The interview below is part of our Podcast Chats by Claur, hosted by Claur Ribeiro Bernstein. You can listen to the entire conversation on iTunes or Spotify .
The Art of Communication
When I used to attend to Paris Fashion Week, she always captured my attention. When you are on events like that, you know that you will have to deal with ego, snobby people – but she was different – I could see in her smile or in the way she would behave at the fashion shows, that she was special. My guest was in charge of Vogue Mexico for years and her terrific work put her on the list of BOF 500.
Clau Ribeiro: I would like to know about your morning routine. What do you do to start your day?
Kelly: My morning routine has changed drastically because I used to be the type of person who would wake up late, skip breakfast, and run to Starbucks, get a coffee, and then run to the office. After a few years of doing that, I realized that’s terrible for you mentally, physically, and in all aspects. Now I am the mother of a 16-month-old, so my life has changed drastically as well. And because of that, I am more similar now to Giselle – I wake up early in the morning, which I have learned is very important. It is terrible to wake up with that chaos. I’m running late, I need to start catering to everybody’s needs. So I do wake up early, it depends on the day, but at least three to four days of the week, I do wake up early. I have water and a cup of coffee, and I do my workout at home. I have a trainer who comes here, which is great, it definitely makes it much easier. I do my workout and then I meditate and then I make myself breakfast. And normally around that time, my daughter starts to wake up, so I go get her and then the whole routine starts for the day. I have been trying to wake up, for the last couple of months, at least an hour before, ideally, an hour and a half before everybody else in my household so that I can at least feel like I did something productive for myself in the morning.
Clau Ribeiro: When did you start meditating?
Kelly: It is something that I have struggled with on and off, to be honest. I still struggle with it. It is something I would say, that I have done over the past 6 months. I am still really working on it, to be honest. I almost feel like sometimes I do it just to say that I did it, and sometimes I get something out of it. Sometimes I don’t. I hope next time you and I talk, I can say that I am a pro at it. I just do it for ten minutes. For now, that is all I can handle.
Clau Ribeiro: We are now during this crazy time with Coronavirus. How do you organize your day? Do you plan everything a week ahead?
Kelly: I definitely have times when I have meetings or I have things that I need to leave the house for. I work from home, so when I have meetings with clients or [I have] events, I normally try to schedule them in time frames that work for me. I live in Bogota, Colombia, so the traffic here is crazy, honestly. So I normally either [try to have meetings] in the morning, so I get that out of the way, and I can spend time at home in the afternoon and work. Or vice versa. Or I get my work done at home in the morning, and then I go out in the afternoon. But once I leave the house, [I] can lose [my] whole day.
Clau Ribeiro: Do you think your clients are open to having online meetings even after the virus?
Kelly: I think we have realized that a lot of meetings [can take place] online and you feel just as connected and just as close. I think that definitely is going to be something [we do] and I used to do it a lot more. As you know Latins love that face to face. I have clients that I work with over several months or over a year and we get together each week while the other stuff is done on mail. I think that sometimes, you can say “ each meeting does not need to be [in person].” I’m realizing that now we can use Zoom [and] Google Hangout. There are all these different ways that we can [meet]. If anything, I think that is one positive thing about coronavirus – we have become more efficient in that sense.
Clau Ribeiro: How was the process and when was the process when you left Vogue?
Kelly: That is a good question nobody ever asked me exactly like that. It was a slow transition I would say, luckily. It was not an abrupt thing. I worked at Vogue for ten years, I was the Editor in Chief for almost six years, and I was doing long distance with my husband, who lives in Columbia. So, I always knew that at some point I eventually had to move to Columbia. We were engaged for about a year, which gave me time to kind of organize things with the company. Obviously, my job is very important to me, I was so loyal to Condé Nast. So, it was something that we were able to negotiate. I was very lucky that we had an office in Columbia. It was very important for me to be able to continue with the magazine [if I moved] to Columbia, obviously. I didn’t want the traditional “leave your job to get married” type thing. It was very important to be able to move to Columbia and hopefully stay with the magazine. But also, it was important for me to have something to do here. Colombia is a market where Vogue is very strong, and I had a year to prepare to leave my post as Editor in Chief. I moved to Columbia, and I was a creative director. I oversaw some of the editorials and kind of a bit of advertising for the region – for Latin America – because Mexico was overseen by the Mexico office. I was in that position for a year, honestly, and it was amazing because I was also able to really work in-depth in the region. Before with my other position, I would go to Peru for one day for an event, and then go to Argentina for one day and fly back. It was very fast-paced, and I never really had the time to spend in each region. So, I did that for a year. After a while, I was finally ready to go off on my own. It is very different being in the head office and being in a satellite office. I finally made the decision to go off on my own and work on my own after positioning myself here and being a bit more acquainted with the region. So luckily it was a slow transition. It was not just fast [change]. I have to say it did take some time. After [I] was at a company in the corporate world for 10 years. It took a few years, to be honest, to really just get used to working on my own and having my own business and not having this huge infrastructure behind me. That was a very important personal growth for me.
