Public relations is one of the most elusive yet impactful fields of communication. Publicist Ivy Lee, the man famously responsible for the Rockefeller family legacy, noted at the end of his career: “I have never been able to find a satisfactory phrase to describe what I do.” Over a century later, this idea continues to resonate with many professionals. While it may be hard to explain what PR does, it is impossible to thrive in today’s marketplace without it. Nowhere it is more evident than in fashion, an industry built on Image. As the Public changed in seismic demographic shifts so did Relations with the arrival of social media. Then the global pandemic upended everything. Gone are the days of Champaign parties. Today’s publicity is data-driven and ROI-oriented. On a recent business trip to Los Angeles, I kept hearing a name come up whenever conversations pivoted to celebrity engagement with emergent designers. Tata. Can someone call Tata? You should call Tata! Turns out, Tata Kartvelishvili is the founder of TATA LA, a showroom and PR agency powered by high profile clientele in the worlds of entertainment and design. When I found out that she established her business just five years ago, we had to connect in-depth for my ongoing series of interviews with PR mavericks braving the new brick-and-mortar, digital and hybrid frontiers from the Middle East to the Latinx diaspora and beyond. How does one link rising Hollywood stars with emerging fashion talent, given that both these spaces are highly saturated and extremely competitive? Here is our conversation about the state of PR industry, what it takes to make it, stay relevant and thrive.
Let’s start with the basic premise. In a world of direct access to anybody, why are PR services still in-demand?
Social media and PR go hand in hand. The mode of communication might be ever evolving but I believe the extensive networking we do cannot be done by a brand in-house, especially if we are talking about up-and-coming designers. With social media you might have access to the right people, but it is not guaranteed that they will answer you to begin with or that a connection would be meaningful. You might go viral once, but you cannot depend on social as your brand’s main source of PR. It is all about developing strong relationships and creating a trustworthy reputation. Having the right agency dedicate its resources on your behalf is what brings lasting success.
Does celebrity PR still “work” in a cultural space where star power is constantly diluted?
Being in Hollywood, I disagree that star power is diluted now. Real celebrity holds a certain type of power that has always stayed like that. The big change is that bloggers, vloggers, tiktokers and other social media influencers are being given a space to become powerful in their own right, with their own reach. If anything, star power is expanding! It is good news for PR, because there are more clients to work with.
What are the pros and cons of engaging with a superstar or a micro-influencer?
Micro influencers can be beneficial for a specific niche. At a certain level, there are “influencers” who pester brands on their own to ship items for free for a post. The brands and influencers need to get to know each other before collaborating. For many brands it can be a waste of time. Access to established actors, music artists, and athletes as well as the well-known fashion influencers are some of the ways PR can help provide brand awareness and grow your client’s business.
But does awareness always translate to sales in the hyper-saturated social media space?
When top celebrities wear brand clothes or accessories, brand awareness increases immediately. Notoriety is key to selling, a necessary element. However, for the ROI to be successful, the main responsibility is on the brand. Do they have these items in stock or how quickly can they produce them? How smooth is their e-commerce functionality? What other retail platforms are they sold on? How effectively will they manage their marketing after the celebrity placement? Everything matters!
Is this why a combination of showroom and PR agency is becoming an industry standard?
Yes, perhaps. I believe you can achieve better results when they’re together. I’ll give you an example. During the pandemic, the mandated lockdowns forced us to stop working in sales. It was terrible for all parties involved in the United States and abroad. However, we managed to create new PR service strategy that allowed our brands to receive placements throughout the pandemic. This way we were able not only to sustain our designers and clients, but even to expand the agency in the last year and a half. I am now working to add Press and WholeSale departments. The results of operating in such a way help brands grow more organically. Basically, the more services a company can offer its clients, the more impact they can have.
How did you personally get “into fashion”?
I first went to Paris when I was 10 years old and fell in love with high fashion. Back in the 1990’s, in my home country of Georgia, there were no beautiful boutiques or cool clothes readily available. I was watching Fashion TV all the time, completely obsessed with fashion. In my teens, I started modeling, which helped me to get to know the industry a bit more on the inside. After moving to LA, started doing pop-up stores with talented designers. In the beginning, I was working on the PR part as well for the brands and the events and realized I was very passionate about it. I launched my e-commerce site and in 2018, the PR agency. I found what I love. I am doing it 24/7 now.
What was your big fashion PR break?
My big fashion PR break came when I started working with Kendall Jenner’s stylist Marni Senofonte and her team. I already had several A-list celebrity placements but after Kendall started wearing my designers everything changed.
Why did you choose LA for your business and not New York, a traditional fashion capital?
We are in Hollywood with its great population of celebrities in close proximity and major events always happening around LA. So many music videos and editorial shoots are shot here. Most celebrity stylists are here. We start working on projects maybe a week or few days in advance, but we can also get an urgent last-minute request. Being here gives us an advantage.
Among the global brands you represent, you have some of my favorite Georgian designers. I’ve covered Tbilisi Fashion Week extensively. In your experience, what makes Georgian fashion so hot in the US and worldwide right now?
Georgian designs always look unique. It is some special touch that only Georgians have, and it resonates more and more now. Five year ago, selling collections was hard. Stylists and die-hard fashionistas found the details and silhouettes interesting, but celebrities or regular customers felt it was too different from what they were used to. You can say, it was a slow process of mutual education. I am very proud to have contributed to this change of attitude by introducing brands over and over to more and more clients. People became more familiar with the brands and developed appreciation for the style. The brands also grew in their understanding of the international market and refined their pieces to have broader appeal but still have something Georgian which gives them a unique identity.
For success in a demanding industry, what is the ratio of business savvy and magic or luck?
To be honest, I am not a big believer in magic. I am a super realistic but very optimistic person. I believe that hard work, willingness to always learn more, and being passionate about the right business for you will bring success in any industry. Savvy is helpful to know when the good time is to implement which steps. I’d say luck always would be nice, but it really comes down to the amount of hard work you’re willing to put into your dreams.https://www.tata-la.com/