In our new series, "How to Get a Job With Me," we talk with the industry's top execs about what it takes to get hired—or at least an interview.
KCD president Ed Filipowski is one of the most influential—and intimidating—execs in the fashion business.
As the head of public relations for KCD, he works with a wide range of prestigious clients, from Givenchy and Swarovski to Marc Jacobs and Victoria's Secret. Filipowski is also revered for nurturing—and holding onto—talent. While public relations is known for its fast turnover, the publicist—an employee at KCD since the 1980s, an owner nearly as long—has been able to keep his staff close. Currently, the average tenure for a senior-level publicist is 9.5 years. (And a KCD publicist pretty much never defects to another agency, which is also rare in the business.)
I spoke with Filipowski last week about how he got his job at KCD—and what he looks for when he's interviewing both senior publicists and interns.
Fashionista: What is the crux of KCD's business? Ed Filipowski: KCD is a fashion PR and events agency with offices in New York, London and Paris. We have 70 employees worldwide, 47 of them here in New York. My co-president is Julie Mannion. I oversee PR, Julie overseas events. KCD stands for Keeble, Cavaco and Duka, after its founders, Kezia Keeble, Paul Cavaco and John Duka. [Duka passed away in 1989, and Keeble in 1990. Cavaco KCD left in 1999 to become the creative director of Allure.]
What's your hiring process like? Do you interview every person before they're hired? Traditionally, I have been involved in the interview process for every PR employee that has been hired. As we grow, that's harder to do. Now I'm involved in most, if not all, of the mid and senior level hires. The entry level employees are hired by my senior staff.
What's the most important thing to you when you're hiring someone? It’s a very subtle thing: the nuances in the way that somebody talks about clothes, designers, and the industry. It's so hard to verbally explain, but instinctually you have it or you don't. You can just tell in the way they describe something, why they like this designer or that designer. They've got to understand the real importance of fashion, not just have a surface interest in it. Some people have it, some people don't. Unfortunately, we don't have the luxury to develop, or cultivate, that fashion sense in someone. You either have it, or you can develop it through internships. They've become the training ground. We have an internship program, and we're very keen on hiring our interns. In New York, 11 of my employees are ex interns. [Publicity director] Matthew Bires has been here for eight years and he started as an intern. Good, varied internships are important to see in resumes.
What if you didn't intern at KCD? And you don't know anybody who works there? How can you score an interview? You have to be smart and creative. If you have a contact who can get you in the door—somebody you know in the industry who can refer you directly to our agency or to me, it's probably a sure bet. If an editor asks you to see somebody, you see them. You can also be creative. Writing a personal note instead of just sending a typed letter or a resume. Something like, "congratulations on your agency's recent event," or "I would love the opportunity to meet with you." How can you say no? Yes, you can be cookie cutter and get hired, but if you take that extra step and approach it in a different way it does work. You just have to make sure you’re not inappropriate. It's how I got my job here.
Oh really? I wanted to work here, and I knew the agency just landed the Charivari account; I had read it in the New York Times. [Charivari was an upscale Manhattan boutique whose heyday was in the 1980s.] I sent Kezia Keeble flowers in a Charivari bag saying that I'd love to work for her. She called me up and said, "I don't know you, but you sent me flowers so I need to meet with you." It's taking advantage of opportunities like that.
What don't you want to see when someone is trying to get in the door? A cover letter that is impersonal or seems a form letter. I find that lazy.
How else do you choose who to bring in for an interview? Between internships, freelancers, people looking for full time work, we get about 75 resumes a week. When it comes to the interview it’s important that we narrow it down to the person who says, "I've been waiting to work here." It's fortunate that we can do that.
KCD has made a huge push in the digital space over the past couple of years. How important is digital experience to you? You know, it's 70% of what a publicist does nowadays. But it varies by generations. If you’re interviewing somebody for a senior position, you want to make sure that they have had direct experience in digital because they didn’t grow up in digital. If you are interviewing someone in their twenties, their only experience of fashion is through a screen. It's a whole different perspective.