5 Questions With PR Legend Alison Brod
Five Questions with Alison Brod, Founder of Alison Brod Marketing and Communications
By Chloe Cornell
Alison Brod is the founder of Alison Brod Marketing and Communications, one of the most prestigious PR, Marketing and Influencer agencies, based in New York City. A fortuitous conversation in an elevator led Alison, then 25 years old, to launch her company in 1996. While she began with a focus in Beauty PR, Alison’s clients now encompass most of the top lifestyle, beauty and fashion brands including goop, Barstool Sports, LANCÔME, L’Oréal Paris, Draper James, Ashley Longshore, and Sugarfina to name a few.
Alison and her eponymous agency has been featured in over 100 media outlets from The Wall Street Journal to the Today show, making her as influential as her celebrity influencer contacts. Alison served as an on-air judge for Food Network’s “24 Hour Restaurant Battle” and also made an appearance on MTV’s show The City. ABMC is known for its unapologetically feminine hot pink logo and their glamorous all-female staff. The gorgeous and often photographed office space on Park Avenue South is a makeup lover’s dream filled with client’s beauty products. Employee perks include an unlimited supply of said products as well as complimentary haircuts, blow outs and spray tans provided at the on-site salon. In addition, nail polish brand OPI sends a manicurist to the office twice a month. These may be some of the reasons that ABMC secures top marketing talent, while another is that Crain’s NY Business named it the second best company to work for in New York City. Of course, their impressive client list, established track record of creating new brands, re-inventing companies and sustaining long-term publicity and marketing campaigns makes ABMC one of the top jobs for women interested in a PR and Marketing career.
Alison graduated from Tulane University and has two young sons aged 11 and 13 who often visit the office and offer up their marketing ideas. She regularly races home from cocktail parties and events to be with her kids at night.
As for her number one piece of advice to young women? She says we should all read more – as in newspapers, magazines, and books and not just captions on Instagram! Alison attributes a lot of her success to her voracious reading which includes The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post and The New York Times every single day, WWD, Observer, Thrillist, Racked, New York Magazine and Bloomberg Businessweek. “I always read so I could be a part of every conversation and have something to say,” she says. “I especially like biographies. People need to read.”
I was so happy to talk with Alison to not only hear about her career journey but to also get valuable insight into what qualities and skills lead to becoming a successful marketer and entrepreneur.
Chloe: What inspired you to get into the PR/marketing world?
Alison: A week after I graduated from Tulane, I booked a 30 day round trip ticket to New York from my hometown of Boca Raton, FL. I was going to find a job, an apartment and a roommate or I was moving back to Florida.
I don’t think we even know what PR agencies did back then and I had spent the summer before working at the ad agency that represented Ralph Lauren, Revlon, and Victoria’s Secret so I thought I was going to either get a major copywriting job (didn’t realize you needed years and years of experience to get one) or land an office with a window writing first person stories about anything I wanted at Conde Nast or The WSJ (didn’t realize that I couldn’t even get an interview because you had to pass a speed typing test and writers didn’t have offices anyway, only sad cubes).
I was very lucky though in that I had one fantastic uncle who was a legend in the beauty business and he guided me to the top beauty and fashion PR agency at the time. The founder wasn’t going to hire me because I wasn’t connected enough…and then I saw her at a benefit I was at with a date – I married the man also – and did a shot and walked up to her almost at midnight and told her she should hire me. And she did the next morning. And I was off…
A few years later I eavesdropped on a conversation in an elevator and ended up with an offer to start my own agency at 25…and that client was the launch of Burberry fragrances. It was one of the first fashion brand re-inventions so it got a tremendous amount of attention.
It was a dream to be honest – Van Cleef & Arpels fragrances was the next client with jewelry allowances and events with Lady Diana and Paris Couture Week. I learned about global retail and sales as well as PR and marketing.
I immersed myself in media, traveled to everything I could around the country and the world and took advantage of the in-depth look I was being given at the inner workings of companies to sell this knowledge to others. People always used to ask what your 5 year plan was in an interview – I think you just work as hard as you can and take every opportunity and then things will come to you and you can chart your path. You don’t need a 5 year plan. I was lucky with such a big turnaround brand as Burberry that I never had to make a call for new business…it got a lot of attention and people came to me, BUT I was in the right places for them to find me.
Chloe: What education and job experience would you recommend someone have to enter your field? What qualities and skills are necessary?
Alison: I think there are a lot of misconceptions –we don’t just plan parties every day and just because you like to buy makeup doesn’t mean that you will be a good beauty publicist. You need to be a writer, editor, public speaker, networker, analyst, strategist and trend reporter. You must be able to effectively communicate, which can mean write a compelling pitch or actually pick up the phone and talk to someone, which is a skill fewer graduates seem to have these days, if I am being honest.
I look for resourcefulness, natural curiosity and awareness in a candidate. Don’t tell me you are a people person, just show me.
My favorite quote is this: “The way to get what you want, is to get others what they want.” Especially in public relations, learning this quickly makes a lot of sense.
Chloe: What is a workday like? Please walk me through a day.
Alison: Every minute of every day is different. We produce over a hundred media, influencer and consumer events a year, and the day often begins with a media breakfast or briefing, such as an intimate Southern themed fashion breakfast to showcase Reese Witherspoon’s fashion line, Draper James or drop-offs of Ryan Reynold’s gin, Aviation.
Our office is a product showroom with a small beauty salon for testing brands and we have a daily “Drive By” program where influencers, celebrities and their aestheticians and media come to learn about our clients. Every person at every level is encouraged to bring people in. Simultaneously, there are brainstorms going around in every corner to come up with clever ways to announce a new celebrity fashion app to supporting a Burger King product launch to L’Oreal’s philanthropy, Women of Worth.
In the past week, we had hundreds of press and vips attend The Palms hotel in Las Vegas, a $690 million renovation with a $100,000 a night Damien Hirst suite and A-list concert and did the PR for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductions.
Chloe: How has PR/marketing changed over the years? With so many different mediums is it easier or harder to reach your target audience? Every day there seems to be new technology, new influencers, new trends. How do you stay on top of everything? How important is it to promote your brand, as well as your clients, to keep generating business?
Alison: We have always worked with brands on influencer marketing, product development, consumer and sales activations, focus groups and messaging. It was just time to make sure everyone knew the skill set and “PR” tends to have a very narrow connotation with many, so we actually changed our name from ABPR to ABMC (marketing + communication) so we could get credit for all the work we do.
We spend more time than ever helping brands create effective ways to tell their story …before we even go to the media or influencers with the concept. With so many start-ups with extremely lean teams popping up, we have more business than ever that requires us to really act as extensions of these companies
Chloe: Here at Girl Tribe we are all about women supporting women. I understand that you have always had an all female team, which is unusual, especially when you launched your agency. How has an all-female company affected your business? Pros/cons?
Alison: It is ironic actually because I have equally as many very close male friends as females. Men are a huge part of my life and have been very good to me in my career. But, because we began rooted in beauty, it naturally drew in women and then I used that to our benefit and went all out…I had a blue logo when I first began and I cut my hair into a bob and wore Chanel suits, because I didn’t want to show any femininity …but soon realized that being niche was going to get more attention. I decided we weren’t going to try to be everything to everyone and switched to a pink card.
Today…we are 65 women in 4 states and represent many male focused brands and are much more general but we are very proud of the work we have done to continue to do for female entrepreneurs and executives.