We introduce a new segment on Fashionista in which we talk to people in the fashion world about their jobs, and what exactly it is that they do all day. Editors, publicists, agents, photographers, you name it – because don’t you want to know what it means to “scout”? Or “do market work”?
Yeah, we knew you would. So here’s the first installment – we spent an afternoon with Thomas Onorato (former nightlife impresario, far left) and Max Wixom (former theatre man and technical wiz, left) of OW! Public Relations, to find out exactly how they end up doing all the best parties, and representing some of the coolest designers.
So we stopped by their Garment District loft, where we found them discussing hair and prints with designer Michael Angel, and got down to it -
So first, I want to start with the basics, like how did OW! happen? Where did you two even meet?: Well…
–ABOVE PHOTO BY KIRSTEN MAJOR
We went to NYU together, I [Thomas] went for PR, Max went for photography and theatre design. Then, years later, like six years later, we started freelancing together a lot, for events. Our first client was Boy George, which planted the seed for the company around June 2006. We would pull each other into our separate projects so much that people just referred to us as “Thomas and Max” so we just thought a company would make sense.
So you guys didn’t just wake up the day after graduation and start doing this. What sorts of jobs did you have after NYU but before OW!? THOMAS: I was a nightclub person for a while. I worked as the door guy a lot, which was the basis for the book Confessions From the Velvet Ropes: The Glamorous, Grueling Life of Thomas Onorato. Then I just worked in PR for a few years before I finally opened OW! with Max. MAX: I had a bunch of jobs. I was a theatre guy, doing house/stage managing, lighting, and I also did some press. I also worked at a day spa for a while.
So what sort of clients do you have? I think a lot of people don’t realize that OW! does PR for more than just fashion: THOMAS: Well for PR, we’ve worked with Y-3/adidas for their runway show, PRPS for their presentation, American Museum of Natural History, The Supper Club Launch, The Misshapes, Jen Kao for her presentation, Screaming Mimi’s; for production, we’ve worked with Preen, Elise Overland, Michael Angel, Bonpoint, Lacoste/Vogue – I could go on. We also have clients we’ve worked with for both PR and production, like Mercedes. MAX: We also guest lecture at FIT every semester. We lecture on PR and event production, we’ve been doing that for about two years.
Wow, ok. So, on to the point – exactly what do you do everyday? Like, from when you wake up to when the workday is over, what are you up to on a typical day that makes OW! work? I want to know everything! Let’s start with you, Max: MAX: Well, let’s see. I start the day with coffee and my Blackberry. Then I read the Wall Street Journal -
Really? I feel like most people read the Times first – or, if they’re being really honest, the Post.
MAX: I think the Journal gives a really good digestive news, and they cover trends that diffuse down in like three to four years. After I get through that, I come to the office, deal with e-mails -
Max at work
What kind of e-mails?
MAX: They’re usually information requests, follow-ups, mostly incoming questions from clients though. Then I start my pitches mid-day, like from 11am – 3pm.
What kind of pitches? What exactly are they?
MAX: Well, sometimes they’re pitches to the press, like letting a reporter know about something so they can potentially cover it, but they could also be for celebrities/talent/performers to ask if they can come to an event we’re putting together. It’s a lot of that.
How many e-mails do you deal with in a day?
MAX: Hm. I’d say anywhere from 40 to 200. Then, near the end of the day, I do the financials and bookkeeping, and then that’s when I do my writing.
Writing? What do you mean?
MAX: Like, generating the initial draft of releases, client bios, asks -
MAX: Asks are the official letters that ask for someone’s presence or talent for an event. So, whenever you have a band at an event, the whole thing starts with an ask from us – so, a letter that formally asks if they can attend and play, but that also gives a rundown of the event – where is it? When is it? What is it for? Who’s expected to be there? etc. This goes for whether you’re asking for anything from a celebrity to attend to sponsorship.
How many of those do you have to write up?
MAX: It totally depends on the event.
Ok, what about the Mercedes party during Fashion Week you guys did?
MAX: A party like that would be around 200 of them.
Wow, that’s a lot of paperwork! How do you get a band to come? And what do you do if they can’t make it?
