Elizabeth Harrison co-founded her agency back in the pre-internet era when faxing, photo negatives and rolodexes were de rigueur. Many evolutions later, and now one of the pre-eminent names in the PR world, Harrison & Shriftman represents global brands such as Grey Goose, Tiffany & Co., Furla, Bacardi and Omega.
The seasoned PR pro shares her insights with us on how she built up her business, how they have stayed relevant and agile throughout the years and her take on the future of PR in our increasingly digital age.
What does your company do?
Harrison & Shriftman is a lifestyle communications agency that provides smart, strategic thinking for our clients. We describe ourselves as purveyors of cultural influence. We connect clients with what’s happening now – like-minded companies, brands, charities, influencers and media - and create noise via earned (at the core), shared, owned and paid channels. We also create content across experiential, social and influencer communications channels. Everything is rooted in our focused DNA- Luxury, Fashion, Travel, Lifestyle and Influencer.
What drew you to this industry and what do you most enjoy about it?
I’ve always enjoyed learning about a variety of different businesses and being able to think through various business challenges and solve them. I love meeting people and finding ways to connect them. I didn’t know a lot about PR when I started, but the idea of creating and telling a story appealed to me and still does. We are storytellers who craft messages to engage our clients with the right press and the customers they are trying to reach at the right time - flawlessly.
How did you start the business? What were you doing at the time?
I met my business partner while I was working for Peggy Siegal producing and publishing high profile movie premieres and screenings. I was looking for my next adventure after already having had some pretty fabulous working experiences. I had been a location assistant on the Academy Award-winning film “Forrest Gump,” had “The Devil Wears Prada” job as the assistant to the Fashion Director at ELLE Magazine and been a photo editor at another top fashion publication. I had no idea it would all lead to the launch of Harrison & Shriftman.
What have been the greatest challenges and rewards of establishing your own venture?
The most rewarding part for me was that we completely started this on our own. We had no start up investment aside from a small loan from one of our parents and a very old MAC computer. As very young women we fought our way to the top of a very competitive set of agencies and we were one of the first to match corporate clients with what we now call “influencers.” Brands such as Jimmy Choo, Juicy Couture, Hugo Boss, Gwen Stefani, and Grey Goose were amongst the illustrious clients we’ve been privileged to work with over the years.
You started your agency in 1995. What are some of the major ways you’ve seen the media and PR business landscape evolve in that time?
Ha! Everything is different today. Remember there wasn’t even an internet when we started. The channels of communication were in retrospect so much more limited. The speed of the business has increased tenfold. Without social media you were dependent on the magazines and newspapers and broadcast to get your message to the target audience. Celebrities and what we called “socialites” weren’t habitualized to being paid to wear a designer or show up for an event. It took a lot longer to grow a brand, but there was also less competition because there were fewer brands launching at the same time.
What have been the key ingredients in the company’s longevity and success?
Hard work, tenacity and the ability to pivot and change. I also believe that selling part of the company when we did allowed us to stand out from our competition and grow. It’s an ongoing struggle to stay relevant and to grow in a landscape that is changing so rapidly and an industry that is going through an identity crisis.
How is the agency adapting to the changing digital/ media landscape?
We are learning to speak the language of digital and we are lucky because we have a partner with deep digital resources we don’t yet have and are looking to develop. We’ve adapted our celebrity wrangling to create an always on influencer program for clients. I would say we are still working on figuring out what it means to tackle digital.
What are some of your current projects that you’re excited about?
I’m very excited about our new client Lavazza coffee. They are an incredible brand and they are involved with events and institutions that I am passionate about like the Guggenheim Museum and The US Open. It doesn’t hurt that they are based in Italy! I also really love working with OMEGA. We recently worked closely with their new Global Ambassador Eddie Redmayne on an event in LA and we will be supporting the brand as the official timekeeper of the Brazil Olympics.
What can we look forward to from Harrison & Shriftman in the near future?
We hope to be introducing some exciting new initiatives this year and we are doing a lot of introspective thinking to reimagine the traditional way of doing PR. I love the fact that we have been in business and successful for twenty years, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the future holds for all of us.
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