The Ladies of Skirt PR
For glamour and paramount public relations services, many top-tier clients are turning to Skirt PR, one of Chicago’s most elite agencies. Adrienne Eckert Petersen founded the esteemed firm when she was just 25 years old.
After jetting off to the Big Apple for her first post-grad job at Siren PR, Adrienne took her next step, or, shall we say, leap: She launched Skirt PR, the product of a very specific vision and a strong dedication to service. Her full-service agency caters to the world of fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. She brought on an amazing team of women (and one lucky man!) that share her passion for networking, innovative ideas, and, of course, style. Now, the office is bustling with personality, not to mention pink hues and a wall adorned with purses.
Today’s feature is all about Adrienne and some of Skirt PR’s leading ladies: Lauren Berg, Caryn Schoenbeck, and Claire Perkins. Read on and discover how Adrienne turned her dreams into Skirt PR, as well as how she and her team use polite persistence to succeed in one of the toughest industries out there.
Name: Adrienne Eckert Petersen
Hometown: Fairfield, CT
Educational background (school, degree, majors, additional training, etc.): Purdue University, B.A. with Communication Major: Public Relations Focus and a Double Minor in English and Marketing.
Tell us about your job and daily responsibilities: Between being a mother, wife and President of a PR firm, I can honestly say I’m a “Jane-of-all-trades” and every day brings different responsibilities (and surprises!)
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? Public Relations Assistant at Siren PR in New York. I had already arranged a job with Neiman Marcus (in Chicago) upon graduation that didn’t begin until September, so, essentially, I had the summer off. Anyone who knows me understands that I can’t sit still for too long. I spent that summer looking for other opportunities and stumbled upon Siren’s website. I sent my resume and called the boss constantly to follow up. After a month, she called me and asked if I could come out for an interview, so I flew to New York. The day after the meeting, she called and offered me a job but told me I’d need to start in 2 weeks. I informed Neiman Marcus that I had found another opportunity and would be moving to New York. Without any place to live or any friends in New York, I packed up and moved to start my first job. I guess you could say that I have always been a risk taker, because I’ve learned quickly that big risks usually give big rewards.
Tell us how you went about starting Skirt PR at the young age of 25. (How did you find clients? Manage the business/legal side of things? A lesson my parents taught me is that everyone deserves the same respect, no matter what. I have always treated a 27-year-old editor with the same respect I would give a 72-year-old editor. It’s the same with starting Skirt PR. I never let my age stop me from talking to anyone and always treated everyone with the same respect. That, and, I’ve always been able to understand my audience and speak to them appropriately. Once I launched Skirt PR, clients always found me (and, for the most part, still do to this day). Word spread about the results I was able to produce, my professionalism and my creativity, and before long, I had enough clients to get an “official” office space and hire employees.
Why start your own brand instead of working for a larger, more established PR company? I always had a very specific vision for what I wanted and the only way to craft something that is 100% my own was to build it from the ground up! Skirt PR has always been focused on the fashion, beauty and lifestyle sectors and has had amazing success with the consumer press, connecting tastemakers with brands, and securing product placement. My vision is all about servicing clients the right way—a more personal way. My philosophy is to think like that business owner and examine their brand and how we can help. We’re an extension of their team. It’s about getting a client, becoming part of their company and diving in and understanding their brand. It’s not just about getting a boutique press, but what would we need to do if we owned or worked at that boutique and how is what we’re doing going to affect their business and bottom line. We don’t look at them as clients, we look at them as partners.
How long before you began building your staff? I have always been very conservative with my hiring practices. I won’t bring anyone on unless I know they will be a permanent member of my team. It was close to a year before I hired anyone. I’m always flattered at the amount of resumes I receive, but I truly look for hardworking individuals who are willing to “do it all” (see “Jane-of-all-trades” reference above). Many of the most promising hires I’ve ever made have been from our intern program. And, some of my best employees over the years started as interns: Natalie (Sturgis) Marquez, Lauren Berg, and Christine Bosnjak, to name a few. It’s important to see that people are willing to get their hands dirty, because most people have a misconception that PR is all glitz and glamour.
What did you learn from your previous work experience that has helped you with running your own business? I actually learned most about what I wanted in my own agency from my other positions.
