Having helmed global communications at Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, it’s no surprise Malcolm Carfrae’s global branding and communications firm has seen much success in just over two years. At Carfrae Consulting, he leverages more than corporate know-how for clients in the fashion, beauty, tech and interior design industries. It’s largely those decades-long international relationships that catapult his curated roster to global recognition. He spoke with us about how his company is embracing the sharp shifts the industry has seen of late, sharing the 360-degree plan that powers his PR strategies.
Tell us briefly about your career trajectory.
In 2003, while working at a PR agency in London, I was offered (through a head-hunter) the position of VP of PR at Calvin Kleinin New York. I flew to New York to meet Calvin for 15 minutes and was offered the job on the spot. Three years later I was promoted to run Global Communications and by the time I left, after eleven years at the company, I was EVP/Chief Communications Officer. In 2014, I joined Ralph Lauren as Global Head of Communications, Public Relations and Media, leaving in May 2016 to establish Carfrae Consulting. Carfrae Consulting is a global branding and strategic communications consulting firm based in New York.I work closely with clients in the fashion, retail, tech, beauty, luxury and shelter sectors to create bespoke and disruptive strategies to achieve global recognition and success. My consultancy works on building and executing creative, innovative and customized 360-degree solutions across a wide variety of categories and international markets.
What were some key things you took away from your corporate experience?
Aside from the experience of creating effective strategies that resonate globally and understanding a brand’s DNA from the inside out, it’s also about twenty years of incredible, international relationships. I’m proud of my deep connections and friendships. I knew from the outset that I did not want to create a company that defined itself on borders and limitations – everything that is in my head belongs to my clients, across all markets and communications/marketing categories. It’s the way I have always worked, and it’s the way my clients want to operate.
The easiest and the hardest things about going out on your own?
The easiest is having the autonomy to be your own boss and creating your own work day/schedule. And choosing where and when you want to work. My office is in the heart of SoHo, and just a six-minute walk from my home. Every day I am grateful for that. The hardest is infrastructure and literally doing everything yourself at the beginning. I was lucky that the clients (and success) came quickly, but I was used to working with a robust team with a lot of administrative support. Hiring the right team who understood me was crucial.
What have been some of the major industry changes you can cite since you began your career? How do those present opportunities?
You mean aside from the rapid decline of print media and almost everyone in senior editorial and publishing positions losing their jobs or being asked to do three jobs instead of one? The industry has changed irrevocably and there is no place for people who rely on traditional PR and media as a means to push a brand forward. Embracing a 360-degree plan that includes social, digital, VIP, celebrity relations, integrated marketing and experiential content-driven events as a part of your PR strategy is the future. If you are nimble enough to embrace change, it can be an opportunity – not a handicap.
What have been some career highlights so far?
Meeting and then working closely with three industry legends – Calvin, Ralph and Diane, in that order. There’s a book in there! Not to mention the myriad of talented, inspiring people I met along the way at those companies and others. I can say hand on heart that working with the clients I have now fulfills me more than any job I’ve had previously. I genuinely love working with them and believe in what my team and I are doing together with them.
What keeps you grounded?
As an Australian, I never take myself too seriously. It’s literally against our nature. My team and I work so hard, but we love to laugh, listen to music and keep it real.
How do you decompress from work and city life?
My husband John, my dog Grace, and the beach. Every weekend where possible. It changes everything and makes life in the city bearable. I come back to the city recharged and ready for a busy week in the city. Oh, and margaritas after work.
What are some of your current projects that you’re excited about?
Wow, so much. Bumble launching in India in December; Zimmermann opening in several new locations globally next year; DVF celebrating 10 Years of the DVF Awards in 2019; Dr. Barbara Sturm opening a permanent space in New York next year; Chappy rewriting the rules of gay dating and giving back to its community. It’s going to be a very busy year.
How do you plan to grow and develop your agency in the future?
By never losing sight of the fact my clients hired me and not a junior staff member to be their constant counsel; only taking on new clients judiciously and sparingly, and if they make me excited. I have a very good thing going so why mess with it? Today, I’m excited to be working with fashion, beauty, tech and interior design clients – it keeps me endlessly engaged and motivated.
Lastly, what would be your advice to a young person starting their career in this business?
Intern, intern, intern. While you are in college, when you are on vacation, when you graduate. Use contacts as best you can to get to the right people. And be gracious, willing and work hard. You are not entitled to anything – you have to prove yourself.
Photo credit: Neil Rasmus/BFA.com
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