Tips from the Trenches: One-on-One with Emily Blumenthal, CEO/Founder, Handbag Designer 101

“Be aware that the person you are speaking with has no time for you until you prove you can give them something they might need or want, so having your elevator pitch ready is always a must.” — Emily Blumenthal

 

Fashion entrepreneur Emily Blumenthal

Emily Blumenthal never went to design school. But that didn’t stop her from creating a line of handbags that she singlehandedly got into Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale’s and finally to QVC. Add to that teaching Fashion Marketing at Parsons The New School for Design and running a business helping burgeoning accessories designers get their handbag lines off the ground and into major retailers across the country.

In addition, Blumenthal created the Independent Handbag Designer Awards, an internationally respected design competition, runs online resource HandbagDesigner101.com and authored “Handbag Designer 101,” a book to help designers create the next “It Bag” and a viable business to go with it. The woman is BUSY.

In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we interviewed a number of smart, interesting people on how to build a brand and stand out. Just in time for New York Fashion Week, we recently talked to Blumenthal about how she launched her brand and her advice for other entrepreneurs trying to break through the clutter with limited time and resources.

 

Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?

The market is so incredibly oversaturated. It is key to stand out since internal competition is fierce, especially in markets that are so sought after. Proving your value is a must as that will translate into more power, responsibility and eventually dollars in your pocket.

 

What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

When I was starting out and wanted to get into television, a buyer pulled me aside and said, “You would never open a clothing store if you didn’t know how to shop.” In other words, make sure you know how to buy before you can sell. I have used this in every step of my career; I try to get behind the mindset of those that I am pitching and to address their needs before I even begin to tell them anything I am working on.

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Nice Girls Go To Heaven, Bad Girls Go Everywhere – and Other Lasting Lessons Learned from the Legendary Helen Gurley Brown

Helen Gurley Brown believed that self-confidence and smarts would take a woman far.

Monday marked the passing of a publishing legend: Cosmopolitan magazine editor-in-chief Helen Gurley Brown who, at 90 years old, still came into her leopard-print and pink corner office at Hearst Tower nearly every day. While Meryl only admired her spunk and sayings from afar, Jessica, who has run PR for Hearst Magazines for over a decade, knew Ms. Brown personally and was able to admire her up close.

Ironically, a story Jessica had been working on for months about the power of Cosmo as a global brand, ran in the New York Times Magazine just last Sunday and paid homage to Brown and the influence she had on the 100 million readers of Cosmo around the world. The “Cosmo Effect,” as it has been called, all started with the publication of Brown’s bestselling book, Sex and the Single Girl, much of which is still relevant today. If you haven’t read it, you should.

In light of this significant loss for the magazine world and for women in general, we wanted to take a moment to share some of our favorite lessons gleaned from the author/businesswoman/editor’s life well lived and well spoken (if not controversial at times):

-“Nice girls go to heaven. Bad girls go everywhere.”  Brown wasn’t technically a “bad girl” but she was a risk-taker and she had the confidence to be her own best advocate to get ahead instead of fading into the background.  Yes, she started as a secretary but quickly rose the ranks of the advertising world, then conquered the magazine landscape with her bold, frisky version of Cosmo.

-A handwritten note goes a long way. Famous for her handwritten and typewritten notes, Brown sent them to everyone she met. In fact, a book of select notes she had written, Dear Pussycat (her preferred term of endearment), was published in 2004 and is filled with quippy, thoughtful, interesting messages from her to people such as Joan Rivers, Barbra Streisand, Barry Diller and Steven Spielberg, among many unknowns. We simply don’t hang on to people’s emails like we do a handwritten note and it really makes an impact when you send one. In fact, Jessica still has the note that Brown wrote to her in 2003 saying, “You were such a busy person and you took such good care of me…I was wildly impressed!” — and she cherishes it to this day.

 -“Beauty can’t amuse you, but brainwork—reading, writing, thinking—can.” Brown did not consider herself beautiful; in fact, she referred to herself as a “mouseburger” (the feminine version of “milquetoast”). But, boy, was she whip-smart and that –even more than looks–was (read: “is”) sexy. The brainier you are, the more beautiful you get!

-“My success was not based so much on any great intelligence but on great common sense.” Being book-smart is one thing, but being street-smart is often more important in getting ahead. Common sense is an innate skill and if you listen to it. It will help guide you in the right direction. Trust your gut. Helen Gurley Brown did and look where it got her.

-“Never fail to know that if you are doing all the talking, you are boring somebody.” In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how listening can often be even more important than speaking. It will give you insight on people that you wouldn’t get if you just blathered on about yourself. Brown understood this and was gifted at reading people –both women and men– and identifying what they wanted.

-“Nearly every glamorous, wealthy, successful career woman you might envy now started out as some kind of schlepp.” We interpret this phrase to mean that everyone has to start somewhere. A lot of young people these days don’t want to take an unglamorous entry-level or administrative job; they want to get to the top quickly. But Brown started in the secretarial pool, worked hard, networked and moved up. But she never turned her nose up at getting into the trenches in order to get things done. Even when she had reached the top, she often stayed at Cosmo’s offices until midnight to make sure everything was just so.

