Backstage at Oscar de la Renta RTW Spring 2018

The coronavirus pandemic has not been kind to the p.r. and branding industry, but a few people are taking the opportunity to go out on their own.

A handful of new agencies — most doing a mix of traditional p.r. for talent and brands, along with strategy and even content creation — are cropping up after a wave of more established agencies drastically downsized or in some cases simply closed this past spring after the coronavirus hit the West and took much of the economy with it.

The new arrivals include Collective in Los Angeles, a fashion p.r. agency started by Jamie Alvarado, who was at Spring until its office closed earlier this year; Michelle Rodriguez PR, also in L.A. from the eponymous founder who was at PR Dept; Another Tomorrow, a talent agency currently in London started by Lloyd Tyler, formerly of Great Bowery; Lindsey Media in New York, mainly focused on p.r. and strategy for emerging fashion brands started by Lindsey Solomon, formerly of Mode, and Platform PR in New York, a full-service firm started by Marco D’Angelo, formerly of KCD.

D’Angelo had been planning to go out on his own a year before the pandemic hit but his launch in March, right after he returned from Paris Fashion Week, was timed almost exactly to the pandemic fallout. He had two clients immediately put contracts on hold but he still started off with luxury clients like Oscar de la Renta and Monse, both designed by Laura Kim and Fernando Garcia; Fausto Puglisi, and skin-care brand Augustinus Bader.

“I came back from fashion week and everything went downhill,” D’Angelo admitted. But overall he’s seen a lot of things to be positive about as someone launching his own business for the first time after years at big agencies and in-house at brands.

“I don’t want to say it’s a blessing — because it’s not — but it was nice to have to take a step back and really look at things, be able to finesse before fully launching,” he said.

Platform now has five full-time reps, each with their own brand, and a full-time copy editor, allowing the agency to offer content creation as one of its services. The agency will soon represent brands, influencers and talent. D’Angelo is also offering for free online regular tips and guidance aimed at brands that simply can’t afford to hire an agency, something he hopes to expand even more with outside contributors. He also plans to make the most of his position as a smaller company and has no interest in going back to a big firm.

“It’s super important to become integrated with the brands you’re working with and at a big agency, they can lose that touch… but that’s the foundation for trust, he said.

“I definitely want to stay independent,” D’Angelo added. “It’s given me a whole different perspective, not to be just a middleman.”

Among the new agencies WWD spoke with, this notion of being smaller and able to work more closely with brands, and help brands that are already small or talent in a similar position, is key to what they want to do.

Another Tomorrow is working with a handful of diverse global talents early on in their careers, like the photography duo Babyhouse, the director Jared Royal, and photographers Kwabena Sekyi Appiah-Nti and Greg Lin. Collective is focused on fashion brands and is starting out with shoe designer Kat Maconie. Agency founder Jamie Alvarado characterized it as “a true start-up,” but said she wanted to take being laid off from Spring as “an opportunity for myself.”

“It had been a dream of mine to build an agency from the foundation up with my core values and vision,” she said.

“Being on my own has allowed me the freedom to take on projects that I might have not had the opportunity to work on before,” Michelle Rodriguez said. “As a whole, our industry was reminded that now more than ever, we need to be more creative and flexible when it comes to p.r. campaigns for our clients. P.r. tactics that might have worked pre-COVID-19 may not be feasible for a long time and it is our job to figure out how to render results in a new era.”

And the values of many new agencies, while not entirely new, do seem to be focused on simpler, direct relationships with select clients.

“So many people I’ve met so far, they had a p.r. they didn’t like or they didn’t think did much for them,” Lindsey Solomon said. “I want people to feel like they can trust me. I want to be like, the drunken best friend that can’t stop saying, ‘Look how pretty my friend is.’”

Solomon is, for now, working out of his apartment and being very flexible within the budgets of his new coterie of about 25 small, independent clients. Most are fashion brands with a handmade or sustainable bent, but he also has a food client and one that does business content.

It started, like so many things do, on Instagram. He had to leave Mode in April and was “milling around,” as he put it, when someone suggested that he start his own firm.

“Through Instagram, it was like, ‘Hey, let’s talk,’ and it steamrolled very, very quickly,” Solomon said. “One person referred me to another, then it was ‘Oh, you should talk to my friend,’ then the influencers started asking questions.

“Initially my plan was to freelance and just pay the bills, but then I realized I have a platform and I can home in on young brands,” he added. “We’re all young and we’re trying to make a living for ourselves.”

Solomon is focusing on emerging brands but he said his p.r. strategy isn’t about “reinventing the wheel.” He’s trying to start from a place of his clients’ goals, getting them to be as specific as possible, and create strategy from there.

“If anything is different, it’s my approach,” Solomon said. “P.r. can be a little sharky and aggressive. For me, I really care about what I do and I want to create a positive environment. A lot of the brands I’m working with now, they don’t have a lot of money and they’re really investing in me to build their brand during a pandemic.”

For More, See:

Europeans Souring on American Brands Over Coronavirus

Fashion P.R. Agencies Keep Culling Staff Amid Coronavirus Fallout

Coronavirus Poised to Be Worse for Advertising, Media Than Last Recession

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