MAX: Well, first you draft a list of all possible bands that could fit in with the event. Then you ID the groups that would be a better fit than others. But before you do anything, like speak to the people throwing the party, you check with each group to see if they’re even available for the set date. Then from there, you know who’s a possibility, and then at that point you can approach the client with the list, ID the A choice, the B choice, etc, and contact the groups again to see if they’ll do it. You always have an A choice obviously, but it’s just as important to have B and C choices in case of any issues. But basically, it’s all about keeping the goals in mind.
What do you mean? What goals? MAX: Whenever you have an event, or pretty much anything to plan, you have goals in mind, both expected and unexpected. So like, when a client says, “I want to have X, Y, and Z happen as a result of my event” – and those variables are usually things like, I want it to be mentioned in the Post, I want to get so-and-so to be there, etc – those are your expected goals. But then there are also the unexpected ones that would be great, too, like getting in the Journal, for example, getting more press than you intended. If you understand what people can do for you, and if you’re just straight about everything, then you’ll get a lot out of it. We’re always very, very clear about our goals with our clients. We’re not just smoke and mirrors.
The quote taped above Max’s desk
And what about you, Thomas? What’s your day like? Just like Max’s? THOMAS: Well let’s see. I wake up around 7:30 or 8am (MAX: Me, too!), drink Redbull, sometimes go to the gym, then I just start pulling stuff while watching the morning news.
What do you watch? THOMAS: Oh god, everything – Today, Good Morning America, CNN, E!… I’m really just absorbing. Then I read on the subway – Vogue, WWD, W, etc, and then I return all my e-mails on the train so that when I get above ground they all go out. I tend to obsess over them.
Do you both read all the same stuff? Like do you both read Vogue, for example? THOMAS: No, we split up the reading. Like, I read all the fashion stuff, some beauty, lifestyle, celebrity, etc, and Max reads all the theatre, gay, men’s, blogs, some celebrity and beauty, some music, etc. That way, we’re totally covered between the two of us.
Thomas at work
Ok, so read a lot.
MAX: We read more news than most people would ever think. It’s a big part of the job.
So what’s next, Thomas? THOMAS: When I get into the office, I deal with requests, follow-up questions, issues, concerns, etc. Then, on an average day, I do my pitches at mid-day like Max, then we all have lunch together, then I move onto my writing.
Do you guys actually have a proper lunch? Or is it like eating a spring roll with one hand while you type with the other?
THOMAS: No, we all actually sit down at the meeting table, us and the interns and freelancers, and eat for fifteen minutes. Sometimes we have show & tell, but mostly we talk about RuPaul’s Drag Race.
The office table
Show & tell? Tell me something you brought in recently.
THOMAS: Most recently, I brought in the new Interview.
So what do you do after lunch/writing?
THOMAS: Well, if there aren’t any events and it isn’t Fashion Week or anything, I usually food shop. I cook a lot (MAX: He’s been trying to perfect his Italian Peasant Stew), and I also read a lot.
What’s the last thing you do? One last e-mail/Twitter run-through? THOMAS: The very last thing I do is watch E! in bed, Chelsea Lately – it’s incredible. (MAX: That’s actually the last thing I do, too.)
I imagine that working in PR with so many celebrities/notable people, you must have serious run-ins with people’s egos a lot. What’s that like? What’s your best advice for handling someone like that?
THOMAS: We’re fortunate enough to have people that call us, so it’s probably not as bad as at other places. But yeah, some of them aren’t so nice, it’s just the reality of it. Bitchy, moody – it just rolls right off, because we still have a job to do. You can’t let somebody’s attitude get in the way of what needs to happen by the end of the day. So here’s my advice:
1. Don’t take it personally.
2. Big rule: ALWAYS take the high road. Be professional, don’t sink down to some diva’s level.
3. Remember that it’s not the energy you want to promote, so don’t take part in it.
4. Just get the job done, even if it means apologizing when you’re not at fault.
5. We don’t coddle, we’re just direct. Keep the goals in mind, and just keep doing the job. If you’re not intimidated, you’ll get past the defenses and get what you need. Yes/no questions are key, don’t deal with assistants, and pick up the phone and call people personally – you get more out of them that way.
6. Also, just show up unannounced. If someone isn’t responding to your e-mails/calls because they want to act like they’re so important, fine. Just show up and ask those questions that need to be answered.
