Sometimes you're sure of what you want to do in your career, and sometimes you wonder if something else is better suited for you. Lalena Luba, Vice President, Global Public Relations at Kate Spade, started her career in one industry before deciding to shift gears. She spoke to us about music and fashion (same, same, but different) and why she chose to grow her career in the latter industry.
How did you start out your career and what were some of the important milestones along the way that have led you to where you are today?
In some ways it feels like I’ve had two careers – the first, which is where I got my start, in music – and the second in fashion.
I always had three passions – music, film and fashion. In my senior year of college, I remember making a mindful decision to pursue working in one of these industries because I thought if I didn’t work in an industry I felt passionate about, I wouldn’t love what I do. Loving what I do is and always has been extremely important to me.
My first “real job” was as an account executive at a boutique music PR firm out west. I think agency experience is an absolute must for every PR person. There is no greater training – especially when you are starting out. Among many things, it teaches you how to multi-task and how to provide service – two incredibly important components of being really good at PR. The agency represented talent (which would end up providing me with an early understanding of how to communicate with and manage talent).
The next milestone for me was when I took on marketing with a more senior role. Marketing and PR, which most people confuse and think is interchangeable, do a delicate dance and I think the best PR people understand both worlds and can build strategies that truly integrate with, complement and support marketing. It’s rare to find a marketing person who can do PR but I think many PR people are very good at marketing. This was all before social media! The digital landscape has obviously changed enormously but some of the same core questions to ask yourself when building strategies remain.
Obviously, the biggest milestone for me was making the transition from music to fashion. A lot of people didn’t think it was possible. I give a lot of credit to Mark Silver at Factory PR for taking the chance on me. It was a surprisingly smooth transition – I found that working with musicians was very similar to working with fashion designers – a lot of ego, a lot of drama, but also a lot of satisfaction in a job well done. The runway show replaced the concert for me - and those two types of events have more in common than you would think!
What does your current role as Vice President of Global Public Relations at Kate Spade entail?
Like many PR people, my title doesn’t reflect all that my team and I do!
I oversee all Press efforts as well as Events and VIP, globally. I also partner with our media buyer and our digital (social media) team closely on digital influencer strategy and our media buying strategy. I also work closely with our head of brand creative on casting. PR is also the lead on brand partnerships and collaborations.
How is your job and the PR landscape different than it was a decade ago?
I think some of it is wildly different and some of it is surprisingly the same! Relationships are still incredibly important but I think the dynamics have changed. Whereas ten years ago a relationship might be built over time, in person and through certain tactics, now relationships can be built through partnerships, or most notably, through social media. I also appreciate that pay for play is discussed more openly now - brands have a lot more choices now and dedicating precious dollars should mean a lot.
Without a doubt digital changed everything – whether that means eCommerce or social media overall – the power of the consumer increased significantly – the ability for a brand, designer, celebrity to have that direct communication with the consumer – that was a game changer for PR. Also, the speed of both gathering and distributing assets changed dramatically – I remember faxing press releases! I think the smartest brands utilize their PR people – their expert relationship builders – to do more in the digital space – whether that means with digital influencers or content.
What have been some career highlights so far?
Handling the PR and events for most of the Target designer collaborations was a highlight.I would have to say that playing a key role in casting our most recent campaign was also one.
I would juxtapose that against managing the communications crisis of when our founder passed away tragically last year.
What are the key marketing & communications initiatives the brand is currently engaging in? Are media relations and traditional publicity still a key focus, or has it shifted?
We are towards the end of a massive brand evolution. We remained relatively traditional in terms of the initiatives but sprinkled in the less traditional. We bought pages in select print to publish at the right time. We did a big OOH push and hopefully, will continue to. We have a runway show and we have brand events – but they are strategically timed and located. We won’t just have an event to have one.
In the coming year, digital Influencer, VIP and media partnerships will last longer and involve more in-depth partnership.
I still focus on relationships in terms of media relations. Traditional publicity is still powerful – especially because of the less traditional being utilized to amplify the traditional.
How is the Kate Spade brand working with social media influencers? What have you found to be the most successful strategies or tactics on that front?
My favorite social media influencers are those that have built their influence through intelligence and hard work – - they don’t take themselves too seriously - think Leandra Medine/Man Repeller and Athena Calderone. So, we will continue working with influencers in that vein.
I also appreciate working with influencers outside of the traditional fashion space and am hoping to do more in that realm (tapping into the art, beauty, food, travel space as well as YouTube influencers).
In terms of strategies/tactics, I think it is super important to spend time with your influencers – and when I say that I mean it digitally – follow them, engage, look at who they engage with – I wouldn’t get caught up in follower count - you can’t expect an influencer to partner with your brand if you don’t know them – the relationship has to be mutually beneficial and you have to establish the parameters early and clearly and keep in mind that it has to work both for the influencer as much as you/your brand.
What keeps you grounded?
My kids! Traveling (we are all so much more alike than different).
How do you decompress from work and city life?
We are lucky enough to have a little place out east in Bellport. That (and the Barneys shoe floor) is my happy place. I try to get out there as much as possible. I wish I found exercise decompressing but really, it’s wine.
Do you have any predictions for the future of PR and brand communications?
Welll I have a prediction I hope will happen – and that is that someone will come up with an easy to track way to measure it! As much as I trust my gut, I am an analytics junkie - there has got to be a better way (and one that becomes industry standard!)
Do you have any exciting work projects in the works that we should know about?
I just encourage anyone reading this to go to katespade.com and check out our Instagram – it’s different, but in a good way!
Tell us your top 5 career tips.
Follow your bliss
Don’t take yourself too seriously
Surround yourself with people you like
Say no to useless meetings (or make them shorter)
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