As you’ve probably noticed, when I post interviews with fashion industry insiders I always try to squeeze the person in question’s job title into the heading. Well, this proved a bit tricky in the case of Courtney Blackman. You see Courtney isn’t ‘just’ the Founder and Managing Director of Forward PR, one of the capital’s leading agencies. She also runs The Industry London, a hugely successful fashion professionals members group Courtney co-founded in 2006. Add to that appearences NBC’s Today Show as a fashion commentator, roles on numerous fashion juries and talks on social media and you’ve got yourself one seriously impressive lady!
I grilled Courtney on her incredible career so far and how the hell she manages it all…
LPA: From what I can gather, you didn’t initially plan on a career in fashion and your previous roles included everything from administration to working on a boat in Costa Rica! What was your first job in fashion and how did it come about?
CB: Without a doubt, I have had a very interesting career path! I have a degree in International Business and have done all sorts of interesting things. I moved back to the UK at the end of 2002 and ended up meeting a designer who was in search of a PR and marketing director…and in one of my previous roles I just so happened to be the sales and marketing director of the World Trade Office in Vermont, so it just worked.
LPA: What prompted you to launch Forward PR in 2004 rather than looking for a role in an already established company? I can’t imagine you had any shortage of offers…
CB: I did have a shortage of offers! I searched high and low for a job, but nothing surfaced, so I just started my own thing. Eight years on I’m still at it and I still love it.
LPA: Just two years after setting up your own PR company, you also co-founded fashion professionals members club, The Industry (formerly Fashion Business Club). Why did you decide to get so heavily involved in this new organisation? You must have had your hands pretty full already!
CB: The members group was a much-needed platform in the industry – a place for fashion professionals to come together, share ideas, work together and learn from each other and our guest speakers. Fashion can be very isolating, and it doesn’t need to be. All members are vetted and very high calibre, so it’s a great space to source freelancers from photographers, stylists, business consultants, solicitors, etc. Both Forward PR and The Industry sit under a parent company that I’m a director of called FARBLACK Ltd, which is a creative portfolio company focused on art, music, fashion and film.
LPA: How do you balance your roles as Managing Director of both The Industry and Forward PR?
CB: My husband travels quite often for his job, so I work a lot. A lot. Balance-wise, it’s important that they have their own identities and tone of voice. Different people run the social media for each, keeping them as separate and as autonomous as possible.
LPA: What do you like to do on the rare occasion you’re not working flat out?
CB: I quite enjoy spending time with friends, eating, watching films and sleeping.
LPA: Which designers do you wear and why?
CB: We used to represent a brand from LA ages ago and I inherited a few of their full collections – really wearable cottons and silks. I probably wear something from them nearly every day! I also really love Jasper Garvida, as his designs suit the petite, and just about anything from Donna Ida – they’re geniuses at finding the perfect fit. I like Acne for shoes. I like Rag & Bone, A.P.C and Helmut Lang for dresses and Smythe for jackets and Eugene Lin for leggings. Basically, at the end of the day, if I like something I’ll wear it. I do try to support designers though, and am not a big fan of throwaway fashion.
LPA: What are your views on the print V digital debate, should one be awarded more gravitas than the other? And do you think that the rise of digital press will ever leave print publications redundant?
CB: From a PR perspective, both serve a purpose. Digital is brilliant for immediate feedback, sharing, analysing and tracking, while print is still quite impressive in a press book and in a press section online. There is something thrilling and beautifully tangible about print. Time will tell on digital versus print. Maybe someday, a hundred years from now, the use of trees to create magazines will be banned as they’ll all be needed to create oxygen for the expanding population or something…but, I don’t see print publications disappearing anytime soon. In fact, it seems like new ones are cropping up all the time. We look after two print magazines: PHOENIX and The Untitled Magazine – it’s staggering how much work goes into producing an issue, and they really are beautiful collectors items that you want to keep.
LPA: On that subject, London Fashion Week has recently started running a separate accreditation section for “bloggers”. This season I overheard a few magazine journalists and industry professionals expressing their’ not overly enthusiastic view of the increasing number of young bloggers at the shows and around Somerset House. What do you feel about it?
CB: Bloggers are here to stay! There are some really great ones out there (current company included). On the flipside, there are also many really poor blogs. In fact they probably outnumber the good ones. I was shocked at how many bloggers requested show tickets for the SS13 season. We research each and every one – very time consuming, and some are so poorly designed and the grammar is off, and you’re thinking, ‘Who reads this and why would I ever want my client on here?’ That’s probably where the lack of enthusiasm lies and these folks are taking up seats at the shows. I guess at the end of the day, there are good and bad magazines and good and bad blogs. We tend to work with the good in both categories.
LPA: What advice would you give to someone hoping for a career in fashion PR?
CB: Have a good attitude and a good sense of humour. Have the ability to talk to anyone about anything. Be super organised and have a good comprehension of all the variants of media: print, televised, digital, social – it’s much more complex than it was a few years back. Have a deep understanding of branding and positioning, and know that you’re there to serve your clients. Fashion is a competitive and under-(monetarily) rewarded industry, so be prepared to work hard.
Love Ella. X