In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
It's day six of Fashion Week, and if you've been reading our site, you know we've seen a lot of designers' collections by now. But what you don't see is much of what goes on behind the scenes year-round to make those shows and presentations happen — and to get people like us to cover them. Behind every great designer is a great PR team, carefully getting their clients' names out there, in the news, in the pages of magazines and on the backs of celebrities. In New York, there are only a handful of important PR companies and one of them is Krupp Group, founded in 2001 by Cindy Krupp.
Krupp Group also happens to be one of our favorite firms to work with. Thanks to Krupp's hiring strategy, everyone who works there is nice without being pushy, and they generally act like normal people, which is a surprisingly rare quality in the world of fashion PR.
The company that Krupp built from her own freelance business after leaving Barneys has been growing lately, having recently added a Los Angeles office to service celebrity stylists and a full digital team. In fact, it's so in demand that the company is turning down more clients than it's taking on.
We spoke with Krupp before Fashion Week to chat about how she got started, how she grew her business and why she doesn't hire typical PR people.
How did you first get into fashion?
I was an intern at Mirabella — internships are so important to me. I would not be where I am without the option to intern. Mirabella recommended me to Mademoiselle and that was my first job out of college.
How did you end up in PR?
I'd always be on the phone with PR people and was more interested in what they were doing than what I was doing. I went to [the PR team at] Bottega Veneta and was head-hunted by Barneys, where I was working for the founding family.
I've always had a background in sales — in high school I worked in sales and I've always enjoyed that dialogue — and I think PR is very much about that dialogue but it's a bit more cerebral. We have to be more thought-out in our stories. To be surrounded by creative forces and to articulate their vision and their message ... my favorite part was that designer interaction at Barneys. I felt so privileged to be around these people.
What was Barneys like then?
It was such a different company. [The buyers] would come to me and say we found this amazing new designer. Barneys was a lab of new designers back then. Julie [Gilhart] would come back and say, 'I found this amazing new designer we're launching exclusively.' We'd get to gather with the designer and come up with a strategy for their goals and Barneys's goals — very much how I do with my clients now. But [with Barneys] when the exclusive was done, it was my time to wash my hands of it and new darling would come to the store.
Why did you leave?
I left and started doing freelance PR. I was pregnant and freelance sounded appealing. Also, the Pressman family left. When they left a lot of us moved on so I planned on doing freelance. Julie kept sending designers to me so I helped designers Barneys was picking up. Through recommendations from Barneys and people in the media, we morphed into Krupp Group. I had no business plan.
How has the company grown?
I have employees that have been with me a long time and I always joke we're not going to expand — this is it. We just took over another floor for accessories and a ready-to-wear showroom and jewelry room. When a really great brand or a really talented designer comes along, I have a hard time saying no.
How often do you turn brands down?
We turn down way more business than we take on. I'd say 75 percent of the business [we get approached with] we turn down. I don’t want to be the biggest company in the business. We want to work with brands that inspire me; whose businesses I believe in. There’s a lot out there that’s just not the right fit for us and I’ve been strategic. Not that there’s anything wrong with those designers, they’re just not the right fit.
You've held on to some clients for so many years. What's your secret?
We’ve had clients like Melissa Joy Manning and Phillip Crangi for eight or nine years, Rachel Comey for six years. I think I’m very hands on with their businesses; I’m part of the business conversation, which allows me to create a PR strategy that aligns with those goals. Also, my own personal relationships extend beyond PR; I’m asked to look at real estate, consult on ad campaigns, interview a CEO. We act as partners much more than just a publicist and I think that’s a secret to our success.
Fashion Week is coming up. How are you preparing for that?
There are so many balls in the air; we take on less shows in February. I try not to because of weather; it’s the one thing I can’t control. We are only taking one outside of Krupp Group['s retainer clients]. We have two clients whose venues fell through, so venue selection is my number one priority, finding places that feel like the right location. Front of house becomes very formulaic, we have certain boxes we have to check to make sure it moves smoothly. But there’s always a surprise, in February it’s usually the weather.