MAX: It’s so true. I’m not kidding, what you can accomplish in five minutes of in-person yes/no questions is unbelievable. Doing business through text or IM is totally unacceptable.
People really do that? Text you with a question about a job?
THOMAS: Oh yeah, you wouldn’t believe it. We dream of apperating into people’s office to just ask them what we need to know.
THOMAS and MAX: Haven’t you read Harry Potter?!
MAX: It’s like when you appear somewhere, like snap your fingers and you’re there. It has a Wiki page you can link to.
Ok, I will.
MAX: We dream of apperating in a fierce pair of shoes right into people’s offices, just to get some answers.
What’s been some of your worst moments on the job? THOMAS Something you really learn in PR is when to push back on people, and when not to. People who want to micromanage and approve everything but are never available to answer you are a big issue. So when you first start out, you totally pussyfoot around the important people because you don’t want to rock the boat, but you just learn not to do that. I mean, we are both grown men in our 30′s, and we have both just burst into tears over things when people just get out of hand (in private).
MAX: Client management is the part you don’t hear about. Seek solutions, because no one else is going to give them to you.
THOMAS: Here’s a good example – We needed a logo for a sponsor for an event. We had the contact info for the President of the company, who was so definitely not getting back to us with this information in the time we needed. So we just looked on their website, found the number for their communication office, and bam, problem solved, because those are the people that’ll get back to you right away. Sometimes, you just have to think simply.
Ok, I think it’s time for some stats!
Hometown: Honolulu, Hawaii
Which languages do you speak? English
Do you answer your own phone? Sometimes
Breakfast of choice? Coffee, sometimes that cinnamon coffee cake from Starbucks
At-work drink of choice? Water.
After-work drink of choice? Water.
Where do yo live? Jersey City, NJ (“I’ve got a garden, a huge floorplan-”, THOMAS: Ugh.)
Who do you live with? My three cats.
Fun fact about you? MAX: Hm, I don’t know. THOMAS: I know! Max is a vampire expert. MAX:: That’s true! I have a vampire book reading club. I really like vampire metaphors, first of all, but yeah, I like to read fantasy at night. But Twilight is not my favorite. THOMAS: He was even quoted as a Vampire expert in a newspaper once, when the Twilight thing happened. MAX: I also played the piano for a long time and double bass. I even played in an international student competition at Carnegie Hall and at the Sydney Opera House. THOMAS: Oh great, I don’t have anything like this.
Max’s vampire-expert mention in the Daily News
What’s on your iPod right now: Kanye West
Favorite band? Either Kiki & Herb [editor's note: You have to see this] or Janis Joplin
Favorite TV show? The First 48 on A&E
Guilty pleasure? Whoppers with cheese, James Bond movies… and the cheesy tot. THOMAS: Oh yes, why don’t you explain to everyone about the cheesy tot, Max? MAX: Well, it’s a tator tot filled with cheese. [editor's note: We think this sounds amazing.] I like to get them then watch RuPaul.
Hometown: Verona, NJ
Which languages do you speak? English
Do you answer your own phone? Sometimes
Breakfast of choice? Either a smoothie, or one of those Fage yogurts with honey, 2%.
At-work drink of choice? Water, or Diet Pepsi.
After-work drink of choice? Well, my classic choice would be tea. I’m obsessed and have an entire cabinet at home of just teas. But if I’m feeling a little frisky, I’ll have a sidecar, which is Hennessy, Triple Sec and lemon juice.
Where do you live? Lower East Side.
Who do you live with? My roommates, no pets.
Fun Fact: Well, I have an amazing vinyl collection, and I’m a great cook, but really I’m a closeted music snob. MAX: Um, I think you’re a public music snob. He also has a key collection! THOMAS: Oh yeah, that’s true. I collect antique keys. I have 60 or 70 of them total.
Some CD’s on Thomas’ desk
What’s on your iPod right now? Matt & Kim
What’s your favorite band? All-time, I’d have to say David Bowie. Currently, Fleet Foxes.
Favorite TV Show? Buffy the Vampire Slayer! When the new episodes were still on, there was a standing rule with my friends to never call me during Buffy.
Guilty Pleasure? Shopping, the Golden Girls (NATALIE: Me, too!)
Any final words, gentlemen? THOMAS: Yes. Owning your own business is really fucking hard. It’s like having kids.