For those on the fringes of the fashion industry, the perception when it comes to fashion PR’s are often inextricably linked with images of Absolutely Fabulous. Let me tell you “darling” that over-the-top, flamboyant, PR woman of the nineties is a thing of the past.
Enter Virginia Norris & Lauren Stevenson, looking towards the future of fashion, lifestyle, and beauty, with their agency Aisle 8 Communications. Fully embracing the power of digital has set Aisle 8 apart from other agencies; and their deep understanding of the fast-paced needs of that digital world has enabled them to elevate brands like Manu Atelier and DCL Skincare to a global scale. We chat with Girl-boss Lauren Stevenson, about what it takes to start your own business, and how the future of fashion pr can be found on your screen.
Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background, what inspired you to start AISLE8?
I’ve worked in PR for 15 years in large and small agencies, as well as two major in-house roles. Every role gave me valuable experience in the impact that PR can have as part of the wider marketing mix. I was privileged to be fully immersed into the digital world from the beginning, and I saw how a dynamic entrepreneurial young team could build a world class business. After a year as the Head of PR & Communications at Harrods, I missed that nimble and dynamic approach to PR. I saw a gap in the market for an agency that understood the changing face of PR and communications, being able to bridge the gap between digital marketing and traditional PR. Aisle 8 could do just that, understanding the importance of how PR could really deliver retail sales and build a business from the ground up.
How did you two meet? What made you decide to start this business together?
Virginia and I had met while I was the head of PR for my-wardrobe.com and she was the head of PR for Whistles.Two fast growing British fashion retailers, carving out a unique position in the market with clever, creative PR tactics and strategies that stood out. We were at the same events with our CEOs and often said, we should start a business together. We were regularly pitched to by digital and PR agencies but none of them seemed to understand the nuances of our retail business and how we approached digital in a 360 way.
In 2014, I called Virginia from Miami and said I’m going to resign, let’s start the agency we always talked about. Within a week we had both resigned, drafted our business plan, and registered Aisle8.
What makes Aisle8 Comms different from other agencies in the industry?
We have a deep understanding of retail and e-commerce, understanding how fully integrated PR and digital communications can build a brand. We understand the frustrations of working with agencies when you’re an in-house team, offering a service that goes far beyond a traditional PR agency. We have a track record for taking brands such as Manu Atelier to become a globally sought-after name, to securing retail for DCL Skincare in one of London’s leading department stores.
How do you go about finding the right brands and businesses to partner with?
We have been in a privileged position that so far, brands have always come to us and we have been able to be selective on the right brands to work with. We look for businesses with an authentic story and interesting product. We are storytellers. Introducing new brands, services, and products, so we have to fully believe and be incredibly passionate about those stories.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced as businesswomen so far?
Nothing can prepare you for running your own business. I’m very lucky to have Virginia by my side and I couldn’t have done this without her. You know how to do your job as a PR professional, but growing and running your own business — well that you learn on the job every day. The biggest challenge has been cash flow. You no longer just receive a pay cheque at the end of every month. You have to wait for your clients to pay their invoices to be able to pay your suppliers, team, and office costs. It’s the one thing that keeps us awake at night.
What advice do you have for women who would like to become GirlBosses like yourself?
Today’s digital world has allowed us to have a much more flexible approach to work. We all have phones, laptops, social media, and global marketing channels that enable us to market to a worldwide audience with one image or sentence. The opportunity to launch a brand or start a business, has never been more readily available. It’s just having the courage and belief to do it. Virginia and I gave each other the courage and belief to do this and without each other the dark days would be a lot darker and the bright days, less bright.