Davy Hezemans knows the fashion PR landscape in Amsterdam well. Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, Davy discovered that she possessed the business gene at an early age. After having her own sandwich bar and later a restaurant, she made a total career change and joined the PR agency Spice PR in 2003, which evolved to becoming one of the leading fashion and lifestyle PR agencies in The Netherlands. In our interview, Davy shares her thoughts on the PR industry, how fashion is evolving in Amsterdam, and to what extent technology has changed the industry.
Davy Hezemans – From Hospitality to Fashion
Davy, tell us a bit about your background…
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, so I was looking at how I could start my own business. After living in Paris for a while, I came back to Holland and opened a small sandwich shop and later a restaurant. From that, I got to know a lot of people and somehow many of the hospitality brands I worked with started asking if I had some creative ideas, and if I could help them with experience marketing. I did that for a while, but thought: “What am I actually doing?” At that point, I was involved in a little bit of everything, so I decided to stop working for half a year and have lunch with somebody new every day to see what they thought I should do. It may sound like a strange approach, but it helped me a lot. When some people suggested I should try PR, I had no clue about it, so I started digging into who was really good at PR. Eventually, I met my current business partner who had a more corporate PR agency at the time. While first joining her as an Associate Partner, I pretty soon became full Partner at Spice PR, a role where I can combine my love for business and creativity.
Why did you choose to work with fashion brands?
Actually, Spice PR started out as a lifestyle PR agency; that’s the background I came from, and I knew a lot of liquor brands, restaurants, chefs, etc. from that. But then I got to know the young designer Percy Irausquin and I saw his struggle with getting visibility for his designs. So I thought, “if I help him, in a way it will also help me”, as I’d have a really nice showroom then, celebrities would come, and all in all Spice PR would get more publicity. Via Percy, I got to know a lot of other designers and that is how we started a kind of designer support program which we still do. From then on, we got noticed by bigger brands and over the years have built it from 2 brands to about 60 now. 35% are still individuals and lifestyle brands and the rest is fashion.
How do you see Amsterdam evolving when it comes to fashion?
Well, we’re getting there. We’re a very down-to-earth, Calvinistic country, so fashion was never a top priority. We did develop some interesting denim culture and a few of my friends founded Amsterdam Fashion Week 15 years ago. Back then we were hosting only three shows, so actually there was nothing, but all of a sudden people felt a bit like, “wow, we can also do fashion”, so it became more of a thing. In the last years alone, you can see a big evolvement when it comes to luxury in Amsterdam. More and more luxury brands are opening in there – whether it’s five-star hotels or luxury designer boutiques. And I also think social media plays an important factor in that we’re gaining more fashion sense.
Who were the first big clients and are they still clients?
Still very important to Spice PR are those young designers that we started with. We also have some really big brands as clients, that have been with us almost since the beginning: Replay, Nike, Bugaboo, Bulgari… We also now work with Vogue Nederland; the editor-in-chief, who we’ve worked with for a long time, was previously at Glamour Nederland, so when she went to Vogue, we kind of moved with her. I’m always interested to work with clients either on a project basis or over the long-term (we build a long relationship and work together for at least four years).
What do you think PR teams need to do to stay relevant in our digital age?
I think you need to keep on innovating, but for me, innovation is not as technical as it sounds. You just need to keep your eyes and ears open, work with young people and work really hard, going the extra mile. Of course, a lot has changed in our business, in a way you could say PR doesn’t exist anymore because it seems that paid media and paid influencers are more important, but I think it comes back to where it began. PR is about public relations: Who do you know? Who can you connect? But also the content: How good is your story? Is it relevant? Does it have news value? So that’s how you stay relevant, but also just doing the job. If somebody requests an image, send it. I see so many new agencies that are more about the lifestyle of a PR agency and not so much about the actual work.
Which skills do you believe somebody has to have to be successful in PR?
You absolutely have to be a multi-tasker, because within Spice PR you handle five to eight accounts, which are actually not that many, but we do a lot for our accounts. We do content creation, influencer management, PR… we do everything. You need to be able to hold all those little pots on the fire, and not let them burn. Of course, you have to like people as well and be able to look at things from the other angle. I am always thinking, “If I were a very sarcastic journalist in a bad mood, would I still like this story?”
What’s the most memorable event or campaign you’ve ever worked on?
As we’ve been doing over a thousand events in the past 16 years, I always tend to focus on the last ones. I think for the fashion industry, the last project you did defines how relevant you are. For example, we just did a fantastic press day for Bulgari where we were not only lucky with the weather, but also hosted the event in a beautiful location, had a great guest list, and Bulgari’s whole international team attended. It was something where my juniors said, “Wow, this was really an evening that didn’t feel so much like work.” But memorable events can also be something really small; for the Conservatorium Hotel, we host an ambassador program with 10 people every year. Over the years, those people become a group of friends and really add value to the annual event. So I think spectacular things can be found in the small and big.
How have digital innovations changed the way you approach brands and consumers?
I’m a little bit sceptical about that, because there are so many tools to work with. We’re also trying out a lot of these different tools now but I think in the end, good PR comes back to vision, knowledge, experience and doing the right thing for the right client. An interesting topic we’re currently digging into is influencers – not only looking at their engagement and reach, but at their conversion. It’s much more interesting to know if what you’re doing is actually working, that’s why I think PR should become a much more open communication with your client. In my opinion, we shouldn’t all be so protective of our data. We have to find out what works together and what doesn’t work, and I feel like a relationship with a client is a bit like a marriage – if you’re not both open, then no magic will happen.
What tactics do you use when you choose the influencers you work with?
You need to have a little gut feeling, look into brands, look into influencers, and build a very personal relationship with them. We don’t rely on any third party with our data, because for us it’s all about personal contact. Together with our partner company, we’ve built our own data bank of influencers which is constantly updated. We take influencer requests very seriously, so I even take care of our generic email myself, to not miss any of these requests. It’s about knowing which influencers suit which brands.
What do you think of the micro-influencer trend?
Again, I think every brand needs a different strategy. I think we shouldn’t make such a division where we all go for the micro influencers or we all go for the big influencers – it should always be a mixture. What’s important is the brand, the budget of the brand, the story you want to tell…
PR is known as a tough one. What advice can you give to the people who want to start a PR agency?
Just start! I think it’s never too late to start anything, because quality will always survive. Decisions like this are not always there to make – if I would have followed my dream of real estate, I’d probably be able to retire now. So it’s also important to know what you get yourself into. If you want to do it well, then you really have to work your ass off for many years, but I wouldn’t say to anybody, “No, the market is full”, because there is always space for more people.
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