-“What you have to do is work with the raw material you have, namely you, and never let up.” She believes that every woman can be successful and sexy, even if they don’t have traditional good looks or natural style. Like we address in our book, finding your personal style is about playing up your best features, creating a signature that people will remember you for and presenting yourself with confidence.

Helen Gurley Brown was truly ahead of her time. She believed in the power of women and encouraged them to shoot for the moon in all aspects of their life, from relationships to career. The world is a little less interesting without her in it.

How do you think Helen Gurley Brown changed the world? Share with us here, on Facebook or Twitter.

Life Lessons Learned from the Films Director John Hughes

This past Monday marked the three-year anniversary of the untimely death of 80s film director John Hughes. And, while many of us who grew up with his movies learned a lot about our personal lives, there are lessons that can translate to our professional efforts as well. Some of those include:

  • Don’t put anything in writing you wouldn’t want read. (Sixteen CandlesAs Samantha found out when she filled out the quiz that fell into the wrong (read: Mr. Right’s) hands, everything is on the record — and that is even more clear when you put something in writing (or post something online).  Sure, things turned out great for her (complete with birthday cake and happy ending) but most of us mere mortals need to be cognizant that everything we say, write and post can and will be used against us. In our speaking engagements and workshops for Be Your Own Best Publicist, we remind people not to put anything in writing you wouldn’t want your grandmother, boss or rabbi/priest/shaman/spiritual guide to read.
  • Help can come from the least likely of sources. (The Breakfast Club) A criminal…a princess…a brain…a jock…a basketcase….What started as a group of strangers turned into the ultimate powerful network by the end of the film. And what they learned as their detention day rolled on is that, despite their surface differences, they could rely on one another for advice (Claire giving Allison makeup tips), to help dodge a bullet (Bender distracts while the others get back to the library), for attention (Andy listens to Allison) and to communicate the message (Brian writes the pithy note that summarizes the film). In work, too, support can come from anywhere. Don’t dismiss the people who seem less powerful than you (i.e. security, mailroom workers, secretaries) because sometimes they’re the ones who can help you most. Be nice, lend a helping hand to others and be open to making connections wherever you go.

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NEWS WE CAN USE: Killer Heels & Killer Instinct are Not Mutually Exclusive

Can’t women in tech have killer heels and a killer instinct?

How much does what you wear in the workplace make a statement about your skills and accomplishments? It depends: While it doesn’t seem to have affected Mark Zuckerberg’s success (we doubt Facebook’s stock price has dropped as a result of his refusal to wear anything but hoodies and sandals), at the same time, when you’re a tech entrepreneur trying to attract funding, partners and press, paying attention to your appearance and wardrobe can contribute to an image of success.

In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about dressing the part  and how what you wear can pose a hindrance -at worst, a barrier to entry. It’s like that old saying, “Dress for the job you want, not the job you have.”

And, for many women in Silicon Valley, cultivating a personal style has at least earned them and their startups some good publicity, as evidenced by this recent New York Times Style section story on a new crop of women in the tech space who unabashedly dress up in designer clothes.

In the article, Sukhinder Singh Cassidy, 42, a former Google executive who now runs a video shopping site called Joyus, said: “Earlier in my career, if I had to choose between a skirt and being taken seriously, I would have chosen being taken seriously. But now I’m at a point in my career in the valley where I’m judged by what I’ve done.”

Considering that the tech world is typically on the cutting edge of what’s new and modern, it sounds a bit archaic to us that a woman who walks into a meeting with venture capitalists wearing a designer skirt wouldn’t be taken seriously. If it was a hot pink mini skirt, perhaps, but dressing professionally and having a signature style should make a positive impression on others and show that you’re polished, smart and can run circles around those male tech geeks in t-shirts and jeans — even if you’re wearing five-inch Louboutins.

How do you think clothing impacts perception of your abilities?  Tell us here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

 

How to Make Sure Your Job Search is More Treat Than Trick

Halloween is a holiday that has as many advocates as it has opponents.  But whether this year finds you donning a costume or simply reminiscing about those October 31sts of your youth, there are key professional lessons to learn from the age old All Hallows Eve:

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News You Can Use: First-Time Job Seekers May Be Struggling for a Reason

In this week’s New York Post @Work section, there’s a great cover story on how many young job seekers may be ruining their chances of getting hired because of various errors they make during the interview process. We’ve blogged about this several times before but it’s imperative that applicants learn to stand out to potential employers — and we don’t mean in a bad way!

