If you're even remotely familiar with PR icon Alison Brod, you'd likely be surprised to read that a fortuitous conversation in an elevator is what prompted her to launch her award-winning agency. Today, Alison Brod Marketing + Communications continues to set itself apart as a creative marketing agency hybrid, prioritizing partnerships and collabs as well as influencer and celebrity to provide the best solutions for their clients. We spoke with Alison to learn more about the guiding principles behind her success, as well as her beauty faves (talk about a mega showroom office) and what she loves most about NYC.
How did you get your start in PR?
When I was in school, PR just wasn’t something we knew about. We knew what public relations was, but there weren’t majors available in it or anything of that nature. I wanted to be a writer, but you had to take a typing test on an actual typewriter, and I was practicing typing so I could even GET an interview with WSJ or a publishing house. I also loved books and am an editor, except those entry level jobs paid about $13,000.
My junior year of college, I found an internship in DC as a PR intern for the Recording Industry of America. I filed clips for three months, but I loved music and it was a fascinating place. Then, the summer before I graduated from college, I interned at an ad agency helping to write copy. working on Revlon and Victoria’s Secret. One of the most interesting things I did was work on a project to name a new skincare brand and learn as they tried to invent names that would become part of the zeitgeist.
My uncle created Victoria’s Secret Beauty and Bath & Body Works, as well as Ralph Lauren fragrances – so I had a lucky break and a big role model.
After graduation, I decided I was coming to New York no matter what. I gave myself a 30-day round-trip ticket to find a job, an apartment and a roommate, or I was moving back home to Boca Raton for a backup job at an ad agency in Fort Lauderdale. The song lyric, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” was my challenge.
How and why did you start your agency?
I never planned to start an agency. I was working for a woman I liked a lot and learned a lot from, but one day in the mid-90s, I was in an elevator and eavesdropped on a man talking about launching a new fragrance. We talked, and two weeks later he called and said, “If you want to start your own business, I think I need someone like you, and I’ll be your first client.” The gentleman in the elevator was looking to relaunch Burberry fragrances. Kate Moss was hired to freshen it up, and it was the first designer brand to really be re-invented. It was a tidal turn for the industry, as well as for me.
Did you have any mentors or people who inspired you throughout your career?
I take a little from everyone – I watch how people present themselves, their word choices and how they interact on micro and macro levels. I worked for two female agency owners for a year before I started my agency, and took a lot from each of them. They both had very specific personal styles of dressing and how they operated, but shared a very elevated and interesting taste level for events and gifts. I am almost OCD about that sort of thing today: how a bow should be tied to perfection or how to make a visual impression at an event by being simple but creative. People do notice, and you do set yourself apart with small details.
And my uncle, the legendary fragrance marketing genius George Friedman, who was profiled on 60 Minutes, broke every record and boundary in the industry and was enormously philanthropic.
How does ABMC differentiate itself from other agencies in the field?
I never want to be bored and I never want to be boring. I hire truly social people who are not afraid to be collaborative and voice opinions. And armed with both of these things, I think we have become a creative marketing agency hybrid. Which isn’t to say that some of our best partnerships aren’t with creative shops, because they are, but we are always about the buzz; it is Squid Games out there with brands – we want to stay alive and also show clients that we can come up with campaigns that excite… but also entice people to actually buy.
Our influencer and celebrity division has tripled also. Our office is a showroom with a hair and makeup salon and floor-to-ceiling brand presentations and product closets. Hundreds of influencers and talent visit yearly, so we can really get to know them and they can get to know our brands.
You said that your agency sometimes goes up against big ad agencies and that ‘the best idea now wins.’ Is this a fairly new development, and do you think it signals a new era for PR?
Years ago, budgets would be carved out – here is a chunk for the ad agency, a chunk for marketing and whatever was left, often the crumbs, was offered up to PR. When the digital age swept through, brands just weren’t sure what to do, so they would invite every kind of agency to the RFP process and say, “We have a million dollars and this goal… someone solve the puzzle,” and we all had to think differently. We also now work with a real variety of agencies, so collaborations are terrific as well.
What are some key considerations for PR pros seeking success in today’s industry landscape?
How has working with influencers evolved over the past couple of years, and what do you think that might look like in 2022?
Our division has grown exponentially, ensuring diversity and well-rounded choices. We know that going after people with huge followings does not always produce the best results; nailing the content so it reflects what a brand needs, along with the true and organic vibe of the influencer, produces the best sales.
What keeps you inspired and engaged professionally?
I have crafted exactly the life that I wanted – freedom to do many things. I see live music once a week (or when Covid allows me to), and try to travel to places I have never been a few times a year (it could be a country in Asia or a small town in California, doesn’t matter, I love discovery). I am out 4-5 nights a week meeting people and hearing what is going on in every industry.
I read dozens of biographies and take inspiration from everyone – especially people’s mistakes.
And the team I work with in the office is always positive and upbeat as well – we have a good time.
You represent a large portfolio of beauty brands. What are some of the go-to products in your cabinet right now?
SkinCeuticals Glycolic is like a facial in a jar, Charlotte Tilbury’s new foundation takes five years off of your face with its glow but still has coverage, Makeup by Mario’s eyebrow gel, Rose Inc.'s new blush and Mario Badescu’s toners are fantastic. L’Oreal still has the top mascara for me – Voluminous.
As a longtime New Yorker, what are some of your favorite restaurants and/or things to do in the city?
If you live in NY and pay the taxes, you may as well take all that it has to offer. And while the restaurants are good, it is the buzz in the restaurant that I truly believe makes us different, that connectivity of the people in the restaurants. I live uptown and love all of my local places but really, I have been going to the sexiest new addition that I can remember – it’s private, sorry – Zero Bond. I like David Rabin’s Veranda, Indochine is still as cool as ever with great music (music is so important in a restaurant) and, what can I say, Carbone like everyone else for the rigatoni.
Most of all, I see music. Brooklyn Bowl is my go-to, it is a truly cool venue.
What are some current or upcoming projects you’re excited about?
We have been doing so much work in the experiential space – the window break when vaccinations were up and events came back strong was exciting. We had a blast with festivals and creative programming for brands like IHG hotels this year. Panera and RBI (Popeyes, Burger King and Tim Hortons) work is always compelling and ever-changing.
Partnerships are a strong suit – you are who you stand next to, so align yourself with brands that exemplify your ethos and get you there faster 😊
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