A marketing and PR alum hailing from some of the world’s top fashion outposts -- including Saks Fifth Avenue, Bergdorf Goodman and Giorgio Armani -- Linda Gaunt was well-positioned to go out on her own. Her experiences with brand building, coupled with the support of the inspiring women who mentored her, helped make Linda Gaunt Communications the unique agency it is today. Case in point: although her firm was an early adopter of digital marketing, Gaunt doesn’t downplay the power that traditional media and relationships still wield. More on that, as well as her advice to those starting out in the industry, below.
Tell us briefly about your career leading up to the start of your agency.
After college I joined the Executive Training Program at Saks Fifth Avenue, which led to a temporary assignment in Public Relations. And I found my calling.
I rose through the ranks at Saks, gaining invaluable experience in every area of PR: working with the best designers from around the world and mastering the nuances of retailing across the U.S.
Then, I took over PR at Bergdorf Goodman where I developed a keen understanding of the luxury marketplace.
A few years later, I joined Giorgio Armani to head communications and eventually marketing for the U.S. This was at the pinnacle of Armani's explosive growth. It was a time of creating new brands including A/X, Armani Beauty and Armani Casa, opening stores around the country, executing many elaborate image events, and cultivating true celebrity relationships. Twelve years flew by and it was time to give up my EVP title and use this brand building experience to start my own agency, which I did in 2004.
Did you have any mentors or people who inspired you along the way?
Yes, three powerful women. Helen O’Hagan at Saks Fifth Avenue, Dawn Mello at Bergdorf Goodman and Gabriella Forte at Giorgio Armani. They all played important roles in my professional development by showing me trust and encouragement.
I am proud to say that I have mentored and nurtured talent in my career as well. Several women who worked for me over the years are now CMOs and Presidents of some of the world’s most recognized brands.
How and why did you start your business?
From my experience, I knew how to build a brand from the inside out and I felt I had something unique to share with others. I started by consulting and the business grew organically, allowing me to build a team.
What have been the greatest challenges and rewards of entrepreneurship thus far?
The biggest challenge was to become known as an agency. Clients were initially referred to me based on my reputation and contacts, but as we grew, it became important for the agency to develop its own reputation based on the service provided and results produced.
It’s very natural to promote our clients, but I’m not great at self-promotion. Fortunately, with our talented team and clients, our reputation developed naturally over time. At LGC, the ‘we’ is much greater than the ‘me.’
How has the PR industry changed since you started out?
The explosion of technology obviously. There are so many more options and directions for marketing. It's more imperative than ever for us to be innovative and to stay well ahead of the pack. The key is to leverage all of the important data available but to also balance it with intuition.
That said, I do believe that some things have not changed. Traditional media is still powerful and relationships still matter.
How have you pivoted the agency to adapt to the increasingly digital landscape?
We were early adopters. We hired our first Digital Director in 2011 before Influencers were the focus on Instagram. We recognized the potential and importance of digital marketing and have prioritized it ever since.
Now, we offer a full service digital team, providing clients with thoughtful and effective strategies that encompass everything from activations and partnerships to social media and community management.
What are some of your current projects that you’re excited about?
We are fortunate to have a great mix of both established and emerging businesses. We are discerning; we only take on clients we truly believe in. Whether it’s our menswear superstar Todd Snyder who has been with us since his start, or our work with Eileen Fisher to shed a light on her leadership in sustainability.
Each client has its own unique story that we shape and share. We are an extension of their team and we care about their success. We partner with clients for whom we can take the long view.
How do you decompress from work and city life?
When you have your own business, you are never not working. There is always more that can be done and areas to explore. Everything you read, every art exhibit you see, every trip you take, every person you meet presents potential opportunities for your clients.
That said, I do believe in quality of work and quality of life. So on the weekends, I play as much tennis as possible, I take long walks in nature with my dogs, and I cook for friends and family. I encourage my team to refresh and reset as well.
How do you plan to grow and develop your agency in the future?
All of our business has come to us through recommendations, and while we are happy with our mix, we have decided this is the year to go after some new things that excite us.
We don’t have plans to grow beyond 25 people. I feel like that is the size that is big enough to compete with larger firms but small enough to stay hands-on and agile.
What would be your advice to a young person starting their career in this business?
I would recommend getting as much exposure to all aspects of the business to better determine what resonates. Then you just have to get started in the best place you can, be willing to work hard and stay long enough to actually learn and achieve something.
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