohen. Two designers, Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osborne from Public School, entered the company this past April as its new creative directors. DKNY also recently hired Hector Muleas, previously Apple’s Creative Director of Worldwide Marketing Communications, as chief-image officer. Now, Alicia Licht, SVP of global communications, is leaving. Major changes.
I think it is safe to assume that there are some pretty big changes occurring at Oscar de la Renta as well. Peter Copping took over as creative director after the death of Oscar de la Renta in October 2014. Copping was always intended to join the company, but he was going to shadow Oscar himself for an unknown period of time before the creative director title was passed down to him. This overlapping period between Oscar de la Renta and Copping ended prematurely when Oscar past away last October. This transition, I’m sure, took some getting used to between adjusting to a company world without Oscar and adjusting to a new creative director. Big changes.
What does this change have to do with anything? Both companies are in the process of transitioning not only some of their most powerful and influential executives, but figureheads. Consumers knew the faces of Donna Karan and Oscar de la Renta. They not only were designers for their brands, they represented their brands, they were their brands. Without those figureheads, consumers and followers looked to the second hand familiar faces of the brands: the PR girls. Consumers and followers listened to these PR girls for their insider secrets, tips and perspectives. At first, they were anonymous and worked to spike followers’ interest in the brands. Once the personas behind the Twitter handles were revealed, Aliza Licht and Erika Bearman became figureheads for these brands just as their bosses did. We are social, curious people. Once these anonymous PR girls were given a face, a name, an image– we wanted more. Who really was Licht? We knew DKNY PR Girl, but we didn’t know Aliza Licht. Where did she grow up? What did she major in college, and where? What was her favorite designer? It became less about DKNY and more about Licht’s personal brand. Same goes for Erika Bearman.
Discussing Donna Karan naturally led to discussing Aliza Licht and her recent book. Bring up Oscar de la Renta in a conversation? I’m sure the conversation led to Erika Bearman and her recent appearance at Teen Vogue Fashion University, discussing social media and PR tips to young adults interested in the fashion industry, or her latest getaway with her husband. Bearman and Licht became icons and suddenly, followers wanted more than just insider details about their respective companies, they wanted details about Licht’s or Bearman’s life, which was no longer associated with the brand. Bearman’s leave from ODLR and Licht’s leave from DKNY puts all the focus back on the companies, their designs and their image. Bearman and Licht both have personal accounts across social media platforms for fans to follow and engage.
Additionally, Bearman and Licht are PR, social media and branding geniuses. They were some of the first to encourage and adapt to social media. Licht attracted half a million followers to the DKNY PR Girl Twitter account; Bearman close behind with 328K. They put their respective brands on the social media and PR map. They created a model for other companies to follow. By letting go of their parent companies, if you will, they are able to contract their work and help other companies develop social and PR strategies that engage consumers and other industry leaders alike. Social media is an ever-changing game in today’s world, but there are some basics that are necessary for success. In addition, these two women were ahead of the social media trend curve, so getting their advice in a market that is becoming even more dependent on social media is extremely valuable. I think that Bearman and Licht both created strong social identities and strategies for their respective brands and now ODLR and DKNY can transition and adjust to their respective brand changes knowing that they have a strong social and PR foundation under them. On the other hand, companies in any industry would be smart to contract Bearman or Licht to develop and strengthen their PR and social strategies because social media is only becoming a more influential force in our always-connected world.
Did Bearman and Licht coordinate this leave from the “PR girl” handle, or were both companies just going through a lot of changes? No one knows what is next for social media. Bearman and Licht taught us that creating a strong personal brand is imperative for success– whether its the amount of likes on your most recent Instagram or nailing your next job interview. While the PR girls may be gone, their influence on the fashion industry and world of social media and communications will never be forgotten.
So, where do you think all the PR Girls went?