Test Drive My Job : NYC Fashion Editor Turned Fashion Publicist Melissa Davis
Mopwater: Describe your path to PR. MD: I knew that I wanted to be a fashion editor since I was 15 years old. I’m originally from Vienna, VA, a suburb of Washington DC. I was lucky enough to have marketing and fashion merchandising classes at my high school [Madison High School] because the schools in Fairfax County offered marketing and fashion merchandising classes, which were likely pivotal in me realizing a career in fashion was even possible. I went on to Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia, and got a BA in Fashion Merchandising.
I started my career as a fashion editor in New York City. But my career really took off when Sassy magazine ran a feature on “The Eye,” a fashion “zine” that I had created in college. From that, I developed a relationship with the Sassy editors and they hired me as a general editorial intern after I graduated from college. I interned for two weeks at Sassy, which I was thrilled about since it has such a cult following and it was really the first magazine which brought the editors into the pages of the magazine.
After two weeks at Sassy one of their editors heard that Harper’s Bazaar was in need of fashion interns, and they recommended that I go over for an interview. Harper’s Bazaar hired me, and I started work there the next day. It was September 1992, and Liz Tilberis’ first issue had just hit the stands and it sent shock waves through the fashion industry and editorial community. Hearst had snatched her from British Vogue to turn Harper’s Bazaar around, and she very quickly made it THE fashion magazine to watch. Liz hired top talent: the very best editors were there and many of the top fashion photographers were on exclusive contract with the magazine. It was such an exciting time to be at the magazine, I really couldn’t believe my good fortune. After 4 months interning there they hired me (they actually created a job for me, since there wasn’t one available) and I worked as a fashion market assistant for three years. I learned from the very best, and loved the team I worked with. It was quite a thrill to live out my dream job. (The first shoot I ever went on was a cover shoot with Patrick Demarchelier and Kate Moss!)
After three years of working with the American and Italian apparel markets, I was hired as a fashion market editor at Mademoiselle Magazine. I was promoted to Senior Market editor within a couple of years and worked with the American apparel market. For anyone not familiar with what that job entails, it was my job to attend the fashion shows, visit designer showrooms, and to determine what trends were important for the upcoming season and who is doing it best.
I spent 5 great years at Mademoiselle, but as my 30th birthday approached, I felt like I needed a new challenge and a new life. As much as I loved being a fashion editor for those 8 years in NYC, the downside is that it’s the kind of job that envelopes your life and I wanted a little more balance. In 2000 I was recruited as the fashion director for a new fashion dotcom in San Francisco – which I took. I was very excited about the move to the West Coast and the opportunity to work in the field that I love ……. Unfortunately, two weeks after I made the cross-country move, the company dissolved and I was left jobless.
I soon found myself doing freelance editor jobs in San Francisco. I started working as the fashion editor at a SF city magazine called 7×7, which had just launched and when Lucky launched, I became a contributing editor for them as well. Through those two jobs, I started to meet a lot of designers and creative people who were starting their own businesses and I thought, “Wow, I’d love to tell everyone (my editor friends in New York) about what’s happening here in Northern California!” At that moment, I started Ruby Press. I had honestly never considered working in PR. PR for PR’s sake isn’t particularly interesting to me, but spreading the word about brands I really believed in was and continues to be very exciting to me.
Mopwater: Describe a pivotal moment in your career. Did you have a mentor or internship that really solidified your interest in this field or helped you hone into your focus area? MD: The pivotal moment for me was when I was meeting with Erica Tanov here in Berkeley. I was borrowing clothing for a cover shoot for 7×7 Magazine and she told me she didn’t have a publicist because none of the PR agents who had approached her had national connections. I thought, hmmmm…I have all of those connections! The editors are my friends, and most importantly, after having been an editor for 8 years I knew exactly how to work with the media.
Mopwater: Describe a typical workday including your work hours. What do you do all day? MD: Everyday is truly different, but in general: I start working within ten minutes of waking up. I usually spend about an hour and a half working from home in the morning. It’s nice to have quiet time when I can reply to emails from editors and clients on the east coast and plan out my day. I get into the office around 10:00. (The rest of my staff arrives at 9:00.) When I’m in the office I am almost always at my computer, and I would estimate that about 95% of the daily communication with clients and editors is by email. I oversee all of the strategy for all of our clients, manage a staff of four and am also involved in the pitching. I’m very hands-on and quite frankly have to be – after all, we are a boutique agency. Each day typically involves working on some pitches, working on new strategies and working with clients on projects.
I am typically out of the office on appointments at various times throughout the week and I actually really love when I get a full day in the office. I usually go home between 6:00 and 8:00 pm, but I don’t think I ever really “turn it off”. When you own your company, and you’re passionate about it, you can’t help but always be thinking about ways to do something better.
Mopwater: Describe your office setting and workplace. MD: Our office is in a beautiful historic building in downtown Berkeley, CA. We occupy the whole top floor of the space and it’s light-filled and very open. Of course, the office reflects the Ruby Press brand as well. It’s a place in which I love spending time. I also love having an open office- I think it creates an environment of openness and community with an added benefit of allowing interns and staff members learn by osmosis.
Mopwater: What are your favorite and least favorite PR tasks and why? MD: I love meeting with great potential clients, working with clients on their next season’s collection (I also offer design consulting), and strategizing. We have a Ruby Press blog and while it does take up a decent amount of my personal time in the evening, it’s quite satisfying as well. You really understand how bloggers work when you are also one of them!
Mopwater: Who arre some of your clients and what kind of projects do you take on for them? MD: Our clients all fall under a fashion/style/design umbrella, and currently include Cost Plus World Market, iomoi, Ladybug Art, Marie Veronique Organics, Plover Organic, Rikshaw Design, Rubie Green, SenSpa, Swoon, Vicente Agor, and viv&ingrid. We do editorial product placement for most, marketing initiatives for some, and event production for some…
Mopwater: Describe a recent project where you produced results of which you’re really proud. MD: We’re nearing the end of our pitching for holiday gift guide inclusions and we are thrilled that our clients will have a very strong showing this season. One client in particular will have 11 national print publications placements, ranging from Lucky to Real Simple to Town & Country, with a total of over 32,000,000 media impressions. (We’re still working with short-lead media so that number will only grow.) We’re excited for our clients to have a great holiday retail season.
Mopwater: What is your favorite thing about this job and do you think you’ll be in this position in 5 years? MD: I love seeing how PR affects our clients’ businesses. There’s nothing more satisfying than seeing their growth. I also take great pride in our relationships with the media. I think we truly prove that you don’t need to be in NYC to have quality relationships with the editors. In five years I’d like to see our current clients’ continued growth and be working with some really exciting new brands as well.
Mopwater: What aspect of the industry are you most excited about? MD: I am excited about the fact that the industry is changing so much right now. Just within the past two years we’ve seen online outlets and blogs become so much more influential. I can only imagine what the next few years will bring.
Mopwater: If you could work on any dream project of your choosing, what would it be? MD: Honestly, we’ve had projects that were dream projects. I feel very lucky to say that our first event was the after-party for the LA premiere of Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Our client was Chanel and the party was at the Chateau Marmont down in LA. We have about 500 guests- most of them fabulous celebrities- and we had the entire lobby and grounds transformed into a mini Versailles. It was a magical night.
Mopwater: What if anything would you have done differently in your career up to this point and what advice would you give someone who is trying to break into your field? MD: Actually, I don’t think that there’s much that I would do differently- I think mistakes are valuable as you learn so much from them. And I love that I came to this job from the editorial world- it gives me a perspective that’s different from most publicists and is very valuable to our clients.