What do you love about the PR and Fashion worlds? Are there elements you don’t care for? I can honestly say that I love everything about what I do and the sector that I work in. I have to pinch myself constantly for having the ability to work with the clients that Skirt PR represents.
Take us through an average day at work. What does your typical schedule look like? I’m sure everyone you’re interviewing from Skirt will tell you there’s no “average day,” but it’s really true. Some days there are meetings, some days there are events, some days we’re flying across the country, some days I’m fixing the purses on the wall. In the 8+ years of owning Skirt PR, I can say there has never been a “Groundhog Day” moment!
You’ve worked with some amazing brands like Bliss, Louis Vuitton, and Scoop NYC. How did you balance such large clients when you were first starting out? I’m not big on fear. I never let anything intimidate me. I know my staff gets sick of me saying, “we can figure out how to do it,” but I really believe that. In the beginning, and still today, if a client proposed something that was bigger than me, I would always find a way to get it done. It’s in my nature to exceed expectations.
What are the best and most challenging parts of running your own business? The best part of running my own business is being able to choose who we work with and who we represent. I don’t know if I’ve made it to the “most challenging” part yet. Can I let you know when I get there?
Do you prefer working with smaller brands or larger companies? C. All of the above
What characteristics would you say are essential to work in fashion PR? Patience, attention to detail, discretion and good cheer! OR, just don’t miss deadlines.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get their foot in the door? Never take “no” for an answer.
What qualities do you look for when hiring? Patience, attention to detail, discretion and good cheer! OR, just don’t miss deadlines.
How have you grown since you opened? Our capabilities have grown in so many ways, and the services we’re now able to offer didn’t even exist when I first started. Everyone on my team has had the opportunity to manage everything from full-service, corporate accounts who want national press, to small brands who are just getting launched on a small budget. It’s incredible when I take a step back to compare where I was when I first opened my doors.
In what ways do you still want to see the company evolve? We have lots of tricks up our sleeves and are about to unveil some amazing new things. I’m happy to say that we’re ever-changing and constantly staying ahead of the industry and trends.
Best moment of your career so far? Finding the core group of amazing people who have also wanted to see Skirt PR succeed and take it to the next level. Many of them are interviewed for this article!
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? Never take “no” for an answer.
Favorite budget-friendly brand? BooHoo.com
Click to page 2 to read an interview with managing director, Lauren Berg!
Name: Lauren Berg
Title: Managing Director
Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota
Educational background (school, degree, majors, additional training, etc.): Bachelor of Arts in History from Northwestern University
Tell us about your job and daily responsibilities: As the Managing Director, I wear many hats and have my hand in several different aspects of the day-to-day operations at Skirt. I’m responsible for ensuring that our clients are happy, bringing in new and exciting business, and most importantly, keeping our team happy, challenged and invested in growing with the company. My grandpa was an HR guru and innovator in his time, and he (and my dad—both my mentors) have taught me that you’re only as successful as the people working for you. As Skirt continued to grow, it became evident that we needed someone to think big-picture, both with client-driven efforts and our approach to internal operations. I feel lucky that Adrienne trusted me enough to allow me to step into that role; I’ve been given the opportunity to do what I love, which is trying my best every day to help the team grow their careers. Beyond that, I still oversee major accounts and help with strategy creation, pitching, and event execution. I never want to lose touch with the meat and potatoes of this job—busting your butt for an awesome placement. This means staying in constant touch with media and knowing what is press-worthy.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? My first job out of college was an internship at Skirt. I also landed an internship on the Obama campaign at the same time—two extremely different work environments and experiences. As a history major with life-long plans to go to law school, I was pretty devastated when I interned at a law firm in college and felt completely uninspired. I realized I didn’t want to work with paper all day; I wanted to work with people. Senior year was spent doing some soul searching. I focused in on what I loved—the ever-evolving world of fashion, devouring every magazine I could get my hands on, and being a devout communicator in every sense of the word. I was lucky enough to have best friends in the journalism school, who suggested I might like being their counterpart in the industry: a publicist.
From there, I discovered Skirt through an article in CS about the “PR Princesses” of Chicago (it always makes me smile that I found my future employer through an outlet I pitch every week) and immediately applied for the intern program. When I didn’t hear back right away for an interview, I continued to be “politely persistent” (buzz words at Skirt) until they brought me in. I followed up with a handwritten thank you note (a tip I swear by), and the rest is history.
