Working 9 to… 9?!

Publicists in the Digital Age Get No Beauty Sleep

Ten years ago, the young women who would eventually band together and form the public relations firm DNA, planting their flag in the ‘burbs in Rye, NY, were hard-charging Manhattan beauty publicists, toiling for the big-league agencies. Though they worked hard, there was a basic framework around their days. Hitting the office at 9-ish, they dove into a round of press release-writing, calling magazines to pitch the latest miracle crème or hotshot hairstylist, and wooing the marquée-name editors over fancy lunches at the happening restaurant du jour. Save for the occasional evening press event, they could pretty much call it quits by 6.

Circa 2011, their day-to-day is very different, and not because they went the entrepreneurial route. Business is booming (roughly 30 accounts across all sectors of the beauty and wellness markets), so it’s not as if the founding partners – Dana Epstein and Lauren Kahn – are lying awake at night worrying whether they’ll make payroll.

But they just might be up at 3 a.m. for an altogether different reason: combing the internet for breaking news they can post to their clients’ blogs, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. Oh – and can’t forget Flick’r and YouTube.

“The digital world works at warp speed,” says Kahn. “Not immediately capitalizing on a story that hits the Web positions our clients as ‘me too’ rather than cutting-edge. So we scour the internet, linking, hashtagging and tagging our clients’ products and services.”

Clearly, this is now an almost 24/7 gig. “There are no 9 to 5 publicists anymore,” says Kahn. “If someone tells you otherwise, they simply aren’t doing their job.”

Although DNA clients possess varying levels of tech-savvy, each and every one is positively convinced they need to have a social media presence. So to that end, there is now a digital component to every pitch and brand-building plan DNA presents.

And thanks to this broadened portfolio of client expectations, DNA has found itself firmly entrenched in the customer service game. Yes, in addition to strategizing public relations – a big-enough chunk of a business to claim, one might think – DNA is now on tap to interact directly with consumers. Basically, this is an entirely new layer of service publicists are routinely delivering, one that didn’t exist in the pre-digital days.

Let’s take DNA’s biggest social-media success story to date – Hard Candy – as an example of this shift. When the agency first came on board to do publicity for the edgy and beloved makeup brand, Facebook and Twitter hadn’t even been hatched. But within one year of putting a digital program in place, Hard Candy now has well north of 17,000 Facebook fans, many of whom interact frequently with the page, commenting and posting. (Occasionally complaining, too, which we’ll get to in a minute.)

The general hubbub on the Hard Candy page is the surest sign, says Kahn, that DNA has scored a home run for its client. “On many, many Facebook brand pages you’ll see tens of thousands of fans but very little interaction, from ‘likes’ to commenting on updates or links,” she notes. “That means people are hiding or ignoring the news.’”

But since it prides itself on responding to virtually every chirp and peep from Hard Candy’s fans, no matter how seemingly mundane and un-important (I’m sorry, but that applies to a good 90 percent of the chirping and peeping on Facebook), that means DNA has to monitor the page constantly.

On a recent Wednesday, for instance, there were multiple comments and postings on the page, and DNA, posing as Hard Candy, got right in there, feed-backing on just about every one, including this punctuation-challenged request:

Katie Burns Gq: “You should have coupons for birthdays mine is coming up this friday and nothing can get better than using a coupon on ur fav product.”

Hard Candy: “Working on coupons as we speak Katie! We’ll keep everyone posted. Won’t happen by Friday but Happy early Birthday anyway!”

For the record, “Katie” wrote in at 3:53 pm. “Hard Candy” responded at 5:02 pm. That’s pretty solid customer service.

While they don’t list it in the “Services” section of their own website, DNA is essentially providing what SEM (Search Engine Management) company Anvil Media calls Online Reputation Management. To hear Anvil tell it, companies that don’t have a similar type of technology watchdog in place can be in for serious brand erosion.

“Just because your company isn’t actively involved in social media communities doesn’t mean your customers and constituents aren’t,” reads an ominous entry on the Anvil website. “In fact, industry research tells us that quite the opposite is true: your Web-savvy customers own your brand online. So if you’re not getting in on the conversation, you expose yourself to tremendous risk.”

But isn’t Kahn pining for those long-ago Luddite days, when round-the-clock account maintenance wasn’t part of the equation, and she could consider a two-hour editor schmooze-a-thon over lunch at the Four Seasons a smashing success?

It certainly doesn’t sound like it.

“A running theme for each of our clients is that they’ve heard from customers that their service is impeccable,” she says with pride, and not an ounce of disgruntlement at how much the game has changed since the world became welded to its hand-held devices and Twitter feeds. “Opportunities happen all the time, and I want to make sure my clients jump on them. I’m driven to provide the highest ROI possible. It’s safe to say we all are.”

Dana Wood About Dana Wood

A beauty journalist for over 20 years, Dana Wood has served as Beauty Director for both W and Cookie magazines and has written for numerous national publications including Glamour, InStyle, Harper’s Bazaar and Self. She also spent several years in the Luxury Products division of L’Oreal as Assistant Vice President, Strategic Development. Her first book, Momover: The New Mom’s Guide to Getting It Back Together, was published in 2010 by Adams Media.