“What I do and what I think is that has a lot of editors nowadays helping the brands to create their stories, how to speak to their audiences, how to communicate it in a way that is not just like trying to sell. Here is my dresser, who is my collection? It is kind of trying to sell you to the lead. So you sell your story“Kelly
Clau Ribeiro: What are you doing bringing your background working with magazines you know exactly and what brands mean as an editor?
Kelly: Absolutely. It was amazing because while I was at the magazine, I kind of already saw that change happening. We had a very small team, so we almost became kind that for our clients. Our clients would come to us and say, I have this new launch, and I want to communicate it. We would basically come up with this full creative concept and strategy for them, that we would do in alliance. That is basically now what I am doing with a lot of my clients, and what I think a lot of editors have started doing as well. We become expert storytellers – brands used to come to us, and we would help them tell their story creatively in the magazine or online. And now we have become expert storytellers. We have so many talented designers out there that are really great at creating clothes, they can tell you the fabric that was used, et cetera, but they cannot really tell you the inspiration behind the clothes. So what I do, and what I think of editors do nowadays is help them to create these stories, how to speak to their audiences, how to communicate it in a way that is not just like trying to sell you clothes like “here is my dress here is my collection, buy it.” It is kind of trying to sell you, at least, a story.
Clau Ribeiro: Sometimes I receive a copy and paste email with a press release and nothing special, and this is related to your clients now. How do we tell the story for different vehicles or different magazines?
Kelly: I think that sometimes you receive a very generic press release that does not really say much or, sometimes it is kind of just pushy like, “can you help me?” “Do you think you could get this in the magazine?” They say these things without really giving you some background. Like, “we have this launch. What do you think? What can we do together?” I think it is always very important to have information obviously, even if it is not [a finished product] yet. It is very important to be personable – copy-paste is terrible. I always think – and I always tell my clients – it is important to know your audience. Whether it is a magazine, a website, a blog, you have to really study what it is that they do and what they tend to publish and what they don’t tend to publish. To be honest, I am sure with you as an editor, as a consultant and designer, they send you stuff and they want you to post it on your Instagram. Whether it is an Instagram page or a full magazine, there is a certain creation through curation in a certain voice behind that, it is not just one size that fits all. I think that personalization is so important, and there is something to be said for really paying attention to the details and speaking to that person directly. It makes you feel like they actually read my magazine and they actually look at my Instagram and pay attention. At least in my experience, it makes all the difference and sometimes makes you fall in love with the brand if you realize their attention to detail.
Clau Ribeiro: What do you think has changed regarding the role of PRs?
Kelly: I think it has changed a lot because there is no such thing as a free press anymore, sadly. It is all about advertisers. I know friends of mine who work in PR, and they will not take clients if they are not advertising in the media. Especially here, obviously, it changes by market, but here it is impossible to get coverage if you are not a paying advertiser. So I think that is one big thing -his whole idea of just pitching stories has changed so much because it comes to this whole negotiation behind it.
Clau Ribeiro: The role of PR is changing because you only have a few magazines out there right now and they cannot sell stories to influencers because it is all about pay to post now on your Instagram. What do you think about that?
Kelly: I think there are magazines and magazines, and there are influencers and influencers. And I think influencers make a lot of money for [advertising]. I also think – this is an overused word as well – if there are brands that they find and truly love, they will post them. They kind of pride themselves on being discoverers of new [things] whether it be a designer or be an interior decorator or, just finding new things. I love to follow those types of people on Instagram – those who you can tell find things that they love and post [about them]. It is not because someone pitched it to them, it is more because they found it themselves. They actually do the investigation and they find these designers or these brands that they love and share it with their audience. I guess the role of PR is almost irrelevant. I guess there are more communication managers and stuff like that. I think a lot of brands now are bringing on editors and not really calling them PRs, although they are weaving those stories and creating these stories that they share. Or they are creating these Instagram strategies. They are not necessarily PRs, but they are kind of doing the same thing that PRs used to do – creating a strategy with five women who love the brand, and then they do an Instagram strategy where they all post on the Internet. I think that is kind of the future, and those people are kind of replacing PRs or the PRs are transitioning into this type of world.