How did you come to work at Skirt? I landed a full-time position here through hard work and a lot of luck. I’m always hesitant to tell our current interns that I was once in their shoes. Life is all about timing, and I happened to be an intern (albeit, a very dedicated and hardworking one!) when Adrienne was looking to hire someone full time. My advice for interns looking to gain full time positions is to become as indispensable as possible. We’ve carved out special gigs for those interns we just couldn’t stand to lose.
What do you love about the PR and Fashion worlds? Are there elements you don’t care for? I love the fast-paced nature of PR and the fact that no day is the same. On Monday, I might be plugging away at my desk sending out pitches, and on Tuesday, I could be in New York running around from Hearst to Condé Nast for deskside appointments with editors. I’ve also come to realize that I love the thrill of landing a major placement for a client. Coming up with just the right angle and just the right editor to pitch it to—when it all works out, it’s a very satisfying feeling, especially when you have amazing clients, like we do at Skirt, who are so grateful and excited. It makes all the hard work worth it.
At the same time, I think the most difficult part of this job is the constant rejection. Ultimately, the decision to run something is in the editor’s/producer’s/blogger’s hands, not mine. For a type-A, self-admitted control freak, that can be hard to stomach! But I also think it has helped me grow immensely (both professionally and personally) and pushed me to work that much harder. It can also be hard to find a good work/life balance with a job that is far from 9-5, but you must do it! The best work comes when you’re happy and finding fulfillment in all aspects of your life.
Take us through an average day at work. What does your typical schedule look like? Truly, no day is the same! But on a regular basis, my days are filled with conference calls with clients/prospective clients, countless emails, internal meetings and brainstorms (often over pizza, my favorite food), a lot of writing (pitches, press releases, strategies), coffees/lunches/drinks with media, and industry events. I couldn’t survive without my Outlook calendar to keep me organized and on schedule!
What characteristics would you say are essential to work in fashion PR? What advice would you give to someone looking to get their foot in the door? In order to be successful in this industry, you have to be: detail-oriented, organized, an exceptional multi-tasker, persistent, creative, and possess strong written and verbal communication skills. My advice is to take a publicist’s approach to getting into the industry: learn how to pitch yourself, do it creatively, and above all, be persistent (but polite, of course)! Also, be a sponge to the industry—absorb all of the magazines/blogs/newspapers you can get your hands on to stay on top of the trends.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? Live in the moment. Life will pass you by and before you know it, you’ll be closer to 30 than 20. Cherish your life and don’t take it for granted—it’s a pretty darn good one!
Favorite budget-friendly brand? In the past year, I’ve become a little too obsessed with Zara. It’s perfect for chic and sophisticated pieces that look expensive but don’t break the bank. I also love ASOS to get my girly fix. They have the best selection of ladylike dresses and skirts.
Click to page 3 to read interviews with Caryn Schoenbeck, senior account executive, and Claire Perkins, social media director at SkirtPR!
Full Name: Caryn Schoenbeck
Educational background (school, degree, majors, additional training, etc.): Bachelor of Arts with a major in Journalism from The University of Illinois
Current Position: Senior Account Executive
Tell us about your job and daily responsibilities: It’s so varied! Some days, I’m at my desk drilling out press releases and media pitches like my life depends on it. Other days, I’m out of the office for client meetings or events. Ultimately, my job is to get my clients the best press possible in a variety of ways, whether that is straight pitching, events, or deskside trips with editors. Right now, I’m the direct client contact for five accounts, so I am responsible for everything from big-picture planning to day-to-day account management. Sometimes, I feel like outsiders believe we sit around all day and gossip, while getting pedicures and drinking mimosas. That makes me chuckle, because it is such a distorted perception. We work really hard!
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? I interned at Weber Shandwick. In the field of PR, it is standard operation to intern post-college before you get your first full-time offer. I worked on accounts like the Corn Refiners Association and the Got Milk! campaign. The essence of glamour, right? I was only there for a short time before I was offered a job at a local boutique lifestyle agency.
