Talbots Vice President of Public Relations Meredith Paley Shares the Ins and Outs of the Industry

Meredith Paley is Vice President of Public Relations at Talbots where she has been for 13 years as of August 2021. Prior to Talbots, she worked at companies, such as Kenneth Cole and Nicole Miller.

Here is what Meredith had to say when we asked her about the world of public relations:

The field of public relations is fast-paced and constantly evolving. What industry trends should young women be familiar with if they are interested in pursuing a career in the industry?

In order to be a good publicist, whether celebrity PR, fashion PR, or beauty PR, there are a couple things that you should be aware of. Thinking fast on your feet, being able to multitask, and having the ability to think creatively are really important. Remember when working in fashion PR and beauty PR, there are a lot of companies trying to do the hustle that you are, so you want to be able to get the attention of the press in the best way possible—the best way to do that is by thinking outside of the box. One prevalent trend to be aware of in the industry is influencer partnerships. The days of me working with magazines and editors are lessening as influencer partnerships and social media marketing grow more and more. When I worked at Kenneth Cole and we put together fancy fashion shows, all the biggest editors would sit in the front row. If I were to have a fashion show tomorrow it wouldn’t be that way anymore. It’s influencers that have taken over the marketplace. 

What have been some of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your career?

The most challenging part of my career was when I transitioned from Kenneth Cole, a very well-known brand, to Talbots, when I first started here. I will have been at Talbots for thirteen years this August, and when I started here it was known as an “old lady” brand. I came here to blow the dust off a brand that carried an incredible stigma of being just for older women. When I first started here, it was impossible to get all the editors I had worked with in the business to come see the new collections. I was working for a brand with high-waisted jeans before they were in and cool! It really was a big challenge getting both the press and customers to see Talbots in a new way. However, after much hard work and creative thinking, I achieved brand success, and Michelle Obama has been outfitted in Talbots 28 times!

What was your most effective campaign?

The one campaign that will always stay near and dear to my heart is a campaign I did at Kenneth Cole as PR Director. Cole had done a PSA (public service announcement) in the early 1980s using supermodels to bring awareness to AIDS. For its 20th anniversary, we recreated that campaign. You can find it under the name “We All Have AIDS,” and it was shot by Mark Seliger. Instead of using supermodels, we used Nelson Mandela, Will Smith, Rosie O’Donnell, Elton John, Richard Gere, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Hanks, Ashley Judd, and a lot of other amazing people. To me, it was the most incredible campaign. We had that photo placed in major magazines for free because it was a PSA and had billboards all across the country. When you think about it, there was no social media when this campaign was done. The pitching we did to get it in international and national press outlets was in a really old-school way through email blasts, calling to pitch stories, and making t-shirts. 

How do you respond when a client disagrees with your strategy?

I don’t have any clients because I’m an in-house PR executive. However, I will say that when I believe in something in my heart, I will not let it go. When I really feel something in my gut, I will state my case and give the pros and cons for doing it. It’s about getting your team to come on the journey with you. It’s less about proving who’s right and wrong, and more about finding the best idea and determining how to execute it. 

Communication skills are a large part of public relations. What are the essential elements of being a great communicator?

I think being really concise and straightforward with your ideas. Think before you speak, before you blurt something out. Don’t be scared to throw out a crazy idea because the craziest ideas are often the fun ones. I feel in many ways there is no wrong or right. The world moves fast—social media, TikTok, videos, and people go viral for the most random reasons. I’ve also been thinking about newness a lot this year, and what we can do this fall as things return to normal. For example, a coworker proposed a partnership with an influencer who has become very popular on TikTok because of her videos on baking, cooking, and kitchen hacks, and loves Talbots. We set up a partnership with her for the next couple of months where she will wear and post about Talbots in her cooking content on TikTok. This was very new for us because we’ve never done anything on TikTok, but it’s been a huge success. The whole experience showed me the importance of stepping outside of your comfort zone, which is essential in PR.

What should young women be doing to market themselves to find jobs in the public relations industry?

You have to get experience. You have to do internships, even if it means working for free and working at Chipotle at night. I never had an internship growing up, so I graduated from Carnegie Mellon with what I thought was an amazing degree, but I floundered for two to three years. When I reflect on this, I think it was because I never had job experience. In any which way, get experience. If it’s the local newspaper, work for them! If it’s a local charity, do PR for them! Do anything you can to get experience because it is so important. 

What innovations do you expect to see within the public relations industry in the next 10 years?

I think social media is going to keep growing. Every week, the space gets updated with new ways to track impressions, use Facebook, and innovate with Instagram. As I was going to work, I saw on a local news outlet that fashion shows will start taking place outside and you can attend them virtually. 

What is the one skill that has contributed to your success throughout your career journey?

There’s a joke with all of my friends that there are “six degrees of separation from Meredith Paley,” which is funny because PR really is all about networking. I think making connections, networking, and keeping in touch with people is critical. I’ve tried to connect with as many people as I can in this industry. This has been helpful in making deals and having people to go to when I have questions. 

After graduating from Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in Creative Writing, Meredith Paley worked for companies, such as the Financial News Network and Nicole Miller before eventually transitioning to the Vice President of Public Relations at Kenneth Cole. Throughout her eight years at Kenneth Cole, she coordinated their spring fashion show in the middle of Rockefeller Center, which aired live on The Today Show, secured two interviews for with Katie Couric/The Today Show, launched a fragrance with Jon Bon Jovi, and spearheaded the international “We All Have Aids” public service announcement with celebrities, including Will Smith, Tom Hanks, and Elton John. Excited about reinvigorating an older brand, Meredith transitioned to her current role as Vice President of Public Relations at Talbots where she has been for 13 years as of August 2021. Magazine editorial and seasonal editor presentations, blogger and charitable partnerships, celebrity dressing, nationwide store events, outfitting Michelle Obama in Talbots 28 times (but who is counting?!), and being invited by The First Lady to The White House with the CEO of Talbots are just a few of her highlights and endeavors in this role.

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