Have there been any big weather-related disasters?
There was a blizzard a couple of years ago that shut down the city. We had a show at Crosby Street Hotel; it was in the evening and they were predicting snow all day and I was on the phone with the designer trying to figure out if we should cancel the show. We went with it and I was amazed people showed up, but we were all stuck there, so I brought everyone to the bar upstairs to wait out the snow. That was a memorable and horrifying experience.
One big element of my job is attendance; I know [bad weather] is going to make the attendance drop and our clients spend a fortune of money to execute a really great show, so I feel incredibly responsible.
Has there been one moment or milestone that made you feel like you'd finally made it or this was now a real business?
I think when we moved into our new offices two springs ago. We have 5,000 square feet. When we moved to our old office, we were five people. When we moved here, we were 20 people and have grown more since then. I remember walking in and it said 'Krupp Group' on the wall and it was incredible because I have so many employees that have been with me when we were working on top of each other, that was a moment I was like, wow. Every day I walk in and am like, 'Where did you come from?'
How do you find people?
People are recommended to us by people in the media. I will interview 30 people to find one; it’s like finding in a needle in a haystack. I feel like we are the antithesis of what a normal PR person is. I look for people who are authentic and real and love fashion and appreciate the creative aspect of it, but have a life outside this office. It's really important to me that there’s a work/life balance. People who live and breathe [their work] scare me a little bit. Those pushy PR people ... if I wouldn't want to see them every day in my office, I don’t want them working for the company. It's people that I’d be cool if they sat on my couch and hung out. It's a very specific vibe.
There's structure, but at the same time it's a very casual environment where you can come in my office and say, 'I want to pitch this.' There’s a lot of autonomy. I’m looking for people who are mature beyond their years and smart. What draws most people to PR ... those are not people I dig. I mean, when the phone rings and it's someone that annoys the crap out of you, how likely are you to accept the pitch? I don’t want to work with people that annoy me, clients or employees, and I’m really privileged I have a great team and get to represent such talented, lovely designers.
What advice would you give someone who wants to work in fashion PR?
It’s so sad because the advice I’d give is getting more challenging, with companies not offering internships anymore because of the legal aspect, but I’m a big proponent of internships. I would not be where I am today without the internships that gave me the opportunities and pushed me along in my career. We still take interns, we have a strong program, it's very serious and there’s course credit and a teacher involved because it’s important that they’re learning things and not just packing bags. Also, never say, 'I have a passion for fashion.' It is the kiss of death.
What do you think are the biggest misconceptions about PR?
I think people who are not in fashion PR have no idea what we do behind the scenes. My sisters who aren't big into fashion will call me and say, 'Did you see Eva Fehren was in Vogue?!' They just have no idea what we do and how much effort goes into this. People understand what advertising is, but not PR. It's supposed to seem like it just happened; it's supposed to feel organic and synergistic. It’s ok that people don’t understand what we do; it means we’re doing our jobs and doing it well.
Since you started Krupp Group, online media and social media came into play. How did you handle that?
In the beginning, I was like, 'What the hell is this and when is the bubble going to burst?' One of my biggest strengths as an entrepreneur is I know what I don’t know and I quickly realized this was not a space I understood fully. I hired someone who knows that language and built a team that supports her. Of course they're all 12 [laughs] and they’re excellent.
It's the fastest changing aspect of the business. Having a team that has their eye on it — we’re doing everything from community management of social channels to advising them on how to manage [social media], to building relationships with bloggers and YouTube haulers —it is an important piece of the puzzle. I’m a big believer in you need it all: traditional print, celebrities wearing the client and hopefully getting arrested while wearing it; all these conversations need to be happening at once for the consumer to be feeling the call to action and I need to execute all of these things for our clients flawlessly.