How did you come to work for Skirt? Pure luck. Before I started, I applied to Skirt more than a few times, to no avail. All I really wanted to do was work at Skirt (when my mind gets stuck on an idea, I can’t escape from it). Then one Friday evening, I was viewing an apartment that I found on Craigslist before going out for the night. During the viewing, the current tenant was asking me what I do for a living. I told her I was in public relations, and she casually mentioned that her friend owned Skirt PR. I think my reaction to her was, “I would die to work at Skirt PR.” A lot of passion from someone who takes pride in playing it cool. Two days later, the girl contacted me over Craigslist, told me that Skirt might be hiring, and gave me Adrienne’s contact information. I called Adrienne’s cell phone at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday, stayed up all night preparing my resume and placement book, and met her at 8 a.m. the next morning. The following Monday, I started at Skirt. I’ve been here three years now.
What characteristics would you say are essential to do your position (account management in fashion PR)? The ability to multi-task and manage many projects at any given time. Being able to handle stressful situations well. Extreme creativity and the drive to work harder and provide even bigger results every day that I am here.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? Relish the moment—wherever you are is PERFECT. You have been guided there! And when you think it is time for a big change, remember that you will be given exactly what you need, exactly when you need it. Trust the process.
Favorite budget-friendly brand? I just started sewing my own wardrobe, so that’s probably the most budget-friendly brand I subscribe to. I’ve made five dresses and a skirt so far (including the dress I’m wearing in the photos).
Full Name: Claire Perkins
Educational background (school, degree, majors, additional training, etc.): Bachelor of Science from University of Arizona
Current Position: Social Media Director
Tell us about your job and daily responsibilities: I direct the strategic coordination of social media accounts for Skirt PR and our clients. In a nutshell, my job involves big-picture planning, managing communities and generating growth for Skirt PR and specific clients within the digital space. My day-to-day duties include managing dozens of social media accounts, designing collateral and blog posts, building Wordpress blogs and sites, writing (and writing and writing), filming and editing videos and experimenting with new networks for our company and clients to exist in.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position? I definitely had to talk my way into my first job—a job, frankly, that was a reach for me. I had a friend working as an editor at an Arizona-based luxury magazine publishing house, and she suggested I apply for an ad sales position. Instead, I found a job description on the Web site for the "Director of Communications," a managing position responsible for community outreach, PR, special events, promotions, projects and networking for all the magazine titles the company published.
I e-mailed my resume to the Publisher, who quickly replied "Thanks but no thanks, you have no experience." I then shot back a list of all the reasons why I had what it took, even without a month of professional experience. A plane ride and ten hour-long interview later (which involved difficult questions, client meetings and a cocktail party at a golf course where I had to show off my networking prowess), I had the job. Well, they created a junior version of the job for me, which quickly grew into a more important role. When I moved five years later and had to say goodbye, I left as VP & Executive Publisher of the company.
How did you come to work for Skirt? When I moved to Chicago I knew only one friend, but my dad was able to connect me with a colleague's daughter who works in PR here in the city. I worked for her for a few weeks, and in exchange she sent my resume to friends at different companies, including Skirt PR.
Adrienne at Skirt replied to an e-mail that was sent. She was looking to expand Skirt's social media space, and luckily, my resume was very heavy in digital and social media. After a quick interview I was brought on as an outside contractor a few days a week. I worked on Skirt’s social media accounts and the accounts of clients, and built a blog for the company. After a month or so of upward trends, I was brought on full-time.
I think it's a very valuable lesson—every position I've held had has been created for me and my skill set. It's so important to stick to your guns and do what you love and are best at, even if you don't see openings available that fit. People will find a way to work with you!
What characteristics would you say are essential to do your position (both social media and fashion PR)? There are so many people out there with different tactics and approaches when it comes to PR and social media, which is what keeps it interesting. Without a doubt, though, creativity is most important. There are endless people out there with the ability to "re-pin" photos and the organizational skills to hold cocktail parties. Setting yourself apart with an original and distinctive take on a project or brand is what makes the difference.
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self? To have more confidence in my abilities. I spent the first five years of my career with heart palpitations and numb legs from all the pressure I put on myself. But very rarely, if ever, did I drop the ball. Also, try to find a balance in life and compartmentalize work and play. You'll work your hardest when you're young, but if you are enjoying life, your work will be so much more inspired. There's no reason to e-mail clients at 1 a.m. every night or toss and turn at night about an event that's months away.
Favorite budget-friendly brand? Zara times a million. To the millionth power.