“I think that personalization is very important and there is something to be said for, really paying attention to the details and speaking to that person. What is your DNA, what are your strengths? What are you like? What can we do to show these strengths?”Kelly
Clau Ribeiro: Business Of Fashion was asking their followers if they would like to see Fashion Week only online. What is your opinion about that?
Kelly: I have heard that. I think time will tell. It is hard to say. The way I would envision it would not be that they will necessarily disappear, but I think they might definitely reduce and go back to what fashion weeks used to be, and I am talking to way back when, it was really a select group of editors, a select group of buyers and clients and that is it. The rest of the people can stream it online, but I definitely think that they will probably scale back, downsize, and maybe not do these grand productions. They will really make it about the clothes and selling the clothes and just keeping it very select. I think that makes more sense, to be honest. The people that have to be there will be there. I obviously have nothing against the influencers and bloggers, but a lot of them just go to sit there and take pictures. Of course, this is not all bloggers, but the majority of them. They do not actually have a set purpose to be there because they need to report or to buy or anything else. I think we need to go back to that. Then there are other ways that people can work with influencers. I no longer think that they need to be at the Fashion Weeks to work with brands. I was listening to a webinar a couple of weeks ago, and they were not necessarily talking about this, it was more about retail. He broke down brands that have been successful, and a lot of them are global brands, but they have not been able to really localize or speak locally. It will be interesting to see. What I think would be very intelligent brands to do is really to have their shows – they can do a show, and they can stream it online, but then do really local concepts. It doesn’t have to be the whole collection,. They can do pieces that are really relevant to that market, you do need to like the fur coats in Mexico, for example, you can have clothes that speak to each market. I think that it is the future. That is really where I see the future. It makes perfect sense. I also think they are also more cost-effective for everybody.
Clau Ribeiro: Can you tell us about the work you are doing now with brands creating their stories, how is the process and how did you start?
Kelly: Luckily most of them have been people I have known in the past and have worked with in the past who sought me out once I was independent for help with their story. I have worked separately with each brand. It depends on the needs of each brand – some have been more consolidated and established than others, so maybe I have come in to help them with particular projects and then that is it. Other brands are very small, and I have kind of helped them just get the ball rolling and get their feet off the ground. Then I have done a few collaborations with international brands that are looking to do things locally, who are bit lost or just entering the market or looking for that one-on-one personal connection. With each one it is different, it really depends on the client. Right now, for example, I am working with a local designer. They started a few years ago to internationalize. I helping them a bit with their social media, how to pitch, press and media, and just interesting strategies that they can use to get their name out there a bit more.
Clau Ribeiro: How do you make a brand cool today, How do you help a brand be different?
Kelly: It is a fine line, I think there is something to be said for authenticity. I will say that I am very picky. I do not take on any client, to be honest. I do not mean it in a snobby way at all, it is more about if I do not feel [like the brand] resonates with me or I do not feel that I can communicate them or I do not feel like it goes with my aesthetic or my values, I do not take [the brand] on because I find it very difficult to know what they really need. And also if people see me like, “Oh Kelley, always brings this type of project,” then I would not want to change and confuse people. That is number one but second of all, if it is a smaller brand, I always work with them behind the scenes before even starting to contact anybody or doing any type of event. I look at all fronts – design-wise, communication-wise, really make sure everything is down-pat, everything’s cohesive, everything makes sense before I start doing any type of activity publicly. There are different ways, and it really depends on the brand, which I think is really important. I need to ask questions like what is your DNA, what are your strengths? What can we do to show these strengths? I have done kind of a lifestyle experience with some clients where you invite a few editors and influencers to come to Columbia. If it is a brand that really has 360 lifestyles, there is nothing better than really inviting people to live that with you. If the designer has a great personality, I think it is great for people to actually meet them to really understand the brand, who they are, and what they do. I think something that is really important is identifying who the interested audience is. I am working with a brand that is super bright and colorful, so I am not going to pitch an influencer who is black and white on their Instagram. A lot of brands make that mistake where they want to get the influencer that has a million followers. Sometimes there is something to be said for the real niche, cool girls in different markets that maybe do not have a huge following, but they have a significant and important following. I also think word of mouth is very important. I think people really underestimate it. How many times have you gone to lunch with your friends and if your friend is wearing something cool? That is how you discover the brand. It comes with a lot of studying and investigation and lot of understanding for who the brand is, what they should be communicating, and then understanding who are interesting people that we can reach out to get to know.