Some of the common gaffes covered in the New York Post article include:

  • Spelling/grammar mistakes: It’s amazing how frequently job candidates submit written materials — whether resume, cover letter, writing sample or thank you note — riddled with errors. Even if you use the spell check function on your Blackberry or computer (and our guess is that most don’t!), read it again aloud before sending it and, even better, get someone else to review it first. If job candidates aren’t careful enough to check for mistakes during the interview process, they’ll only get worse once you hire them.
  • Dress for the job you want: We spend a whole chapter in our book Be Your Own Best Publicist on personal style and how to dress appropriately for an interview. We share advice from loads of fashion experts and they all agree that candidates need to be well-groomed, polished and stylish and not be tone-deaf when it comes to the industry or position for which they’re interviewing. For example, if you’re going for a job in a creative field, you may want to dress a bit more fashion-forward (but still no flip-flops, people!) than if you were applying to work in banking or the legal arena.
  • Come prepared: This seems like a no-brainer but endless job candidates apply for positions without doing the proper research on the company, the industry and the person with whom they land an interview (if they get in the door). Having just come from college, where students must do research and study in order to succeed, it’s shocking that recent graduates don’t realize that they need to put the same effort and preparation into a job search, particularly in a tough market where there are fewer jobs available.
  • Keep it professional: An interviewer is not your friend; if you’re lucky, he or she may be your future boss. So don’t get too chummy or casual during your conversations. Don’t discuss your personal life or ask about theirs. Don’t post about your interview on Facebook or Twitter. Don’t curse (yes, people have done this during our interviews!). And please don’t use emoticons in your follow-up email.

Many Gen-Yers suffer from a bit of culture shock when they enter the workforce after college; in most cases, just being “good enough” is simply not going to cut it. And any sense of entitlement certainly won’t either. Young job-seekers need to go above and beyond in order to make a good impression on potential employers. (We share lots of advice on how to do so in our book.) Because as the New York Post article ends, “Not everyone gets a trophy in the real world.”

Learning From Lindsay: Part II (AKA Dress to Impress)

What a strange power there is in clothing.~Isaac Bashevis Singer

We don’t mean to pick on Lindsay Lohan. Lord knows, she has had a lot going on.

But, when we saw her don the now oft-talked about white dress that she chose to wear to court last week, we knew it would be a popular subject in the Twittersphere and beyond.

Why?  Because the dress spoke volumes, though clearly not about what she had hoped it would.  (She claimed to have worn the virginal white frock to proclaim her innocence; various pundits speculated that it illustrated everything from a rebellious spirit to poor judgment. And then there was the manicure…)

But, whether you were on Team “White” or Team “Not Right,” most would agree that she just didn’t dress to impress – particularly in light of the gravity of the situation.

Poorly chosen clothing can, at a minimum, be a distraction and, at a maximum, a barrier to entry, so it’s important to be super clear about what your clothing says about you.  So what can you learn from La Lohan’s wardrobe dysfunction?

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MOVING FROM BACKSTAGE TO CENTER STAGE

“Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” — so bellowed the Wizard of Oz as he tried to maintain the magic that he had created.

Jessica and Meryl "backstage"

We know his pain. In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we talk about how public relations people are typically the ones behind the proverbial curtain, pulling the strings and making other folks look good in the spotlight.  And, our goal with this book is to help you learn how to promote yourself in the best way possible, so you’ll reap rewards in the workplace. But in doing that, we have had to come out from behind the curtain and take a bit of center stage ourselves — that’s what you have to do these days to sell a book!

So, instead of setting up a photo shoot for our clients or being on set while a celebrity was photographed for a magazine cover, as is often the case with our jobs, we arranged a shoot where we were the subjects.  Let us tell you, it is not easy being a model — no wonder supermodel Linda Evangelista said she wouldn’t get out of bed for less that $10,000 a day!

In the talented hands of photographer Simon Alexander and makeup artist/hairstylist Sadah Saltzman, the experience was made much easier.   For fun, we took some shots of us “behind the scenes,” a few outtakes featured here.

Getting our dance on to Lady Gaga

Both of us prefer to be on the other side of the camera, but here are a few tips we used to loosen up and get comfortable on set, all of which you can also use before you going on an interview or speaking in public:

1) Music feeds the soul. Simon loaded up the 80s tunes and some Lady Gaga to get us going on set.  If you have a big interview or presentation, before you leave for work or on your way, crank up your favorite tunes to pump you up and help your confidence so you’ll do a good job.

2) Keep a sense of humor. Laughter truly is the best medicine and helps diffuse an awkward situation or a tense meeting.  It also instantly relaxes people.  We found plenty of comical moments during the shoot and it’s reflected in some of the best shots of the day.

Laughing on the set

3) Dress confidently and comfortably (and powerfully). We brought several outfits as options for the shoot but the common thread was that they were bold, stylish and yet comfortable enough to stand around in for hours. When you’re preparing for an interview, a speech or an important work function, pick something that will reflect your personality and style, help you stand out (even if it’s a great tie or necklace that elevates that simple black shift or grey suit) but doesn’t make you want to change into your PJs and slippers after wearing it all day.  If you’re going to sport those 5-inch heels, make sure you’ve broken them in and you can walk in them. Choose your “power” look (be it “business chic” or “casual cute”) and rock it.

Last of all, no matter what the situation–photo shoot, interview, presentation, networking event–the best advice is to have fun.

Have you ever had to be front-and-center vs. behind-the-scenes? Share your story with us on Twitter or Facebook.