Clau Ribeiro: Anybody can open a brand on Instagram but what do you think brands should do in order to stay there?
Kelly: I think it is a mixture of things. In the past, and it will be interesting to see going forward, I think a lot of brands went to Paris. It is such an important networking moment for brands to go season after season and sometimes the best relationships form is over a glass of wine at dinner after a show with a group of friends. I think networking and staying in touch with people across the globe and important people who have always supported your brand is really important. I spoke with a few designers, and a lot of them are randomly reaching out to say hi to people in different countries, and I think that is really important. We will see if fashion week keeps up or how, but there will have to be a moment where people can come together and connect. Obviously, social media, for now, is still super relevant. I think it is still important. Sometimes it is annoying and frustrating for many people, but I still think it is an important platform to communicate to stay relevant. We all discover a lot of designers [on social media]. Also, it is important to build your own community outside of Instagram, whether it be on social media, on a website, or through a newsletter or a podcast, kind of build your own community so those people can continue to come after you, whether it be for fashion or inspiration.
Clau Ribeiro: What was the difference you noticed when you started working for the Latin American market? What is the difference you see between the Mexican and Latin American Market?
Kelly: Mexico is like Brazil. In Mexico, there is an event every single day, events all the time, cocktails, dinners, brunches. It was a lot. Now living in Colombia you have many fewer events. I think it depends on the country because here, I guess Brazil is more similar to Mexico – it is a huge market, and you have a lot of international brands. Obviously international brands have big budgets, and you have constant lunches because they have a lot of things they need to communicate. Here in Colombia, you have many fewer international brands, so while there are events, there are not as many. You have pockets of events, but it is not all year long. The year starts off slow, and then in March, it starts to pick up and then fall. Summertime is dead because people are traveling. So, you have events but not as many as [Brazil or Mexico]. I think in Latin America, it depends [on whether they are a lot of international events]. Some countries have markets that have a lot of international brands. If Colombia had a lot of international brands, you probably would have more events.
Clau Ribeiro: Which designers are really making you pay attention to them right now?
Kelly: I think Colombia is still kind of like the leader in that sense in Latin America. There are brands coming out of Colombia. You also have a few coming out of Peru and Chile. I think, really, throughout all of Latin America, I recently met even some designers from countries you often do not hear of. For example, Uruguay has some interesting designers now. Bolivia. They are smaller markets. But I guess in terms of quantity, I would still say that in Colombia and Mexico have a lot of designers.
Clau Ribeiro: What would be your advice for brands you are working with for how to deal with the post coronavirus?
Kelly: I think it will be interesting moving forward. I would tell them, first of all, to stay calm and be patient because it could be a while. Right now we still do not know how long this is going to last. We do not know what season it will be when we start to get out. By then, people’s budgets will be very reduced. I would tell them to stay focused on the essentials of their brand – really creating the essentials. I was talking to one of my clients the other day and saying that people might not be buying gowns or dresses right now, but they will want to buy pieces that they can use often. You are investing in a piece that you will be able to use often or something that makes [you] feel good. I think communication will be key. I think if you are a brand that employs 20 artisans, you need to communicate that to your clients so that when people do want to buy they understand that they are helping to employ these families. I think that it is so important. You do not want to feel like you are just buying a piece of clothes anymore, you want to feel like you are actually spending for a purpose. You want to make sure that it is going somewhere. Of course, it has to be useful to you, but you also want to feel like it is going somewhere and will benefit other people. I think definitely just finding a way to connect one-on-one and be open and honest with your audience. I think now more than ever is the time to really connect. First of all, define who is your audience and then connect with them on a personal level, tell them a bit more about who you are as a designer, who you are as a brand because even if they are not buying now they will remember that, and they will keep you in mind for the future. I think it gives you anxiety in that sense because you do not know, but it is going to make us all think and really get creative. I have started doing the thing I had never done before like cooking. I am doing things that I would never normally do because we actually have the time. So are all these creative designers, who are ten times more creative than the average person. We are going to see some interesting things coming out once it all passes. I am sure all these designers were super creative. We are going to have some really interesting things to see. I am excited to see that.
Photos: Courtesy of Kelly Talamas